Sunday, October 22, 2017

Houmas House in South Louisiana offers several ghost stories but there's more reasons to visit the exquisite River Road property

Houmas House
Houmas House with its "grieving" oak trees
There are plantations and historic homes scattered throughout Louisiana, many hidden behind alleys of live oak trees shrouded in Spanish moss, the buildings appearing through this vegetation like a veil between this world and the next. It’s easy to imagine the spirits of yesteryear still walking the grounds of these ancient giants, still haunting the halls and bedrooms.

Houmas House outside Gonzales, Louisiana, owns a different vibe, one of luxury, elegance and a lively history. The property’s story dates back to the 1700s when two New Orleans businessmen, Maurice Conway and Alexander Latil, purchased the land from the Houmas Indians and built a small home facing the Mississippi River near an ancient Houmas mound. Later, Gen. Wade Hampton of South Carolina would purchase the property and expand the original French Provincial residence before leaving the home to his daughter Caroline and son-in-law Col. John Preston. It was the Prestons that created the enormous house visitors view today. In 1857, Irishman John Burnside took over the plantation and enlarged its acreage for sugarcane and later Col. William Porcher Miles expanded its production even further.
 
Coffin at Houmas House
The antique coffin at Houmas House
Today, the home with its multi-columned Greek Revival exterior is known as the “Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road.” New Orleans businessman Kevin Kelly purchased the mansion in 2003 and has turned the site into one of the finest wedding venues in Louisiana. The property now includes the award-winning Latil’s Landing Restaurant, a la carte dining options in the magnificent Carriage House, the Turtle Bar located in the former garconniere and several cabins for overnight stays. The 38-acre grounds feature oak trees dating back to original owners but also exquisite formal gardens under the current landscaping staff, including fountains, statuaries, a Monet-style garden with waterfall and other endless floral spots for photographs and the saying of vows.

Visitors to the Crown Jewel wouldn’t expect ghosts in such a stately place, and our tour guide for the night admitted that the spirits of those gone before do linger here, but he preferred to focus on the history and luxury of the house. And he had every right. The house is filled with antiques, artwork and historical objects, including a 19th century casket and an antique vampire killing kit. But curious minds like me wanted to know more.
 
Houmas House
Bette Davis Bedroom
A staff member once spent the night in a second-floor bedroom and awoke to find a tall, shadowy figure standing in the doorway gazing toward her bed. When she turned to follow his line of sight, an elderly woman as clear as day was lying next to her in bed, her arms folded across her chest and her eyes closed. She uttered questions in fright, then looked back toward the door and the man had disappeared. Thankfully, so had the old woman.

Other visitors have seen what appears to be a young girl and many believe her to be the daughter of Caroline and Wade Preston, who died at the age of 12. There’s also an account of an angry spirit coursing up a shaft between the first and third floors, moving through the bedroom used in the film, “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland.

Kelly’s not one to believe in ghosts but one night he noticed his dogs staring off to the corner of his bedroom. The two labradors followed an invisible object across the room, their gazes in sync, until whatever they were staring at disappeared inside a mirror.

The magnificent oak trees leading up to the house remain from the house’s original days but half of the trees were removed for the building of the Mississippi River levee in the early part of the 20th century. Although they have ample room to grow and prosper, they bend toward each other, as if in grief.
 
Houmas House
The Cabins at Houmas House
Want to learn more about the house’s ghost history? Special haunted tours are offered at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. nightly through October. But don’t worry, they include the house’s unique history, architecture, artwork and more.


Here’s what I suggest. Arrive early and enjoy a spirit of another sort in the Turtle Bar (I highly suggest the Old Fashions) and either relish in the unique space or peruse the lighted pathways throughout the gardens. After the tour of the mansion, enjoy dinner in either The Carriage House Restaurant or Latil’s Landing. For a truly special evening, stay overnight in one of Houma House’s cabins, luxurious accommodations in a peaceful setting and yes, no ghosts on that side of the property. At least, we didn’t encounter any.

Haunted Deep South is written by travel writer Cheré Coen, author of Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana by The History Press. She writes the Viola Valentine paranormal mystery series under the pen name of Cherie Claire.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The spiritualist life of Otis Plummer

Genealogy can be so much fun, you never know what you’ll discover. I never suspected royalty or fame in my line, but I did hope for some fascinating stories.

Here’s one that’s tied to the afterlife in more ways than one.

The Plummer family was a seafaring group hailing from New England who moved to the southeastern Texas coast in the mid-1800s. The patriarch, Gowen Wilson Plummer, was born in Addison, Maine, his grandfather Moses Plummer Jr., a private in Captain Hall’s detachment with Colonel Benjamin Foster’s Regiment during the American Revolution. According to information gleaned from family trees on Ancestry.com, Moses’s name is inscribed on the bicentennial marker in front of the Old Union Church, which is now Columbia Falls Town Hall.

Gowen Plummer moved to the Louisiana side of the Sabine River, just across from Texas, in the 1830s. Sources claim he ran illegal trade across the Louisiana-Texas border and that he was a gun runner for Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution.

In 1839 he wrote from Perry’s Bridge in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana to his brother in Harrington, Maine (bad punctuation included and editing by me):
           
“Dear Brother, I take this opportunity to correspond with you as it has been very long since we have heard from one another. I have just recovered from a bed of sickness and am very weak and nervous, but I have enjoyed better health in Louisiana than I ever did in Maine. I have worked very hard this summer in Cyprus Swamp which I lay my sickness to, but thank kind heaven I am recovering as fast as time will admit. I have been living in Louisiana for better than a year and this is the first sickness that I have had. This is very fine country and a very easy country to live in…I have been employed since last November building a small vessel of about 30 tons, and in June we lay her by for the planks to season. I expect we will commence her again in November. There has been no one worked on her but myself and the master workman. I expect to own a small part of her when done and intend to run out from the vermilion Bayou to some of the Rivers in Texas.”

Gowen Plummer and Arthemise LaRiviere Ellender in 1842 lived at the Vincent Settlement in Louisiana. They had three sons born in Texas: William, Otis and Jesse and the 1860 census listed Gowen as lighthouse keeper.

During the Civil War, Gowen remained a Union loyalists but after his lighthouse oil was stolen by Confederates, he moved the family back to Maine and returned in the early 1870s when the hostilities ended, living at Bolivar Point, Galveston, Texas. 

Otis S. Plummer may have been born in Texas but he got his sea legs in Maine, sailing at the age of 15 under his father’s tutelage. At 17 he was made captain of a schooner in the New England coast trade at 17. Otis moved to Corpus Christi working for the government, then became the pilot at the Sabine Pass south of Beaumont, Texas. In 1907, along with Captain Peter Brandt, he founded the Sabine Pilots Association for the purpose of guiding ships from the Gulf of Mexico into and out of the harbors of Sabine Pass, Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas, according to Ancestry.com sources.

So, what does any of this have to do with ghosts, you ask?

Otis Plummer lost a child and when he did so, turned to Spiritualism, “a system of belief or religious practice based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead, especially through mediums,” according to Webster’s. Spiritualism was popular after the Civil War, reaching its peak of popularity by century’s end.

Otis took a subscription to the Spiritualist weekly newspaper, the Banner of Light, and held séances in his home.

His obit read:

“Mr. Otis S. Plummer, of Harrington [Maine], passed quietly to spirit life from his home at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 24th, after an earthly pilgrimage of 79 years. Mr. Plummer espoused the cause of Spiritualism soon after losing a beloved child. He had remarkably strong magnetic powers, which he was ever ready and willing to exercise as occasion required. He began to take the Banner of Light soon after losing his child, and to have spiritual sittings in his own home, where he conversed with his loved ones that had passed away. He had a sitting by his bedside a few hours before he passed to spirit life. He was not afraid to die, spiritualism giving consolation.

“Mr. Plummer was universally respected by all who knew him. He was an esteemed friend, a loved companion, a kind and tender father, and one who held the respect of all, as was evident by the character of the people who came to pay their last respects at his funeral. The services were held at his own home, under the Masonic order. The floral offerings were very beautiful. The remains reposed calm and peaceful in the change that awaits us all. He leaves a wife, five sons and two daughters to mourn their loss, and who expect to meet him across the river.”

Otis’s brother, Captain William Henry Plummer, was the Sabine Pass Lighthouse keeper in 1900 when on Sept. 8 a fierce hurricane slammed into Galveston. William saved approximately 156 lives during the storm and he was awarded a Life-Saving Medal by the Secretary of the Treasury on May 28, 1903.

Here’s what the Washington Post reported:

“The Secretary of the Treasury yesterday forwarded to Capt. W. H. Plummer, now at Willbridge, Me., a gold life-saving medal … in recognition of this heroic conduct in saving and assisting to save a very large number of persons from drowning during the memorable hurricane of September 8, 1900 at Galveston, Tex. Plummer, it is stated, rescued and delivered to places of safety upward of 156 men, women and children. In closing his letter, which accompanied the medal the Secretary says:
           
“If would be difficult to exaggerate the merits of your services. You acted entirely of your own mention, under no compulsion from any source except your own commanding sense of humanity; you neglected your own property, and gave up the work of rescue only when your boat was so disabled that you were compelled to abandon it and swim to a place of refuge. Your conduct was of the highest order and deserves the highest recognition. That is afforded by the accompanying medal, which is authorized by law to be bestowed only upon those who perform, at the jeopardy of their own lives, deeds of the most extreme and heroic daring in saving others from the perils of the sea.”

Otis’s other brother, “Cott” Plummer, made newspapers in 1910 when he captured a sperm whale off the Texas coast and brought the massive leviathon to Orange, Texas, for the world to see.

Haunted Deep South is written by travel writer Cheré Coen, author of Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana by The History Press. She writes the Viola Valentine paranormal mystery series under the pen name of Cherie Claire.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Opelousas to offer living history cemetery tours


Follow the folks who used to live in Opelousas, Louisiana — a long time ago! — at the annual St. Landry Catholic Church Cemetery Tours held annually in Louisiana’s third oldest city. 

This year’s theme is “Leaders and Legends,” and tour guides will offer voices from the past on the one-hour tour of St. Landry Catholic Church Cemetery in the heart of Opelousas. Tours sponsored by St. Landry Catholic Church Parish and Opelousas Little Theatre are 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 14 and 21, and 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 15 and 22. 

Cost is $10 per person, and attendance will be limited to groups of 15 (please wear walking shoes). General tours are not handicapped accessible but special tours will be available for the handicapped at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15 and 22. For safety reasons, there will be no young children under 10 years old on the tours. For more information, call (337) 942-6552 or (337) 308-3474.
  
Proceeds from the tours will be used for historical grave restoration.




Haunted Deep South is written by travel writer Cheré Coen, author of "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" by The History Press. Cheré also writes paranormal mysteries under the pen name of Cherie Claire.