From Acadiana's epoch of Evangeline to the myriad tales of
haunted habitats in New Orleans' French Quarter, South Louisiana
has a rich heritage and active interest in the
plausibility of wandering souls from beyond the grave.
In these parts, ghost stories abound, mostly the sort told
around campfires to adolescent audiences for pure entertainment.
But actual sightings by reasonable, mature adults evoke a
Ghost hunter Fiona Broome describes two very vivid ghosts at Houmas House Plantation. Click here to hear Fiona's podcast.
Houmas House Plantation and Gardens is the site of two very
serious, inexplicable events; one precipitated by nature,
the other by the very unnatural.
The Legend of the "Gentlemen"
In the days before the levee, Houmas House's Oak alley
ran across the grand lawn, through the batture and on to
the river's edge. The perfectly formed and heroically erect
trees spread their branches arm-in-arm to welcome visitors
to the property, all of whom approached from the River Road.
Burnside, a colorful bachelor who presided as owner
during the late 1800's, lovingly referred to these giant,
leafy sentinels as "The Gentlemen." The
reference prevailed through generations of stewardship until
progress, in the form of flood control, came to the Great
The legend, and the irony, begins with the Great Flood
of 1927 when the area around Houmas House was inundated
for weeks and weeks. Houmas House, located on high ground,
was spared; an island in a sea of misery and suffering that
wreaked havoc on lives, property and the economy all along
the big river.
On the heels of the great flood came the great depression,
which spawned the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Among the projects that created work and wages for the Great
Depression's hordes of indigents was the construction of
new and higher levees.
As progress marched down the river, it also marched up
the bank toward the once-great homes along the River Road,
including Houmas House, which was by then unoccupied and
out of the sugar business.
Only Mr. Green, the caretaker, and his wife lived on the
property, making their home in the same house near the east
gate, that is now used as our Bridal Cottage.
Despite the national economic depression and decline in
plantation life, "The Gentlemen" stood
even more broad and proud than the day Burnside named the
24 stately trees nearly 100 years earlier.
But as the levee construction crews approached, their big
saws brought Gentleman after Gentleman crashing to the ground.
Up from the river toward the great house marched progress.
The levee was raised, and the road was widened and paved.
The work was hard and dangerous, and 16 men died out on
the big bend in the river that sweeps across the front of
the Houmas House property. All perished after concocting
a scheme to profit by floating the carcasses of Houmas House's
giant oaks downriver to be milled in New Orleans. There
were 16 profiteers set off aboard the backs of the big tree
trunks. Their bodies were never recovered.
It was less than a week after the work crew felled its
last victim at Houmas House that Mrs. Green returned from
a daybreak trip to the outhouse, wrought with fear and animated
by wide-eyed hysterics as she shook her dazed husband from
As the couple wobbled onto the front porch of the caretaker's
cabin, neither could believe their eyes.
Literally overnight, the 8 remaining "Gentlemen,"
which had maintained their stately symmetry through hurricanes,
droughts, floods and seasons of sub-tropical pestilence,
had re-shaped themselves into grotesque sculptures of grief
and agony, heads bowed and limbs drooping like mourners
at a funeral.
The engineers assigned to the project cited a change in
the water table, trauma from heavy equipment and trucks
and other construction factors for the overnight transformation.
But the Greens, many long time local residents and members
of the Houmas Tribe, original owners of the property, insist
that the healthy remainder of the corps of "Gentlemen"
became disfigured that cool fall night when they were occupied
by wandering spirits of the lost workmen who desecrated
their fallen brothers.
The impressive ancient oaks that you will encounter on
the property today are the hardiest of that original cadre
of Gentlemen which stretched up from the river's edge to
Houmas House and on the Houmas Indian village to the north.
The old timers in the Parish insist that they are still
inhabited by the spirits.
La Petite Fille (The Little Girl)
When Kevin Kelly purchased Houmas House Plantation
and Gardens at auction in the late spring of 2003, the house
had been off the trail of River Road tourism for a couple
of years, and a relatively quiet participant in the tourism
trade for even longer.
The Crown Jewel of Louisiana's River Road had lost
its luster many, many years ago; still grand in scale but
quiet in a sort of slumber.
When Kelly began his transformation of the property in
the summer that year, no part of the once-grand mansion
was left untouched. Fair damsel from an antebellum heyday,
Houmas House was stripped of her shabby gown, scrubbed,
scraped, manicured, trussed and bustled for a new couture
and her next generation of admirers.
It was an extreme makeover.
And to say the least, it was disruptive. Literally no stone
on the property was left unturned, and in the process, some
say, a spirit was awakened.
worker from the electrician's crew was the first to report
that he had seen a young girl descending the freestanding
stairway, and later in the large central hall. His concern
expressed to co-workers: the house was a construction zone
and unsafe for children, especially a girl of 7-10 years.
Working into the evening hours, two others in the crew
saw the little girl in the blue dress with dark eyes and
brunette hair. But before they could confront her, she was
A cursory check of the legion of workers who came and went
each day produced no identity for the little girl, or any
claim to her. As work wound to a conclusion, no other sightings
occurred. In the brief interim between the completion of
reconstruction and work on the grounds to prepare the property
for the arrival of tourists, the house was quiet again for
a few weeks.
In the excitement of bringing the house back on line to
the public, the mystery of the little girl was set aside,
out of mind for those at the house every day welcoming visitors,
guiding guests and maintaining the house and gardens.
Restored to its Crown Jewel status, Houmas House is again
filled with activity. Days are busy as visitors fill its
galleries, halls and parlors to experience the splendor
of antebellum plantation life.
Amid the hustle and bustle, there's another visitor in
the hallway, and on the stairs, according to tour guides
and guests who have seen the little girl
in the blue
with the dark eyes and brown hair. She is usually
sighted in the morning or later in the afternoon. She seems
curious about all the activity, all the people, but disappears
There is evidence in the history of the house to suggest
In 1848, the young daughter of Col. John Preston
was the belle of Houmas House, loved by all who worked and
visited there for her sunny personality and joi d'vivre.
Her lively games of tag in the gardens or hide-and-seek
in the great house filled the plantation with the happy
giggles and delightful squeals of youth. Then suddenly that
year she fell gravely ill. The family left for Columbia,
South Carolina where the young girl soon died. The family
never returned to Houmas House, and those back in Louisiana
who knew her and her love of the plantation mourned their
Around 1900, another daughter of Houmas House died, this
time on the plantation. Col. William Porcher Miles
and his wife, Harriet, lost their daughter to illness
at age 7. She was laid to rest in the family cemetery, known
for its ornate Gothic fence located down by the river.
The cemetery disappeared, and several of the gravesites
were disturbed, when the levee was built after the 1927
flood. The graveyard would today be located under the levee
and out onto the batture. The remains of the dead are long
gone, but what of the spirits?
Today, a little girl is a presence witnessed by many people
at Houmas House. Her true identity remains a mystery. If
you encounter her in the hallway or on the stairs, try to
ask her name.