In an unnamed house in an unnamed town in a state named after King Louis XIV, I met a ghost.
We were never introduced properly – in fact, the housekeeper denied any and all ghosts the minute I walked in.
“Oh no, it’s not haunted – at least I’ve never seen anything,” she announced as she led me through the grand entryway and into the hallway dressed up with fall flower arrangements. The century-old house was massive – one huge square room after another, and each one decorated with antique parlor furniture, huge potted plants, heavy-framed mirrors and paintings, and crystal chandeliers that hung like glowing, upside-down wedding dresses.
It was a beautiful Southern mansion that like so many in Louisiana, now functions as a luxurious bed-and-breakfast. The housekeeper showed me my suite for the night – a tremendous king-size bed that weighed a few tons, smothered in a pile of pillows and with more white lace and satin than a royal christening.
I set my bags down on the floor and took in the size of the room—an immense place, cathedral-like.
“You’ll be staying alone in the house,” the housekeeper added, “There are no other guests tonight.”
I was afraid that would be the situation. It’s not the first time in my travels that I’ve been the sole inhabitant of some oversize, historic property. I’m used to it, though it’s not always comfortable.
“As long as you say it’s not haunted,” I joked, but the housekeeper did not laugh. In fact, she looked a little concerned.
“No, it’s not haunted,” she reassured me, but two seconds later, she began to elaborate. “Oh, there are stories, but nobody’s ever seen anything.” She paused, “I’ve never seen anything.”
I asked her to tell me more about the “stories” and out of the housekeeper’s mouth tumbled one Grade A Southern ghost story. Apparently the Cajun family who owned the house two owners ago reported the ghost of a little girl who, when she was alive, used to get locked up in the wooden closet under the stairs. Locked in the dark she would kick and scream against the door, a habit that she carried on into her next life.
Despite closing that door every night, the Cajun family noticed the closet door would always be wide open in the morning. Eventually, they began leaving little toys inside the closet at night to appease the unhappy little ghost.
The housekeeper told me this as if it were perfectly normal—and in my travels I’ve gathered that ghosts are pretty normal in Louisiana.
“Last year we had a Halloween party in the house and a lot of people dressed up as the ghosts that haunt their own houses. Guess what my costume was?” The housekeeper was suddenly cheerful again, “I dressed up as the little girl from under the stairs!” She wore a short black dress, put her hair in pigtails and walked around with an armful of toys.
I think I could have handled just about anything—if the housekeeper had told me that someone had hung himself in the foyer, or that the mansion was under some swamp curse, or that it was built on top of some old French cemetery—well, I would have coped fine with any of those.
But no—instead she was describing a bothered little girl ghost trapped in a closet with an armful of old-fashioned toys. Now that was super creepy.
The housekeeper offered to spend the night in the house as well, but I said no—I’d be fine in the house alone. At least, I thought I’d be fine.
Honestly, I thought very little of her ghost stories. I’ve traveled to enough odd places and gathered my own private collection of unexplained phenomena that I prefer to keep private and unexplained. I wasn’t ready to add an old Louisiana mansion to my list—it almost seemed too banal.
My Cajun housekeeper was friendly and welcoming. She showed me around the town and introduced me to nearly every person we ran into. I ended up having dinner with her and her husband at the local seafood restaurant and for hours we swapped stories and laughed.
“In Louisiana, you’re a friend until proven otherwise.” That’s what everyone had told me and I had found it to be quite true. From the minute you met someone, they were genuinely warm and hospitable.
It was only when she drove me back to the house that the housekeeper mentioned the ghost again.
“Oh, you’re gonna hear things tonight. You will,” she laughed nervously. Her approach had changed from a few hours earlier when she flat-out denied any kind of haunting.
I laughed it off and waved goodbye to the two of them as they drove away, then unlocked the door with my key and entered the house alone.
A few lights had been left on in some of the rooms and I did not feel the need to start walking around the huge house to turn them off one by one. Instead I made my way to my first-floor bedroom and then into the bathroom where I changed for bed and brushed my teeth.
That’s when I felt it—that really dreadful sensation of being watched by someone else. I felt coldness on the back of my neck and my spine tingled. I stared at my face in the mirror but there was nothing else there—no apparitions or vague reflections. I left the room and then shut the glass-paneled bathroom door, certain that I was simply scaring myself.
I sat down at the table, opened my laptop and began answering e-mail. It was a quarter ‘til eleven and the glow from my computer pulled me away from any fears and kept me focused on the mundane realities of our digital lives.
At eleven o’clock the noises started.
A pair of feet shuffled across the bathroom floor. I turned towards the door I had just closed. It was still closed—the only entrance into that room. The noise repeated itself—a pair of feet shuffling across the floor then stopping right at the other side of the bathroom door.
My fingers froze on the keyboard and I tried to think rationally. Certainly, the sounds had come from someone walking, and it was from inside the bathroom.
Yes, I was scared. My mind went through all the other things that might be making the noise—someone else entering the house, some (very large) wild animal scurrying about—but no, those had been feet pattering along the floor.
That’s when I crawled into the giant bed and took up my defensive position, armed pitifully with my cell phone and laptop.
At midnight, I heard a loud thump upstairs. Then another followed by another. Soon there was clatter all about—dull thuds, a few bangs, followed by the sound of someone (or many?) walking around on the second floor. I remained frozen in my bed, tweeting my terror out into the great digital cloud.
“There are strange noises coming from upstairs.” I was using Twitter to document the paranormal event that was unfolding around me.
Yes, I was terrified. I hadn’t taken the housekeeper seriously and now it was nearly midnight and I was stuck in a giant bed in a giant mansion that had suddenly come alive with strange noises.
No, they were not simply “old house” noises that old houses make. There was no air conditioning or heat running. It was not simply the humid air turning cooler and the house settling back into its foundations, as many Twitter followers tried to explain to me. I was confident that I was the only person in the house, and yet the sounds from upstairs had me convinced someone else was moving around up there.
A few minutes later, I heard the sound of someone running down the stairs. Whatever it was had joined me on the first floor. I stared at the bedroom door, then reverted to Facebook chat for some kind of small comfort.
I chatted with friends in different countries, explaining my dilemma—that I was wide awake in a house which was most likely haunted by a traumatized little girl and that honestly, this was the kind of adventure on which I’d be happy to take a pass.
Eventually, the footsteps went back up the stairs and the clatter intensified. I wanted to laugh—but couldn’t—as I read my Twitter friends arguing about the existence of ghosts, all the while I was listening to what sounded like bowling balls rolling around on the floor above me and doors slamming shut.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Via social media, I began to get a flood of real-time advice on how to deal with my real-time haunting. Some said to confront the “thing”, others said to call the police and report intruders, a few insisted I turn on the TV, some said to pray to St. Michael, others said St. Joseph was better with this sort of thing. The Hindus in India said to burn incense. My friend who’s a nun in Europe told me to leave the house immediately (which did not make me feel better about my situation).
I don’t remember sleeping much, but eventually my body grew so tired that I lay down, wrapped up like a mummy in my blankets. The house became silent once more, and for several hours I listened to the stillness, still terrified but hopeful that the worst was over. All I had to do was make it until morning.
I awoke at around 4 a.m. to the sound of tinkling glass, which grew louder and louder. It was the sound of crystal glasses clinking against crystal. Then somebody was stacking china.
My mind reflected on everything I had heard through the night. I mentally begged the ghost(s) to shut up so that I could get some sleep. I thought of the last family who had lived here, how they had appeased the ghost with toys. I had no toys to offer—the only thing I had in my bag was a small harmonica that I had recently purchased. For a second I was relieved, as if I had something positive to offer the ghost, but then I realized that if I suddenly heard a harmonica playing in the darkness I would probably die of cardiac arrest.
And so I stayed in bed until morning, not sleeping and not moving. I waited until I heard the housekeeper arrive and begin preparing breakfast back in the kitchen—only then did I crawl out of bed, open the bathroom door, take a shower and get dressed. I took my bags out into the car, then re-entered the house through the kitchen.
The housekeeper acted nonchalant. She gave me breakfast and chatted about the weather until I finally interrupted. I told her what happened—all the different sounds that I had heard, and how I had been kept awake for most of the night.
She responded with a few confessions. “You know, my son won’t even set foot in this house. He’ll come to the door but won’t ever cross into it.” As a teenager, he played with the owner’s son inside the house and had one creepy experience that kept him away ever since. The housekeeper also told me about her little niece talking alone upstairs, chatting with some unseen friend. Then she told me about the “professional” ghost hunters who had come in and recorded floating orbs and EVPs and plastered the images all over the internet—all the ghost buster stuff that’s lately become so popular on television.
And yet she would never admit that she had any proof of anything. She needed the house not to be haunted, which made sense to me. (If I worked all day in a big old Southern mansion, I would not want it to be haunted either.)
Still, as we talked, the housekeeper repeatedly acknowledged the very real possibility of some kind of ghost, as well as the owner’s own understanding that the house was special. Perhaps that’s why she keeps telling people the house is not haunted.
“If there is something in the house, then we don’t want the wrong kind of people coming in and provoking it —we don’t want anyone bothering it.” That seemed the right attitude, although I am personally unacquainted with Southern ghost etiquette. Yet I was surprised by the housekeeper’s duality on the subject.
All that I know is that I stayed alone in that house all night long, during which time I heard a lot of unexplained noises.
Yes, perhaps my mind played tricks all night, maybe giant raccoons were wearing people slippers and running up and down the floors. Maybe the neighbor kids snuck into the house and played tricks on me.
Or maybe, just maybe, there was a ghost of a little girl, who escaped her prisoner’s closet beneath the stairs and ran amok all night, down and up the stairs, jostling the crystal and china, then giggling to herself as she scared the crap out of that tall Yankee gentleman holed up in the guest room.