There are lots of supposedly haunted places in the South, but Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, roughly 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, may just be home to the region’s most alleged ghosts per square foot. In fact, the mansion’s former owner, Frances Kermeen, takes it a step further, calling the house the most haunted in America.
Frances and her former husband, James, bought the plantation-turned-inn in 1980 after visiting it while on vacation. They were in their 20s at the time and knew little about the property’s history. By the time they would leave, more than 10 years later, Frances would have a trove of otherworldly encounters to rehash and her marriage would be over. Frances chronicled the frightening ordeal in her 2005 book, The Myrtles Plantation: The True Story of America’s Most Haunted House.
Frances moved down to Louisiana first; James stayed behind in California to tie up loose ends. During the transition between owners, the 28-room Creole cottage-style bed-and-breakfast continued honoring its guest reservations and the previous innkeeper stayed on to show Frances the ropes. On her second night there, a terrifying encounter left Frances reeling.
“I’d heard footsteps coming up the stairs and I didn’t think anything of it, but I had left my light off and I woke up and it was on, so I turned it off. Then the footsteps started up the stairs again. I figured it was one of the other guests but then the doorknob started rattling. I called out and nobody answered,” Frances told the podcast Mysterious Universe in 2015.
Concerned that someone had tried to enter her room, Frances made a dash downstairs once she thought the coast was clear, and tried to wake the owner. When he didn’t respond, she sought liquid courage from a few nips of cherry brandy, and eventually fell asleep on a sofa. She awoke to the feeling of someone watching her.
“I looked up and standing over me was a black lady. Her head was wrapped in a green turban,” Frances described on the podcast. “I could see her [holding an] old-fashioned tin with the loop in it [through] the candlelight and I lost it. I started screaming…I reached my hand out to touch her, I could tell she was a ghost because she was see-through, but as my hand passed through her, she faded away.”
Legend has it that a slave girl named Chloe was hanged on the propertyaround 1823, after she served poisoned food—laced with oleander, according to some—resulting in the death of the lady of the house, Sarah Woodruff, and her two young daughters. Other sources, however, indicate Sarah and her children died of yellow fever.
General Dave Bradford built Myrtles Plantation, then called Laurel Grove, in 1796 after he was banished from the United States for his involvement in the Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion, thus earning him the nickname Whiskey Dave. His wife and five children joined him there several years later. His daughter Sarah later inherited the house after marrying Judge Clarke Woodruff. Following the death of his wife and two of his three children (from either yellow fever or slave insurgence, depending on who you ask), he sold the property to Ruffin Stirling, who expanded the house and renamed it after the nearby crape myrtles.
Over the course of its 221-year history, Myrtles has witnessed numerous deaths—some natural, others the result of violent confrontations. William Winter, a lawyer who lived there from 1865-1871, was shot on the porch. Rumors allege that he staggered into the house, started going up the stairs looking for his wife, and died on the 17th step. Modern-day employees and guests have claimed to have heard his “dying steps” on the stairwell.
Chloe and William Winter are just two of the nine ghosts Frances says inhabit Myrtles. Though some say numerous murders have occurred there, historic records only confirm the shooting death of Winter.
“I had thousands of reports from guests in my 10 years there, from hearing things, seeing things, the bed lifting and floating around the room, to being chased down the stairs with a broom,” Frances told Mysterious Universe. Other supernatural sensory effects reported there include the scent of perfume emanating from an unknown source, and distant sounds of babies crying, and parties happening (again, with no logical source).
The home’s stained-glass entrance, an original feature, bears the emblem of the French cross. The porch and shutters are painted in haint blue, another superstitious precaution to ward off malevolent spirits.
As with any good ghost story, the tale of Myrtles Plantation has its critics. A Virginia Ghosts forum points to local newspaper reporting of William Winters’ death, for example: the impact of a single shotgun blast killed him instantly, it claims, effectively negating any logic behind reports of hearing Winter’s fateful footsteps on the stairs.