The Cottage Plantation as it looked prior to the disastrous fire in 1960.
Although it was destroyed nearly 40 years, the Cottage Plantation still lingers in the memories of many who live in the area of Baton Rouge Louisiana. The place is remembered for what it used to be, what it became.... and for the ghosts who are said to still walk here.
The Cottage was built in 1824 by Colonel Abner Duncan as a wedding gift for his daughter and her husband, Frederick Daniel Conrad. The house had 22 rooms and was considered one of the finest in the Baton Rouge area. Visitors to the house included such notables as Jefferson Davis, Henry Clay, Zachary Taylor, and the Marquis de Lafayette. The Conrad family itself had esteemed beginnings, tracing its ancestry to George and Martha Washington. In the years before the Civil War, life was very good at the Cottage. They imported furniture, collected a fortune in jewelry and amassed great wealth.
In the 1850's, another man came to live at the Cottage, a traveling teacher named Holt, who would become the private tutor to the Conrad children and Frederick Conrad's personal secretary. Holt became a part of the Conrad family and lived there happily until war came.
Life, after the beginning of the Civil War, changed forever. The Union Army took over the Cottage and removed everything that could be found of value, from horses to furniture to jewelry to even the clothing of the children. The troops occupied the plantation and held the family prisoner, being especially brutal with Frederick Conrad and his secretary, Mr. Holt.
After the troops left, the family abandoned the house and it was taken over and used as a hospital for Union soldiers with yellow fever. In the years that followed, this is probably what saved it from being destroyed by vandals. Many had died from the disease in the house and were buried on the grounds.... the fear that the sickness lingered kept many people away.
A few years later, Frederick Conrad died in New Orleans and Holt returned to the abandoned Cottage. He was a changed man, becoming a recluse, spending all of his time trying to repair the old house for what remained of the Conrad family, most of whom had been his students. He stooped shaving and was seen wandering the grounds of the Cottage with a long, white beard. Many local people avoided him, but they could never forget the wonderful man that he had once been and made frequent gifts of food to sustain him while he stayed on at the house.
When Holt finally died, friends went through his many trunks and found huge quantities of books and clothing, along with moldy half-eaten biscuits and portions of meals. Holt had taken to walking about the house at night, reliving the happier times in the house, and as he walked, he would munch on biscuits and meat and then throw the uneaten portion into one of his trunks.
Holt was taken away and lovingly buried in a local cemetery. The Conrad children would never forget what the man had meant to them.... but had he really left the Cottage?
As the years passed, the Cottage again stood empty. People who lived nearby said it was haunted. No one would go near the house after dark, fearing that Holt's ghost was still there. There were reports of doors opening and slamming by themselves and sightings of apparitions on the grounds. These shadowy figures were often seen, but when investigated, the place was found to be empty.
In the 1920's, the Conrad family began a restoration of the house. Luckily, thanks to the rumors of ghosts and yellow fever, the house had managed to survive fairly intact throughout the years. In the 1950's, the house was opened to the public and served as a museum to the memory of the Old South. It attracted a great deal of interest and artists came from all over the world to capture the flair of the south before the Civil War. It was also used at the set for several movies, including Cinerama Holiday and Band of Angels, starring Clark Gable.
During these days, the rumors of ghosts still persisted. Some visitors would report the sounds of singing and strange music in the house and on the grounds. It seems that in the heyday of the house, before the war, the Conrads would often entertain their guests by having their slaves sing for them and play music. Now, nearly a century later, the sounds of that music could still be heard at the house, a residual and ghostly echo from another time.
Other visitors had their own encounters... with Mr. Holt. He was said to be seen walking through the house, pulling at his long beard and mumbling to himself. One reporter for the Elks Magazine even photographed the ghost by accident. He was doing a story about the Cottage and after having his film developed, he noticed the image of an old man looking out the window. He was sure that no one had been there at the time and after showing it the staff members at the house.... they identified the man as Mr. Holt!
On a February morning in 1960, the Cottage burned to the ground. The firemen who were on the scene would later report a very strange incident. It seemed that while they were directing water on the house from the side garden, a man appeared in the upper window of the house. The fire fighters directed him to jump, but he never seemed to notice them or the fire that was all around him. The roof suddenly collapsed and the man was gone. After the fire was put out, they sifted the debris, searching the man's remains.... but they found nothing!
There are nothing but ruins now where the Cottage once stood but there are people who still venture out onto the land and claim to hear the sounds of music and singing there. They also claim to encounter the ghost of Mr. Holt as he wanders about the property.... perhaps still imaging life the way that it was many years ago.
Copyright 1999 by Troy Taylor
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