The True Story of the Myrtles
Appears in the book "So, There I Was..." by Troy Taylor & Len Adams!
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THE LEGENDARY MYRTLES PLANTATION IN ST. FRANCISVILLE,
LOUISIANA HAS LONG BEEN REGARDED AS ONE OF “AMERICA’S MOST
HAUNTED HOUSES”. AND WHILE SCORES OF GHOST HUNTERS WILL
SWEAR TO THE FACT THAT THE HOUSE IS INFESTED WITH GHOSTS,
THESE SAME INVESTIGATORS WOULD BE PUZZLED TO LEARN THAT FEW
OF THE STORIES THAT HAVE BEEN PASSED ALONG AS “FACT”
THIS HOUSE IS CERTAINLY HAUNTED -- BUT NOT FOR ANY OF THE
REASONS THAT WE HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR SO LONG! FOR THE FIRST
TIME, DISCOVER THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE MYRTLES AND ITS
PLETHORA OF GHOSTS AND HAUNTINGS!
Handprints in the mirrors, footsteps on the stairs,
mysterious smells, vanishing objects, death by poison, hangings, murder and
gunfire -- the Myrtles Plantation in the West Feliciana town of St.
Francisville, Louisiana holds the rather dubious record of hosting more
ghostly phenomena than just about any other house in the country. But what
could be more dubious than the honor itself -- perhaps some of the
questionable history that has been presented to “explain” why the house is
so haunted in the first place!
Long perceived as one of the most haunted house in America, the Myrtles
attracts an almost endless stream of visitors each year and many of them
come in search of ghosts. It is not our purpose here to do anything to
discourage these visitors from coming -- or even to discourage them to
looking for the ghosts that they can almost certainly find here. The purpose
of this article is to question the “facts” as they have been presented by
several generations of Myrtles owners and guides -- facts and history that
many of them know is blatantly false. We have no wish to try and debunk the
ghosts, merely the identities that they have been given over the years. The
Myrtles, according to hundreds of people who have encountered the
unexplained here, is haunted -- but not for the reasons that we have all
But why go to the trouble to debunk the myths that have been created over
the last fifty-some-odd years? Surely, they aren’t hurting anyone, so why
bother to expose them as the creation of rich imaginations? To that, we can
only say that no dedicated ghost hunter should be afraid to seek the truth.
As the history of a house is the most important key to discovering just why
it might be haunted in the first place, it seems to be imperative to
discover the real history of the site. It has often been recommended to sift
through the legends and folklore of the place in a search for a kernel of
truth. This is exactly what we did in the article that follows --- we have
examined the lore in a search for the truth and have found it. It might not
be as glamorous as the legends of the Myrtles Plantation that we have all
heard about but it is certainly strange. The real history of the plantation
is filled with death, tragedy and despair, leading us to wonder why a
fanciful history was created in its place. That question will likely never
be answered but many others will.
THE HISTORY OF THE MYRTLES PLANTATION:
THE TRUTH & THE LEGENDS
Since the Myrtles was built by David Bradford in 1794, it has allegedly been
the site of the scene of at least 10 murders. In truth, only one person was
ever murdered here but as has been stated already, some of the people who
have owned the house have never let the truth stand in the way of a good
story. But as you will soon see, the plantation has an unusual history that
genuinely did occur -- and one that could (and has) left its own real ghosts
David Bradford was born in America to Irish immigrants and was one of five
children. In 1777. He purchased a tract of land and a small stone house near
Washington County, Pennsylvania. He became a successful attorney,
businessman and Deputy Attorney General for the county. His first attempt to
marry ended only days before his wedding (nothing is known about this) but
he later met and married Elizabeth Porter in 1785 and started a family.
As his family and business grew, Bradford needed a larger home and built a
new one in the town of Washington. The house became well known in the region
for its size and remarkable craftsmanship, with a mahogany staircase and
woodwork imported from England. Many of the items had to be transported from
the east coast and over the Pennsylvania mountains at great expense.
Bradford would use the parlor of the house as an office, where he would meet
with his clients.
Unfortunately, he was not able to enjoy the house for long. In October 1794,
he was forced to flee the house, leaving his family behind. Bradford became
involved in the infamous Whiskey Rebellion and legend has it that President
George Washington placed a price on the man’s head for his role in the
affair. The Whiskey Rebellion took place in western Pennsylvania and really
began as a series of grievances over high prices and taxes forced on those
living along the frontier at that time. The complaints eventually erupted
into violence when a mob attacked and burned down the home of a local tax
collector. In the months that followed, residents resisted a tax that had
been placed on whiskey and while most of the protests were nonviolent,
Washington mobilized a militia and sends them into suppress the rebellion.
Once the protests were brought under control, Bradford left the region on
the advice of some of the other principals in the affair.
After leaving Washington, Bradford first went to Pittsburgh. Leaving his
family in safety, he traveled down the Ohio River to the Mississippi. He
eventually settled near Bayou Sara, near what is now St. Francisville,
Louisiana. Bradford was no stranger to this area. He had originally traveled
here in 1792 to try and obtain a land grant from Spain. When he returned in
1796, he purchased 600 acres of land and a year later, built a modest,
eight-room home that he named “Laurel Grove”. He lived there alone until
1799, when he received a pardon for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion from
newly elected President John Adams. He was given the pardon for his
assistance in establishing a boundary line, known historically as
“Ellicott’s Line” between Spain and the United States.
After receiving the pardon, Bradford returned to Pennsylvania to bring his
wife and five children back to Louisiana. He returned again to Pennsylvania
in 1801 to try and sell his home but after two years passed with no buyers,
he finally agreed to trade the home and property for 230 barrels of flour
that were to be delivered to his home in Bayou Sarah. At the time, New
Orleans was suffering from a shortage of flour and he thought he could sell
the barrels and make back any money that he had lost in the trade. However,
until the day that he died in 1817, he never received the shipment of flour.
He tried repeatedly for years to settle the debt but it simply never
While living in Bayou Sarah, Bradford occasionally took in students who
wanted to study the law. One of them, Clark Woodrooff, not only earned a law
degree but he also married his teacher's daughter, Sarah Mathilda.
Clark Woodrooff was born in Litchfield County, Connecticut in August 1791.
Having no desire to follow in his father's footsteps as a farmer, he left
Connecticut at the age of 19 and sought his fortune on the Mississippi
River, ending up in Bayou Sarah. He arrived in 1810, the same year that
citizens of the Feliciana parish rose up in revolt against the Spanish
garrison at Baton Rouge. They overthrew the Spanish and then set up a new
territory with its capital being St. Francisville. The territory extended
from the Mississippi River to as far east as the Perdido River near Mobile.
Still seeking to make his fortune, Woodrooff placed an advertisement in the
new St. Francisville newspaper, the Time Piece , in the summer of 1811. He
informed the public that "an academy would be opening on the first Monday in
September for the reception of students." He planned to offer English,
grammar, astronomy, geography, elocution, composition, penmanship and Greek
and Latin languages. The academy was apparently short-lived for in 1814, he
joined Colonel Hide's cavalry regiment from the Feliciana parish to fight
alongside Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. When the smoke
cleared and the War of 1812 had ended, Woodrooff returned to St.
Francisville with the intention of studying law.
He began his studies with Judge David Bradford and soon earned his degree.
He also succumbed to the charms of the Bradford daughter, the lovely Sarah
Mathilda. Their romance blossomed under the shade of the crape myrtles that
reportedly gave the home its lasting name. The young couple was married on
November 19, 1817 and for their honeymoon, Woodrooff took his new bride to
the Hermitage, the Tennessee home of his friend, Andrew Jackson.
After the death of David Bradford, Woodrooff managed Laurel Grove for his
mother-in-law, Elizabeth. He expanded the holdings of the plantation and
planted about 650 acres of indigo and cotton. Together, he and Sarah
Mathilda had three children, Cornelia Gale, James, and Mary Octavia.
Tragically though, their happiness would not last.
On July 21, 1823, Sarah Mathilda died after contacting yellow fever. The
disease was spread through a number of epidemics that swept through
Louisiana in those days. Hardly a family in the region went untouched by
tragedy and despair. Although heartbroken, Woodrooff continued to manage the
plantation and to care for his children with help from Elizabeth. But the
dark days were not yet over… On July 15, 1824, his only son James, also died
from yellow fever and two months later, in September, Cornelia Gale was also
felled by the dreaded disease.
Woodrooff's life would never be the same but he managed to purchase the farm
outright from his mother-in-law. She was quite elderly by this time and was
happy to see the place in good hands. She continued to live at Laurel Grove
with her son-in-law and granddaughter Octavia until her death in 1830.
After Elizabeth died, Woodrooff turned his attentions away from farming to
the practice of law. He and Octavia moved away from Laurel Grove and he left
the plantation under the management of a caretaker. He was appointed to a
judge's position over District D in Covington, Louisiana and he served in
this capacity until April 1835. On January 1, 1834, he sold Laurel Grove to
Ruffin Grey Stirling.
By this time, Woodrooff was living on Rampart Street in New Orleans and had
changed the spelling of his last name to "Woodruff". He had also been
elected as the president of public works for the city. During this period,
Octavia was sent to a finishing school in New Haven, Connecticut but she
returned home to live with her father in 1836. Two years later, she married
Colonel Lorenzo Augustus Besancon and moved to his plantation, Oaklawn, five
miles north of New Orleans.
In 1840, the Louisiana governor, Isaac Johnson, appointed Woodruff to the
newly created office of Auditor of Public Works and he served for one term.
Then, at 60 years of age, he retired and moved to Oaklawn to live with
Octavia and her husband. He devoted the remainder of his life to the study
of chemistry and physics and died on November 25, 1851. He was buried in the
Girod Street Cemetery in New Orleans.
An interesting side note to the story concerns this cemetery. The graveyard
fell into great disrepair and was eventually abandoned. In the 1960's, the
city hoped to renovate this part of the city and sent out a notice to
families that the cemetery was going to be moved to a new location on Canal
Street. The bodies that were not claimed were gathered and placed in large
drums, then buried in a mass grave under the Hope Mausoleum. Clark Woodruff
was one of those who was not claimed. The old Girod Street Cemetery was once
located under the present-day site of the New Orleans Superdome.
In 1834, Laurel Grove was purchased by Ruffin Grey Stirling. The Stirling's
were a very wealthy family who owned several plantations on both sides of
the Mississippi River. On January 1, Ruffin Grey Stirling and his wife, Mary
Catherine Cobb, took over the house, land, buildings and all of the slaves
that had been bought from Elizabeth Bradford by her son-in-law.
Since the Stirling's were so well thought of in the community, they needed a
house that was befitting their social status. They decided to remodel Laurel
Grove. Stirling added the broad central hallway of the house and the entire
southern section. The walls of the original house were removed and
repositioned to create four large rooms that were used as identical ladies
and gentlemen's parlors, a formal dining room and a game room. Year-long
trips to Europe to purchase fine furnishings resulted in the importation of
skilled craftsmen as well. Elaborate plaster cornices were created for many
of the rooms, made from a mixture of clay, Spanish moss and cattle hair. On
the outside of the house, Stirling added a 107-foot long front gallery that
was supported by cast-iron support posts and railings. The original roof of
the house was extended to encompass the new addition, copying the existing
dormers to maintain a smooth line. The addition had higher ceilings than the
original house so the second story floor was raised one foot. The completed
project nearby doubled the size of David Bradford's house and in keeping
with the renovations, the name of the plantation was officially changed to
Four years after the completion of the project, Stirling died on July 17,
1854 of consumption. He left his vast holdings in the care of his wife, Mary
Cobb, who most referred to as a remarkable woman. Many other plantation
owners stated that she "had the business acumen of a man", which was high
praise for a woman in those days, and she managed to run all of she and her
husband's farms almost single-handedly, for many years.
In spite of this, the family was often visited by tragedy. Of nine children,
only four of them lived to be old enough to marry. The oldest son, Lewis,
died in the same year as his father and daughter Sarah Mulford's husband was
actually murdered on the front porch of the house after the Civil War. The
war itself wreaked on the Myrtles and the Stirling family. Many of the
family's personal belongings were looted and destroyed by Federal soldiers
and the wealth that they had accumulated was ultimately in worthless
Confederate currency. To make matters worse, Mary Cobb had been invested
heavily in sugar plantations that had been ravaged by the war. She
eventually lost all of her property. She never let the tragedies of the war,
and others that followed after, overcome her however and she held onto the
Myrtles until her death in August 1880. She is buried next to her husband in
a family plot at Grace Church in St. Francisville.
On December 5, 1865, Mary Cobb hired, William Drew Winter, the husband of
her daughter, Sarah Mulford, to act as her agent and attorney and to help
her manage the plantation lands. As part of the deal, she gave Sarah and
William the Myrtles as their home.
William Winter had been born to Captain Samuel Winter and Sarah Bowman on
October 28, 1820 in Bath, Maine. Little is known about his life or how he
managed to meet Sarah Mulford Stirling. However, they were married on June
3, 1852 at the Myrtles and together, they had six children, Mary, Sarah,
Kate, Ruffin, William and Francis. Kate died from typhoid at the age of
three. The Winter's first lived at Gantmore plantation, near Clinton,
Louisiana and then bought a plantation on the west side of the Mississippi
known as Arbroath.
Twelve years after the death of Ruffin Stirling, and after the Civil War,
William was named as agent and attorney by Mary Stirling to help her with
the remaining lands, including Ingleside, Crescent Park, Botany Bay and the
Myrtles. In return, Mary gave William the use of the Myrtles as his home.
Times were terrible though and Winter was unable to hold onto it. By
December 1867, he was completely bankrupt and the Myrtles was sold by the
U.S. Marshal to the New York Warehouse & Security Company on April 15, 1868.
Two years late however, on April 23,the property was sold back Mrs. Sarah M.
Winter as the heir of her late father, Ruffin G. Stirling. It is unknown
just what occurred to cause this reversal of fortune but it seemed as though
things were improving for the family once again.
But soon after, tragedy struck the Myrtles once more. According to the
January 1871 issue of the Point Coupee Democrat newspaper, Winter was
teaching a Sunday School lesson in the gentlemen's parlor of the house when
he heard someone approach the house on horseback. After the stranger called
out to him and told him that he had some business with him, Winter went out
onto the side gallery of the house and was shot. He collapsed onto the porch
and died. Those inside of the house, stunned by the sound of gunfire and the
retreating horse, hurried outside to find the fallen man. Winter died on
January 26, 1871 and was buried the following day at Grace Church. The
newspaper reported that a man named E.S. Webber was to stand trial for
Winter's murder but no outcome of the case was ever recorded. As far as is
known, Winter's killer remains unidentified and unpunished.
Sarah was devastated by the incident and never remarried. She remained at
the Myrtles with her mother and brothers until her death in April 1878 at
the age of only 44.
After the death of Mary Cobb Stirling in 1880, the Myrtles was purchased by
Stephen Stirling, one of her sons. He bought out his brothers but only
maintained ownership of the house until March 1886. There are some who say
that he squandered what was left of his fortune and lost the plantation in a
game of chance but most likely, the place was just too deep in debt for him
to hold onto. He sold the Myrtles to Oran D. Brooks, ending his family's
ownership. Brooks kept it until January 1889 when, after a series of
transfers, it was purchased by Harrison Milton Williams, a Mississippi
widower who brought his young son and second wife, Fannie Lintot Haralson,
to the house in 1891.
Injured during the Civil War, in which he began service as a 15 year-old
Confederate cavalry courier, Williams planted cotton and gained a reputation
as a hard-working and industrious man. He and his family, which grew to
include his wife and seven children, kept the Myrtles going during the hard
times of the post-war South. But tragedy was soon to strike the Myrtles
During a storm, the Williams' oldest son, Harry, was trying to gather up
some stray cattle and fell into the Mississippi and drowned. Shattered with
grief, Harrison and Fannie turned over management of the property to their
son Surget Minor Williams, who married a local girl named Jessie Folkes and
provided a home at the Myrtles for his spinster sister and maiden aunt
Katie. Secretly called "the colonel" behind her back, Katie was a true
Southern character. Eccentric and kind, but with a gruff exterior, she kept
life interesting at the house for years.
By the 1950's, the property surrounding the house had been divided among the
Williams heirs and the house itself was sold to Marjorie Munson, an Oklahoma
widow who had been made wealthy by chicken farms. It was at this point, they
say, that the ghost stories of the house began. They started innocently
enough but soon, what may have been real-life ghostly occurrences took on a
"life" of their own.
|THE GHOSTS STORIES OF THE MYRTLES:
SEPARATING TRUTH FROM FICTION
There is no question that the most famous ghostly tale of the
Myrtles is that of Chloe, the vengeful slave who murdered the wife
and two daughters of Clark Woodruff in a fit of jealously and anger.
Those who have been reading the article so far have already guessed
that there are some serious flaws in this story but for the sake of
being complete, we have include the story here as it has long been
told by owners and guides at the house.
The restored elegance of the Myrtles
today (David Wiseheart)
THE LEGEND OF CHLOE
According to the story, the troubles that led to the haunting began in 1817
when Sarah Mathilda married Clark Woodruff. Sara Matilda had given birth to
two daughters and was carrying a third child, when an event took place that
still haunts the Myrtles today.
Woodruff, had a reputation in the region for integrity with men and with the
law, but was also known for being promiscuous. While his wife was pregnant
with their third child, he started an intimate relationship with one of his
slaves. This particular girl, whose name was Chloe, was a household servant
who, while she hated being forced to give in to Woodruff's sexual demands,
realized that if she didn't, she could be sent to work in the fields, which
was the most brutal of the slave's work.
Eventually, Woodruff tired of Chloe and chose another girl with whom to
carry on. Chloe feared the worst, sure that she was going to be sent to the
fields, and she began eavesdropping on the Woodruff family's private
conversations, dreading the mention of her name. One day, the Judge caught
her at this and ordered that one of her ears be cut off to teach her a
lesson and to put her in her place. After that time, she always wore a green
turban around her head to hide the ugly scar that the knife had left behind.
What actually happened next is still unclear. Some claim that what occurred
was done so that the family would just get sick and then Chloe could nurse
them back to health and earn the Judge's gratitude. In this way, she would
be safe from ever being returned to the fields. Others say that her motives
were not so pure though and that what she did was for one reason only --
For whatever reason, Chloe put a small amount of poison into a birthday cake
that was made in honor of the Woodruff's oldest daughter. In with the flour
and sugar went a handful of crushed oleander flowers. The two children, and
Sarah Mathilda, each had slices of the poisoned cake but Woodruff didn't eat
any of it. Before the end of the day, all of them were very sick. Chloe
patiently attended to their needs, never realizing (if it was an accident)
that she had given them too much poison. In a matter of hours, all three of
them were dead.
The other slaves, perhaps afraid that their owner would punish them also,
dragged Chloe from her room and hanged her from a nearby tree. Her body was
later cut down, weighted with rocks and thrown into the river. Woodruff
closed off the children's dining room, where the party was held, and never
allowed it to be used again as long as he lived. Tragically, his life was
cut short a few years later by a murderer. To this day, the room where the
children were poisoned has never again been used for dining. It is called
the game room today.
Since her death, the ghost of Chloe has been reported at the Myrtles and was
even accidentally photographed by a past owner. The plantation still sells
picture postcards today with the cloudy image of what is purported to be
Chloe standing between two of the buildings. The former slave is thought to
be the most frequently encountered ghost at the Myrtles. She has often been
seen in her green turban, wandering the place at night. Sometimes the cries
of little children accompany her appearances and at other times, those who
are sleeping are startled awake by her face, peering at them from the side
of the bed.
I am sure that after reading this story, even the most non-discerning
readers have discovered a number of errors and problems with the tale. In
fact, there are so many errors that it's difficult to know where to begin.
However, to start, it's a shame that the character of Clark Woodruff has
been so thoroughly damaged over the years with stories about his adulterous
affairs with his slaves and claims that he had the ear cut off of one of his
lovers. Sadly, these stories have been accepted as fact, even though no
evidence whatsoever exists to say that they are true. In fact, history seems
to show that Woodruff was very devoted to his wife and in fact, was so
distraught over her death that he never remarried.
Before we get to the problem of Chloe's existence, we should also examine
the alleged murders of Sarah Mathilda and her two daughters. In this case,
the legend has twisted the truth so far that it is unrecognizable. Sarah
Mathilda was not murdered. She died tragically from yellow fever (according
to historical record) in 1823. Her children, a son and a daughter - not both
daughters, died more than a year after she did. They certainly did not die
from the result of a poisoned birthday cake. Also, with this legend, Octavia
would not have existed at all (her mother was supposed to have been pregnant
when murdered) but we know that she lived with her father, got married and
lived to a ripe old age. In addition, Woodruff was not killed either. He
died peacefully at his daughter and son-in-law's plantation in 1851.
The key to the legend of course, is Chloe, the murderous slave. The problem
with this is that as far as we can tell, Chloe never existed at all. Not
only did she not murder members of the Woodruff family but it's unlikely
that the family ever even had a slave by this name. While living in
Louisiana, researcher David Wiseheart's curiosity about the history and
hauntings of the Myrtles was so great that he spent countless hours tracking
down information about the plantation. It would be to his disappointment
that, while looking through property records of the Woodruff family, that he
learned that they had not owned a slave, nor was there any record of a
slave, by the name of Chloe (or even Cleo, as she appears in some versions
of the story).
So who did such a story get started?
In the 1950's, the Myrtles was owned by wealthy widow Marjorie Munson, who
began to notice that odd things were occurring in the house, according to
local stories. Wondering if perhaps the old mansion might be haunted, she
asked around and that's when the legend of "Chloe" got its start. According
to the granddaughter of Harrison and Fannie Williams, Lucile Lawrason, her
aunts used to talk about the ghost of an old woman who haunted the Myrtles
and who wore a green bonnet. They often laughed about it and it became a
family story. She was never given a name and in fact, the "ghost" with the
green bonnet from the story was described as an older woman, never as a
young slave who might have been involved in an affair with the owner of the
house. Regardless, someone repeated this story of the Williams' family ghost
to Marjorie Munson and she soon penned a song about the ghost of the
Myrtles, a woman in a green beret.
As time wore on, the story grew and changed. The Myrtles changed hands
several more times and in the 1970's, it was restored again under the
ownership of Arlin Dease and Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Ward. During this
period, the story grew even larger and was greatly embellished to include
the poison murders and the severed ear. Up until this point though, it was
largely just a story that was passed on by word of mouth and it received
little attention outside of the area. All of that changed though when James
and Frances Kermeen Myers passed through on a riverboat and decided to
purchase the Myrtles. The house came furnished with period antiques and
enough ghost stories to attract people from all over the country.
Soon, the story of the Myrtles was appearing in magazines and books and
receiving a warm reception from ghost enthusiasts, who had no idea that what
they were hearing was a badly skewed version of the truth. The house
appeared in a November 1980 issue of LIFE magazine but the first book
mention that I have been able to find about the house was in Richard Winer's
book Houses of Horror. Both of them mentioned the poison deaths of
Sarah Mathilda and her daughters.
As time went on and more books and television shows came calling at the
Myrtles, the story changed again and this time, took on even more murders.
In addition to the deaths of Sarah Mathilda, her daughters and Chloe, it was
alleged that as many as six other people had also been killed in the house.
One of them, Lewis Stirling, the oldest son of Ruffin Grey Stirling, was
claimed to have been stabbed to death in the house over a gambling debt.
However, burial records in St. Francisville state that he died at the age of
23 in October 1854 from yellow fever.
The ominous central staircase where William Winter allegedly
died on the 17th step (David Wiseheart)
According to legend, three Union
soldiers were killed in the house after they broke in and attempted
to loot the place. They were allegedly shot to death in the
gentlemen's parlor, leaving bloodstains on the floor that refused to
be wiped away. Once fanciful account has it that years later, after
the Myrtles was opened as an inn, a maid was mopping the floor and
came to a spot that, no matter how hard she pushed, she was unable
to reach. Supposedly, the spot was the same size as a human body and
this was said to have been where one of the Union soldiers fell. The
strange phenomenon was said to have lasted for a month and has not
occurred since. The only problem with this story is that no soldiers
were ever killed in the house. There are no records or evidence to
say that there were and in fact, surviving family members denied the
story was true. If the ghostly incident occurred, then it must have
been caused by something else.
Another murder allegedly occurred
in 1927, when a caretaker at the house was killed during a robbery.
Once again, no record exists of this crime and something as recent
as this would have been widely reported. The only event even close
to this, which may have spawned this part of the story, occurred
when the brother of Fannie Williams, Eddie Haralson, was living in a
small house on the property. He was killed while being robbed but
this did not occur in the main house, as the story states.
The only verifiable murder to occur at the Myrtles was
that of William Drew Winter and it differs wildly from the legends that have
been told. As described previously, Winter was lured out of the house by a
rider, who shot him to death on the side porch. It is here where the stories
take a turn for the worse. In the legend, Winter was shot and then mortally
wounded, staggered back into the house, passed through the gentlemen's
parlor and the ladies parlor and onto the staircase that rises from the
central hallway. He then managed to climb just high enough to die in his
beloved's arms on exactly the 17th step. It has since been claimed that
ghostly footsteps have been heard coming into the house, walking to the
stairs and then climbing to the 17th step where they, of course, come to an
While dramatic, this event never happened either. Winter was indeed murdered
on the front porch by an unknown assailant but after being shot, he
immediately fell down and died. His bloody trip through the house never took
place --- information that was easily found in historical records.
The house mirror where the
spectral images of the Myrtles’ “murder victims” are said to
manifest. The closer look on the right shows some of the marks
believed to be signs from the spirits (David Wiseheart)
Another "haunted highlight" of the Myrtles is a large
mirror that, according to some of the owners, is said to hold the spirits of
some of those who have died in the house. Those who photograph the mirror
will often find that the developed picture holds the images of handprints of
a number of people, seemingly inside of the glass. When these spectral
images first appeared, the mirror was thoroughly cleaned but the prints
remained. Perplexed, the owners then tried replacing the glass, thinking
that perhaps they were flaws in the mirror itself. Strangely though, the
Those who studied the mirror have suggested that perhaps the handprints (or
images like them) are in the wood behind the mirror and not in the glass at
all. In this way, lights (like a camera flash) pass through the glass and
pick up the marks on the wood. This would cause the "handprints" to appear
in every mirror that hangs in this location, no matter what glass is used.
Believers disagree though and not surprisingly, so do the tour guides. And
while the subject is certainly open for debate, I believe that the "weird"
images belong not in the category of ghostly phenomena but rather in that of
the imagination instead.
IS THE MYRTLES REALLY HAUNTED?
The purpose of this article has never been to say that the Myrtles
Plantation is not haunted. In fact, there is no denying that the sheer
number of accounts that have been reported and collected here would cause
the house to qualify as one of the most haunted sites in the country.
However, as you can see from the preceding pages, the house may be haunted -
but not for the reasons that have been claimed for so many years.
In all likelihood, the infamous Chloe never existed and even if she did,
historical records prove that Sarah Mathilda and her children were never
murdered but died from a terrible disease instead. Instead of 10 murders in
the house, only one occurred and when William Winter died, he certainly did
not stagger up the staircase to die on the 17th step, as the stories of his
phantom footsteps allegedly bear out. Such tales belong in the realm of
fiction and ghostlore --- stories that were created to explain the weird
goings-on that were really taking place at the Myrtles.
The house may really be haunted by the ghost of a woman in a green turban or
bonnet. The Williams family had an ongoing tale of her and while it may have
been a story that was never meant to be told outside the family, the story
was told regardless. They admit that while she did exist, although no
identity was ever given to her. It's also very likely that something unusual
was going on at the Myrtles when Marjorie Munson lived there, which led to
her seeking answers and to her first introduction to the ghost in the green
headdress. Did she see the ghost? Who knows - but many others have claimed
that they have.
Frances Myers claimed that she encountered the ghost in the green turban in
1987. She was asleep in one of the downstairs bedrooms when she was awakened
suddenly by a black woman wearing a green turban and a long dress. She was
standing silently beside the bed, holding a metal candlestick in her hand.
She was so real that the candle even gave off a soft glow. Knowing nothing
about ghosts, she was terrified and pulled the covers over her head and
started screaming! Then she slowly looked out and reached out a hand to
touch the woman, who had never moved, and to her amazement, the apparition
Others claim that they have also seen the ghost and in fact, she was
purportedly photographed a number of years ago. The resulting image (which
we cannot reproduce here because of copyright reasons) seems to show a woman
that does not fit the description of a young woman like Chloe would have
been. In fact, it looks more like the older woman that was described by the
Williams family. Could this be the real ghost of the Myrtles?
Even after leaving out the ridiculous stories of the poisonings and Winter's
dramatic death on the staircase, the history of the Myrtles is still filled
with more than enough trauma and tragedy to cause the place to become
haunted. There were a number of deaths in the house, from yellow fever
alone, and it's certainly possible that any of the deceased might have
stayed behind after death. If ghosts stay behind in this world because of
unfinished business, there are a number of candidates to be the restless
ghosts of the plantation's stories.
And, if we believe the stories, the place truly is infested by spirits from
different periods in the history of the house. There have been many reports
of children who are seen playing on the wide verandah of the house, in the
hallways and in the rooms. The small boy and girl may be the Woodruff
children who, while not poisoned, died within months of each other during
one of the many yellow fever epidemics that brought tragedy to the Myrtles.
A young girl, with long curly hair and wearing an ankle-length dress, has
been seen floating outside the window of the game room, cupping her hands
and trying to peer inside through the glass. Is she Cornelia Gale Woodruff
or perhaps one of the Stirling children who did not survive until adulthood.
The grand piano on the first floor also plays by itself, usually repeating
the same chord over and over again. Sometimes it continues on through the
night. When someone comes into the room to check on the sound, the music
stops and will only start again when they leave.
Scores of people have filed strange reports about the house. In recent
times, various owners have taken advantage of the Myrtles' infamous
reputation and the place is now open to guests for tours and as a haunted
bed and breakfast. Rooms are rented in the house and in cottages on the
grounds. The plantation has played host to a wide variety of guests from
curiosity-seekers to historians to ghost hunters. Over the years, a number
of films and documentaries have also been shot on the ground and many of
them have been paranormal in nature.
One film, which was decidedly not paranormal, was a television mini-series
remake of The Long Hot Summer, starring Don Johnson, Cybill Shepherd,
Ava Gardner and Jason Robards. A portion of the show was shot at the Myrtles
and it was not an experience that the cast and crew would soon forget. One
day, the crew moved the furniture in the game room and the dining room for
filming and then left the room. When they returned, they reported that the
furniture had been moved back to its original position. No one was inside of
either room while the crew was absent! This happened several times, to the
dismay of the crew, although they did manage to get the shots they needed.
They added that the cast was happy to move on to another set once the
filming at the Myrtles was completed.
The employees at the house often get the worst of the events that happen
here. They are often exposed, first-hand, to events that would have weaker
folks running from the place in terror. And some of them do! One employee, a
gateman, was hired to greet guests at the front gate each day. One day while
he was at work, a woman in a white, old-fashioned dress walked through the
gate without speaking to him. She walked up to the house and vanished
through the front door without ever opening it. The gateman quit his job and
never returned to the house.
BEHIND THE LEGEND
As you can see, the Myrtles can be a perplexing place. History has shown
that many of the stories that have been told about the place, mostly to
explain the hauntings, never actually occurred. In spite of this, the house
seems to be haunted anyway. The truth seems to be an elusive thing at this
grand old plantation house but there seems to be no question for those who
have stayed or visited here that it is a spirited place. At the Myrtles, the
ghosts of the past are never very far away from the present - whether we
know their identities or not.
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2013 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.