Join longtime journalist and ghost seeker Cheré Dastugue Coen as she visits Lafayette's haunted sites and travels the countryside in search of ghostly legends found only in South Louisiana.
Ghost stories abound in the Cajun and Creole city of Lafayette, Louisiana. The Hub City boasts a multitude of spirits and specters, from those lost in Civil War skirmishes and fever outbreaks to those souls that simply can't say goodbye. Today, they wander the halls of bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants and linger along back roads and cemeteries. Pirates are rumored to guard buried treasure, and ancient French legends hide in the swamps, bayous and woods.
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About the Author
Cheré Dastugue Coen is an award-winning journalist, instructor, playwright, travel writer and author. A native of New Orleans, Cheré now makes her home in Lafayette, Louisiana. Her books include Exploring Cajun Country and the cookbook travelogue Cooking in Cajun Country.
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The Ghosts of Café Vermilionville
Lafayette, Louisiana, touts itself as authentically Cajun and Creole, home to world-famous Cajun and zydeco music and the most delectable cuisine on earth. People come to Lafayette to "pass a good time," two-step at historic dance halls, fish or paddle the lush wetlands, enjoy world-renown festivals and soak up the unique culture.
And some people don't want to leave.
It's hard to pinpoint who may be haunting the buildings and countryside of Lafayette and the surrounding region. Native Americans hunted the prairies and wetlands for centuries until the French arrived, who claimed the vast territory of Louisiana for King Louis XIV. For a while, Spain occupied the colony during the time of the Acadian expulsion from the Canadian Maritimes, and Lafayette and much of South Louisiana soon became the new home for these displaced "Cajuns." African slaves worked the region's plantations, and some either bought or were rewarded with their freedom, creating the largest group of free people of color in the United States at one time in neighboring Opelousas. Other nationalities followed, too — Germans, Irish and Sicilians, to name a few.
There's a reason residents call Lafayette the "Hub City." The town sits nestled in the southwestern prairie of Louisiana, like the hub of a wagon wheel with spokes reaching out in all directions. There's the Atchafalaya Basin to the east, the historic Opelousas District to the north, rice country to the west and the sleepy bayous and Gulf Coast to the south.
Lafayette was originally called Vermilionville and consisted of a collection of residences and businesses hugging the slow-moving brown waters of Bayou Vermilion. In 1821, prominent landowner Jean Mouton donated land for a church, one that would be named for his patron saint, St. John's Cathedral. About the same time, the Catholic Church created a parish for the region extending from Mouton's plantation to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Sabine River, Louisiana's border with what was to become Texas. This new parish was named for the American Revolutionary hero, the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1884, when the town's charter was revised, both the town and the parish had become known as "Lafayette."
One of the oldest buildings in Lafayette, dating back prior to 1818, has evolved from Lafayette's first inn into an elegant restaurant serving fine Cajun and Creole cuisine. Café Vermilionville sits back from busy Pinhook Road, a reminder of a quieter, simpler time, and offers customers a respite from the harried world. The two-story building contains both Anglo-American and French features with dual chimneys at each end and double porches on each floor. It was first used as an inn for travelers moving up and down Pinhook Road (earlier the Old Spanish Trail) and crossing the nearby Pinhook Bridge over Bayou Vermilion, about two miles south of the center of present-day downtown Lafayette and Mouton's St. John's Cathedral.
During the Civil War the building was unfortunately in the wrong place.
Major General Richard Taylor and his Confederate forces had retreated to Lafayette with Union major general Nathaniel P. Banks hot on his heels. When Taylor reached Bayou Vermilion on April 17, 1863, he crossed over and promptly burned the Pinhook Bridge. Banks arrived soon after and began firing at the Confederates over the water, and the Rebels returned the fight with artillery. The duel continued until dark fell, and the Rebels retreated to Opelousas.
In the middle of the skirmish was the building that is now Café Vermilionville.
Once the fight was over, Banks and his Union soldiers rebuilt a bridge over Bayou Vermilion on April 18 and took over the building. At the time, Henry (Hans) Louis Monnier lived in the home, a Swiss native who had no interest in the war. Story has it that when Banks rebuilt the bridge and made it to the other side, he spared the home in honor of Monnier's neutrality.
Later that year on October 9, 1863, a more intense battle occurred at the bayou, not too far from the old inn, this time involving the home of former Louisiana governor Alexandre Mouton and other members of his family.
At which time the occupying Yankees insulted a Frenchman's wife at the Swedish man's inn is not clear, but the tale lives on through the decades.
"The rumor is that one of the Yankee officers paid too much attention to a local woman and the husband killed him," said owner Ken Veron Sr.
In the lobby of Café Vermilionville, in the left hand corner, is a spot where the Yankee soldier reportedly was murdered. The restaurant's floors were replaced in the 1950s — although what exists today still offers that same historic home feel. The original flooring, however, contained bloodstains where the Union soldier had fallen.
And that's not all that's lingering at Café Vermilionville. Two customers have witnessed a man in the bar with a handlebar mustache — both described the same man. A bartender also watched as several liquor bottles slid off a shelf, as if an invisible hand had pushed them.
"He quit," Veron said of the bartender. "Three or four bottles just fell off the shelf."
Another time when a freeze hit the area, Veron arrived early on a Sunday morning to check on the pipes, which can easily break because of their exposure. He checked the restaurant for breakage and then headed back to the lobby area. When he entered the room, it was unusually cold — and not because of the cold snap.
"I felt so strange," Veron said. "I turned and went."
Veron's son, Ken "Poncho" Veron Jr., also came in during a chilly Sunday to check on things and heard a "ssh" underneath a table. He, too, left quickly.
Poncho Veron had worked as a funeral home ambulance driver in high school and college, actually living in the funeral home while attending college, but he had never felt so frightened, he said.
Most of the unusual activity occurs with electrical appliances or computers, the Verons say. For instance, the old cash register used to have a key to turn it on and off. At the end of the day, the Verons would put a key in the register and then move it to Z to start the compiling of the day's receipts and to initiate a printout.
"We were having drinks one night and the cash register starting running and Z-ing out," Veron said.
When they came to investigate, there was no key in the cash register.
The strangest experiences happened when they renovated the restaurant.
"There was a whole bunch of little things," Veron said of the paranormal occurrences, "but the strangest was when we did alterations."
One day the fire department arrived to inspect the building's renovation. They requested that the Verons build a subfloor between the first and second floors since the ancient house had a simple floor that served as both second room floor and first floor ceiling. Code dictated that the Verons block off the upstairs so that customers would keep off a floor deemed unsafe for crowds. So Ken boarded up the two second-floor rooms, closing the doors with plywood.
One of the rooms that were sealed up contained a desk next to a wall sporting an oversized historic map of Louisiana. The other walls contained several old paintings with brown paper on the back.
After the rooms were boarded up, the restaurant was plagued with electrical problems, and computers continually crashed. There were even sparks flying from an electrical line that electricians said went nowhere.
Later, Poncho Veron and two friends opened up the second-floor room. When he first pulled the plywood free and entered, he was greeted with a blast of air that felt as if the pressure had dropped significantly. But the scene before them scared them even more. The giant map had been ripped off the wall and lay in tatters on the floor. The other paintings were also lying on the floor, the brown paper on the backs ripped as well. The scene appeared as if a petulant child had had a tantrum.
Once the doors to the upstairs rooms were opened and remained clear, the electrical problems ended, and the computers worked without fail. That is, until I arrived to discuss their ghosts for this book. Not too long after I interviewed the Verons, I ran into Poncho's wife, Andrea Veron, who informed me that they had experienced mechanical problems immediately after I left.
Another time, a couple enjoying a meal downstairs witnessed candles being pushed off a shelf by invisible hands. They thought it was weird but kept eating, thinking maybe they had imagined the event. The same thing happened fifteen minutes later. When they discussed the phenomenon with the waiter, and learned of the house's possible ethereal residents, the couple asked to visit the upstairs rooms, where they caught orbs on their camera. When they asked the waiter if a presence was hanging around the upstairs rooms, they heard a large, unexplained boom.
Who Remains at the Inn?
Whatever or whoever is causing these electrical anomalies and moving things about, it might be the young daughter of Dr. Percy M. Girard and his wife, Leila Beatrice Singleton. The building was the couple's country home around the turn of the twentieth century while Dr. Girard practiced medicine out of his downtown Lafayette home at 1122 Lafayette Street, once the home of Louisiana governor Alexander Mouton (ironically the Civil War neighbor of the Swedish owner of the Pinhook property) and which now houses the Lafayette Museum.
Dr. Percy, as he was known, was a well-liked physician in Acadiana, and he helped establish the Carrell-Girard Clinic for disabled children in Dallas, Texas. At his Pinhook country home in Lafayette, he grew sugar cane and cotton.
Dr. Percy's daughter Mary Gladys Girard was born on November 21, 1905, the youngest of Dr. Girard's five children. Just shy of her seventh birthday, she contracted, it was believed, scarlet fever. The story goes that Dr. Percy traveled to New Orleans to retrieve a doctor or medicine but young Mary Gladys perished before his return. She died November 26, 1912, and is buried in the Lafayette Protestant Cemetery a few blocks down Pinhook Road.
Many people believe one of the lingering energies of Café Vermilionville is Mary Gladys. A manager once saw a little girl sitting in a wing-backed chair in the lobby wearing a blue dress and swimming in a blue aura. Some people have seen a little girl staring out onto the world from the upstairs window. In the 1950s Horace Rickey owned the building, and he once asked the Verons if they had seen any ghosts.
"They [the Rickeys] indicated it was a little girl," Veron said.
For the most part, Mary Gladys's antics are playful. For instance, servers put four pats of butter on plates every night. When the servers turn around to do other duties and turn back, they will sometimes find three pats of butter remaining. Poncho Veron once moved the same roll of paper towels five times from a spot before realizing that something was up.
When Louisiana Spirits visited the restaurant to investigate, their evidence was minimal except for a few flashlight experiences. But they searched census records and are pretty confident the ghost is that of Mary Gladys.
"Based on the census records it follows what people have experienced," said Jennifer Broussard of Louisiana Spirits.
After Mary Gladys's death, Dr. Percy's health deteriorated, and he retired from practicing medicine. Dr. Percy died December 11, 1944, at the age of eighty-five of kidney failure at his Lafayette Street home. He, too, is buried at the Lafayette Protestant Cemetery.
I failed to witness anything unusual at the restaurant — which serves up delicious Creole dishes and an outstanding bread pudding by the way — but my son Taylor accompanied me for the interview and on several occasions was convinced someone was tugging on his shirttail, as if a small child was trying to get his attention.CHAPTER 2
Little Brother's Bed-and-Breakfast
The following story, "T'Frere's Bed & Breakfast: Where Maugie, Pat and a ghost named Amélie provide an award-winning overnight experience," was originally published in Country Roads magazine of Baton Rouge in October 2011.
Some say that the personalities of ghosts in the afterlife are much like the ones they had while living. Amélie Comeaux who haunts T-Frere's Bed and Breakfast in Lafayette was a "canaille," a mischievous girl, and her antics in death reflect this wily nature.
"She's typically Cajun," said Maugie Pastor, who owns the bed and breakfast with her husband, Pat, and runs the business with the help of her sons, all of whom have experienced Amélie's presence.
Amélie Comeaux married young in the late nineteenth century, and became pregnant. She lost the child and soon afterwards lost her young husband. Amélie moved in with her brother, Oneziphore Comeaux, known as "T-frere" or little brother. At his house in Lafayette, she mourned her family. Later, she found work as a math teacher to area youth.
At thirty-two, Amelie caught a fever and stumbled to the backyard well for water late one night and mysteriously fell in. Because the Catholic Church labeled it a suicide, she was not buried on sacred ground.
"Amélie doesn't like change," Pastor said, noting that the majority of Amélie's hauntings came within months after they had purchased and moved into the bed and breakfast. She would hear banging and things breaking in the kitchen — only to find nothing out of place. A visitor claimed to have had his toes pulled in the night.
The most unusual experience happened to her son, Jeremiah, when they were moving in. Maugie told him to bring everything he needed to the new house because they weren't making any more trips that night. Jeremiah forgot his math homework and was stressing on how to tell his mother when the math paper suddenly appeared.
"I heard him come bounding down the stairs," Pastor recalled. "He said the paper that he needed floated down from the ceiling."
Family members searched the room but couldn't find a logical explanation, chalking it up to the petite math teacher who remained in the house.
Today the bed and breakfast offers four bedrooms in the main house and two guest rooms in the Garçonnière out back, but only the main house has paranormal experiences, Pastor said.
Maugie and Pat Pastor, former Lafayette restaurateurs, cook up gourmet breakfasts every morning and after-dinner drinks and Cajun canapés on the gallery in the afternoons. Maugie creates eight different types of "Oooh La La Breakfasts" for her guests, including cheese cake stuffed pancakes, crawfish enchiladas and bread pudding, to name a few.
"If you stay longer than eight days, I put you on a diet," she said with a laugh.
Because visitors staying at T-Frere's would always ask numerous questions about Cajun culture and history, the Pastors' sons have started a side business offering boat cruises on the Vermilion River, appropriately called "Pastor Brothers Cajun Excursions." The brothers give lessons in crawfish peeling and Cajun dancing and side trips to Vermilionville and the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve.
"We give them the greatest Cajun experience of their lives," son John said.
Although most come to T-Frere's for Lafayette's great food and culture — many not knowing about its haunted history — some do visit to catch a glimpse of Amélie. Guests have reported sightings and unusual happenings, such as the Texas family who spotted a woman standing by the arbor when they returned to the house after dinner. The woman spoke to the mother in French, which she relayed to Maugie Pastor the next morning.
"She repeated what she [the spirit] had said and I asked her how she knew French since she was from Texas," Pastor explained. "The woman replied that she was originally from Breaux Bridge. How did Amélie know she was from Breaux Bridge?"
Others who have seen the apparition described Amélie as petite, speaking only French and wearing her hair back in a bun. An elderly couple staying in the Leah Room lost their car keys, and John Pastor puts the blame on canaille Amélie.
"We tore the room apart," he recalled. "Their keys were between the mattress and the box springs. These people were in their eighties so there is no way they could have lifted that mattress."
"I believe there is no such thing as death," said Arnaudville medium Allyson Glynn Schram when asked for her thoughts about Amélie. "The physical body gives out, which is what we call 'death,' but our spirit, our soul is eternal."
Schram is the author of the eBook series The Medium and the Mortician; she's married to South Louisiana mortician Charles Schram.
She believes geography plays more of a role in hauntings or spirit contact than family. For instance, Amélie haunts T'Frere's because it was her home.
"There are repeated imprints in the land of those who go on ahead," Schram explained.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana"
Copyright © 2013 Cheré Dastugue Coen.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Ghosts of Café Vermilionville 9
2 Little Brother's Bed-and-Breakfast 15
3 Cauchemars in the Dorms: The Ghosts of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette 20
4 Longtime Downtown Residents 28
5 "Gateway to the West": Scott's Begnaud House 30
6 Louisiana Spirits: Acadiana's Ghost Hunters 36
7 The Rice Capital of Crowley 38
8 Where the Music Keeps Playing: Crowley's Modern Music Center 42
9 Guests Who Refuse to Check Out: Crowley's Egan Hotel 44
10 Ghosts on Stage: The Grand Opera House of the South 47
11 The Raymond Thurston Clark House 54
12 Le Mauvais Homme du Marais Bouleur: or, the Bad Men of Marais Bouleur 65
13 A Bad Vibe in the Old Funeral Home: The Opelousas Museum and Interpretive Center 68
14 The First Scarlett O'Hara: Chretien Point Plantation 71
15 Creole Ghosts: John LaFleur and Historic Washington 74
16 The Creative Vortex of Arnaudville 82
17 The Rain Tree of Bayou Portage 89
18 A Mischievous Child: The Ghost of Nash's Restaurant 93
19 The Curse of St. Martinville: The Bienvenue and Duchamp Homes 95
20 Just Traveling Through: The Ghosts of Milton Crossing 101
21 You Shall Not Pass!: Haunted Bridges and Roads 103
22 Not So Final Resting Places: Acadiana's Cemeteries 109
23 What's Haunting the Swamps and Bayous? 115
About the Author 128