From Acadiana's epoch of Evangeline to
the myriad tales of haunted habitats in
New Orleans' French Quarter, South Louisiana
has a rich heritage — and active
interest — in the plausibility of
wandering souls from beyond the grave.
In these parts, ghost stories abound,
mostly the sort told around campfires
to adolescent audiences for pure entertainment.
But actual sightings by reasonable, mature
adults evoke a different reaction.
Houmas House Plantation and Gardens is
the site of two very serious, inexplicable
events; one precipitated by nature, the
other by the very unnatural.
The Legend of the "Gentlemen"
In the days before the levee, Houmas
House's Oak alley ran across the grand
lawn, through the batture and on to the
river's edge. The perfectly formed and
heroically erect trees spread their branches
arm-in-arm to welcome visitors to the
property, all of whom approached from
the River Road.
John Burnside, a colorful bachelor who
presided as owner during the late 1800's,
lovingly referred to these giant, leafy
sentinels as "The Gentlemen."
The reference prevailed through generations
of stewardship until progress, in the
form of flood control, came to the Great
The legend, and the irony, begins with
the Great Flood of 1927 when the area
around Houmas House was inundated for
weeks and weeks. Houmas House, located
on high ground, was spared; an island
in a sea of misery and suffering that
wreaked havoc on lives, property and the
economy all along the big river.
On the heels of the great flood came
the great depression, which spawned the
Works Progress Administration (WPA). Among
the projects that created work and wages
for the Great Depression's hordes of indigents
was the construction of new and higher
As progress marched down the river, it
also marched up the bank toward the once-great
homes along the River Road, including
Houmas House, which was by then unoccupied
and out of the sugar business.
Only Mr. Green, the caretaker, and his
wife lived on the property, making their
home in the same house near the east gate
where the present caretaker and his wife
Despite the national economic depression
and decline in plantation life, "The
Gentlemen" stood even more broad
and proud than the day Burnside named
the 24 stately trees nearly 100 years
But as the levee construction crews approached,
their big saws brought Gentleman after
Gentleman crashing to the ground. Up from
the river toward the great house marched
progress. The levee was raised, and the
road was widened and paved.
The work was hard and dangerous, and
16 men died out on the big bend in the
river that sweeps across the front of
the Houmas House property. All perished
after concocting a scheme to profit by
floating the carcasses of Houmas House's
giant oaks downriver to be milled in New
Orleans. There were 16 profiteers set
off aboard the backs of the big tree trunks.
Their bodies were never recovered.
It was less than a week after the work
crew felled its last victim at Houmas
House that Mrs. Green returned from a
daybreak trip to the outhouse, wrought
with fear and animated by wide-eyed hysterics
as she shook her dazed husband from their
As the couple wobbled onto the front
porch of the caretaker's cabin, neither
could believe their eyes.
Literally overnight, the 8 remaining
"Gentlemen," which had maintained
their stately symmetry through hurricanes,
droughts, floods and seasons of sub-tropical
pestilence, had re-shaped themselves into
grotesque sculptures of grief and agony,
heads bowed and limbs drooping like mourners
at a funeral.
The engineers assigned to the project
cited a change in the water table, trauma
from heavy equipment and trucks and other
construction factors for the overnight
But the Greens, many long time local
residents and members of the Houmas Tribe,
original owners of the property, insist
that the healthy remainder of the corps
of "Gentlemen" became disfigured
that cool fall night when they were occupied
by wandering spirits of the lost workmen
who desecrated their fallen brothers.
The impressive ancient oaks that you
will encounter on the property today are
the hardiest of that original cadre of
Gentlemen which stretched up from the
river's edge to Houmas House and on the
Houmas Indian village to the north.
The old timers in the Parish insist that
they are still inhabited by the spirits.
La Petite Fille (The Little Girl)
When Kevin Kelly purchased Houmas House
Plantation and Gardens at auction in the
late spring of 2003, the house had been
off the trail of River Road tourism for
a couple of years, and a relatively quiet
participant in the tourism trade for even
The Crown Jewel of Louisiana's River
Road had lost its luster many, many years
ago; still grand in scale but quiet in
a sort of slumber.
When Kelly began his transformation of
the property in the summer that year,
no part of the once-grand mansion was
left untouched. Fair damsel from an antebellum
heyday, Houmas House was stripped of her
shabby gown, scrubbed, scraped, manicured,
trussed and bustled for a new couture
and her next generation of admirers.
It was an extreme makeover.
And to say the least, it was disruptive.
Literally no stone on the property was
left unturned, and in the process, some
say, a spirit was awakened.
A worker from the electrician's crew was
the first to report that he had seen a
young girl descending the freestanding
stairway, and later in the large central
hall. His concern expressed to co-workers:
the house was a construction zone and
unsafe for children, especially a girl
of 7-10 years.
Working into the evening hours, two others
in the crew saw the little girl in the
blue dress with dark eyes and brunette
hair. But before they could confront her,
she was gone.
A cursory check of the legion of workers
who came and went each day produced no
identity for the little girl, or any claim
to her. As work wound to a conclusion,
no other sightings occurred. In the brief
interim between the completion of reconstruction
and work on the grounds to prepare the
property for the arrival of tourists,
the house was quiet again for a few weeks.
In the excitement of bringing the house
back on line to the public, the mystery
of the little girl was set aside, out
of mind for those at the house every day
welcoming visitors, guiding guests and
maintaining the house and gardens.
Restored to its Crown Jewel status, Houmas
House is again filled with activity. Days
are busy as visitors fill its galleries,
halls and parlors to experience the splendor
of antebellum plantation life.
Amid the hustle and bustle, there's another
visitor in the hallway, and on the stairs,
according to tour guides and guests who
have seen the little girl…in the
blue dress…with the dark eyes and
brown hair. She is usually sighted in
the morning or later in the afternoon.
She seems curious about all the activity,
all the people, but disappears when approached.
There is evidence in the history of the
house to suggest her identity.
In 1848, the young daughter of Col. John
Preston was the belle of Houmas House,
loved by all who worked and visited there
for her sunny personality and joi d'vivre.
Her lively games of tag in the gardens
or hide-and-seek in the great house filled
the plantation with the happy giggles
and delightful squeals of youth. Then
suddenly that year she fell gravely ill.
The family left for Columbia, South Carolina
where the young girl soon died. The family
never returned to Houmas House, and those
back in Louisiana who knew her and her
love of the plantation mourned their loss.
Around 1900, another daughter of Houmas
House died, this time on the plantation.
Col. William Porcher Miles and his wife,
Harriet, lost their daughter to illness
at age 7. She was laid to rest in the
family cemetery, known for its ornate
Gothic fence located down by the river.
The cemetery disappeared, and several
of the gravesites were disturbed, when
the levee was built after the 1927 flood.
The graveyard would today be located under
the levee and out onto the batture. The
remains of the dead are long gone, but
what of the spirits?
Today, a little girl is a presence witnessed
by many people at Houmas House. Her true
identity remains a mystery. If you encounter
her in the hallway or on the stairs, try
to ask her name.