Ghosts! Yes, you heard me: Ghosts. We have them in Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana. Experts in the paranormal say that there is a huge source of ‘energy’ in our corner of the state. Here are a few of the actual sites where encounters with the otherworldly have been reported.
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One of the very oldest private cemeteries, Bilbo Cemetery right here has had reports of sightings of mysterious glowing lights since the 1840s. The ghostly lights are called feu-follet, and they are reported to be seen in many South Louisiana cemeteries and graveyards. Some say the lights represent the candles and lanterns which burned at the interment of the infant daughter of Ann and Thomas Bilbo, the very first burial at this ancient cemetery.
Sites do not have to be ancient to be haunted. Even the Lake Charles Civic Center, built on landfill reclaimed from the lake in the 1970’s has a ghost, a woman referred to as “Elsie.” Elsie is dressed in wedding finery of the last century. Her figure is reported to be occasionally seen in the Rosa Hart Theater sitting all by herself on a high balcony. She is reputed to be a jilted bride who did away with herself in despair by walking off a long pier which used to be just about where the theater is today.
The Ramsey Mansion, currently used for professional offices, was built as the showplace house of a prominent "Michigan Man." This particular house has had several uses in its over 150-year history, including serving for a time, as a popular bed-and-breakfast inn. Visitors reported several ghostly apparitions including one seen reading in the splendid library and another that slammed doors. Guests also reported that one costumed apparition rearranged chairs in the dining room, and one “presence” only sensed by visiting animals that caused dogs to growl and cats to hiss.
One of a series of early Victorian homes built by the prominent Bel Family here in Lake Charles. The house reports a long history of ghostly goings-on, particularly on its broad porch. The Bel house has a ghost that caused the porch rockers to move, even on perfectly still days.
This is the family home of the Reids. The Reids provided several generations of sheriffs and lawmen in Calcasieu Parish. One of the Reids was jailer at the time of the Great Fire of 1910, and the enterprising lawman used his own home to house prisoners after the jail downtown was destroyed.
On the afternoon of the fire, the prisoners were troupe-shackled at the ankles, up to the attic where they were kept until a new jail was completed. One of those prisoners attempted to make a dramatic escape by breaking the glass and jumping from the attic window. He failed in his attempt and died. Occasionally even today, the neighborhood reports sounds of breaking glass and a heart-rending death cry
Early in the last century, this was the location of the Louisiana Baptist Orphanage. The orphanage was established in Lake Charles as a site that offered Baptist orphans all the advantages of clean farm living including a dairy farm. Complaints of noise from dairy cows were heard in the early years of the last century. Even after the Orphanage eventually moved away, there were still reports of cows mooing at early and odd hours, the mooing of “ghost cows” presumably.
This modest craftsman cottage was built by the bride as a wedding gift for her fiancé. Word was that she paid for his passage from Germany to work in his American cousins’ restaurant and hotel business—essentially a mail-order husband.
The house has had repeated reports of coins, randomly placed on a dresser or nightstand, reforming themselves into stacks, by denomination. The ghost is reputed to be that of that mail-order husband and prominent early businessman, Paul Greiner who lived here.
The most fascinating and lurid of the ghostly tales is that of the ghostly contacts with convicted murderess Toni Jo Henry. It is said that she haunts the historic Calcasieu Courthouse. People who work in or who just visit the building have reported odd electrical occurrences, equipment starting or stopping on its own, strange smells of burning hair mixed with cheap cologne, flickering lights, and an eerie sense of not quite being alone when nobody else living is around.
The saga began in 1939 when young, beautiful Toni Jo lead deputies to a haystack in eastern Calcasieu Parish where she and her accomplice Arky Burkes had brutally murdered Joseph Callaway and hidden his body. The murder led to the first and only execution of a woman in the electric chair right here in 1942.
She was executed in the courthouse and buried in Orange Grove Cemetery, out on Broad Street. When workers and patrons in the Calcasieu Courthouse experience electrical and lighting blips, and when equipment starts and stops abruptly, the smell of burning hair and of cheap cologne is the dead giveaway.