With the approach of Halloween, it’s time for all manner of spooky adventures. And when it comes to eerie happenings, there are few places to compare with the bayous country of southwest Louisiana. Situated in the midst of that area is the town Lake Charles, and it is resplendent with otherworldly options.
The town has a number of ghostly sites and the requisite ancient graveyard needed for any tale of All Hallow's Eve frights. But, perhaps the most bizarre encounters with the spirit world take place in the area known as Baptist Meadow. Located on Bank Street, an orphanage supported by the Baptist denomination was established on the site in the 1890s. For three decades the orphans were taught the techniques of dairy farming in the barns and pastures surrounding the orphanage.
After the orphanage and farm closed the area shifted to residential neighborhoods. However, early in the mornings the new residents claim to still hear the mooing of cows. Some have been so unnerved by the phenomenon that they are moved out the neighborhood.
Today the orphanage site is occupied by the St. Louis Catholic High School. A quick drive by to listen for the cows is a good start to a full day of ghost touring in Lake Charles.
Not far from the phantom bovines is the Greiner House at 631 Sixth Street. Early in the 20th century a local lady had the house constructed for her mail-order husband from Germany. The man worked as maître d’ at the old Rigmaiden Hotel downtown. Today’s owners report that pocket change left scattered on dressers in the bedrooms at night will be stacked neatly by denominations in the morning!
Next stop on a tour is the historic Calcasieu Courthouse, downtown on Ryan Street. The classical style building with a green copper dome dates from 1912, but its resident ghost showed up three decades later. The structure is now a cultural arts center, but blinking lights, electric equipment that comes on or turns off on its own, sounds of loud laughter and odors of strong flowery perfume and burning hair relate to its earlier use.
In 1942 Annie Beatrice McQuiston gained notoriety as the only woman ever to sit in Louisiana’s electric chair. Better known by a combination of her alias and married last name as Toni Jo Henry, she was a prostitute convicted of murdering a local man during a plan to break her husband out of prison, where he already was serving a 50-year sentence for murder. Her execution took place on the courthouse premises.
The Bilbo Cemetery is located a couple of blocks to the west on Lakeshore Drive and the shore of Lake Charles. It is the oldest graveyard in city, dating from 1832. The site offers an interesting stop on a Halloween tour of the town.
More than 200 burials, many no longer marked, are in Bilbo Cemetery. One of those is the resting place of Jacob Ryan, the founder of Lake Charles. The Millennium Statue of Christ is a much later addition, standing 23 feet high above the resting place of early pioneers, soldiers and citizens.
Visitors have reported seeing ghost lights, called feu-follet in the French dialect of south Louisiana, floating in the cemetery at night. Science attributes those glowing orbs to atmospheric inversions or the release of methane gas. For local believers, however, the glow is emitted by the long departed to welcome new souls making the transition to the spirit world.
To finish out the the ghost tour on a lighter note, drive south along Shell Beach Drive as it skirts the western shore of Lake Charles. This thoroughfare is lined with houses and estates dating from the 19th and early 20th century, representing some of the finest homes in the town. The residents are noted for decorating for all holidays, and Halloween is nt exception. Giant blow-up black cats romp in yards, while huge spidesr cast webs and crawl atop other homes.