We’ve brought you ghost stories before, spooky fans, but this one takes the cake. This time it’s the living who did all the damage. But then, isn’t that always how it starts, before you get ghosts? Their behavior could most charitably be called Stupid People Tricks (any less charitably, and the description would be too profane to print). Perhaps we should begin at the beginning.
The LeBeau Plantation was built by François Barthelemy LeBeau in Arabi, Louisiana, which is part of metro New Orleans. Arabi is on the north bank of the Mississippi River, sandwiched right between the Lower Ninth Ward in the NE section of New Orleans and the suburb of Chalmette, which is in St. Bernard Parish as is Arabi (a church parish? No: other states have counties, Louisiana has parishes instead. It’s a holdover from the French). The LeBeau Plantation grew sugar cane, of course, and its plantation house stood in what is now the 7200 block of Bienvenue Street, east of Friscoville Avenue – or, if you’re looking at a map and want the easy version, it’s about two blocks west of the Domino Sugar plant on the banks of the river and a block and a half north of the river.
Monsieur LeBeau built the house between 1851 (when he bought the land) and 1854, which makes it an antebellum or pre-war house (as in pre-Civil War) although the land had first been granted in 1721 and had had previous owners. He was somewhat, uh, thrifty on the construction: although the house had 16 rooms, there was only one interior stairway; because he would be taxed on the number of staircases, LeBeau moved most of them to the outside of the house. This was not unusual for the times as many other home builders did the same. It wasn’t the most encouraging buiding site, though, because the bad luck started right there: only a few months after M. LeBeau finished the house, he died. Merde! Incroyable! Just so. You could write that off as mere coincidence, if it weren’t for what followed.
The house was occupied by other family members, despite LeBeau’s unfortunate death, and the plantation did indeed grow sugar cane and refine it (it’s not by accident that Domino Sugar ended up with a plant on former plantation land nearby). They did it with slave labor, of course. That’s the second bad move: as slave owners, the LeBeaus were typically cruel, and some slaves died cursing their masters. Very bad karma. Then the dead slaves were buried out in the fields, on plantation ground – another bad idea. The story goes that the first ghosts to appear were those of the dead slaves, who then proceeded to haunt the place and drive LeBeau family members mad, in succession – first one, then another, then another, until no one survived. At least two members of the family hanged themselves on the second floor of the house. And yet, someone had to survive in order to sell the accursed place.
LeBeau Plantation stayed in the family until 1905, when it was bought by some folks who called themselves Friscoville Realty and named it the Friscoville Hotel when in fact it was nothing but a gambling den. By 1907, gambling was outlawed in New Orleans, and Arabi became the place where gambling could be found; there were five gambling houses within the 100 block of Friscoville Avenue alone, just around the corner from the LeBeau house. Then in the 1928, a different group called Jai Alai Realty bought the place and renamed it the Cadone Hotel, though the locals knew it as the Jai Alai Casino; but it was the same old gambling hall. One suspects, however, that during Prohibition it likely served illegal alcohol as well and so doubled as a speakeasy. If any ghosts showed up during the gambling and drinking years, apparently nobody much noticed or cared.
All that didn’t last past the late 1930s, however, and the plantation house saw little use after that, though it was periodically rented. It was even a brick factory, at one point. It had several different owners between 1938 and 1967, when Joseph Meraux bought it. Meanwhile, the land around it had been largely sold off, over time, so that only the plantation house and a large yard fronting on Bienvenue Street remained. Other ghost sightings were reported over the later years. The worst incident happened during the 1970s, when a little girl was supposedly thrown from a window of the fourth-floor cupola on the roof – but not by human hands (poltergeist? You tell me). After that, the building reportedly was never occupied again, though a fire in 1986 destroyed part of the roof and much of the interior. Several attempts were made to renovate the building, but all were aborted. Still more bad luck.
Nevertheless, LeBeau Plantation was inside the Friscoville Historic District in Arabi – which received its NRHP designation in 1970 – and, because of that, the plantation house was also considered a landmark. By then, however, the house was an aging, dilapidated, abandoned hulk that fairly invited break-ins and arson. Although Hurricane Betsy missed flooding that section of Arabi in 1965, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused a storm surge that flooded all of Arabi, including the levee area where the LeBeau house stood. And that hit just as a full-scale rehab of the building was underway. Ouch. Katrina’s terrible rain and winds also damaged the house further, and the man-made flooding that followed in the Ninth Ward next door didn’t help. At that point, a group of St. Bernard Parish politicos owned the building, Meraux’s widow Arlene having willed it to the commission upon her death just before Katrina. But still, this weathered wreck stood in spite of it all (you can still see the house on Google Maps satellite view at map coordinates 29.948981,-90.004249). Its grounds were sometimes used for the annual local sugar fests, including this year’s whoop-de-do.
Enter our stalwart ghost hunters. As you may have anticipated, some ghost hunters are more reputable than others, and some are just plain newbie wannabes. On November 22, 2013 – last Friday, the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, no less! – seven of those bozos broke into LeBeau House at night, snooped around doing heavens-knows-what, and then someone got the bright idea that they should smoke some dope and get stoned. For the innocent and uninformed among you, I will quote the oft-repeated maxim: Toking makes you stupid. And so they were, because before you know it, they’d set the house on fire (and who thought that was a good idea??). All that remains of the plantation house are the smoking ruins of four chimneys and a bit of wood rubble. You can see for yourself in this news clip, courtesy of AOL News and HuffPost.
The question is: now that the last bit of the plantation is gone, are the ghosts finally satisfied? Well, that question might be moot because there’s no more house to haunt, and nobody who lives there anyway. The historic district will just have to live with the loss – not that anyone was keeping up the property anyway. One less badly kept haunted house for someone in which to break a limb. Too bad; so sad.
And on that cheerful note, Michael and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and a blessed Hannukah for this long holiday weekend! We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule as soon as we sleep off the food coma …
Wishing you many delights but only ghost calories!
Your spookinesses Marie and Michael