Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Legends of the Myrtles Plantation

Research compiled by NAPS Investigator Cheryl Freeman

Widely regarded as one of “America's most haunted homes," the Myrtle’s is supposedly the home of at least 12 ghosts with 10 murders occurring in the home.  However, the facts are far different from the legends and stories surrounding the site.  Historical records only indicate the murder of William Winter.

The Legend of Chloe:
Chloe, the most well known ghost, was Clark Woodruff’s slave mistress.  She was also a household servant who had to give in to Woodruff’s sexual advances in order to stay in the home and not have to work the fields.  Woodruff grew tired of Chloe and chose another mistress.  Chloe, fearing she would be sent back to the fields, started eavesdropping on private family conversations and she got caught.  To teach her a lesson, her ear was cut off.  To hide her shame, she wore a green turban on her head.  She decided to poison the family and then nurses them back to health as a way to get back onto Woodruff’s good graces. 

Photo at Left: The infamous photo supposedly of Chloe, seen standing between the two buildings just to the right of the column.

Chloe added the extract of a handful of crushed Oleander to the children’s birthday cake.  Only 2 of the children and Sarah ate the cake.  Once sick, Chloe tended to the needs of the family but within hours they died.  Knowing what Chloe had done, and fearing they would be punished, the other slaves hung Chloe from a tree and then threw her body into the Mississippi River.

The poisoning took place in the children’s dining room and so after the death of the 3 family members, it was never used again. The historical record does not support this legend. There is no record of the Woodruffs owning a slave named Chloe or Cleo. The legends usually claim that Sara and her two daughters were poisoned, but Mary Octavia lived well into adulthood. Finally, Sara, James, and Cornelia Woodruff were not killed by poisoning, but died of yellow fever.  Regardless of the factual accuracy of the Chloe legend, some believe a woman wearing a green turban haunts the plantation.  The ghost of Chloe has been reported at the Myrtles and was even accidentally photographed by a past owner. The plantation still sells picture postcards today with the cloudy image of what is purported to be Chloe standing between two of the buildings (see photo above). The former slave is thought to be the most frequently encountered ghost at the Myrtles. She has often been seen wandering the place at night. Sometimes the cries of little children accompany her appearances and at other times, those who are sleeping are startled awake by her face, peering at them from the side of the bed.

Other Legends:
It has been alleged that as many as six other people had been killed in the house.  Lewis Stirling, the oldest son of Ruffin Grey Stirling, was claimed to have been stabbed to death in the house over a gambling debt. However, burial records in St. Francisville state that he died in October 1854 at the age of 23 from yellow fever.

According to legend, three Union soldiers were killed in the house after they broke in and attempted to loot the place. They were allegedly shot to death in the gentlemen's parlor, leaving bloodstains on the floor that refused to be wiped away. One account has it that after the Myrtles was opened as an inn, a maid was mopping the floor and came to a spot that, no matter how hard she scrubbed, the spot would not disappear. Supposedly, the spot was the same size as a human body and was said to have been where one of the Union soldiers fell. The strange phenomenon was said to have lasted for a month and has not occurred since. No soldiers were ever killed in the house. There are no records or evidence to say that there were and in fact, surviving family members denied the story was true.

Another murder allegedly occurred in 1927, when a caretaker at the house was killed during a robbery. No record exists of the crime.  The story may have spawned from the actual occurrence of the death of the brother of Fannie Williams.  He was killed while being robbed but this did not occur in the main house, as the story states.
The only verifiable murder to occur at the Myrtles was that of William Drew Winter and it differs wildly from the legends that have been told. In the legend, Winter was shot and then staggered back into the house, passed through the gentlemen's parlor and the ladies parlor and onto the staircase.  He then managed to climb just high enough to die in his beloved's arms on exactly the 17th step. It has since been claimed that ghostly footsteps have been heard coming into the house, walking to the stairs and then climbing to the 17th step where they, of course, come to an end.  Winter was indeed murdered on the front porch.  He was shot, fell down and died immediately.

The Haunted Mirror Legend:
Another "haunted highlight" of the Myrtles is a large mirror that is said to hold the spirits Sara Woodruff and two of her children.  According to custom, mirrors were covered after a death, but legend says that after the poisoning of the Woodruffs, this particular mirror was overlooked.  The uncovered mirror reportedly trapped the spirits of Sara and her children. 

Those who photograph the mirror will often find that the developed picture holds the images of handprints of several seemingly inside of the glass. When these spectral images first appeared, the mirror was thoroughly cleaned but the prints remained. Perplexed, the owners then tried replacing the glass, thinking that perhaps they were flaws in the mirror itself. Strangely though, the handprints returned!

Those who studied the mirror have suggested that perhaps the handprints (or images like them) are in the wood behind the mirror and not in the glass at all. In this way, lights (like a camera flash) pass through the glass and pick up the marks on the wood. This would cause the "handprints" to appear in every mirror that hangs in this location, no matter what glass is used.

Indian Burial Ground Legend:
Legend also has it that the house built on Tunica Indian burial mounds.  General Bradford was supposedly the first to see a ghost – a naked Indian girl. 

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