Chasing the Haunted: Great River Road

The Great River Road, Louisiana & Mississippi

by Samantha Adler

It’s that time of year again. When pumpkin takes over every flavor, decor and mind in America, the leaves begin to change, the air is crisp and cool, and the countdown to Halloween begins. It’s the perfect time to get a little spooky and talk about haunted adventures on the Mississippi.

The Great River Road runs parallel to the Mississippi, stretching from Minnesota to New Orleans (NOLA). I had hopped on the byway in Tennessee, taking it down through Mississippi and Louisiana enroute to NOLA. In addition to the beautiful, lush scenery, the area around the Mississippi has a rich and grim history of the pre-Civil War South.

The Great River Road is a must visit for any thrill-seeker, history buff or paranormal whisperer. The area is dotted with historic battlefields, plantation homes and businesses.. And if you’re lucky (or unlucky) someone from the past might just give you a tour.

I made several stops along the way touring a few old homes and plantations. Each place had a story about it’s lavish past: elegant parties, engagements and secrets whispered in the drawing rooms. However, these houses also held more grisly secrets: Civil War raids, slavery and rampant racial violence and deadly sickness.There is much haunting to be done. Ghosts have a particular staying power here and the river is a huge reason why. It’s believed water traps them and is closely connected to the spirit world. The owners of these houses acknowledge this, and most have had angels carved into the molding to guard the corners from any possible demons.

Anyone there? Tour guides suggest taking two photos in this haunted mirror. 

Anyone there? Tour guides suggest taking two photos in this haunted mirror. 

Some see dark shapes or shadows appear in their second take.    ( The Myrtles Plantation - Francisville, Louisiana)

Some see dark shapes or shadows appear in their second take.  (The Myrtles Plantation - Francisville, Louisiana)

Driving down the Great River Road took several days. In Louisiana, my road trip buddy and I got a cheap deal at the Nottoway Plantation, an old home that was converted into a hotel in White Castle, Louisiana. I was iffy on spending the night, considering its history as a working plantation, but agreed.

We arrived just in time for sunset...and an ill-timed spooky story. We checked in and set our bags down in our room. We were staying in a cabin off of the main house. While the room had few modern amenities, it looked as though it hadn’t been touched in decades. A large, wooden antique poster bed sat in the middle of the room, with a wood amour to its left. The walls held a few framed photographs of landscapes and an old tarnished brass mirror, whose reflective glass was cloudy with age.                                                                

After setting our things down, we headed to the restaurant bar located in the basement of the main house. The house is an enormous, strikingly white, Greek Revival style mansion with an iron-clad balcony stretching across its width. We made our way down, sat at the bar and began to chat with a few employees. A young waitress offered to take us to the second story balcony, the best place to watch the sunset. She led us through the restaurant and up the main staircase in the house.

The house boasts a few rooms for overnight guests, but is otherwise kept in its original condition for tours. At this time of day the house was dimly lit as we made our way through a large hall. The balcony was surrounded by a black iron railing and boasted a few rocking chairs for visitors. We took a seat and started to rock, watching the sun dip behind the Mississippi. Our guide turned around to walk back downstairs, but warned us that we might see a woman in a red gown. She was a member of the Randolph family, the original owners, and patrolled the house at night, looking over the home she worked so hard to create. And she had been dead for quite a long time.

I’m the type who begs to watch a horror movie, then immediately, deeply regrets that decision. I was the one who stupidly asked about hauntings at Nottoway. The waitress had begun to tell us about another friendly spirit of a coachman, who still liked to help people with their luggage. The potential friendliness of both ghosts was lost on me. I began to sip, no chug, my drink. The orange sun had almost completely been swallowed by the Mississippi, casting a warm, red light. I glanced behind, the interior of the house was now dark and shadows danced in the evening light. I grabbed my peaceful, sunset-loving companion and bolted towards the staircase. Like the house, the stair was grand with many, too many stairs.  After running/sprinting down the main stairwell of the house and nearly smashing into the basement wall, we thanked our guide and left for our cabin.

We unloaded our bags and set in for an early night. I would fall asleep then shoot up expecting to see a confederate soldier sitting on the edge of my bed or little children asking me to play some creepy game. After the third heart attack, I decided to sit up for remaining 8 hours with the light and every electronic blaring. Safe to say I staved off any lady of the house, soldier or ghost of any sort.

While I  avoided any encounters, I heard countless stories of paranormal run-ins on the Great River Road. From ghosts stealing earrings, to appearing in mirrors and developed film negatives. My journey was ghost free, but you might get lucky.