Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ducks, beer and ghosts in cemeteries

            I was in Jeanerette, Louisiana, this past Saturday doing a gris gris bag demonstration and signing copies of my new book, “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” at the Jeanerette Museum. The latter book makes people want to share their ghost tales and I’m more than happy to oblige.
            We discussed personal ghost stories and old plantation tales of residents throwing themselves from second story windows. But wasn’t there something about the old Beau Pré house, someone asks?  Everyone nodded but the house, which was owned by the town’s founder, John W. Jeanerette, and which withstood Civil War skirmishes in the area, is no longer there. In fact, the house is long gone and a cemetery erected in its place.
            A cemetery, I inquired? This was too good.
            Indeed Jeanerette’s former plantation, which John Jeanerette purchased after success as a store and saloon owner, was titled Beau Pré, French for a lovely pasture or meadow. Later it was called Pine Grove Plantation (didn’t Americans realize that those French names were more romantic?). Part of the house was used for postal service — Jeanerette was the town’s first postmaster — so people sent letters care of Jeanerette, which is how the town got its name.
            But back to that cemetery. The Beau Pré Memorial Park Cemetery lies on the property where the old home stood, at 7605 East Old Spanish Trail in Jeanerette. The 12 acres include above and below ground burials, plus a mausoleum. Throughout the property are live oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss, a small pond and — like the name suggested — lovely pasture fronting the languid Bayou Teche.
            Which is where I found my ghost.
            He wasn’t a Confederate or Yankee soldier, specters rumored to be haunting the place. Instead, he was a reptile from another era, a link to the time of dinosaurs. A nice sized alligator was sunning himself along the pond’s edge, enjoying the solitude that a cemetery could offer.
       I thought, “Only in Louisiana would one see such a sight,” but then Florida may have a few gators visiting the dead as well. And then I spotted the grave of Robert Francis Bourg, a Vietnam vet whose loved ones decorated his tomb with duck decoys, Mardi Gras beads and beer. I can’t imagine finding such an image anywhere else — with an alligator to boot! 

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