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GHOSTS OF BAYOU ST. JOHN

There are many Haunted Houses along it's shores. Many residents believe that the actual bayou is haunted!

 

by A. Pustanio

 

GHOSTS OF BAYOU ST. JOHN

Bayou St. John (or St. John’s Bayou as it was known to Old New Orleans) is a scenic waterway in the heart of the Mid City. Originating in the old Carrollton area, it meanders serenely past classic homes and locales as it makes it’s way to join Lake Pontchartrain.

Today, the Bayou St. John vistas include joggers and cyclists and pet owners playing a game of Frisbee with their dogs as they make their way to walk under the ancient oaks of nearby City Park.

But in New Orleans of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Bayou was a vital artery for merchants and vendors plying their trade in the French Quarter. Its egress to the waters of Lake Pontchartrain made it the perfect route for schooners and barges underway for the myriad Lake outlets feeding into the Gulf of Mexico.

In those days one could see everything from barges loaded with bananas and other tropical cargo, to paddlewheelers full of rich “Uptowners” on their way to a summer holiday on the Northshore of the Lake. Carriages and flatbed wagons would line the muddy banks, taking cargoes from the barges for sale in the Old French Market and in vending stalls throughout the Quarter and beyond.

Most of this mercantile traffic was under the control of one man, Jose Planas called by all who knew him “The King of the French Market.” Planas, a native of Spain, had traveled to America with his family at the height of the surging emigration of the late 1800’s. He made his fortune and his name by purchasing the land on both side of Bayou St. John, from its Old Carrollton roots to within miles of the Lake outlet. Dark haired and bronzed by the tropical New Orleans sun, Planas was a familiar sight to bargers and schoonermen along the shores of “his” Bayou.

 

With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, however, Planas’ personal fortunes took a downturn. Victimized by paranoid locals who became distrustful of Spaniards, Planas soon abandoned New Orleans for his European homeland.

But if stories that come from the 21st century shores of this old Bayou can be believed, Jose Planas, and many others who lived and worked the waterway in centuries past, have never really left.

One report from a resident of the Faubourg St. John, the historical residential area that lines the eastern shore of the Bayou, recounts how, while walking his dog in the summer twilight he first heard, then saw, an extraordinary apparition.

The resident, who asked that his name be withheld, reports, “First I heard the ‘slapping’ sound, like someone clapping his or her hand onto the surface of the water over and over. Even my dog perked up at the sound. When I looked up, I was shocked by the sight of a turn of the century paddlewheel schooner making it’s way down the middle of the Bayou!”

The story continues that the schooner, vaguely luminescent in the moonless night, drifted within feet of the shore and the shocked local until it slowly disappeared from sight, leaving no wake and only the sound of crickets chirping and cars in the distance of the hot summer night.

There are other reports of barges, some empty or full of cargo, drifting by to the sounds of ghostly voices calling out for rigging and anchors. Several people have seen ghostly canoes floating by, with apparitions locked in an eternal gaze of young love.

And the most fantastic are the sightings of Jose Planas himself.

One woman who lives within sight of the Bayou near where it crosses under the Esplanade Avenue bridge reports that she clearly saw the image of “a dark, Spanish man in a panama style hat and a linen suit” pacing along the Bayou and puffing a huge cigar. “Every now and then he would stop and look at his watch, as if waiting for something or someone.”

This in itself is not so strange, except that, as she watched, the image disappeared right before her eyes!

Others report the sound of a man shouting in Spanish, possibly to unseen deckhands or workers; and still others have heard the words, “Senor Jose!” shouted on more than one occasion.

But the history of the Bayou is not all capitalism and ship’s traffic. Over the generations many people have met their untimely end in the murky Bayou waters. Several years ago, after a horrible car crash near the DeSaix Avenue bridge, some residents reported hearing the accident repeat itself, over and over, as if tape-recorded - including the splash of the Bayou waters. Upon investigation, nothing unusual was found to have occurred, though the ghostly reenactment continued for several months.


New Orleans of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Bayou was a vital artery for merchants and vendors plying their trade in the French Quarter.

In the early 1900’s a female member of Jose Planas’ family was pulled into the Bayou by the paddlewheel of the family houseboat in which her long, red hair had become tragically wound. The woman was pulled under and her body jammed the paddlewheel mechanism. Boatmen retrieved her as soon as they realized what had happened, but she had already drowned. It is said that sometimes the grisly accident, houseboat, paddlewheel and all, is reenacted in the exact spot it happened, at the north side of the Esplanade Avenue bridge.

Ghostly apparitions are seen walking the banks of the Bayou, and ghostly images are especially disturbing at the point where the Bayou empties into Lake Pontchartrain. Legend has it that this location was the favorite of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau when she held her wild rituals and sacrifices. At the height of her fame and power, fearful locales knew better than to follow Madame Laveau into the overgrown darkness of the trees near the Bayou’s mouth, and some insist that, even today, the mouth of the Bayou at Lake Pontchartrain is a place strictly to be avoided, especially at night.

Sounds of drumming and chanting are commonplace in the surrounding areas and once a local fire truck appeared on the scene in response to a call from students of a nearby university who claimed to have seen fires along the Bayou from the windows of their dormitory.

With its history or mystery and the unexplained, Haunted Bayou St. John is not to be missed on a tour of Haunted New Orleans. Remember to include it the next time you visit the famous Crescent City!

--- A. Pustanio


 

Ghost Hunting & Paranormal Investigating may be Adventurous & Fun but Permission should ALWAYS be sought so that Private Residences are Respected & Not Trespassed!

Abandoned areas should STILL be respected and permission sought to be on them while Condemned areas should not be trespassed, period - This includes Haunted New Orleans Cemeteries also.

Stop by your local police station & ask if it would be permitted for you to be on any area or place, AND, to also let them know you will be there if it's ok for you to do so,

( including permission of owners should be sought ).

Vadalism is unacceptable, & could land you in jail or any other amount of trouble.

 


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