Ghost-hunter Arsonists?

December 16, 2013

In folklore studies, a “legend trip” is the term for a visit to a site that has a legend (a narrative reflecting a folk belief) about uncanny events there—say the activities of ghosts; the visit is made to test the legend. Such a legend trip resulted in seven men being arrested for the suspected arson of a historic Louisiana plantation house on November 21, 2013.

The site was the LeBeau Mansion in Old Arabi, St. Bernard Parish. Built between 1854 and 1857, it was a 16-room home on the grounds of a former indigo plantation. After 1905 it had various identities: as a hotel, a casino (its closets reportedly outfitted with gun turrets during Prohibition), a boarding house, and a hotel again. Eventually, it became an abandoned structure where homeless people slept and teenagers came looking for ghosts—supposedly a lady in white and spirits of mistreated slaves.

The roof and attic were destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1986. Since then the mansion was renovated by a charitable foundation that sought possible uses for the historically “priceless” site.

However, on the night of November 21, seven men aged 17 to 31 entered the property, according to the sheriff’s office, probably through an opening in the fence. They were said to have been trying to summon spirits by pounding on the floors, while high on another kind of spirits and marijuana.

Apparently, the men became frustrated when ghosts were a no-show, and the ringleader decided to set fire to the house. The mansion was totally engulfed by the time fire units arrived and could not be saved. The seven were charged with various crimes—five with arson and burglary, the other two with accessory to arson. (See http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2013/11/seven_people_in_custody_for_le.html; accessed Nov. 26, 2013.)

I have often said ghost hunting was a fool’s errand. That involving the arson of historic LeBeau Mansion could hardly have been more so.

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