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How's Bayou? Ghosts, past & present, Part 1

Madewood's architect, Henry Howard, and his daughter, Ida Caroline, in 1879.

Let me state unequivocally: Madewood is not haunted.

It would be more profitable if it were. But it's not.

That cold chill that passed over you at 2 a.m., hovering above your body in the dark? Just a draft from the AC vent near your bed.

The flickering flame barely visible through the wavy glass of the bedroom window? Just the death throes of the bulb in one of our outdoor floodlights.

And the mysterious lady floating down the staircase? Probably Lakeisha gingerly retreating after refreshing the bath towels in the bedroom next door.

I won't deny there've been times I wanted to believe that the supernatural was at work. But if spirits were out there hustling, wouldn't they have been more obvious, more consistent? A no-show is as much a no-no for ghosts as it is for college graduates hitting the job market these days.

And in today's world, wouldn't they want job security, benefits, and an eternal pension -- things the occasional unannounced appearances just don't merit?

I can't hold such 19th-century presences as Col. Thomas Pugh, builder of Madewood, and its architect, Henry Howard, to contemporary phantasmagoric labor standards. But I think Thomas Pugh watches over the place, and, because he's generally pleased with what he sees, only grumbles every now and again.

Like the time a group of construction workers building a stage for the Madewood Arts Festival ate pizza on top of one of the horizontal slab tombs in the Pugh family cemetery behind the mansion without my knowledge.

Crash! The cranberry glass epergne holding delicate floral tokens went crashing to the floor of the dining room as Metropolitan Opera bass Paul Plishka, scheduled to sing in the ballroom the next evening, wondered if Ukrainian spirits from his ancestral home were to blame.

Moments later, we could hear the workmen outside the window swearing they'd never eat on a tomb again: The slab was too hard.

Or the time a friend's toddler sat for the most perfect little-girl photo in the crook of a spectacular oak limb that swept through the cemetery -- then joined her mother that night in eerie photos that evoked antebellum angst among the monuments in the light of flickering candles.

The next day, tree trimmers mistakenly cut down the magnificent branch, the stump of which chides me to this day.

Some folks swear they saw a dog race into the mansion -- though none was ever found inside -- the day Miss Kate Beatty, who was known to mischievous children as "the blue lady," was laid to rest behind Madewood. Miss Beatty always dressed from head to toe in white lace because silver-nitrate treatments had tainted her skin in the 1940s. Mourners discovered after the funeral that her ancient canine companion had died at her home the morning of her interment at Madewood.

Architect Henry Howard? I think he's just too busy haunting the Pontalba Apartments in the French Quarter and his fantastical houses scattered through the Garden District and Uptown New Orleans to have time to transport himself and go "boo" at Madewood.

So for us, well, we've got a bunch of no-shows.

Several weekends ago, three young women staying at the house wanted to head out to the cemetery before retiring. There was no mosquito spray, so we Googled "Homemade Mosquito Repellents" and came up with vanilla extract. So, smelling like dessert, they headed back, flashlights in hand.

Did they see anything?

"Oh, yes," the most vocal member of the team replied. "Mosquitoes. Ones that aren't afraid of vanilla.

"They're real, not ghosts. They bite!"

Tiny, almost-invisible, blood-sucking vampires on our grounds?

I wonder how hungry they are for work.

How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.