Springfield Paranormal Research Group
Long perceived as one of the most haunted house in America, the Myrtles
attracts an almost endless stream of visitors each year and many of them
come in search of ghosts. It is not our purpose here to do anything to
discourage these visitors from coming -- or even to discourage them to
looking for the ghosts that they can almost certainly find here. The purpose
of this article is to question the “facts” as they have been presented by several
generations of Myrtles owners and guides -- facts and history that many of
them know is blatantly false. We have no wish to try and debunk the ghosts,
merely the identities that they have been given over the years. The Myrtles,
according to hundreds of people who have encountered the unexplained here,
is haunted -- but not for the reasons that we have all been told.
But why go to the trouble to debunk the myths that have been created over the
last fifty-some-odd years? Surely, they aren’t hurting anyone, so why bother to
expose them as the creation of rich imaginations? To that, we can only say that
no dedicated ghost hunter should be afraid to seek the truth. As the history of a
house is the most important key to discovering just why it might be haunted in
the first place, it seems to be imperative to discover the real history of the site.
It has often been recommended to sift through the legends and folklore of the
place in a search for a kernel of truth. This is exactly what we did in the article
that follows --- we have examined the lore in a search for the truth and have found
it. It might not be as glamorous as the legends of the Myrtles Plantation that we
have all heard about but it is certainly strange. The real history of the plantation
is filled with death, tragedy and despair, leading us to wonder why a fanciful
history was created in its place. That question will likely never be answered
but many others will.
SEPARATING TRUTH FROM FICTION
There is no question that the most famous ghostly tale of the Myrtles is that of
Chloe, the vengeful slave who murdered the wife and two daughters of Clark
Woodruff in a fit of jealously and anger. Those who have been reading the article
so far have already guessed that there are some serious flaws in this story but
for the sake of being complete, we have include the story here as it has long
been told by owners and guides at the house. The restored elegance of the
Myrtles today (David Wiseheart)
I am sure that after reading this story, even the most non-discerning readers
have discovered a number of errors and problems with the tale. In fact, there
are so many errors that it's difficult to know where to begin. However, to start,
it's a shame that the character of Clark Woodruff has been so thoroughly
damaged over the years with stories about his adulterous affairs with his slaves
and claims that he had the ear cut off of one of his lovers. Sadly, these stories
have been accepted as fact, even though no evidence whatsoever exists to say
that they are true. In fact, history seems to show that Woodruff was very devoted
to his wife and in fact, was so distraught over her death that he never remarried.
Before we get to the problem of Chloe's existence, we should also examine the
alleged murders of Sarah Mathilda and her two daughters. In this case, the legend
has twisted the truth so far that it is unrecognizable. Sarah Mathilda was not
murdered. She died tragically from yellow fever (according to historical record) in
1823. Her children, a son and a daughter - not both daughters, died more than a
year after she did. They certainly did not die from the result of a poisoned birthday
cake. Also, with this legend, Octavia would not have existed at all (her mother was
supposed to have been pregnant when murdered) but we know that she lived with
her father, got married and lived to a ripe old age. In addition, Woodruff was not
killed either. He died peacefully at his daughter and son-in-law's plantation in 1851.
The key to the legend of course, is Chloe, the murderous slave. The problem with
this is that as far as we can tell, Chloe never existed at all. Not only did she not
murder members of the Woodruff family but it's unlikely that the family ever even
had a slave by this name. While living in Louisiana, researcher David Wiseheart's
curiosity about the history and hauntings of the Myrtles was so great that he spent
countless hours tracking down information about the plantation. It would be to his
disappointment that, while looking through property records of the Woodruff family,
that he learned that they had not owned a slave, nor was there any record of a
slave, by the name of Chloe (or even Cleo, as she appears in some versions of
So how did such a story get started?
In the 1950's, the Myrtles was owned by wealthy widow Marjorie Munson, who
began to notice that odd things were occurring in the house, according to local
stories. Wondering if perhaps the old mansion might be haunted, she asked around
and that's when the legend of "Chloe" got its start. According to the granddaughter
of Harrison and Fannie Williams, Lucile Lawrason, her aunts used to talk about
the ghost of an old woman who haunted the Myrtles and who wore a green bonnet.
They often laughed about it and it became a family story. She was never given a
name and in fact, the "ghost" with the green bonnet from the story was described
as an older woman, never as a young slave who might have been involved in an
affair with the owner of the house. Regardless, someone repeated this story of the
Williams' family ghost to Marjorie Munson and she soon penned a song about the
ghost of the Myrtles, a woman in a green beret.
As time wore on, the story grew and changed. The Myrtles changed hands several
more times and in the 1970's, it was restored again under the ownership of Arlin
Dease and Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Ward. During this period, the story grew even
larger and was greatly embellished to include the poison murders and the severed
ear. Up until this point though, it was largely just a story that was passed on by
word of mouth and it received little attention outside of the area. All of that changed
though when James and Frances Kermeen Myers passed through on a riverboat
and decided to purchase the Myrtles. The house came furnished with period
antiques and enough ghost stories to attract people from all over the country.
Soon, the story of the Myrtles was appearing in magazines and books and receiving
a warm reception from ghost enthusiasts, who had no idea that what they were
hearing was a badly skewed version of the truth. The house appeared in a November
1980 issue of LIFE magazine but the first book mention that I have been able to find
about the house was in Richard Winer's book Houses of Horror. Both of them
mentioned the poison deaths of Sarah Mathilda and her daughters.
As time went on and more books and television shows came calling at the Myrtles,
the story changed again and this time, took on even more murders. In addition to
the deaths of Sarah Mathilda, her daughters and Chloe, it was alleged that as many
as six other people had also been killed in the house. One of them, Lewis Stirling,
the oldest son of Ruffin Grey Stirling, was claimed to have been stabbed to death in
the house over a gambling debt. However, burial records in St. Francisville state that
he died at the age of 23 in October 1854 from yellow fever.
The ominous central staircase where William Winter allegedly died on the 17th
step (David Wiseheart) According to legend, three Union soldiers were killed in
the house after they broke in and attempted to loot the place. They were allegedly
shot to death in the gentlemen's parlor, leaving bloodstains on the floor that refused
to be wiped away. Once fanciful account has it that years later, after the Myrtles
was opened as an inn, a maid was mopping the floor and came to a spot that, no
matter how hard she pushed, she was unable to reach. Supposedly, the spot was
the same size as a human body and this was said to have been where one of the
Union soldiers fell. The strange phenomenon was said to have lasted for a month
and has not occurred since. The only problem with this story is that no soldiers
were ever killed in the house. There are no records or evidence to say that there
were and in fact, surviving family members denied the story was true. If the ghostly
incident occurred, then it must have been caused by something else.
Another murder allegedly occurred in 1927, when a caretaker at the house was
killed during a robbery. Once again, no record exists of this crime and something
as recent as this would have been widely reported. The only event even close to
this, which may have spawned this part of the story, occurred when the brother of
Fannie Williams, Eddie Haralson, was living in a small house on the property. He
was killed while being robbed but this did not occur in the main house, as the
The only verifiable murder to occur at the Myrtles was that of William Drew Winter
and it differs wildly from the legends that have been told. As described previously,
Winter was lured out of the house by a rider, who shot him to death on the side porch.
It is here where the stories take a turn for the worse. In the legend, Winter was shot
and then mortally wounded, staggered back into the house, passed through the
gentlemen's parlor and the ladies parlor and onto the staircase that rises from the
central hallway. He then managed to climb just high enough to die in his beloved's
arms on exactly the 17th step. It has since been claimed that ghostly footsteps have
been heard coming into the house, walking to the stairs and then climbing to the 17th
step where they, of course, come to an end.
While dramatic, this event never happened either. Winter was indeed murdered
on the front porch by an unknown assailant but after being shot, he immediately
fell down and died. His bloody trip through the house never took place --- information
that was easily found in historical records.
The house mirror where the spectral images of the Myrtles’ “murder victims”
are said to manifest. The closer look on the right shows some of the marks
believed to be signs from the spirits (David Wiseheart)
Another "haunted highlight" of the Myrtles is a large mirror that, according to
some of the owners, is said to hold the spirits of some of those who have died
in the house. Those who photograph the mirror will often find that the developed
picture holds the images of handprints of a number of people, seemingly inside
of the glass. When these spectral images first appeared, the mirror was thoroughly
cleaned but the prints remained. Perplexed, the owners then tried replacing the glass,
thinking that perhaps they were flaws in the mirror itself. Strangely though, the
Those who studied the mirror have suggested that perhaps the handprints (or images
like them) are in the wood behind the mirror and not in the glass at all. In this way,
lights (like a camera flash) pass through the glass and pick up the marks on the wood.
This would cause the "handprints" to appear in every mirror that hangs in this location,
no matter what glass is used.
Believers disagree though and not surprisingly, so do the tour guides. And while
the subject is certainly open for debate, I believe that the "weird" images belong
not in the category of ghostly phenomena but rather in that of the imagination instead.
IS THE MYRTLES REALLY HAUNTED?
The purpose of this article has never been to say that the Myrtles Plantation is not
haunted. In fact, there is no denying that the sheer number of accounts that have been
reported and collected here would cause the house to qualify as one of the most haunted
sites in the country. However, as you can see from the preceding pages, the house
may be haunted - but not for the reasons that have been claimed for so many years.
In all likelihood, the infamous Chloe never existed and even if she did, historical
records prove that Sarah Mathilda and her children were never murdered but died
from a terrible disease instead. Instead of 10 murders in the house, only one
occurred and when William Winter died, he certainly did not stagger up the staircase
to die on the 17th step, as the stories of his phantom footsteps allegedly bear out.
Such tales belong in the realm of fiction and ghostlore --- stories that were created
to explain the weird goings-on that were really taking place at the Myrtles.
The house may really be haunted by the ghost of a woman in a green turban or
bonnet. The Williams family had an ongoing tale of her and while it may have been
a story that was never meant to be told outside the family, the story was told
regardless. They admit that while she did exist, although no identity was ever given
to her. It's also very likely that something unusual was going on at the Myrtles
when Marjorie Munson lived there, which led to her seeking answers and to her first
introduction to the ghost in the green headdress. Did she see the ghost? Who
knows - but many others have claimed that they have.
Frances Myers claimed that she encountered the ghost in the green turban in
1987. She was asleep in one of the downstairs bedrooms when she was
awakened suddenly by a black woman wearing a green turban and a long
dress. She was standing silently beside the bed, holding a metal candlestick
in her hand. She was so real that the candle even gave off a soft glow. Knowing
nothing about ghosts, she was terrified and pulled the covers over her head
and started screaming! Then she slowly looked out and reached out a hand
to touch the woman, who had never moved, and to her amazement, the apparition
Others claim that they have also seen the ghost and in fact, she was
purportedly photographed a number of years ago. The resulting image
(which we cannot reproduce here because of copyright reasons) seems
to show a woman that does not fit the description of a young woman like
Chloe would have been. In fact, it looks more like the older woman that
was described by the Williams family. Could this be the real ghost of the Myrtles?
Even after leaving out the ridiculous stories of the poisonings and Winter's dramatic
death on the staircase, the history of the Myrtles is still filled with more than enough
trauma and tragedy to cause the place to become haunted. There were a number of
deaths in the house, from yellow fever alone, and it's certainly possible that any
of the deceased might have stayed behind after death. If ghosts stay behind in this
world because of unfinished business, there are a number of candidates to be the
restless ghosts of the plantation's stories.
And, if we believe the stories, the place truly is infested by spirits from
different periods in the history of the house. There have been many reports
of children who are seen playing on the wide verandah of the house, in
the hallways and in the rooms. The small boy and girl may be the Woodruff
children who, while not poisoned, died within months of each other during
one of the many yellow fever epidemics that brought tragedy to the Myrtles.
A young girl, with long curly hair and wearing an ankle-length dress, has
been seen floating outside the window of the game room, cupping her
hands and trying to peer inside through the glass. Is she Cornelia Gale
Woodruff or perhaps one of the Stirling children who did not survive until
The grand piano on the first floor also plays by itself, usually repeating the
same chord over and over again. Sometimes it continues on through the
night. When someone comes into the room to check on the sound, the
music stops and will only start again when they leave.
Scores of people have filed strange reports about the house. In recent
times, various owners have taken advantage of the Myrtles' infamous
reputation and the place is now open to guests for tours and as a
haunted bed and breakfast. Rooms are rented in the house and in
cottages on the grounds. The plantation has played host to a wide
variety of guests from curiosity-seekers to historians to ghost hunters.
Over the years, a number of films and documentaries have also been
shot on the ground and many of them have been paranormal in nature.
One film, which was decidedly not paranormal, was a television mini-series
remake of The Long Hot Summer, starring Don Johnson, Cybill Shepherd,
Ava Gardner and Jason Robards. A portion of the show was shot at the
Myrtles and it was not an experience that the cast and crew would soon
forget. One day, the crew moved the furniture in the game room and the
dining room for filming and then left the room. When they returned, they
reported that the furniture had been moved back to its original position.
No one was inside of either room while the crew was absent! This happened
several times, to the dismay of the crew, although they did manage to get
the shots they needed. They added that the cast was happy to move on
to another set once the filming at the Myrtles was completed.
The employees at the house often get the worst of the events that happen here.
They are often exposed, first-hand, to events that would have weaker folks
running from the place in terror. And some of them do! One employee, a
gateman, was hired to greet guests at the front gate each day. One day
while he was at work, a woman in a white, old-fashioned dress walked
through the gate without speaking to him. She walked up to the house
and vanished through the front door without ever opening it. The gateman
quit his job and never returned to the house.
BEHIND THE LEGEND
As you can see, the Myrtles can be a perplexing place. History has shown
that many of the stories that have been told about the place, mostly to explain
the hauntings, never actually occurred. In spite of this, the house seems to
be haunted anyway. The truth seems to be an elusive thing at this grand
old plantation house but there seems to be no question for those who have
stayed or visited here that it is a spirited place. At the Myrtles, the ghosts of
the past are never very far away from the present - whether we know their
identities or not.