Hanging high above Louisiana in the northeastern corner of the state in East Carroll Parish, the tiny unincorporated town of Transylvania flies at you out of nowhere as you travel along Highway 65. The tall white water tower that bears the town’s name is emblazoned with a large black bat. It is the town’s heraldic symbol. A similar black bat spreads its wings on the sign of the town’s general store, and a painting of Count Dracula with the motto “We’re always glad to have new blood in town” adorns the storefront window.
The town, as tiny as a bat, has a population that flits around 750-strong. Early in the 19th century, a Transylvania University alumnus named Dr. W.L. Richards bought a large amount of land in East Carroll Parish. Recalling happy times at his alma mater, the good doctor named his town Transylvania for the university that stills exists in Lexington, Ky. Today, cotton fields surround the town, glowing ghostly white until harvest time strips them of bolls and the stalks reach skyward like withered hands.
According to some accounts, driving through Transylvania during the murky hours of night can be as harrowing as Jonathan Harker’s midnight ride to Dracula’s castle high in the Carpathian Mountains. As one couple reported, it isn’t only the highway signs –– warning motorists that some hitchhikers might be escapees from nearby prison farms –– that can be alarming.
On a slightly foggy night in 1993, the young couple was driving through the area with their dog, Barky, asleep in the back seat of the car. It was close to 3 a.m., and they had just passed the black bat on the Transylvania water tower. (Supposedly, 3 a.m. is when the devil unleashes his forces of evil because the number three unpleasantly reminds him too much of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit –– the Holy Trinity –– and Old Scratch just loves to spite earthlings because of it.)
Walking alongside the road just ahead of the couple’s car, what first seemed to be a man appeared out of the fog. Not only did he tower in height, but he was also transparent. As they drew closer to him, they realized they were looking at no man.
The creature was a combination of a human and an animal, umber-colored and dappled. Astounded, the couple sped up to 55 miles per hour. When they drew close to this nonhuman entity, it abruptly stepped directly into the path of their car, forcing the driver to slam on the brakes. As the car screeched to a stop, the entity in the road, with much insouciance, slowly turned its head and fixed them with eyes described as “hollow, intense, despondent and scolding,” leaving the couple with the distinct impression it had stepped in their path to cause a wreck. The creature vanished into thin air, and the couple traveled on posthaste.
“Nonhuman entities” are supposedly supernatural creatures that, unlike spirits, have never inhabited a human body. They just come fundamentally straight from hell. Louisiana lore is rife with sightings of similar shape-shifters like the loup-garou.
Along with visiting the bat on the water tower or the creep on the side of the road, you can sometimes mingle with the spirit of a woman with a goat’s head who has been seen entering the Transylvania Post Office in this tiny town just a mere 40-plus miles northeast of Vicksburg, Miss.
If the price of gas has not caused you to start ingesting Digitalis and you’re taking a day trip to enjoy the crisp autumn air of North Louisiana, you just might discover that a visit to the Transylvania General Store is a one-stop- shopping excursion that will fill all of your Halloween needs. In addition to hardware, items devoted to Count Dracula, skeletons, skulls, Transylvania T-shirts and rubber bats are proudly sold in this little mecca that’s proud to embrace its macabre side.
Support your local bat colony
You can learn a lot about bats in the town of Transylvania, where the building of bat boxes is strongly encouraged. Along with bluebirds, the population of bats in America is dwindling to a very low, uh, count. Bats dine sumptuously on the state bird of Louisiana –– the mosquito, of course –– and their predilection for this humming little horror greatly reduces any threat of West Nile virus. Bats, which resemble flying mice with pig snouts wearing Dracula capes, are given large credit for the propagation of South American rain forests through the auspices of their seed-laden droppings. These nocturnal critters are the only mammals capable of flight and possess a highly evolved sense of hearing –– the eerie little sounds they emit in the dead of night actually bounce off of any object in their path and return to them as an echo, like an aural GPS system. Bats live as long as 30 years and come one pup to a litter, and dogs cause more rabies infections than they do. Some bats’ diets are 70 percent insects, and then there are those that love fruit and nectar. There are fish-, bird-, lizard- and frog-eating bats, not to mention the bloodsuckers of South America.
The sight of them may have you hitting the dirt, but bats play a vital ecological role. Building a bat box or house at the edge of a forest or pond or on a fence in your backyard will greatly control insect infestation. Unlike some flying creatures that best dwell in a corner of the rooftop, it is better for bats to dwell in a wide house. Have your Halloween party outdoors –– make your bat box tall and wide to ensure hours of mosquito-free enjoyment of your outside area. Sip a mojito, and listen to the reassuring sound of bats flapping their wings.
For more information, visit www.batcon.org. LOUISIANA GROWN
Now is the time, as witches and vampire bats fly through October nights and the loup-garou slinks around in gray November, to plant garlic.
It’s best to use locally grown cultivars such as Italian, which stores the longest and is the most robust in flavor, or the soft-skinned Creole variety.
I will admit that, if not for dreadful societal repercussions, I would snack on toes of garlic as if they were candy corn at Halloween. Garlic, in addition to repelling evil and vampires alike, is believed to keep cancer and high blood pressure at bay. This pungent little gem, which bears the moniker “garbage rose,” grows well in Louisiana.
According to the LSU AgCenter, you should store the heads of garlic whole for at least two weeks in the refrigerator and then break the toes, or cloves, apart and plant them vertically amid tall rows of soil, 5 to 6 inches apart. Root ends should be down, and the garlic tops should be just below the soil’s surface. Periodic side dressings of nitrogen, at least three a year, are required. Use herbicides to control weeds, and then harvest from mid-May to June. The tops should be knocked over a week before harvest. Then loosen the heads with a garden fork, and harvest the garlic. Like Dracula, garlic doesn’t like the sun, so rest the heads in shade or cover with foliage, and then store in sacks.