I wound my way through the French Quarter while, with its enchantment of sumptuous dining and a scarlet Séance Lounge, a night with the possible spirit at Muriel’s Restaurant awaited me. The LaSpirits Paranormal Investigations Team and I were joining forces in a ghostly stake-out to see if the restaurant’s revenant-in-residence would be proved as fact or debunked as myth.
The legend behind the haunting of Muriel’s is a mélange of weakness and gallantry. In 1789, Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan purchased the property and the construction of his exquisite dream home began. A compulsive gambler, he wagered his beloved home in a card game and lost. Jourdan killed himself in the second floor slave quarters, the site of the present day Séance Lounge.
It is this second floor of Muriel’s that has the most paranormal activity.
LaSpirits Paranormal Investigation, co-founded by Brad Duplechien and Brandon Thomas, utilizes investigative equipment such as the FLIR Thermal camera, electromagnetic field readers, audio and video recording devices. The company’s goal is to debunk reported hauntings and it is their dogged skepticism that makes them credible.
Duplechien is a correctional officer who was also a deputy. Another team member, Cenla Case Manager Steve Coleman, served as a National Guardsman in Afghanistan and at the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. LaSpirits has performed over 50 investigations in the last two years alone.
I arrived at Muriel’s which was lit by the flickering candlelight of the Courtyard Bar and ordered iced tea. Legend has it that glasses have been thrown distances greater than 12 feet from this bar to smash against a wall. As I sat there, the stories of ghostly encounters from staff began to spill like overturned wine.
The LaSpirits Team arrived and we were seated for dinner. Our waiter, Jarius LeBlanc, told us he was once having an argument with a co-worker he was dating, turned and his back was hit by flying sauce containers. “I turned to tell her she didn’t have to hit me with anything only to discover she was on the other side of the room,” said LeBlanc. “Arguments bring out the ghost.”
Accompanying the team are LaSpirits Co-Director and Southwest Louisiana Case Manager, Jennifer Broussard; Amanda Gullette, the Southeast Louisiana Case Manager, Lead Investigator and Analyst; and Investigators-in-Training Alicia Adams, Rebecca Foltz, Rodney Grundmeyer and Annie Taylor.
It took LaSpirits an hour to set up their equipment and to perform test sweeps of the premises to detect high amounts of electricity, which could cause EMF readers to spike and give the erroneous impression of a ghostly presence. Muriel’s passes all tests; the monitoring station is set up in an upstairs banquet room.
In a draped corner, at the foot of the wooden staircase that leads to the Séance Lounge, a table had been set in tribute especially for Jourdan, replete with filled wine glasses and bread. As I climbed the staircase alone I felt as if someone was climbing behind me, always just one step below me. A half-hour later, I felt some sense of validation when I saw Taylor running quickly up the same otherwise empty staircase, slightly panicked, “Someone was watching me from behind on the staircase!” she cried.
After closing, the entire restaurant was plunged into darkness. We split into pairs and I was teamed with Duplechien. We grope our way through the dark to the Séance Lounge, the FLIR camera in his hand and the EMF reader in mine. This oblong room, with high brick walls and filled with Egyptian mummy cases, is an eclectic blend of all that is elegantly bizarre, divided in the center by drapes. The inner half of the room is lined with plush scarlet sofas and chairs. We sat down and Brad told me to ask questions to invoke the spirit.
“Monsieur Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, bon soir. Comment ça va? Je m’appelle Jeanne,” I said.
I asked him to respond to our questions by tapping, making a noise or doing anything overt as a sign of his presence.
After 20 seemingly uneventful minutes, we moved to the monitoring station, replaced by Gullette and Adams. Again, we asked Jourdan to give us a sign of his presence. After absolute silence, a loud tap suddenly resounded on the table next to us. Duplechien, believing it was condensation dripping from the air conditioning vent overhead, checked the table to find it bone dry. Something fell from me and dropped to the floor with a tinny sound. Adams and Gullette caught up with me on the staircase a little later and Adams handed me one of my earrings that she found on the floor of the Séance Room. My hands flew to my ears – both formerly very secured earrings were gone. Duplechein tells me the tinny sound we heard was the other earring falling when we were at the monitoring station invoking Jourdan to give us a sign of his presence.
“Amanda and I heard knocking noises going across the ceiling in the séance room two different times,” said Adams, “but I found your earring. We felt footsteps, heard other random knocking noises in the room and both saw a black shadow type figure cross the room rather quickly.”
I got paired with Steve Coleman outside the suicide room. Randomly, I shot pictures aimed at the darkness with a digital camera. One of these catches the mirror outside the Séance Lounge. In the photograph, the word “CARD” appears in luminous writing across the face of the mirror.
At the ghost’s table, Duplechien was paired with Annie Taylor. “We were sitting at the table set for the resident ghost,” said Taylor, “and I felt my left pant leg tugged twice … we went up to the séance room. Brandon and Rebecca where already there doing some EVP work.”
After 2 a.m., I left Coleman to join Thomas, Foltz, Taylor and Duplechien in the Séance Room. We were all sitting in the inner portion of the room and I was nearest the drapery dividers, looped back, hanging by evenly spaced curtain tabs. On the other side of the drapes, the outer portion of the lounge is deserted.
Thomas and Foltz had staged a mock argument and report that in response to their questions, they heard knocking sounds. One tap meant “yes,” two meant “no.”
I asked Jourdan why he went to the slave quarters to kill himself – a question that caused a barrage of insulting accusations to erupt from the rest of the team.
Provoking a spirit has been known to elicit responses but Jourdan remained quiet to all insults. Thomas was very humorous with his questions, so I asked Jourdan if he liked this brand of humor. I immediately witnessed a white flash of light in a far corner, a sighting that was later substantiated by Foltz.
“When you said you saw a light in the upper corner of the room I also saw that same light out of the corner of my eye,” she said.
Then, the tapping began; one quiet tap that occurred after each question is asked. It came from the empty outer room nearest to me. My skin crawled as a tap intelligently answered each question – I felt someone unseen near me. Duplechien sat directly across from the drapery dividers.
“The most interesting phenomena I personally encountered,” said Duplechein, “ was when I saw the shadowed object pass in front of the curtain immediately after the knocks were heard.”
“The tapping appeared to be the result of a spirit attempting to communicate with us because the taps were often heard in response to our questions,” said Foltz. We were able to regain communication with the spirit evidenced by the knocking that you witnessed in addition to the light in the corner.”
It was now nearly 3 a.m. The tapping was interrupted when we were informed that our hosts are tired and wish to go home.
“In minutes we heard knocks,” said Taylor, “and started to see shadows … I heard two very heavy footsteps. I stopped to see who would be walking so heavily down the stairs and there was no one!”
LaSpirits left their equipment running to be later picked up that morning. We all streamed out into a night filled with the light of a full moon and as I passed the cathedral, too wired for sleep, the chimes sounded three o’clock.
You saw what?
Experiences from the restaurant staff
Jessica Baity, Waitress. “The minute guests began speaking French, a perfectly balanced wine glass mysteriously flipped completely off my serving tray,” she recalls. “Simultaneously, the tray of another waitress was knocked from her hands as though someone had deliberately struck it.”
Ian Turkmen, Manager. “When I make my rounds closing up before leaving,” Turkmen claims, “I feel a presence accompanying me upstairs near the Séance Lounge.” Turkmen adds that the presence seems to hold no menace but feels mystical, and is someone he rather likes. “One night, while making my rounds alone in the building, a candle holder fell over by itself,” he calmly states.
Mary Hulse, Mixologist. “I started working at Muriel’s a year-and-a-half ago and I was on the second floor in the wine room adjacent to the Séance Lounge (site of Jourdan’s suicide). Only the manager and I were in the building at the time. When I walked past the Séance Lounge, I saw a hot and hazy figure of a man. He was wearing clothes from the 1700s, dressed in red and gold, with a long jabot.”
Nicole Bloomer, Manager. “They (Austrian guests began having a discussion in German regarding woodworking) expressed the desire to sign one of the antique guest books. Before they could sign the book, another book flew to the floor and opened at random to a certain passage. The passage, written in German, was all about woodworking!”
…On the wall near the windows, two tiny handprints etched in black mar the finish. We’re told only the workmen who were painting the gold leaf had keys to the premises and when they left, they locked everything. Although no one had access to the building overnight, the next morning the workmen arrived, these tiny handprints were found on the wall. A photograph taken by LaSpirits Investigator Jennifer Broussard later in the evening would reveal a bright blue orb floating in that same hallway.
And in conclusion …
The subsequent scrutiny of video by LaSpirits team members caught no ghostly apparitions drifting through the restaurant. But, team members (including me) reported seeing shadowy shapes in the Séance Lounge when responsive taping occulted. Complete review of the audio revealed marked Electric Voice Phenomenons (EVPs). When the investigation began, co-director Broussard stated, “Here we go.” EVP recordings immediately picked up a male voice not belonging to any team members mimicking her exact words. As investigator-in-training Rodney Grudmeyer sat at the ghost’s table in the stairwell, a female voice with a French, almost Creole, accent, not belonging to any of the team members can be heard saying, “Thank you.” When Adams and Gullette replaced Duplechien and myself in the Séance Room, audio clearly picks up two long male moans or sighs and a gasping sound – as though someone was trying to catch his breath. All of the tapping sounds in response to our questions in the Séance Room towards the end of the evening were clearly recorded.
For more information on ghost hunting and LaSpirits, check out Duplechien’s book, Paranormal Uncensored: A raw look at Louisiana ghost hunting.