Be prepared to dream

Halen Doughty
A photograph of the woman who visited me in a dream the night I stayed at Palo Alto.

South Louisiana is known for its haunted houses. From the Myrtle's Plantation to the LaLaurie House in New Orleans, spirits have been said to wanter the region for centuries. While some places with a dark past may be home to tortured souls, there is a hidden gem right here in Ascension Parish that boasts a friendlier paranormal atmosphere.

The Palo Alto plantation has been a staple of the Donaldsonville community for centuries, as the home was constructed in 1847. It's well known in the area that the house is home to local business man Peter Lemann and his partner DeeDee DiBenedetto, as well as some less visible house guests who've maintained a residence at the plantation for more than a hundred years.

Palo Alto recently opened its doors to the public for historical tours and as a bed and breakfast. I had the privilege of staying in the new B and B, which sits in the former kitchen just off the main house. I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about staying the night alone in a haunted plantation home, but it was one of the best experiences I've ever had. Some spooky things definitely happened, but I was never truly afraid at any point. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone looking for the paranormal.

The first thing I noticed once I started touring the plantation was that my camera was acting up. Although admittedly, I'm not the best photographer in the world, I like to think I know at least a little about what I'm doing. But for some reason, there were several spots in the home and on the grounds where my camera simply would not focus. DiBenedetto said I'm not the first to say that, as other more experienced photographers have reported technical difficulties as well.

On some occasions, I would take a burst of three or four pictures at once. Flipping back through them, I would see one that looked great followed by one in the very same spot that was so dark you could barely make out what it was, and then the next one would be normal again. Also, there were a few shots that had mysterious foggy spots. Much like the other issues, the fog would be clearly visible in one photo and gone in the next.

As I toured the home, DiBenedetto told me about some other unusual instances that are quite frequent in the home. Some things, like dolls and toys, are often found in places they were not left. As we walked through one of the upper bedrooms, we saw that two small doll shoes were in strange places. One was sitting in a chair while the other was on the bed. DiBenedetto noted they had not been there when she'd checked the room the day before. She credits the mischief to a small child whose spirit is said to haunt the home. While harmless, the little girl is known for playing games with DiBenedetto and others who come onto the grounds.

I eventually saw her games in my own room while staying at the B and B. An antique porcelain doll was perched on the mantle above the fireplace in my suite. I noticed she was seated on the very edge of the mantle with her feet and part of her dress hanging off the edge. The next morning after taking a shower, I came to find her several inches back on the mantle, her feet and dress no longer dangling off the side. Needless to say, that was more than a little unusual.

I managed to make it through the night without anything too crazy. However, around midnight I was awoken by a loud thump that sounded as though it came from either the living room or kitchen of my suite. The sound was loud enough to wake me from a dead sleep, but DiBenedetto said they heard nothing of the sort in the main house.

There's something even more bizarre about the loud crash in the night, and honestly I hesitated to include this aspect of the story for fear of being committed to the nut house. I had two dreams while I stayed at Palo Alto. This is unusual for me since I don't often dream, much less remember them the next day. I still recall these two dreams vividly.

Both of my dreams were like an out-of-body experience in that I could see myself asleep in the bed, another strange aspect as I have never had a dream like that in my life. During the first, I simply saw myself sleeping in the bed. It's weird enough to think about dreaming about yourself sleeping, but I did. In my dream, I rolled to the side and fell out of bed onto the floor. That was the same time that I heard the loud crash and woke up. For a moment, I really thought the sound was that of me hitting the floor because that's exactly what it sounded like. But I had not. I awoke still lying in bed with my heart racing. I went back to sleep and tried to write it off as nerves.

Of course I thought that something had fallen off a counter or something in the night. So I looked for every possible explanation the next morning. But when I woke up, there was nothing out of place to explain the sound. I was beginning to think I'd dreamt up the sound because of my strange dream, but then I heard it again. While in the bathroom the morning after, I heard the exact same loud thud. Wide awake after two cups of coffee, I searched the suite top to bottom for anything that could explain the noise. It sounded like someone jumped onto the hardwood floors or either dropped something very heavy. There was nothing on the floor and no one outside at the time. I still can't explain what the sound was or where it came from.

One of the most noticeable things about my stay was the fluctuating temperature of the front room of my suite. The day I arrived, the living area was freezing cold, much colder than the air outside even. After running the heat all day long, the chill vacated every part of the suite except a portion of the front room. All day long I wore a jacket and blanket in the living room because it was that frigid. That night I closed the doors to the bedroom to contain the heat, and when I awoke the living room was the same temperature as the rest of the house.

A bit confused as to how the room warmed up overnight when outside temperatures dropped, I still wasn't convinced. That is until I heard that second thump. When I came out of the bathroom to check for a person or fallen object, I noticed the living room was once again freezing cold. The temperature had fallen at least ten degrees in a matter of minutes.

After taking a few moments to calm down and try to find a logical solution, I went back inside to find the temperature was once again perfectly normal. Yet again in just minutes, the front room had gone from feeling like an ice box to a pleasant warms similar to the outside temperature.

The final, and perhaps the creepiest thing about my stay did not come to light until Monday morning as I wrote this story. As I mentioned, I had two dreams that night. After finally falling back asleep from the first unusual dream, I had another quite similar to the first. Once again, I was dreaming about myself sleeping in the bed of the B and B. In my dream, I woke up in the bed to find an African American woman sitting up beside me in the bed. She was dark complected with a head wrap around her hair. She was also dressed in what I thought was old-timey clothing. The only thing I recalled was her sleeves as they poofed out above her wrist where the light colored shirt was buttoned. I had no idea who this woman could be, and so I didn't think much else about the dream.

Then Monday morning as I was digging through photos I'd taken, I saw the mysterious woman again. DiBenedetto had shown me scores of old photographs from the 1800s. I'd taken some pictures of a few, though to be honest I hadn't paid much attention to the subjects of the photographs. As I flipped through the pictures in my office days later, there she was. Clear as day in one of the old pictures was the woman I'd seen in my dream. Head wrap and poofy sleeves included.

I still cannot explain some of the spookier things that happened during my stay at the Palo Alto plantation. But i can say it was a night I won't soon forget. It was easily the best paranormal experience I could have asked for, since it wasn't too scary but still exciting. Whatever spirits wander the grounds, they are friendly at least.

If you're looking to find the paranormal or just for a nice bed and breakfast in town, Palo Alto definitely belongs on the top of your list.

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