Lebeau Plantation Burns to the Ground; Is This A Ghost Hunting Issue?

ray-solis-fire-photos-2jpg-3ef820554b75a425No doubt you’ve heard the story by now.  This past Friday a group of men claiming to be ghost hunters burned a historic building in Louisiana to the ground.  This situation is appalling, disturbing and perhaps not really all that unique.

As reported by Fox8 New Orleans, seven men, ranging in age from 17 to 31 entered the historic Lebeau Plantation house in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, looking for ghosts.  According to investigators, the men consumed alcohol and marijuana while inside (and probably prior to), and when their efforts to find any ghostly or paranormal activity failed, they deliberately set fire to the building.

“They were in there looking for ghosts, drinking, smoking dope, and for some reason they made a decision — a conscious decision — before they left to set this building on fire.  St. Bernard lost a part of its history today, and these seven individuals are responsible for that.”

Five of the men, who according to St. Bernard Parish Sherriff, James Pohlmann, were all part of some door-to-door sales group travelling through the area, have been charged with arson, simple burglary, and criminal damage over $50,000, while the remaining two were charged with accessory to arson. Ownership of the property has yet to be determined, and as such it’s unlikely there will be any restoration effort.

This is truly a tragedy, not only for the loss of this historic location, that has sat empty for an undisclosed period of time, but also for the harm this act has done and will do to the collective reputation of the paranormal research community in general.  Lebeau Plantation had long been a so-called hot spot for ghost hunters, and many stories of its haunted nature circulated the St. Bernard Parish community.

ku-xlargeOther ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiast are, understandably, attempting to distance themselves from the event and the behaviour.  Several blogs have reported the story, condemning the men and their actions as atypical of their community, essentially saying that those men are ‘not real ghost hunters’.  This sentiment is being repeated time and again across the popular social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, but – and I realise this will not be a popular position – they aren’t really accurate when they single this case out, suggesting that it’s an isolated incident unrelated to the paranormal research community.

It may be the case that these men were less organized and scientific in their pursuit of ghosts than some others who undertake the same pursuit, but this hardly disqualifies them as ghost hunters.  This argument amounts to a classic case of the ‘one true Scotsman’ argument, which says that these undesirable elements of the community are not actually a part of the community, when they really are, demonstrably so.

If they claimed that their purpose for being there was to hunt ghosts, which they have freely admitted, then they are by every definition ‘ghost hunters’.  Beyond this is the fact that this kind of behaviour is nothing new to the field of paranormal research.  Many other buildings have been burned or damaged in pursuit of ghostly activity.  The vast majority of so-called ghost hunting groups have in fact trespassed on private property and forced their way into vacant or abandoned buildings to affect their trade.  Yes, the Lebeau Plantation incident is more extreme than most other examples of this flaw in the community, but it is not unique.

ac85e124ebf65e07If you doubt that this is the case, I’ll refresh your memory.  In October of 2009, A&E network aired a much hyped new paranormal reality show titled Extreme Paranormal.  I watched it with much anticipation as it was billed to bring a new type of investigation style to the community, and was the brain child of a group of paranormal investigators who, up until then, had a decent reputation.  I, like most people, was sorely disappointed with the show, but more than that, I was outraged at the ridiculous and dangerous (not to mention illegal) activities portrayed on screen by these so-called ‘irreverent ghost hunters’.

I watched in amazement as they made ridiculous assumptions and used unconventional equipment (to say the least) in order to provoke a reaction from the spirits that were presumed to inhabit the location.  The circular saw used to cut the bars on one of the prison cells was a particularly stupid example.

In that show, which was immediately cancelled after that first episode, the hosts sprayed lighter fluid onto the concrete floor of the prison, in the shape of a pentagram, which they then lit ablaze in an effort to further provoke the spirits.

I ask you, how is this any different than what those men did to the Lebeau Plantation?

Deliberate?  Check.  Irresponsible?  Check.  Pointless?  Check.  Malicious?  Definitely, though for different reasons in these two cases.

The seven arson suspects are (left to right) Bryon Meek, Dusten Davenport, Kevin Barbe, Joshua Allen, Jerry Hamblen, Joseph Landin and Joshua Briscoe.

The seven arson suspects are (left to right) Bryon Meek, Dusten Davenport, Kevin Barbe, Joshua Allen, Jerry Hamblen, Joseph Landin and Joshua Briscoe.

Now you may say that Extreme Paranormal is, as with the Lebeau Plantation fire, not representative of the greater paranormal community, but I maintain that it most certainly is.  The results may normally be much less severe than in the St. Bernard Parish case, which has rendered an otherwise valuable historic site completely destroyed, but all you need to do is look through the news from the last few years to find examples of the disrespect members of this community have for the property of others.  In the case in question, no one was hurt, physically at least, but this isn’t always the case, and the proof is in the pudding…do a Google search for ghost hunters shot for trespassing and you’ll be amazed how many links will be served up.

To add a personal touch to this, I can say from my own experience, that would-be ghost hunters and even those much more experienced have done and will continue to do considerable damage to the historic and vacant Sulphur Springs Hotel in Cambridge, Ontario (Canada).  I was fortunate (or unfortunate, as the case may be) to work as the live-in caretaker of that building for a period of two years.  I witnessed first-hand the damage and vandalism that people inflict on such buildings, and every time I caught the perpetrator in the act, their reason for being there was ‘I was curious about the building because it’s supposed to be haunted’.

Of course, there are criminal elements in every city or town, which apparently delight in causing such damage for no other reason than they were bored, but in these cases, when the people in question admit, freely, that their purpose was hunting ghosts, what other conclusion is there?

The obvious call here is to suggest that this community needs organizing and oversight, it needs regulation and government involvement.  Real benefits would be found in standardizing methodologies, licensure, and officially defined terms and practices.  This is never going to happen though, and the pursuit will ultimately remain little more than a hobby for most in the field.  When, or rather if, the field of paranormal research attains any kind of credibility in its workings, it will thus be considered a scientific pursuit and will no longer be accessible to the layman.  It could be said that this would reduce the number of incidents like this, but something would be lost along the way.

I don’t have any answers.  I just wish people would remove their blinders and finally understand that there are major flaws in the way ghost hunters and paranormal investigators go about their business.

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Martin J. Clemens

I also blog at at Mysterious Universe!
Writer, Canadian, Fortean Addict...and lover of science and history. "As for me...I know only, that I know nothing..."
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  • http://gravatar.com/sarijj sarijj

    Thank you Martin, for shining a spotlight on the darker side of ghost hunting (no pun intended) Sonoma County California is full of old historic sites and I remember in the 80’s there was a rash of break-ins of many older buildings by so called ghost hunters. Perhaps this was just an excuse to look for possible forgot valuable artifacts, but the end result was the same. Damaged historic sites.
    I’ve read that the show Ghost Hunters may be facing trespassing charges for a recent visit to an “abandon” home. Apparently the house is is empty but has owners who are not happy with the damage the film crew inflicted on the front area.

    • Martin J. Clemens

      I think that a lot of people view “abandoned” as equal to “not owned by anyone”, and this is never the case in reality. To me, it boils down to a lack of respect that people, young people in many cases, have for other people and their property. I suppose this is nothing new, teens have inflicted vandalism for many generations, and like I said, I don’t have any answers.

  • AJ Kitt

    ohhh, sigh. What sanctimonious semantical nonsense!

    1. Governmental oversight of what is largely a hobby cannot possibly be a good idea, and criminal behavior is criminal behavior (and should be prosecuted as such), whether there is official oversight or not.

    2. There is no “community” of ghost hunters, unless you count things like TAPS Family, Ghost Adventures Crew, etc. If you want a sanctioning body, then shut up and START one. But that still won’t stop goofballs who operate outside that body from being stupid or malicious any more than the existence of a surfer association keeps lone wolves off the waves and making the rest of their “community” look bad.

    3. Comparing outlier to outlier is hardly good science, nor comparing one bad group to another. I would suggest it very likely that the overwhelming majority of ghost hunters don’t do drugs or alcohol on investigations, much less deliberately set fires to the site they are investigating. Further, comparing arson to provocation was just silly, even *with* the “common element” of “flame.”

    4. The fact that ghost hunters might frequent any abandoned site does not automatically mean that they are the ones vandalizing it. Kids have been having parties at abandoned sites (and vandalizing them) for generations, whether they hunt ghosts or not.

    It’s always well and good to complain about the freakshows when they rear their heads, but if you want to continue hunting ghosts, you won’t invite the government in. So, what about creating a non-governmental sanctioning body? I think probably not. Very, VERY few investigation teams have even a clue how to approach the problem from a scientific perspective, so if bylaws are created by weight of majority vote, you guarantee a methodology that would specifically exclude good practices, and further guarantee ghost hunting’s continued ostracization from legitimate science.

    • Martin J. Clemens

      Sanctimonious? Really? Suggesting that people shouldn’t vandalize and burn down abandoned buildings is sanctimonious? Whatever you say…

      Your obvious fear of big government notwithstanding, immediately following that statement, I stated plainly that government oversight will never happen, and I will admit that it might be undesirable. As for there not being a community of ghost hunters, you sir, are entirely wrong.

      It’s interesting though, that you call me sanctimonious (without justification I might add) and then in your last paragraph you malign the majority of this community by calling them scientifically illiterate. I happen to agree, and have said as much in the past, but hypocrisy deserves to be highlighted.

      • AJ Kitt

        Yeah, I am not immune to hypocrisy. Nor am I immune to the occasional bit of arrogance – the two are often the same. But there are a lot of ways to define and categorize “community,” and ghost hunting really doesn’t fit many of them. You know, blogging about the problems is great, but may I suggest that it just might be time to trade in the soapbox for a podium? I definitely don’t agree with a lot of what you say, but at the same time I definitely *DO* agree that yours is often the most reasonable voice in the wind.

        Talk is cheap. You certainly have enough connections by now, and a fair idea of which reasonable voices would and would not be interested in creating something of a guild or association of ghost hunting individuals and organizations. It’s great to talk about oversight, and there are certainly enough interested parties to gather together around you (I would do it myself, but that “arrogance” thing doesn’t sit well with others sometimes…)… when do you take the next step?

      • Martin J. Clemens

        True, there are several ways to define a community, but the fact that they’re labelled by and sheltered under a single umbrella of purpose and drive, makes them at least related enough to call them such, I think.

        After all that though, I don’t consider myself to be a member of that community. I’m a pundit, a commentator, I look in from the outside. And though I do tend to make it my business to know what’s going on, I’m hardly a beacon of wisdom and leadership. You’re right though, someone needs to step up, and people have tried in the past, only to meet uncooperative factions, disinterest, and loud argument over the how and the who of it. This is why I say that it will never happen.

        I thank you for the compliment, but I’m just a loud mouth blogger, not a leader.

      • AJ Kitt

        LOL! If people follow you, you’re the leader! How many people read your blog? Now all you have to do is, as I said, trade in the soap box for a podium; instead of focusing on what’s wrong, perhaps gather ideas about how to do it right? No special skills needed; the ideas, the organizational skills… they’re in your audience! Have you ever tried polling them?

        Just thoughts… the field definitely needs some kind of guidance and organization a step up from the TV nonsense and a step down from places like IONS, PA, and SPR. You’re in the right place at the right time saying the right things; if not you, then who?

        PS “Sheltering,” I would agree, is definitely a necessary component of “community.” But perhaps you need to explain to me how individuals in the labeled category of “ghost hunters” are in any way sheltered by that affiliation? Outside of TV fan clubs and perhaps marketing drives in the guise of “expos,” there appear to be none of the expected community-type interactions going on.

  • http://mospiritseekers.wordpress.com Patrick Keller

    Ohhhhh I have so many bipolar and mixed feelings about all of this… but I can’t seem to put them into words at the moment. There are definitely hillbilly “ghost hunter” fools out there that embarrass the hell out of me, but saying the majority of them are this insane is a very wild statement. A sad and disgusting event for sure.

    • Martin J. Clemens

      In fact, that isn’t what I said.

      • http://mospiritseekers.wordpress.com Patrick Keller

        You’re right. My apologies. Even saying most ghost hunters (God I hate that term) are like that seems unfair. On a random note, have you seen the mug shots? Ugh.

      • Martin J. Clemens

        No I haven’t, do you have a link?

      • http://mospiritseekers.wordpress.com Patrick Keller

        I don’t from my phone… but they popped up in my image search for LaBeau.

      • http://mospiritseekers.wordpress.com Patrick Keller

        Hopefully I spelled it a little better than that in my search. Try misspelling it. :-) Maybe that’s where they’re hiding. Ha!