Haunting of Manchac Swamp in Louisiana
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Swamps are a favorite setting for many horror stories, mainly in the vein of backwoods inbred cannibal families. Inbred cannibal trope aside, though, swamps do conjure eerie feelings. Eerie feelings and probably mental images of Spanish moss hanging from cypress trees, dangling over dark, muddy waters.
In the swamps of the United States, you'll also find alligators and venomous pit vipers lurking and submerged ghost towns long ago lost by rising waters.
Right outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, in St. John the Baptist Parish, there used to be a town called Frenier. It disappeared over a hundred years ago, but some say that Manchac swamp where Frenier used to be is now haunted.
Where Is Manchac Swamp?
Let's first orient ourselves via Louisiana.
Louisiana is the only state in the United States with "parishes" instead of "counties."
Totally not confusing.
New Orleans is quite famous for a lot of things, like Mardis Gras celebrations, Anne Rice, and the French Quarter. It also happens to be responsible for the creation of jazz music, Bourbon whiskey, dental floss, and a whole lot more.
As it turns out, Manchac Swamp is pretty easy to find in the Greater New Orleans area today because Louisiana built a bridge over it called the Manchac Swamp Bridge.
Manchac Swamp Bridge isn't just any old bridge, by the way. It's one of the longest bridges in the world that runs over water. With a length of 22.80 miles (36.69 km), it is the longest bridge on the United States Interstate Highway System.
Just imagine driving over Manchac Swamp during the night. Your car breaks down somewhere in the middle, and you pull off to the shoulder of the bridge. No other vehicles are in sight, and if you take a walk, you're in for one hell of a hike to get back to civilization. As you're smacking your old flashlight, trying to get it to come on, cursing under your breath about never getting around to changing those batteries, you remember something about Manchac Swamp...
Better call Ghostbusters.
And maybe AAA.
The Legend of Julia Brown
On the shores of Lake Pontchartrain (pronunciation), north of Laplace, in the Manchac Swamp, was a small town called Frenier. Around the mid-1800s, a few dozen families lived in the community. Most of their income for Frenier was from farming cabbage, turning it into sauerkraut, and selling it to the French Market in New Orleans and Chicago via the railroad.
A woman named Julia Brown lived in Frenier. Julia was a traiteuse, a type of faith healer. She combined Catholic prayer and herbal remedies from plants she gathered around the swamp. The locals knew Julia for her healing abilities, as well as her skill in singing and playing guitar. She was loved for her healing but also feared because of her power. The townsfolk said she was a Voodoo Priestess.
Eventually, Julia grew old, and locals often saw her sitting on her porch, rocking and singing, guitar in hand. She began to sing a new song, one the town hadn't heard before. It was a simple tune.
"When I die,
I take the whole town with me.
When I die,
I take the whole town."
— Julia Brown
On September 29th, 1915, Julia Brown died. Nearly the entire town gathered to bury her. Some came to pay their respects, while others came to gather favor from her spirit.
Around four o'clock in the afternoon, as they laid Julia to rest, a storm landed ashore.
Not just any storm.
A Category 4 hurricane with winds reaching 145 mph (233 km/h).
By the time the hurricane subsided, several towns were gone, 275 people were dead, and the entire community of Frenier had disappeared.
Many of the dead were never found.
A mass grave was made for the few dead that were found.
Julia Brown is supposedly buried in the same area, but her grave is isolated, away from the rest.
Some say that Julia Brown cursed the town of Frenier with her song for taking her for granted; some say it was a prediction, while others argue it was just a fluke.
Visitors to Manchac Swamp claim that you can hear the cries of the townsfolk who died in the hurricane and that Julia Brown still sings, her words echoing across the cypress trees and dark waters.
If you ever find yourself around New Orleans, be sure to pay a visit to Manchac Swamp, even if the only thing you do is drive over the Manchac Swamp Bridge. You never know; you may find yourself as the star in your very own swamp horror film set in the remnants of a drowned ghost town.
Relevant & Related
- Read more about the Manchac Swamp Bridge right here. You don't have to travel to New Orleans to get a feel for driving it, too, because you can watch some footage here. Be sure to check out a firsthand account of a woman who survived when a section of the bridge collapsed in 1976.
- Want to get up close and personal with the Manchac Swamp? You can take a kayak tour.
- Listen to The Curse of Julia Brown—a more in-depth look at the legend of Julia Brown by Southern Gothic Media.
- If you can manage to find a copy, A&E produced a special back in 2009 called Extreme Paranormal that visited Manchac Swamp. If only there was somewhere you could watch it.
- Speaking of paranormal chasers, there's a three-part series following the Paranormal Society of Ponchatoula and their search for the mass grave in Manchac Swamp. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
- You can also read more about the hurricane that destroyed Frenier, pieced together from interviews with someone there and old newspaper articles from 1915.
- For fiction set in the area, check out the novella Swamp of Lost Souls by Thomas Kingsley Troupe—part of the Haunted States of America series.
- If you're a photographer lover, you'll want to look at Manchac Swamp: Louisiana's Undiscovered Wilderness.
- Into swamp witches? If you've never seen it, watch Pumpkinhead from 1988.
- For more oddities nearby, you may find these other articles I've written of interest: Haunted Pillar on Broad Street in Augusta, Georgia | The Witch's Grave of Oak Hill Cemetery in Galena, Kansas | Tomoka's Carnivorous Pink Cloud
- Need some swampy fiction? You can't go wrong with Michael McDowell's Blackwater Series. For a little New Orleans fiction, you'll want to check out various works by Anne Rice, particularly her Lives of the Mayfair Witches series of novels beginning with The Witching Hour.