Old Town ‘Haunt’ -- Paranormal investigators probe historic Bay building
By Geoff Belcher
Apr 4, 2014, 20:09
A peek inside the Ghost Chasers equipment van shows an array of high-tech audio-visual equipment and detectors.
Most of us enjoy stories about ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night, but very few people get the chance to experience them first-hand like Bay St. Louis business owner Holly Lemoine-Raymond.
Raymond's Cypress Café has been a local "haunt" for people who live in Bay St. Louis since it opened in 2010 at the the old Kingston Barbershop building on Blaize Avenue, just across from the Depot. In 2012, she moved the business a few blocks away to the beautiful, historic Bay St. Louis City Hall building on Second Street. Now the café may be a "haunt" of another sort.
"Unusual" things started to happen as soon as Raymond started moving the café's furniture and equipment into the new location, she said.
"I'm a skeptic," Raymond said. "I don't really believe in something until I see it with my own eyes, but weird things keep happening here. Nothing bad or evil, but odd things."
While Raymond and her crew were first setting up shop in the historic building, kitchen drawers would mysteriously open and close on their own, coffee cups would inexplicably fly across the restaurant, or Holly or one of her team would leave the room and come back a minute later to find items on the counter had been turned over or re-arranged. Window blinds would occasionally shake or rattle even though the windows were closed and there was no breeze.
"It can get a little spooky," Raymond said.
A long history
Built in 1905, the old Bay St. Louis City Hall building features classic Roman and Greek revival architecture. The city's police department and jail took up the ground floor. The city administration officers were upstairs and remained there until 1994, when the administration moved to the city hall annex building on Court Street (now the Hancock Chamber of Commerce); and the police station moved out to Hwy. 90. The city's public works and building departments remained in the historic structure until Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. The structure survived Katrina but was heavily damaged in both storms. The city administration completely renovated the building and, by 2011, started renting out both the first and second floors to local business owners.
"A lot of people don't know this," Mayor Les Fillingame said Friday, "but that is the only building in the city of Bay St. Louis that was built specifically for municipal operations."
Fillingame said he had never personally experienced anything unusual at the site, but, like all of us, has "heard the stories."
"We all know it's a home for a lot of legends," he said.
One of those legends includes an infamous incident that occurred in 1928 when a prisoner at the city jail shot his way to temporary freedom, killing one man and wounding another in the process.
The escapee was later recaptured and – after a lengthy trial and appeals process – was the last prisoner executed by hanging in Hancock County.
"It's all part of the lore of Bay St. Louis," Fillingame said. "They just have some suspicious little things happen there every now and then. ... I would not be surprised by anything they found there."
The Cypress Café now takes up the entire ground floor, including the old jail. One of the jail cell doors is still there.
However, strange noises and events aren't limited to the café.
Upstairs in the building, in the former city administration area, Raymond maintains a business office. Also renting office space there are the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program and Coastal American Insurance Company.
"I'm up here most of the time by myself," Deena Crocker, who works for Coastal Insurance, said. "I hear strange noises all the time."
Crocker often hears footsteps coming up the outside stairs, she said, even though there is no one there; and once, she said, the toilet in the public restroom apparently flushed all by itself.
"I definitely think there's a presence here," Crocker said. "I don't think it's a harmful presence, it just is what it is."
What is it?
The Cypress Café has now been the focus of two paranormal investigations.
The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) performed the first investigation last October. Last week, a different team, the Meridian-based Ghost Chasers of Mississippi (G-COM) did a comprehensive study of the entire city hall building and grounds.
In both cases, the investigators contacted Raymond, not the other way around.
"We had heard the story about the man who had ... gone to jail and shot the police officer," Justin Pritchett, one of G-COM's founding members said Thursday. "We were trying to figure out some of the untold story.
G-COM formed in 2010, Pritchett said, and although a relatively young group – none of it's members is older than 27 – all the "Ghost Chasers" are experienced.
G-COM is still the only paranormal investigation group to probe the late William Faulkner's family estate at Oxford.
"We all have full-time jobs outside of this," Pritchard said, "but this is our passion."
Most of the six-member G-COM team is in law enforcement, one is a firefighter and one is a U.S. Army veteran. As a result, he said, the team's investigations are thorough, methodical, and entirely unbiased.
"We're not trying to prove or disprove anything," Pritchett said. "We're looking for the truth. We don't go into it with a bias of any kind, we're trying to figure out exactly what's going on."
Although the team is still going over the video and audio recordings from the Cypress Café investigation, "There's definitely something there," Pritchett said.
"There's (the spirit of) a little girl in that building, we're confident about that," he said.
"We have some pretty good (audio) of a little girl, and she says, 'Help me,' two or three times."
There is also, likely, the spirit of an adult male roaming the building, he said.
"The part that really kind of freaks me out," Raymond said, "is that TAPS and G-COM both came up with the same things."
The team plans to return to the café next week to take some more readings and go over their findings with Raymond.
TAPS is planning a return trip as well, Raymond said.
The G-COM boys are working on a pilot for a TV series – they're conducting a Kickstarter campaign for it right now – but haven't yet worked out the details with Raymond whether the Bay St. Louis investigation will be part of the program.
"We're doing the early stages of the filming right now," Pritchett said. It's going to be Mississippi-based. We're going to highlight haunted places throughout the south.
"We would love to highlight Bay St. Louis on the TV show. ... Bay St. Louis is amazing."
Raymond said that – other than some occasionally off noises and events – she and the rest of the Cypress Café team are quite happy with whatever or whomever else is in the building.
"Nothing bad has ever happened," she said. "it's really kind of cool."
Anyone who wants to take a "ghost tour" of the café is welcome, she said.