One night while working in the basement of the Old State Capitol, Carl Smith said, he was exiting a bathroom stall when the door flew off the hinges and smacked into him, leaving him out of breath.
Smith said the door’s hinges are designed to open in the opposite direction. He believes he was attacked.
Perhaps by a ghost.
“That’s the worst thing that ever happened to me, in there,” Smith said.
A maintenance supervisor, Smith has worked at the Old State Capitol for the last eight years. During his time in the 168-year-old building, he’s had his fair share of scares. Smith had a paranormal experience before he worked at the Old State Capitol and said he’s not sure who the ghost might be, if that’s what it was. The bathroom incident is the only physical paranormal experience Smith said he’s ever had on the Old State Capitol grounds, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t come in contact with other ghostly spirits he claims are roaming the halls.
There’s a hot spot — a place with a sign of ghost activity— in the basement, which functioned as a prison and hospital during the Civil War, Smith said. He’s heard the click-clack of shoes roaming across the upper floors. Large, heavy doors sometimes open and shut on their own. The casts of ghost-hunting TV shows have made their way through the building’s hallowed halls, each reporting something different.
Opened in 1847, the Louisiana Old State Capitol has stood the test of time, and many know the historical events that occurred, such as the impeachment proceedings for former Gov. Huey P. Long. Not many, however, know Confederate Gov. Henry Watkins Allen is buried in the building’s lawn.
Museum curator Lauren Davis said after the Civil War, Allen fled to Mexico, as did many other members of the Confederacy. He died in 1866, and his body eventually was moved to Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans. From there, it was exhumed and taken to the grounds of the Old State Capitol. His plot is designated with a marker.
“It’s probably a good thing he (was) brought back here because it was a special place to him,” Davis said.
Surprisingly, Davis said, Allen’s haunting story isn’t the one people latch onto when the topic of ghosts in the Old State Capitol arises.
Davis said one of the most popular stories is that of Pierre Couvillion, a senator from Avoyelles Parish who, as legend has it, had a heart attack around 1852 in the Senate chamber during a heated argument. She said she doesn’t know how the story got started, but it’s possible Couvillion didn’t even die in the building. She said most signs point to him dying elsewhere.
“All I ever have found is that there’s no proof that he ever died here. It seems like he just died at home, probably of a heart attack,” Davis said.
Just because Couvillion probably didn’t die in the Old State Capitol doesn’t mean others didn’t perish on the grounds.
Davis said several Civil War battles took place around the grounds of the Old State Capitol in what is now downtown Baton Rouge.
“Did people die in this area? Yes. This building has been here since 1849, so I’m sure there are some secrets on these grounds somewhere,” Davis said.
One of those “secrets” is that of Sarah Morgan, a spirit the museum staff created to tell the story of the Old State Capitol’s history to tour groups.
In the exhibit, “Ghost of the Castle,” Morgan takes visitors through the Capitol’s many hardships, from the Civil War era to present day. While Morgan is based on a real person of the same name, the haunting was created for the enjoyment of museumgoers.
Whatever’s in the basement might be another story.