As we enter the Halloween season, ghostly stories become a focal point. This season The Plainsman, The Democrat and The Watchman want to hear your stories from the area.
To kick things off, Frances Y. Spencer has written about Alice the Witch of Zachary.
Tell us your experiences with ghosts in the region. Email your story to email@example.com for Feliciana residents or firstname.lastname@example.org for Zachary area readers by Oct. 24. We'll pick the best to run in the Halloween issues. Include your full name and town name. Send photos, if it exists.
Not much is known about Alice Penny Taylor. She was the wife of Isaac Taylor who might or might not have been the nephew of U.S. President Zachary Taylor.
She died in 1859, and that’s where her story ended and the story of Alice the Witch of Zachary begins.
Alice the Witch of Zachary began haunting the imaginations of Zachary folks when the town was little more than a village at the crossroads or the outskirts of Baton Rouge. The 1850s brought double death and destruction to Louisiana: the Civil War and the yellow fever epidemic.
Did she lose a loved one or become a victim of the dreaded fever?
Questions remain, but townsfolk warned that Alice made a pact with dark forces that extended her contact with the land of the living. Susie Rice Granier grew up hearing the stories and wrote of it two years ago in DIG, a local magazine. “An old lady (supposed) to have been in(to) witchcraft,” Granier said. “She had a small gate around (her grave) and once all the posts fall down she was going to come up from the dead and kill everyone.”
Her final resting place is another mystery. Three cemeteries are near the Zachary crossroads. Many telling the story have her wandering the Zachary Public Cemetery, unrested at Azalea Rest Cemetery, or crossing the plains of the Cemetery of Buhler Plains. All three are adjacent, so many say she haunts all three.
Whether Alice the Witch held a grudge or is just tired of her cramped confines, she would not rest in place. Granier recalled hearing that on three separate occasions the slab covering her grave was moved and her remains were later found outside of her grave.
“Heavy iron bars were eventually added to the grave to ‘hold her in,’ ” Granier said. “Locals claim you can spot Alice roaming the cemetery at night, calling out to her loved ones. Others claim she is searching for a way to escape the cemetery to carry out a vengeful killing spree.”
Documentation of Alice outside the tomb started in the 1950s and ’60s — a full century after her death. On numerous occasions, the concrete slab was broken and the next morning, Alice’s remains were found outside her grave. A vengeful killing spree, however, was never reported.
Recent years have shed light on Alice Taylor’s mysteries. Wayne Rogillo, of the cemetery maintenance board, reached out to famed forensic anthropologist Mary Manhein for help in 1990. Rogillo hoped if “the Bone Lady” could put a face or story to the Witch of Zachary, Alice Taylor might get a much-needed rest.
Rogillio said the cemeteries became a night hangout for teens in Zachary in the 1950s, and about that time, tomb desecration started. Alice Taylor was repeatedly dug up and left out. The cemetery caretakers had buried the remains before, but he was hoping Manhein could examine the bones before she was buried for what he hoped was the last time.
Manhein took a great interest in Alice Taylor and devoted a chapter to the case in her book, "The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist." Through history and science, Alice Taylor came back to life just enough to tell her own nonghost story.
Alice Taylor was a very young woman, not an old witch as some may have thought. Manhein was able to confirm her age in 1859 was very near 19 because bones in her clavicle had not completely fused. She stood about 5 feet 2 inches. Her hair was crudely cropped off at the shoulders leading Manhein to conclude that she suffered from a terrible fever before her death, which was during the yellow fever epidemic.
Alice Taylor had been married for a year, but there was no evidence to prove family notes that she was pregnant right before or at her death.
The raised crypt may have made Alice Taylor's grave stand out in the cemetery. It was unusual at the time and a reflection of European tradition, not the custom of necessity of the below-sea-level areas like New Orleans. Manhein theorized that Isaac Taylor buried his wife according to his family traditions, but at the Cemetery of Buhler Plains with her other Penny relatives. Several gravestones of below-ground graves bear the name Penny.
Isaac Taylor owned 300 acres on Ashland Plantation in an area of the bayou called Devil’s Swamp. The much-abused grave slab once read “Sacred to the memory of Alice A. Penny, consort of Isaac Simpson Taylor, born January 28, 1840. Died December 29, 1859. Alice you are not forgot. The stone that hides your lovely form from our view, cannot hide your sweet image from our hearts. Tongue cannot tell how much we loved you. We love thy memory still. We know you are not lost but gone before. You cannot return to us, but we shall go to you.”
Someone outside her family minds the grave of Alice Taylor at the Plains cemetery. Manhein thinks the flowers might represent the guilty conscience of a teen who has grown to manhood at the crossroads.
“I wonder how a lifelike image of Alice would look?” Manhein pondered in her book. “Such an image might help to make the dark reputation go away.”