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

No 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.

Other 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.

If 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.

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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