Known locally as “The Castle,” this old government building has a new life as a free museum and a National Historic Landmark in Baton Rouge, LA. Once used as the state capitol building, the opulent Neo-gothic style structure has seen nearly two hundred years of history, and it looks pretty fantastic for its age. While those who walked its halls were the movers and shakers making the government run, some of those lawmakers may still have a haunting presence around the museum. Today, we’re exploring the gorgeous and historic Louisiana Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge, and the spooky tales that happened inside the gorgeous building.
In 1846, the government of Louisiana voted to move the capitol from New Orleans to the then quaint and small town of Baton Rouge, fearing giving the state’s largest town too much power in the government. Immediately, plans began being drawn up for a capitol building to rival them all, with architecture designed to make it look like a castle from old medieval tales. Legend says that the location it was eventually built upon was the location of the red pole meeting place that gave Baton Rouge (French for Red Pole) its name. Built between 1847 and 1852, the finished state house was a marvel of modern architecture and design, though not everyone loved its sight at first. Famously, writer Mark Twain commented on its appearance, saying the turrets and castles were a ghastly sight. He claimed such a building should never have been built in such an otherwise honorable place.
The Castle would suffer during the Civil War, being besieged by the Union army and later used as a makeshift prison, then later as a garrison for African-American troops. During this period, several fires turned the stone building into an empty husk with only the outside facade remaining. The capitol building was re-built in 1882, with the architect adding the famous spiral staircase and the stunning stained glass dome that the building is now known for. It was used consistently until 1932, when it was abandoned for the new Capitol building, finally adding the moniker “Old” to the castle-like structure.
In 1991, plans began to breathe new life into the Old State Capitol building with extensive renovation as it was prepared to become the Museum of Political and Government History of Louisiana. Period accurate reviving of the old structure occurred throughout the 2000s,
Today, one of the biggest draws to the castle is a theatrical production called “The Ghost of the Castle,” focusing on a young woman who wrote about her experiences there back in the early 20th century. While the production about Sarah Morgan Dawson is inspired by her book Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman, many believe there’s more truth than fiction to the idea of a haunting within the castle walls. Sarah is said to be one of the haunting spirits that roams the castle, with giggling and flashes of a white dress seen around corners and on the staircase. It’s said Sarah loved the building so much, she wanted to spend her afterlife below the stained glass dome.
The most prominent ghost of the Old Capitol Building is that of State Senator Pierre Couvillian, who it’s reported died in the capitol during a particularly heated argument, leading to his fatal heart attack. Senator Couvillian is said to wander the halls, with his heavy footsteps heard both in the courtroom and the spiral staircase. Some report being tapped on the shoulder or shoved, with no person around to explain the incident. Security guards of the museum report doors slamming on their own and the occasional full-bodied apparition of a man in period-accurate clothing, checking his pocket watch and then disappearing around a corner. Motion sensors all over the museum sometimes alert to the presence of someone, but when footage is reviewed, no one is around to have caused them to go off.
Even more reports from security guards abound, especially because the museum is guarded 24 hours a day. One security guard describes feeling the sensation of running into someone on an upstairs balcony, with no corporeal body nearby to explain the incident. Heavy footsteps can also be heard and felt on the balconies, with the doors to offices slamming after the footsteps appear to make it there. Some other visitors report apparitions, voices, and more slamming doors in the basement that once served as a prison and garrison.
The Old State Capitol building is a marvel to behold, certainly as gorgeous inside as it is outside. It stands, imposing on the banks of the Mississippi river, drawing curious visitors and museum patrons. The halls may be haunted, but they’re also a beautiful example of neo-gothic architecture and vibrant colors throughout. The Museum of Political History is a free museum, so anyone can visit and experience the capitol as it was meant to be. There’s no telling how many ghosts you might run into during your tour, but it’s certain that the adventure will be worth it in the end.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.