Some see 'Hanging Jail' haunt in photograph

"Hanging Jail," photographed by Christine Smith
"Hanging Jail," photographed by Christine Smith
A close up of the "ghostly" image
A close up of the "ghostly" image

DERIDDER, LA (KPLC) - A photograph of the old "Hanging Jail" in DeRidder, now on display inside the Beauregard Museum, catches the eye of young and old.

Some spend quite a while staring at it, trying to make heads or tails of what they see.

The misty image on the porch of the old jail in the bottom left corner is the mystery and the conversation piece.

Lori Darbonne, director of the Beauregard Tourist Commission, said few people know about the photograph. It was snapped years ago by Christine Smith, a DeRidder photographer who passed away in 2007.

Smith freelanced for publications like Southern Living and Louisiana Life. She was known for her landscapes and for photographing architecture around the region. Many of her photographs hang in businesses and restaurants across Southwest Louisiana.

Darbonne said she spoke to Smith about the jail photograph before her death. The photograph was purchased by the City of DeRidder following Smith's death to showcase in the museum.

Darbonne said Smith told her that she found the negative to the photograph months after she took it.

"She said one day, she was going through her negatives, kind of looking through them. She had disregarded it and then picked it back up and spotted it," Darbonne said. "She told me the morning she took that picture, she had got up real early. She had someone from the Police Jury office assist her in picking her up in a cherry picker to get an aerial view."

Before she even saw the picture, Darbonne knew who the shadowy figure belonged to, she said.

"Oh, I know who it is. There's not a doubt in my mind," she said.

Speculation has been that the figure is an old jailer, one of the first for the jail, which was built in 1914.

"I was in a salon getting my hair cut one day. An older man brought his granddaughter in to get a haircut. There was an article in the newspaper that day about the old jail," Darbonne recalled. "The gentleman was remembering the old jail and said one of his memories was that every morning, he would see the old jailer standing on the front porch, smoking his pipe and drinking his coffee in his blue jean overalls and his white-bibbed shirt. I remember wondering, what is a white-bibbed shirt?"

Darbonne said about three months later, she saw Smith's photograph for the first time.

"I knew it was him. The first thing that jumped out at me was the white-bibbed shirt," she said. "I said that's who the old man was talking about."

Darbonne said interest around the old jail and its "haunts" amazes her.

Ghost hunters from around the U.S. and beyond have investigated the building. Most all have claimed to have had paranormal experiences that they can prove with sound or images.

Darbonne said the tourist commission gets calls every day, requesting tours, partly she said, due to the building's paranormal intrigue. However, the jail is not in the condition to allow the public access, she said. Upgrading the building to accommodate the public has long been a goal of the commission and local officials.

Darbonne said the parish is pursuing a grant that would upgrade the first floor to allow tours on that floor only.

"Our long-term goal is to make it an interpretive center for the Myths and Legends Byway, but it's one step at a time," she said. "It is our diamond in West Louisiana."

The "Hanging Jail" was closed in 1984. It earned its nickname when Joe Genna and Molton Brasseaux were hanged for the Aug. 28, 1926, slaying of 45-year-old DeRidder taxi driver J.J. Brevelle. The men were executed on March 9, 1928.

Over the years, some local residents have said the jail is haunted, including some former employees.

Others say it's just an interesting building with a lot of history.

Those interested in getting a closer look at the photograph can do so at the Beauregard Museum at 120 South Washington Street in downtown DeRidder. For more information on hours of operation, call the museum at 337-463-8148.

Those interested in learning more about the jail can visit DeRidder historian Velmer Smith's website on its history.

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