Interviewer: Russell B. Guerin, HCHS
Mr. Pete Necaise
PO box 137, Waveland
Date of Interview: 11-2-03
Mr. Necaise worked for Listers, owners of Pirate House before Camille, doing refrigeration, A/C and electrical, from 1950’s to Camille.
Says there was secret room in house, as safe (about which Lister had known nothing previously) was found after hurricane on ground where house had been. Most of debris had gone into pond, but safe being heavy, sat down. Took four men to move it. It was old, said to be cast iron. Important in that Lister had no knowledge of safe before storm, and therefore it was reasoned that it had been in a secret room. No combination, and so Necaise kept it for Lister for a few weeks at his home until Lister could get it moved to New Orleans to a locksmith and have it opened. When asked what was in it, Lister was reported to have said, said, “Oh, nothing.”
Necaise reports that he has been in the fabled tunnel, and at one point, ran electrical wires and lights into it.
It was entered as though going into a closet, just behind front brick wall and behind the steps. There was a doorway, and then the descent was gradual. He said one could “hardly tell” he was going down.
The ceiling, walls, and floor were all made of 12×12’s butted together. The timbers were rough cut, and, he believed, of cypress. He guessed that they had been caulked, “like a boat,” as the floor was dry. The long beams were the sides, and there were crossbeams overhead, but in addition, there were upright supports spaced apart. Headroom was 6 feet or more, as Necaise is 6 feet and had no problem walking underneath. Width was 4 feet or more.
Very interesting observation was about spikes, similar to railroad spikes but without right angle end, instead each having hole at end with ring. They were driven into beams near top, and were spaced about every 2 feet. The possibility is that they were to secure slaves, in a hideaway like a big dungeon.
Entrance was not visible from outside the house.
Necaise says that he went in about 100 feet, maybe 200, and never saw the end. It was dark, and besides, he believes legend that it extended to an island, maybe even to the Chandeliers. He says he went in as “far as the water,” running electric cable and installing lights.
Necaise reports that Lister felt that some timbers were rotten, and so Lister filled in and cemented mouth, leaving the rest to remain as a tunnel.
Lister raised Shetland ponies in fenced area and had big barn, but kept some of related things in tunnel, including saddles and other equipment. It was for that purpose that Nicaise was employed to run electric lights in the tunnel.
There was wishing well with 4-foot diameter on West side of house. One could look down 15 or 20 feet and see many coins. Well was covered or filled, coins remaining.
Interview with Mrs. Nancy Gex, current owner of site
Date of Interview: 11-3-03
Mrs. Gex indicates that oldest photo available of Pirate House is the one showing many ballast stones.
Photos show two walls of ballast rock; even now, much of the Gex garden contains such rock, as do neighbor’s property, like Serendipity. Important as possible evidence that boats came to Pirate House area, even though not a harbor.
One picture shows very large extension to rear of main house.
There is the remnant of a small brick wall on East side of inlet to pond. It is topped with a large ballast rock.
Mrs. Gex tells account of Lister having had cave-in of tunnel in early 50’s; he sent in teenager, who brought up knives and either at this time or another, a skeleton was found. Lister had cypress boards cover cave-in. (In more recent years, Dr. Marco Giardino, an archaeologist with NASA, did some corings of the the area, finding evidence of cypress.)
According to Mrs. Gex, Fritz Eagan, now deceased, was another dependable witness who had entered the tunnel. Eagan was a respected businessman and an elected official in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for a number of years. He reported that the entrance had bars.
A large bell now by the Gex front entrance had been found far behind the house area. Two large and beautiful chandeliers in the Gex home were salvaged after Camille.
Mrs. Gex pointed out that steps in the oldest photo, mentioned above, appear to be wooden, indicating that the present concrete steps would have been made in later years. In fact, present ones are unlike those in old postcard, perhaps even showing different number of landings. Important thing is that all seem to be in same place.
Bricks used in present house were recovered from Pirate House, as were some other adornments, like the wainscoting.
She has in her basement a number of pieces of marble, shaped for dresser tops, fireplace mantels, etc., all recovered after Camille. One piece, about 24 inches by 10 by 2, appears to be slate. (This writer has examined it, and inscribed on surface is the date 1819.)
“…the Pirate’s House, built in 1802 by a New Orleans business man who is alleged to have been the overlord of the Gulf Coast pirates. At one time, legend says, a secret tunnel led from the house to the waterfront. Recently restored, the house is a perfect example of the Louisiana planter type….the iron grillwork forming the banisters is reminiscent of that of the French Quarter of New Orleans.” (Some of this ironwork still exists, and is part of enclosure at Mrs. Gex’s house.)
Oliver, Gulf Coast of Mississippi, 1941
“Legends are many of this old Pirate House. One has it that a secret tunnel runs from a sub-cellar into the Gulf, and through this tunnel pirates transferred their booty from ships to their strongholds beneath the house. Unexpected openings into suspicious looking lockers and half-concealed closets in queer underground compartments give the imagination vast room for bold adventure. This old house at one time sheltered Jean Lafitte ….The old romantic Wishing Well on the rear premises, ‘where wishes always came true,’ is now covered by blossoming vines.”
Bicentennial Edition, Sun Herald, July 4, 1976
This is obviously not an eye-witness account, as are above testimonies. Essentially, it repeats much of the previous descriptions, but in addition mentions “nine brick fireplaces with marble mantels, and claims that “this tunnel is said to have been discovered many times….[It] was again revealed, said Lister, by workmen who built that portion of the beach road fronting the house, this time with the addition of a skeleton and a dagger.” (The road was constructed in 1928. This writer has searched 1928 Echo issues and found two articles, one about the beginning of work and the other about its completion, neither mentioning the incident.)