Filled with dark secrets and smugglers’ passageways, the Big Easy is well known as the most haunted city in America. Legends of grisly murders, voodoo spirits and restless spirits can be found all throughout the French Quarter and ghost tours are one of Nola’s top attractions.
With a dark and catastrophic history, made up of major catastrophes including hurricanes, great fires, deadly epidemics and wars, it is little surprise that reports of hauntings are commonplace and New Orleanians find it fairly standard to share their home with a ghost or two.
It is thought that the great concentration of death within a relatively short period of time in what is quite a small area is the reason behind the high number of hauntings. Violent deaths, cruelty and abuse are some of the most prominent events that bind spirits to this realm and New Orleans has had no shortage of any of the above.
In 1788 and 1794 two great fires ripped through the city, destroying over 1,000 buildings. A yellow fever epidemic in 1853 caused the loss of 7,849 lives. More recently, in 2005, hurricane Katrina passed southeast of New Orleans, causing category 1 winds and a tidal surge that left around 1,500 people dead and another 700 missing. In addition to the major catastrophes, New Orleans has a history of violence that resulted in a record high of 421 murders in the city in 1994 making it America’s most deadly city, a title that it held on to for 12 years (New Orleans is no longer considered to be one of the top five most deadly cities in America and the French Quarter is fairly safe).
With Ghost Tours and Haunted Tours being advertised throughout the city we decide to sign up for an early evening Haunted Houses of the French Quarter walking tour with Livery Tours. We purchase our tickets and are shown photographs of eerie figures that have been snapped on recent tours.
At half past five in the evening we set off with our guide, Graham, and follow him through the streets of the French Quarter as the sun begins to set. Graham explains the difference between the two types of hauntings; residual hauntings, such as orbs, and active intelligent haunting that can interact with the environment, as we make our way to the first stop.
We arrive at Muriel’s Restaurant, once the home of Pierre Jourdan, who purchased the building in 1788, following one of the great fires, and restored to all its glory. Legend has it that Jourdan was a gambler and one night in 1814 he found himself losing a game of cards. He had already bet all of his money, along with some other belongings, when he was dealt a hand that he felt sure would change his luck and so he bet his last remaining possession – his home. The hand was not as good as he thought and he lost the game and his house. He couldn’t bring himself to break the news to his wife that night and in the morning she found that he had hanged himself. When Muriel’s restaurant opened in 2000 the staff arrived to find the restaurant trashed, although there did not appear to have been any intruders. The following night the same thing happened and eventually a medium was called. It was recommended that a table be set each night for Jourdan, two glasses of wine poured and two pieces of bread served. From that moment the nightly shenanigans seemed to cease, although eerie noises and sightings of ghostly forms are still fairly common.
We pass Jackson Square, the site of public hangings and executions during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the gates where the heads of some of those executed were displayed. Overlooking Jackson Square is St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States. Behind the cathedral is a small plot with a statue of Christ, where the Creole inhabitants fought their duels.
We continue towards Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, a well-known theatre in the French District that is rumoured to be the most haunted theatre in in the world. It is said that as many as 40 spectres are residents of this old building and are regularly seen by cast and visitors alike.
Our next stop is the Andrew Jackson hotel, once a boys’ boarding school. It is said that a fire destroyed the building in the 1700s, killing five boys. Guests have reported seeing ghostly apparitions and hearing children’s laughter in the adults only hotel.
Soon we arrive at the Lalaurie Mansion, reputedly the most haunted building in New Orleans. In 1832 Dr. Louis Lalaurie and his wife moved into the Creole-style building in the French Quarter and became renowned for their lavish social affairs. Madame Lalaurie became the most influential French-Creole woman in the city but her brutally cruel treatment towards her slaves was also noticed. A neighbour witnessed a young slave girl being chased through the home by Madame Lalaurie and saw the child jump to her death from a second floor window. One day a fire broke out in the home and when the firefighters arrived they found a cook, chained to the stove in the kitchen, who admitted to starting the fire as she could no longer bear the treatment and torture. The firefighters heard screams and, following the sound, they found a small room that was being used as a torture chamber and place of twisted medical experiments. Many of the victims had been killed and body parts were strewn across the room, while others were still alive but had been subjected to cruel and hideous ‘experiments’.
Madame Lalaurie fled the home as an angry mob arrived to serve justice. The property has changed hands a number of times since the horrific discovery and reports of the sound of screams, strange goings on and bad luck have been frequent. One of the most well-known owners of this property was Nicolas Cage, who blames the ‘cursed’ home for the his career downfall. To rid himself of this curse (following the advise of a medium), Cage purchased a pyramid-shaped tomb in St. Louis Cemetery Number 1.
Our final stop on the ghost tour is Café Sbisa, built in the 1820s and once a bar with an upstairs brothel that was frequented by sailors. We climb the stairs to the room in which the sailors would ‘choose’ their prostitute and our guide tells us of the place’s sad history. Apparently, a young girl was ‘sold’ to the brothel to pay her father’s debt and became pregnant while working there. After giving birth to her daughter she continued to work to pay off the debt, thinking that she would soon be free to leave. Once the debt had been repaid she found that she had been charged for additional expenses, such as food and clothing for her child. Unable to continue living as a prostitute and fearful for the future of her daughter she drowned the toddler in the courtyard’s fountain before hanging herself. It is said that the property is haunted by her spirit, as well as that of her child and an angry man.
As we listen to our guide the chandelier behind us flickers and shakes, although there is not a whisper of a breeze in the room. We are invited to explore the nearby rooms, where the prostitutes would take their clients and are advised that the angry man is often felt in this area. Women in particular regularly get the sensation that they are being pushed back when entering the room or feel a tugging on their clothes.
Thank you to Livery Tours for a very interesting, informative and somewhat creepy tour!