The Haunted History of New Orleans

by Gray Cargill on January 23, 2009

Long before my trip to New Orleans was even a gleam in my eye, I remember a friend telling me about his trip to the Crescent City and the ghost tour he took through the French Quarter.  He made it sound like so much fun, it always remained in the back of my mind that when I finally went, I would go on one of those tours.  As I started to research my trip, I realized I had a choice to make.  There are a number of companies that do ghost tours (and vampire tours and voodoo tours, etc.) of the French Quarter.  Bloody Mary Tours get a lot of good word-of-mouth-advertising online, but I’m kind of squeamish, so I didn’t think I wanted to go on a tour with the name “bloody” in the name.  I chose the Haunted History Tour, and I’m very glad I did.

I booked this tour online very easily through their website.  It was $20, which I felt was a reasonable price for a two hour ghost tour.  Directions were to show up at Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop at 723 St. Peter Street (just off Bourbon and across from Pat O’Brien’s) half an hour before the tour started.  My tour was to depart at 8pm, so I arrived at 7:30 to find there was already a good line of people there.  Not to worry. They counted off to a certain point in the line and sent a first group of people out with one guide.  I was in the second group, and our guide was Carla, a New Orleans native (of both Creole and Cajun ancestry, she proudly noted).  She was terrific. She studied theater in college, and it showed.  Interestingly, when she was being most dramatic was when her Louisiana accent became the thickest.

The tour wasn’t quite what I expected in that it wasn’t all ghost stories.  There was quite a lot of New Orleans history thrown in there, too.  I found myself learning a lot about the city that night, so it wound up being more educational than spooky (which was fine with me).  I learned about city fires and the lives of quadroons and octaroons and orphanages and hospitals for soldiers and where they’d all been located.  She showed us where the octaroon, Julie, froze to death on the roof of her house trying to prove her love to a man she wanted to marry.  I learned about the 19th Century Pirate Jean Lafitte and Governor Andrew Jackson’s collaboration to defend the city from the British during the War of 1812 (which I may have learned in school, but had long since forgotten if so).  We heard the gruesome story of Delphine LaLaurie, early American socialite/serial killer in front of the house she lived in at 1140 Royal Street.  Nicholas Cage now owns the former LaLaurie home but doesn’t live there. We saw where people had been executed in front of St. Louis Cathedral and wound up our walk in Pirate’s Alley, the site of a former thriving black market–located right between the church and the site of the former jail!

We stopped at the midpoint at a bar on Decatur Street called Turtle Bay for drinks.  At one point, Carla pointed out Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s French Quarter home on Governor Nicholls; apparently, they’ve had to have the number of the house removed because people were knocking on the door a lot.  (Imagine that.)

One thing that had perplexed me was explained by Carla:  I kept wondering how anyone could stand living in the French Quarter with their windows bricked or shuttered up all the time; it would seem there would be no daylight getting into their homes. But apparently, it’s just the street-facing windows that are closed up, and a lot of natural daylight comes in from the interior courtyards, which are like little oases in the middle of the city.  So a building that looks very plain from the street might be quite beautiful if one were to gain entrance to the courtyard and see it from that angle.  Good to know.

Finally, Carla asked us all to come home and let people know that New Orleans is open for business, that things are up and running, you will still have a good time there, and yes, it’s safe to drink the water.  I don’t mind passing the word along, because it’s all true.

If you’re looking for a ghost tour that is educational and not too gory, I highly recommend the Haunted History Tours. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even get Carla as your guide.  (Try a Saturday night.)  Book online or call 504-861-2727.

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