Exploring the French Quarter’s Darker Side
It wasn’t exactly a dark and stormy New Orleans night. It was more like a “dark and threatening to rain night”, and a perfect climate for delving into tales of some of the French Quarter’s most notorious ghosts and vampires.
New Orleans is one of the most haunted cities in the United States, so my husband and I sought out a tour that would do the city’s reputation justice. French Quarter Phantoms came highly recommended, and the Ghost and Vampire tour had been designated New Orleans’ #1 Haunted Tour 2009 – 2014. It had also been awarded the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for 2009 – 2015.
The ghost stories could have easily stood on their own, but a misty night and a superb guide named Hope took the grey and macabre tales to an entirely new level.
Fortified by buy-one-get-one-free Hurricanes from the Voodoo Lounge where we purchased our tickets, we followed Hope into the night. Unlike many ghost tours we had taken in other cities, Hope had no props. No theme costume. No lantern and no weird hat. All she carried was an umbrella – it was threatening to rain, after all – and a wicked talent for story-telling.
Haunted New Orleans
As our 90 minute walk progressed, Hope augmented her stories with humorous asides and interesting tidbits, which served to intensify their impact.
We learned the graphic details of how yellow fever eats its way through the body, culminating in a gruesome death. We also learned the finer points of modern vampire etiquette and the difference between sanguine and psychic vampires. The former, and best known variety, thirst for human blood. The latter drain a person’s energy, leaving them weak, disoriented and lethargic. These are more difficult to identify, since many of us feel this way before our first hit of morning coffee.
If you party-too-hearty at the Bourbon New Orleans Hotel, you may feel a stinging slap on your wrist courtesy of a nun who resided there when it was a convent. Since the hotel backs on to Bourbon Street, she obviously decided to hang around to keep over-zealous revelers in line.
A statue of Jesus with his arms raised high in front of St. Louis Cathedral had no ghostly tale attached to it, but cast an imposing and ominous shadow. Hope suggested that many who avail themselves of New Orleans permission to wander her streets with open containers of cheer might come upon this three-story behemoth and be momentarily stunned, if not downright terrified.
And so it went. Muriel’s restaurant whose resident ghost has his own table, the Andrew Jackson Hotel, haunted by mischievous ghostlings who died in a fire when the building was a boys’ boarding school, as well as the home of a mysterious foreigner and his entourage who met a mysterious and bloody end, all came to life, figuratively speaking – through Hope’s skillful and entertaining narrative.
The last two were the most grizzly of Hope’s stories. The first concerned the 700 block of Ursuline Street, where three gruesome murders were committed between the early 20th century and 2002. Each involved a butcher, who dismembered his wife or girlfriend, and took place at 725, 715 and 735 respectively. I don’t want to give away the details, but the take-away was don’t date a New Orleans butcher, or if you do, don’t move in with him at 745 Ursuline Street.
Hope recounted her final and most disturbing story across the street from the LaLaurie Mansion, a large three-story gray rectangular structure, where unspeakable crimes were uncovered.
New Orleans Haunted House
On April 10, 1832 the fire brigade was called to the home of Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife, Delphine. What the fire fighters found when they entered the home turned their stomachs and turned New Orleans society on its head.
The wealthy, prominent couple who lived at 1140 Royal Street, were not what they appeared to be. In the kitchen, where the fire started, was a70-year-old slave shackled to the stove by her ankle. She confessed to starting the fire because she preferred death over continuing to live under the brutal thumb of Madame LaLaurie.
When the brigade broke into a locked upstairs room, they found approximately 17 chained slaves, some wearing spiked collars, starved, beaten and languishing in unspeakable filth and torment.
Over the decades, the horror of the slaves in the upstairs room of LaLaurie Mansion has become clouded by continuous embellishment. What is certain is that the LaLauries tortured their slaves mercilessly.
Knowing their horrific secret was about to be exposed, the couple and their son escaped in a waiting carriage and managed to flee to France. Delphine died there, and is supposed to have been brought back to New Orleans for burial.
The mansion underwent periods of neglect, and repurposing. It was a music conservatory, a furniture store, a school and an apartment building.
LaLaurie Mansion Today
In 2006 actor Nicolas Cage bought LaLaurie Mansion, but his highly publicized financial woes saw it auctioned off in 2009. Don’t feel too bad for Nicolas, though, the large white pyramid-shaped tomb in St. Louis cemetery #1 is still his, so he will never be among the homeless of New Orleans.
The house has recently undergone renovation. The interior has been updated, but still retains many of the carved wood accents and other grand features from its original splendor.
Hope told of unusual occurrences and Delphine sightings at LaLaurie Mansion. Shocking and despicable as her actions were, it is even more unsettling to think Delphine’s malevolence might have survived.
After that last tale, we had to resist the temptation to find another Hurricane in which to drown the images Hope’s story-telling evoked. Instead, we headed back to our hotel, pondering what we had heard. We were neither spooked nor on edge. If anything, we were able to distill the factual information from the theories about haunted New Orleans. Which meant Hope had hit just the right notes on our journey through the darkest corners of the French Quarter’s past.
If You Go
All tours are led by licensed City of New Orleans guides. Nightly tours begin at 6 PM and 8 PM. The French Quarter Phantoms Ghost and Vampire combo tour takes approximately 90 minutes. The tour is an easy walk of approximately one mile.
Disclaimer: Our visit to New Orleans was hosted by New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. We also received a media discount courtesy of French Quarter Phantoms. However, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.