There are places in this world that are charming by day, but take on a spooky atmosphere when night falls. Those historic buildings and lively streets can turn downright sinister. Nefarious characters that lived centuries ago seem to materialize, lurking in the dark shadows of their crumbling neighbourhoods… seeking to relive their gory, glory days and when one encounters such haunts the so-called ‘residual energy’ can be unnerving.
So it was with a spirit of adventure and morbid curiosity that I embarked on a Ghost Walking Tour of New Orleans. Our group of would-be ghoul hunters departed from the bright lights of Decatur Street, stealing through a maze of narrow lanes into a sparsely populated, dimly lit area of the French Quarter. Idle chatter diminished and a nervous, somber mood overtook us.
Our knowledgeable guide stopped at various points of interest along our way, such as the Ursuline Convent — home to ‘The Casket Girls’. These pale, prospective brides for colonists arrived from France bringing their belongings along in casket-like wooden boxes, sparking rumours of vampires. The third floor of the 1751 convent is apparently sealed off and cloaked in secrecy, adding to the mystery.
We continued our creepy crawl to Delphine Lalaurie’s Mansion — considered the most haunted location in New Orleans. Madame Lalaurie was a notorious socialite and serial killer who sadistically tortured and murdered several of her slaves. (The cocky over-actor Nicholas Cage once purchased the place and was rewarded with career-crashing bad luck.) After that bloodcurdling tale the mood was lightening with a quick nip at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest pub on Bourbon Street. Here, patrons often profess to see the full-bodied apparition of the original owner, Jean Lafitte, a pirate and profiteer. Still others have reported spotting piercing, red glowing eyes in the corners of the pub.
Another highlight was The Andrew Jackson Hotel — once an orphanage, now apparently haunted by boys that perished there in a tragic fire in 1794. Next up, Muriel’s Restaurant where (for an additional fee) one can dine at an eerie table supposedly occupied by the spirit of a former owner, a chronic gambler, who died by suicide. Another notable hotel we passed by was the iconic Cornstalk Hotel. Guests of this inn have claimed they’ve discovered photos on their cameras showing them fast asleep, taken from various angles from within their locked room. We ended our darkly enlightening tour with a stop at a recess in the brick wall of an old apartment building known as ‘the ghost hole.’ Those who dared, could reach inside to see if the spirit would grab them!
Ghost stories from The Big Easy date back to the brutality of the slave trade and the Civil War, and have evoked legends of vampires and Voodoo magic. Yet, present-day events are proving just as diabolically inspiring. Take for example the ill-fated young couple, Zac and Addie. They were briefly hailed as minor celebrities after refusing to abandon the devastated Quarter during Katrina, only to succumb soon after to mental illness and addiction resulting in an infamous murder/suicide.
Almost every building in New Orleans purports to be haunted, and ours, the Hotel St. Marie, was no different. However, the only thing I feared in our lodgings was the elevator. I’m convinced the ghost of a mischievous, drunken bellboy haunted it — giggling and pressing buttons causing the old lift to stop randomly on every floor… except for the one you actually wanted.