Last week, I shared stories from a cemetery tour of New Orleans about its burial processes, dead bodies, tombs, and vandalism. In this post, I share more unsettling stories from a ghost tour I took through the French Quarter.
When I was little, I loved to read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark illustrated with those horrific drawings by Stephen Gammell. Today, I love to watch thriller movies, dress up for Halloween, and learn every story I can about the supernatural, even though I don't actually believe a word of it.
If you enjoy this stuff, too, then you'll love this post even more than the last! I include lots of in-depth stories and lore about murders, hauntings, suicides, and monsters, so you'll get your fill of everything from real-life horrors to silly (but eerie) myths.
The French Quarter Ghost Tour
There are many paid ghost tours to choose from in New Orleans. Like with the Cemetery Tour, I opted to go with another Free Tours By Foot experience around the French Quarter.
Jono and I were lucky to have Andrew Farrier as our guide. He revealed that he was cast as Lavender John in American Horror Story's Season 4 which was filmed in New Orleans. His anecdotes about his involvement with the show were an awesome bonus to the experience.
Although I have not watched much of American Horror Story in the past, Andrew inspired me to tune into both seasons 3 and 4. I have since watched Andrew get his head twisted off by one of the main characters in the second episode of season 4. Entertaining, indeed!
While no tourist is guaranteed to get Andrew as their guide, that should not dissuade anyone from signing up for this tour. The tour itself was excellent simply due to the rich tales and spooky histories told about the buildings and streets around the French Quarter.
After the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, structures in the French Quarter were being rebuilt, including a corner home in Jackson Square. After the fires, the building was purchased by Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan who restored the building into his dream home for his family.
Jourdan loved the house as much as he loved gambling. He lost one poker game in which he gambled away his dream home. Completely distraught, Jourdan took his life in a room in his home on the second floor before having to vacate.
Today, the building stands as Muriel's restaurant and the room where Jourdan committed suicide is now a Seance Lounge. People claim to see Muriel in the form of a sparkling light wandering the lounge. Other claims are about objects being moved around the restaurant. If you ever visit Muriel's you'll see a reserved table with bread and wine set to honor his presence.
Celebrities frequent the place because of this story. For instance, Beyoncé had a séance before her wedding in the upstairs room where they believe Jourdan hung himself.
War, Hospitals, and Voodoo
I really loved this brief story Andrew told our group which included a little tidbit about voodoo practices during the American Civil War.
Hotel Provencial in New Orleans used to be a hospital during the Civil War. There is a janitor who works there now who talks about building #5. This building today hosts wedding receptions, but he says there was one time when the elevator doors opened up and he saw a flash of what it would have looked like in the room during the war.
What he saw was lots of wounded and diseased soldiers with gangrene and the doctors who were treating them. At that time, the doctors used chloroform on patients to conduct amputations with non-sterilized cleavers. Gross!
To prevent infection, they would often invite a voodoo practitioner in to conduct a ceremony. The ceremony likely involved a lot of placebo effect but voodoo practitioners would often also soak a piece of bread in milk and place it on the wounds—what we call Penicillin today. In other words, this actually worked and probably saved a lot of lives during a time when prescription drugs were not yet discovered.
I loved hearing this bit about voodoo practices since it was widely respected as a real form of "medicine" back in the day. It was not always the silly, mystical, kitschy, witchy stuff many people think of it as today.
According to Andrew, the LaLaurie Mansion is the only place in New Orleans that has "haunted" written in its official records. While many other places are only rumored to be haunted, the LaLaurie mansion's haunted status is widely agreed upon.
The couple who lived there in the 1800s, Delphine LaLaurie and third husband, Leonard LaLaurie, were wealthy. They debuted fashions and threw lavish parties regularly in there home at the corner of Royal Street and Governor Nicholls Street.
Like many wealthy people at the time, they had many slaves catering to them. Early rumors on record described mistreatment of their enslaved people, but the details of this mistreatment did not come out until there was a fire in the house.
Eye witness testimony prior to the fire said that a young slave girl fell to her death from the second story wrought-iron balcony after being chased by Delphine with a whip. Apparently, the house cook was the girl's grandmother, also a slave, who was chained to the stove so she could not intervene. She later told authorities she used the stove to set the fire. This fire would result in authorities entering the house to find horrors on the top-most floor.
The LaLaurie family had all escaped the fire with their most prized possessions—art work and furniture—but they did not set their slaves free.
Many burned inside the house and seven were found behind a top floor locked door. They were "...horribly mutilated, suspended by the neck with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other, " the local New Orleans Bee wrote. This is all the record says, but the police officer reporting on the case was Delphine's cousin who probably downplayed what they saw.
Civilian interviews years later stated seeing bodies with their mouths sewn shut or knees broken and reversed. Memories could have been corrupted but accounts such as these turned the locals into an angry mob who tore apart the house.
The LaLaurie family moved to Paris to get away from it all. The story has no satisfying ending, as Delphine and Leonard got away with what they did with no consequence.
Today, the house is considered cursed. It never manages to stay one thing for very long. The building has been a school, a flop house, apartments, a bar themed around the story, and, most recently, Nicholas Cage owned it and then went bankrupt. Yes, Nicholas Case, once again, makes it into this two-part blog post about New Orleans!
The current owner of the house can sometimes hilariously be seen wearing a mask, hanging over the balcony railings. I would so do the same thing if I lived in that house! The owner apparently upholstered the furniture in white with a black skull pattern. The house's caretaker, Carol Williams is responsible for the LaLaurie house's Halloween decorations each year. One year, there was a mannequin of Madame LaLaurie that moved and talked!
As for the hauntings, some people say they've seen children when there should be none living at or visiting the house. Local children and teenager often dare each other to listen at the wall and reportedly hear what sounds like crackling flames or a voice asking for something.
There are reports of voices in the walls going all the way back to when the ruins of the building were still standing there. When they tore down the shell of the building, there were remains of bodies in the walls and floors. So, at one time, there may have really been people asking for help from within the walls. OooooOOOooohh!!
Children, Fires, and Hotels
There are a number of hotels in the city of New Orleans claiming to be haunted. For many, this is considered a "selling point" so it's difficult to distinguish between the commercial hauntings and the real ones.
Nevertheless, there are some stories that are widely told and backed by newer stories. For example, the Andrew Jackson Hotel used to be an all boys boarding school. Five boys died there in a small fire. Reports of child-like mischief is common, such as faucets turning on and off, items getting displaced, and covers getting pulled off beds.
Andrew explained one of the weirdest online reviews for the hotel which came from a woman who had anticipated lots of paranormal activity during her stay. She took lots of pictures while she was there but never got anything satisfying. So she told the manager they were overselling the ghost aspect and returned home.
When she was going through her camera, she later found a photo of herself sleeping like someone took it of her. Yikes!
Voices in the Cathedral Alley
Locals and visitors frequently report hearing cryptic singing or chanting down the alleyway alongside St. Louis Cathedral. This is often linked to an important moment in New Orleans' history.
The city politically changed hands from a French city to a Spanish city officially in 1762, but locals did not know it until two years later when the first Spanish governor named de Ulloa arrived. Spain's Puritan rules meant the city could no longer import French wine. As a result, de Ulloa was not a popular guy.
Citizens decided to drive him out of town with an uprising. After he was driven out, Don Alejandro O'Reilly, a Spanish mercenary, came in and charmed the city. When he found out who kicked de Ulloa out of town, he planned an execution of those men by firing squad.
The killing was accepted as political necessity, but people were angered by what happened thereafter. First of all, one of the executioners ended up marrying the wife of one of the men that was shot. Second, and worst of all, O'Reilly laid their bodies out and denied them "last rights" which, in the Catholic religion, meant their soul would not go to heaven.
A priest entered into the scene as an advocate for his churchgoers who felt helpless to do anything about the bodies. Luckily, they had a late hurricane that year. As locals, they knew what to expect from the storm, but the Spanish did not. The priest interpreted this as "divine intervention."
The soldiers left the bodies alone during the hurricane so the priest could lead a group to retrieve the bodies. They had to wait for the storm to pass before bringing the bodies to the cemetery. A fog that is often left over from these storms allowed them cover to transport the bodies in secret.
Cloaked by the fog, they walked freely along the side of the Cathedral to the cemetery with the bodies, singing a Latin chant to send off the dead. This is the chanting that is rumored to be heard in the alleyway today—spoken in Latin and difficult to interpret by modern ears.
The Hurricane Katrina Miracle
If you don't buy into the above story about the Cathedral, perhaps you'll like this one.
Hurricane Katrina was devastating for the city of New Orleans in general. But the French Quarter was relatively unaffected. Well, except for Jesus.
The statue of Jesus in the courtyard behind St. Louis Cathedral had two fingers knocked off during the storm. In the months after the storm hit, many locals took their friends and visitors to look at the statue as evidence that their "prayers were answered" when Katrina veered off to stop wreaking havoc on the city.
As the story goes, the statue came to life, snapped its fingers, the storm went away, and the statue turned back to stone. The snapped fingers vanished as a sign to the faithful that their prayers had been answered. This is considered a Catholic miracle story in New Orleans.
Andrew was sad to tell us that since the statue had been repaired, the story was slowly going away. I share it here because I believe strongly in telling local stories like this one for the purposes of cultural and historical preservation.
...and also to share that photo showing how the statue of Jesus creates an awesomely spooky shadow on the back of the Cathedral!
In Cajun country, outside the city limits, there are stories about the natural world like scary beast sightings. Swamp tour guides are not scared of beasts like alligators. You'll see guides kissing alligators and feeding them raw chicken on swamp tours. In case of a problem, these guides have guns, so they are not afraid.
Nevertheless, many of these guides will tell stories of a creature that does cause them fear. Cajun mythology describes werewolves that are immune not only to regular bullets but also silver bullets. Their werewolf is not called a werewolf, however, it's called a Rougarou.
Andrew propped us up next to the Rodrigue Studio in the French Quarter to look at George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog art series. The dog is imagined from the Rougarou folklore. The lore explains hunting parties going out into the swamp lands. When someone yells "Rougarou!" everyone turns back to camp to exchange tales about what it looked like.
Supposedly, if you are surprised by a Rougarou, you turn into one and attack loved ones and your whole community. So this was once and still is an extremely feared beast. Thankfully, the lore explains that while the Rougarou can undo locks, they are otherwise extremely stupid and obsessed with counting.
If you put 12 quarters in front of your door, the Rougarou will start counting quarters, will get to 10, and then have to start over. It'll be stuck repeatedly doing this all night long. The Rougarou is also afraid of frogs. Thus, the George Rodrique created a Rougarou mascot after his pet corgi and placed a frog on the floor to defend the rest of his artwork from it.
While I don't actually believe half of what I heard in the stories I've told above, I do love all the history and the general creepy sensation these stories illicit! They make for great tales to be told in the dark, around a campfire, or at a Halloween party!
And these are only a small sample of the stories told to me on the awesome Ghost Tour I took. Imagine the many other stories that exist and then all of the excitement that must be brewing in New Orleans this month.
I can only imagine how fun it must be for children and adults alike who are gearing up for Halloween tricks and treats in that city. I hope to visit there again one day—hopefully for Halloween!