Ghost Hunting in New Orleans’ French QuarterMarch 15, 2011 No Comments
New Orleans’ history is dotted with violence, disease, natural disasters and mysterious disappearances. Paranormal experts claim that the veil between the living and the dead is thinner in New Orleans, giving explanations that range from ley lines to voodoo curses. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, in New Orleans the truth is often stranger than fiction.
In a place that was founded by pirates and prostitutes, in an inhospitable swamp where plagues, fires and natural disasters were everyday occurrences, a seedy underbelly was inevitable. If you are in the mood to be spooked or just interested in New Orleans’ dark past, a ghost tour is an exciting way to spend an evening.
About the Tours
As a long-time French Quarter resident, I strongly recommend Haunted History. Featured on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and dozens of other media outlets, Haunted History prides itself on presenting well-researched, provable stories alongside a bit of theatrical “what-if” speculation. In the French Quarter alone, Haunted History offers separate tours that focus on vampires, ghosts or voodoo.
Haunted History offers walking tours that stop outside various haunted properties. Tours are nearly two hours in length and offer one or two pub stops. Kids are welcome on the tours, and the guides are terrific at capturing children’s interest. As of 2011, regular price is $20 for adults, $17 for students and seniors, and $10 for ages 5 to 12. Kids under 5 are free. A printable coupon on the company’s website offers $3 off, while coupons in tourist magazines offer $2 off.
Haunted History guides are highly theatrical without going over the top. Expect gothic-style clothing, lanterns and other fun touches. They also have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the city as well as the details of the cases they present. If you have any questions about a stop on the tour or the city as a whole, feel free to ask. Guides are a great source of information on everything from the best place to eat to the most overrated tourist attractions.
What You Will See
All tour guides are required to learn a long list of ghost, voodoo and vampire legends, many more than would possibly fit into a single tour. In addition, guides sometimes learn of new tales and, with proper research and documentation, are permitted to add those stories to their tours. Each guide crafts his or her own tour based on personal interest, and may change things up from time to time. Consequently, no two tours are ever exactly the same.
Sample Site: LaLaurie Mansion
Located at 1140 Royal Street, the LaLaurie Mansion is one of New Orleans’ most famous paranormal sites. It is featured on most of the ghost tours and often mentioned on the vampire and voodoo tours. As the story goes, Madame Delphine LaLaurie was born in New Orleans in 1775. Following the mysterious disappearances of her first two husbands, she married Dr. Louis LaLaurie in 1825 and the couple moved to 1140 Royal Street in 1832.
The daughter of wealthy Creoles, Madame LaLaurie was accustomed to the finer things in life. She quickly became the most prominent Creole woman in New Orleans, managing her own affairs with little involvement by her husband and hosting elaborate parties in the home that seemed custom-designed for entertaining. By all accounts, she was beautiful, intelligent and extremely attentive to her guests’ every desire.
As was common for those in her position, Madame LaLaurie owned several slaves. Some say that she appeared attentive and solicitous toward them, but rumors gradually spread that she was a cold and heartless mistress. A local lawyer paid a visit to the home to remind the couple of local laws governing the treatment of slaves, but found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Shortly thereafter, however, eyewitnesses reported a young slave girl dashing out onto the balcony of the LaLaurie home. Madame LaLaurie was allegedly hot on her heels, brandishing a whip. In an attempt to escape from the beating, the slave girl fell to her death on the sidewalk below. The LaLauries were charged with illegal cruelty and forced to forfeit nine slaves. But relatives purchased those slaves and returned them to the LaLaurie mansion.
A fire broke out at the LaLaurie home on April 10, 1834, apparently started by the cook, who was said to have been kept chained to the stove. Bystanders asked Madame LaLaurie for the key to the slave quarters, but were refused. On breaking down the door, they discovered the LaLauries’ shocking secret: apparently numerous slaves were found chained and mutilated, some barely alive and others having died some time before. Some sources claim that the couple was performing gruesome medical experiments on still-living slaves.
By the next morning, a mob had gathered. While the whereabouts of Dr. LaLaurie are unknown, Madame LaLaurie emerged from the house and stepped into a waiting carriage. With the mob in hot pursuit, the carriage sped away through the streets of the French Quarter and on to Bayou St. John. Madame LaLaurie booked passage to Mandeville, north of New Orleans. What became of her is not known. Some say she hid out with relatives in the area. Some say she went to Paris. There is even a rumor that she may have escaped to Jamaica, transforming herself into the White Witch of Rose Hall, though this appears to be a fanciful connection between two similar legends.
The mansion at 1140 Royal Street still stands, and is reputed to be haunted. As the story goes, later businesses were plagued with bad luck. After the building’s conversion to apartments, it has been nearly impossible to keep tenants. Apparitions, strange noises and smells, and vague feelings of foreboding have all been reported.
Tips for Parents
Tours depart multiple times per night. The earlier tours are typically less crowded, but depending on the time of year, it may not be fully dark yet. Later tours, particularly on the weekends, are more likely to draw drunk or rowdy tourists. If you are visiting during Mardi Gras or another festival, book your tour as early as possible. Tours commonly sell out during these events.
Prepare your kids in advance for the tour. In our experience, kids take in whatever they are ready to process and everything else goes right over their heads. Nonetheless, an open dialogue can help keep children from being frightened or disturbed. Explain that they will hear some scary stories, but those things happened a long time ago and there is nothing to fear now. Also give them some basic information about the city’s history to help give the stories some context.
Be prepared for questions, and don’t hesitate to involve your guide if you don’t know the answers. Kids are perceptive, and may be curious about the details of various stories.
Take lots of pictures. If you see anything unusual, let your tour guide know. Many of the buildings are still under active paranormal investigation, and guest reports are always welcome.
Keep a close eye on your kids. The streets are narrow and both streets and sidewalks are uneven. In the dark, paying attention to the guide, it would be easy for them to trip and fall. Also make sure that they are standing on the sidewalk rather than in the road during each stop. As many of the guides say, you don’t want to become the next attraction on the tour!