New Orleans' Haunting Past and Present


New Orleans' ghosts do not wait for Halloween to roam the streets and playfully torment the living - the city's rich cultural history has long incorporated the dead (and undead) as a cultural constant. Coffins do not make it into the ground and, fittingly, spirits linger well past their deaths.

Supernatural activity remains omnipresent, and in most cases it's welcomed. Tourists and locals brag and gossip about their chilling encounters with the paranormal.

New Orleans' haunted history begins with the conditions under which the city was born. The Crescent City's origins contain more violence and despair than its fellow European colonies. The King of France sent an overflow of prisoners to build the city, and as a result, thieves, murderers and common criminals inhabited the streets and lived perverse lives. Unmerciful murders left the souls of the victims in a state of turmoil and unable to enter the realm of the dead.

Victor C. Klein cites a plethora of New Orleans ghost stories and folklore in his books "New Orleans Ghosts" and "New Orleans Ghosts II." One of the most famous tales in his collection and New Orleans culture is that of La Maison Lalaurie.

After a kitchen fire during a party, New Orleans citizens were shocked to discover that Madame and Monsieur Lalaurie conducted cruel and gruesome experiments on their helpless slaves at their mansion on Rue Royal. Body parts laid scattered in a confined room, which stank of death contained an assortment of corpses and half-dead bodies. The remains were marked with evidence of experimental sex changes and other heinous procedures.

After the Lalauries fled their home in panic, onlookers continued to hear blood-curdling screams throughout the night. Additional reports associate the house with disembodied voices and apparitions of mutilated slaves and angry slave owners. Italian immigrants who inhabited the home many years later found the house overrun by decapitated dogs and cats as well. The mansion is no longer haunted, but the tale remains one of the most famous ghost stories.

Klein also evaluates present-day ghost stories experienced by modern New Orleanians. Klein presents an anonymous man who lives among uniquely spiteful ghosts. Upon returning to his home from a night out, the man found his two dogs heinously murdered in a back room. The dogs, drained of their blood, had been "dismembered with surgical precision."

The man reports that two ghosts haunt his house, a short middle-aged woman and an angry man dressed in black. Diaries reveal that the house hosts the dark secrets and experiences of these ghosts, including bloody killing rituals, the murder of a deformed infant and a terrible case of yellow fever.

Ghosts stroll the halls of New Orleans hotels in a far more innocent manner. Many of the ghosts did not meet tragic deaths but instead feel loyal to the hotel and its guests. Klein cites one incident where a man and his wife were startled in the middle of the night as their bed slowly levitated a foot off the floor. Rumors surround the Columns Hotel and people commonly see a "lady in white" and a little girl who wanders the third floor. Other ghosts will supposedly tuck guests in or crawl into bed with them.

New Orleans hotspot Pat O'Brien's hosts two ghosts in the upstairs lady's room and the piano bar. Hauntedneworleans.com asserts that patrons recall "hearing footsteps and the sound of sighs in nearby stalls" while another woman reported hearing shrill laughter. Hollowhill.com posted a picture of Pat O's decorated with multiple orbs or spherical lights that supposedly reveal the presence of a once-living person. Take a second to look at your Pat O's pictures and you may see that a ghost crept into the background.

A more recent ghost story arose when the National Guard stationed at Sophie B. Wright Middle School after Hurricane Katrina. One of the National Guard stationed at the school explained, "I was in my sleeping bag and I opened by eyes and in the doorway was a little girl. It wasn't my imagination." Others recall hearing laughter or seeing a quick unexplained shadow.

The presence of ghosts and ghost folklore in New Orleans continues to evolve to this day. Klein explains that in most cases ghosts pose no threat and typically follow strict patterns, repeatedly narrating their drama without harming people. The prevalence of ghosts in New Orleans relates to the multitude of tragedies it has experienced and the city's acceptance of what life offers. In New Orleans, ghosts are just another pothole in the road of everyday life.


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