Written by Libby Bollino, Lucky Bean Tours
New Orleans is said to be one of the most haunted cities in America. Visitors can take a ghost tour, wander ancient above-ground cemeteries, consult with a voodoo queen, or attend a séance. Settled in 1718 by prisoners, depraved European nobility, and adventurers, this place has been home to artistic souls inspired by its spirit as well as a haven for oddballs, outsiders, and misfits. If you fit in in New Orleans, it is said, you don’t fit in any place else. All of these characters led extraordinary lives and sometimes came to interesting ends. The energy surrounding the long-dead residents of the Crescent City and the events of their lives hang in the sultry humid air and visitors can feel it as they walk the old streets. Expect to be moved by this magical place as soon as you arrive, but if you are looking for something a little more paranormal, here are some of our favorite ghost-hunting spots:
The Lalaurie Mansion (1138 Royal Street) – Now a private residence, this was once the home to the notorious Madame Delphine Lalaurie. When there was a fire in the house in 1834, neighbors discovered an upstairs den of horrors where the wealthy socialite had tortured the people she enslaved for years. Madame Lalaurie escaped without ever answering for her crimes, but the house is believed to be overrun with the spirits of the people who died at her cruel hand. Fans of American Horror Story: Coven will recall Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Madame Lalaurie in the horror series.
Bayou St. John is a natural prehistoric waterway meandering through New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain to the Esplanade Ridge neighborhood. This was the route that the natives took to get to the area now known as the French Quarter, with numerous villages along its shores. During the colonial days of New Orleans, there was a Spanish prison in one of its curves, bodies of the murdered were weighted and drowned here, and young men would come to the bayou to settle scores by sword duel. The Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau held ceremonies and baptisms in its waters, and these same ceremonies are conducted here even today. The kayakers and picnics by day are replaced by the ghosts of sailors, hunters, duelers, Voodoo spirits, and the slain by night.
Jackson Square is one of the most picturesque corners of New Orleans today, but it once was a muddy, treeless square where the condemned were punished and executed. For over a century, this was the Place de Armes, where men and women were put in stocks, hanged, burned to death, and drawn and quartered. Block for block, this is the most blood-soaked piece of ground in New Orleans. Walk by the gate on the St. Ann street side late at night and see all the cats looking back at you. They are said to be inhabited by the souls of the people who died in public view on this spot.
Image by @nola_val on Instagram
Pere Antoine Alley, running alongside St. Louis Cathedral, is the site of one of the oldest ghost stories in New Orleans. When the Spanish came to rule Louisiana in the 1760s, the French people of New Orleans revolted and ran off the Spanish Governor. When his replacement, Alejandro O’Reily arrived in 1769, his first order of business was to round up the revolutionaries and have them executed by firing squad, ordering their bullet-riddled corpses to rot in the summer sun in front of the Cathedral. Distressed, the families of the executed men begged the Governor to let them give their loved ones a proper burial, but O’Reily refused. When a hurricane hit the town, the local priest quickly retrieved the bodies, said a full Catholic funeral mass, and led the families in a funeral procession down this alley in the pouring rain, lightening, and thunder. To this day, when it rains hard in New Orleans, you can still hear Father Dagobert singing Kyrie Eleison, the Latin Roman Catholic prayer, as he leads to souls of the executed Frenchmen to eternal rest.
Katrina Memorial/Charity Hospital Cemetery – (5050 Canal Street) – Today this is a monument to the 86 victims of Hurricane Katrina who remained unidentified a year after the storm that devastated the city in 2005, but it was originally dedicated in 1848 to be a “potter’s field,” a place to bury the unidentified, unknown, and destitute strangers who died in New Orleans. If you died in this busy port city and no one knew who you were, you were buried here without a marker. On one day during the Yellow Fever outbreak of 1853, 47 unknown people died at Charity Hospital. It is estimated that 100,000-150,000 individuals are part of the earth here. In 2002, the city proposed making it into a large public transit station for the Canal Street Streetcar line. Excavations, tree removal, and planning were begun, but people began to notice strange occurrences of shadowy figures walking around the site at night, freak workplace accidents, and a growing feeling of unease surrounding the project. A séance was held outside the cemetery, and it was decided that the souls of all the thousands who died alone in an unknown city were unhappy about all the activity. The plans for the transit hub were scrapped, and in 2008, the unknown victims of Katrina joined the thousands who rest in this grassy expanse.