Voodoo and Restless Spirits of the Vieux Carre

August 01, 2016
In the land of voodoo, vampires, and witchcraft, it’s no wonder that America’s most haunted city is rife with tales of restless spirits. Native Americans warned French settlers not to build a city on this “cursed land.” Louisiana Voodoo originated from the traditions of the African diaspora as a cultural form of the Afro-American religions that developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African American population of Louisiana. It is an African-based religion rooted in West African Vodun. As a result of the slave trade, this population became synchronized with the Catholicism and Francophone culture of southern Louisiana. It differs from Haitian Vodou in its emphasis on gris-gris, voodoo queens, and Li Grand Zombi, a snake deity. The core beliefs of Louisiana Voodoo recognize one God who does not interfere in people’s daily lives but intercedes in the lives of those who practice Vodun. Connection with these spirits can be achieved through singing, dance, music, and the use of snakes. Rituals are usually held privately and may include readings, bathing in or near local waterways, special diets, prayer, and personal ceremony.

Clearly, New Orleans women aren’t necessarily ladies. The activities of Marie Laveau, one of the French Quarter’s well-known dark characters, have long evoked interest in New Orleans’ undisputed Queen of Voodoo… who was also a devout Catholic! It is said that Laveau’s former home at 1020 St. Ann Street is also among the French Quarter’s many haunted locales. Believers claim to have seen her spirit, accompanied by those of her followers, engaged in Voodoo ceremonies there.

There is much mystery and folklore surrounding the origins and practice of Voodoo in New Orleans. Many French Quarter shops are dedicated to the magic and ritual of Voodoo and they will not only satisfy your curiosity, they may also put a spell on you!

Voodoo Authentica of New Orleans Cultural Center and Collection, located at 612 Dumaine, a quiet and picturesque street, is a practitioner-owned establishment since 1996. Their free 17th annual Voodoo Fest held every Halloween clearly demonstrates Voodoo’s many invaluable contributions to our city’s unique historic and present-day culture The festival features local folk artists who have created and blessed their handmade items, which include a complete line of locally-handmade voodoo dolls, “Gris Gris” bags, potion oils, teas, candles, soaps, ritual kits, practitioner written books, and other unique New Orleans, Haitian, African spiritual arts and crafts. In addition, they offer rituals, readings, spiritual work, and consultations by their experienced team of in-house practitioners. The festival will honor the Ancestors, educate the public about this widely misunderstood religion, and will celebrate the unique spiritual & cultural heritage of New Orleans. Don’t miss their Ancestral Ritual at 7pm! If you can’t attend the festival or visit the Center, you may want to visit their online store, voodooshop.com, for a voodoo glossary, FAQs, and photo gallery.

Night owls and spirit seekers should consider Royal Carriage’s History and Haunts one-hour carriage tour offered nightly! It focuses on New Orleans family-friendly nightlife, our colorful neighborhoods, and our dark past. Feel the fright of the night as chilling tales add to the mystery of the old Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. You’ll enjoy spooky stories of the haunts, traditional jazz where the locals go, away from Bourbon Street, and historical narration detailing major historical landmarks as you pass colorful Creole cottages, tiny shotgun homes, and the iron lacework of the Grand Mansions of Esplanade Avenue.

New Orleans is a city with a magical feel, and the character and traditions of the historic French Quarter make walking tours a popular and affordable way for visitors to enjoy the city. French Quarter Phantoms strives to show visitors the city, make them laugh, and give them the heebie-jeebies. Their guides are “the strangest bunch of real historians” who are knowledgeable and licensed master storytellers offering theme tours: Cemetery, Treme, True Crime, Saints and Sinners (for adults only) and the popular Ghost & Vampire combo tours beginning at 6pm and 8pm every day, lasting about an hour and forty-five minutes in length, and with a walking distance of just under one mile. Each tour is personally crafted based on recorded history and folklore, so each guide’s tour is unique and never scripted. French Quarter Phantoms is rated with Trip Advisor as one of the top ten ghost tours in the world. Also, they have been voted the #1 Haunted Tour in New Orleans and #2 in the United States by Haunted America Tours. They were featured on The Discovery Channel as “The Official Best of Louisiana 2015” and touted by A&E, The Travel Channel, Sci Fi, BBC World, The History Channel, and in Southern Living magazine!

French Quarter Phantoms signature Ghost and Vampire tour combo is their signature tour. Haunted by phantoms and the hovering mysteries of past tragedies, the French Quarter is a place where the spirits often find the coffin too confining; mysteries and history combine to make this a very unique city. Master storytellers guide groups through darkened streets for a historically accurate, fun-filled tour full of New Orleans ghost stories and tales of Vampires. French Quarter Phantoms is a good neighbor within our community, donating to the Jefferson Children’s Advocacy Group, the Magnolia House, and serving as a leading sponsor of the New Orleans Easter Seals Gala. Book a reservation at frenchquarterphantoms.com, call 504-666-8300, or come to The Voodoo Lounge located at 718 N. Rampart Street at the corner of Orleans Street where the tours begin at 6 and 8pm; adult tour guests may enjoy their two-for-one Hurricanes to go.

Hotel Storyville is a sweet little casual hotel in an historic home just 2 blocks from the edge of the French Quarter, where we offer you get the best of both worlds… world famous Bourbon Street and all the revelry that goes with it is minutes away from the quiet charm of Hotel Storyville. Their garden is a wonderful place to retreat under the gazebos and enjoy a glass of wine and their comfortable front porch is perfect for morning coffee and reading the Times Picayune. The upstairs balcony is also a great place for relaxing, enjoying a beverage and watching the characters walk by. After all, New Orleans is full of wonderful and quirky characters! Ask Barbara about her ghost stories there when you check in! 1261 Esplanade Avenue, 504-948-4800.

Generations of hotel guests and staff have regularly experienced haunted events that would cause even the staunchest skeptic to take pause. The Hotel Monteleone had a restaurant door that opens almost every evening and then closes again, even though it is locked. The elevator sometimes stops on the wrong floor, leading a curious couple down a hallway that grows chilly and reveals the ghostly images of children playing. Hotel Monteleone is known for being one of the premier haunted hotels in New Orleans. In March 2003, the International Society of Paranormal Research spent several days at Hotel Monteleone. While at the hotel, the team made contact with more than a dozen earthbound entities. Among them were several former employees including a man named William “Red” Wildemere, who died inside the hotel of natural causes. Another spirit is that of a friendly toddler named Maurice Begere, who died in the hotel, and his distraught parents return frequently in hopes he might visit them. Maurice eventually appeared to his mother and comforted her, and guests report seeing him near the room where he died. 214 Royal Street, 504-523-3341.

Would you like to witness any of the ghosts that inhabit the famous Bourbon Orleans Hotel, formerly a theater, a Quadroon Ballroom, an orphanage and a convent? Take a Gray Line Ghosts and Spirits Tour to visit well-known haunted sites in “the most haunted city in America” as well as those that are often overlooked such as our courthouse where our Supreme Court is based and a former slave exchange. Take an exciting look at the relics of voodoo ceremonies, a vampire slaying kit, and age-old tools of the trade used by mysterious inhabitants of our city.

Or consider their Cemetery and Voodoo Walking Tour…. The waterlogged, swampy soil upon which New Orleans is built makes digging more than a couple of feet impractical. This gruesome revelation was made soon after the city’s first cemetery was established on St. Peter Street just inside the current French Quarter. Graves started popping to the surface and bodies floated down the street when it often flooded. The solution was to avoid burial altogether and house the dead in above ground tombs. In the mid-1800s the site of hundreds of little marble, granite or stone “houses” led to the coining of the term “Cities of the Dead.”

Stroll through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 as your guide recounts the background of the famous and infamous people who are buried there. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is a short walk from the French Quarter at Basin Street and St. Louis; it was established by the Spanish in 1789 and is the oldest cemetery in town. Make a wish or cast a spell at the tomb of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen, and discover how she was able to be in two places at once. Listen to the evolution of Voodoo which is still practiced today. Learn about our unique above-ground burial customs and the tombs of various “societies” in this historic cemetery that opened in 1789. Each guest will be given an authentic souvenir “Gris-Gris” bag, will learn what “Gris-Gris” means, and will discover the mysterious ingredients in the bag. In addition to Marie Laveau, many of the city’s first occupants and more notorious personalities are entombed here, including Delphine LaLaurie; Bernard de Marigny, a French-Creole American nobleman, playboy, politician, and President of the Louisiana Senate between 1822-1823; and Homer Plessy, of the Plessy v. Ferguson 1892 Supreme Court decision establishing separate but equal Jim Crow laws for African-Americans and whites in the South. It is also the site of the classic movie, Easy Rider.

In 1820, the City Council followed the belief that yellow fever, cholera, and other diseases were spread by “miasmas” emanating from cemeteries and thus wanted to find a new site for a cemetery at least 2400 feet from the city limits. The nearest practical site, on what is now Claiborne Avenue between Canal, St. Louis, and Robertson Streets, was only 1800 feet from Rampart Street! The church was consecrated St Louis Cemetery No. 2 for burials in August, 1823. Less visited than its counterpart, St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 offers a piece of rest and solitude for those both above and below ground. Established in 1854, each tomb recounts a chapter in New Orleans’ rich history, from immigration patterns to floods and yellow fever outbreaks. Walk the rows to see marble and stone gravesites that are themselves works of art. Each guide has researched these "other spirits" of the Vieux Carre, so no two tours are exactly alike. Bring your camera; you never know who will want to pose for a picture! Reservations and comfortable shoes are recommended. Tours depart at 7:30pm from the Gray Line Lighthouse Ticket Office Details of many tours can be found at www.graylineneworleans.com. 504-569-1401.

The story of Delphine LaLaurie and the heinous manner in which she tortured her slaves is probably the most widely known of the French Quarter’s macabre tales. Madame LaLaurie, a respected socialite, hosted many a grand event in her opulent home at 1140 Royal Street. Her lavish lifestyle was made possible by a troupe of slaves. Mistreatment of slaves was illegal and society began to shun LaLaurie after a neighbor witnessed the elegant woman chasing a young servant girl with a whip as she leapt to her death from the roof in her efforts to escape LaLaurie. Authorities were summoned and LaLaurie’s social life came to an abrupt halt. She was shunned as a pariah and upon her arrest authorities rescued the slaves from her home. Before long, in April of 1834, a fire broke out in the kitchen. In their efforts to thwart the fire, neighbors and firefighters stumbled upon a grisly attic torture chamber. Nude slaves, most of them dead, were discovered. Some were chained to the walls, some were strapped to makeshift operating tables, and others were confined in cages. They had undergone various elaborate forms of torture and mutilation. When news of the findings was published in the local newspaper, an angry mob drove LaLaurie and her family from the city.

Reports that the house is haunted have been rampant ever since. Many have claimed to hear screams of agony coming from the empty house. Others have seen apparitions of slaves walking about the property. There are reports of having been attacked by an angry slave in chains. Though the house has changed hands numerous times and has served as a private home, a musical conservatory, a school for young women, and a saloon, among other things, many of the building’s owners have experienced some form of misery associated with the house.

Explore the dark side of the French Quarter… the tombs, secret passageways, courtyards, hotels, and bars. Restless spirits in America’s most haunted city are lurking around every corner… It may cast a spell on you!