Voodoo and Restless Spirits of the Vieux Carre

August 04, 2015
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 describes a set of underground religious practices which originated from the traditions of the African diaspora. It is a cultural form of the Afro-American religions which developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African American population of Louisiana. They became synchronized with the Catholicism and Francophone culture of southern Louisiana as a result of the slave trade. It differs from Haitian Vodou in its emphasis on gris-gris, voodoo queens, and Li Grand Zombi, a snake diety. The core beliefs of Louisiana Voodoo include the recognition of one God who does not interfere in people’s daily lives and spirits that preside over daily life. These spiritual forces, which may be kind or mischievous and may be deceased ancestors, shape daily lives by interceding in the lives of their followers. Connection with these spirits can be achieved through dance, music, singing, and the use of snakes, which represent Legba, Voodoo’s main spirit conduit to all others. True rituals are held privately, as a showy public ritual would be considered disrespectful to the spirits. Voodoo methods include readings, spiritual baths, 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!

At Marie Laveau House of Voodoo, 739 Bourbon Street, there's more to voodoo than pin cushions and dolls. Learn about the historical and spiritual significance of the religion, and the woman who helped revive it in the city, at this store that triples as a museum and shrine. You'll find a mix of kitschy souvenirs up front and a spiritual advisor in the back, who performs readings just by feeling your pressure points.

Voodoo Authentica, located at 612 Dumaine Street, is practitioner owned and operated establishment since 1996. You will find a complete line of locally handmade Voodoo dolls, gris gris bags, potion oils, and other unique New Orleans, Haitian, and African spiritual arts and crafts. Additionally, they offer rituals, readings, spiritual work, and consultations by their experienced team of in-house practitioners.

According to most psychics, ghosts tend to be friendly, harmless, and in fact are very pleasant. But a few are mischievous and play tricks on us by moving, throwing, or hiding things, turning lights or electrical appliances off and on, etc. If you dare, plan to stay and dine in one of our many haunted hotels and restaurants and take a ghost tour! The friendly spirits of the old French Quarter are eager to meet you!

Braithe Tidwell, formerly the wine director at Danny Meyer's Union Square Café in New York, is the general manager and sommelier at Salon by Sucré. Tidwell recruited Beth McCaskey, an 18-year veteran of Union Square Café, to be Salon's head bartender. As they were gearing up for the grand opening, they worked together into the night on the wine list. In this historic building where shackled slaves were once sold in the courtyard, Tidwell ran upstairs to the third floor to find a missing bottle of wine. As she came to the top of the stairs, she heard, “Shhh, shhh!” followed by a big “thud” as if someone fell down. She thought she smelled smoke. But there was no one there. Weeks later, two women who had worked in the building previously reported they had encountered the spirit of two children on the third floor. Also, they said that a cigar smoking man had hung himself on the fourth floor. But don’t let that scare you away…Salon by Sucré's award winning executive chef, Tariq Hanna, and his team of expert pastry chefs and chocolatiers are thrilled to provide New Orleans' best dessert experience and more. He describes his menu as "locally sourced but internationally inspired." Afternoon tea, a light lunch menu, dessert, tea cocktails, cheese selections, and wine are served from noon to 4pm Wednesday through Friday and from 11 to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Salon by Sucré' is located at 622 Conti Street, (504) 267-7098

The hauntings at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel vary from Civil War soldiers to their well dressed “ladies-of-the-evening.” In the late 1890s and early 1900s, May Baily’s was one of the better known bordellos in the wildly infamous red-light district known as Storyville in an era that made even decadent old New Orleans blush. Prostitution was legal in Storyville from 1897 to 1917. Today, May Baily’s Place serves as the hotel bar. Guests and employees have reported hauntings and sightings of a Creole soldier from the War of 1812 or the Civil War who may have been a patron of the former bordello. Another spirit is a whimsical even if a bit disturbed dancing female who may have been one of May’s girls known as “The Courtesan.” She may help mix your cocktail; it is said that she prefers the company of men, so watch out! 415 Dauphine Street, 504-586-1800.

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 #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, 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 and you will learn what “Gris-Gris” means and discover the mysterious ingredients in your 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 consecrated St Louis Cemetery #2 for burials in August, 1823.

Less visited than its counterpart, St. Louis Cemetery #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. 3421 Esplanade Avenue. 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 (Toulouse Street at the Mississippi River.) Details of many tours can be found at www.graylineneworleans.com 504-569-1401.

We dare you to book a room at Lafitte’s Guest House located on the corner of St. Phillip at 1003 Bourbon Street! A Charity Hospital was built on this land in 1793, but it burned down in 1809. In 1848, the present building, a lovely mansion, was built which later became a hotel. A baby of one of the previous owners died here and sounds of an infant crying are sometimes heard. In room 21, a little girl named Marie died during the yellow fever epidemic. She appears in the mirror outside of that room and sometimes talks and laughs with children staying in the hotel. Marie’s mother never recovered from the loss of her daughter, refusing to leave the room even to attend the funeral. To add to her grief, an older daughter, Evangeline, committed suicide in the room in an effort to cope with the family despair. Their bedridden mother died in the room years later. One can still hear sounds of sobbing and feel the sorrow and despair in the room and some guests claim they have communicated with this woman in grief who is often seen walking around the Guest House as she turns lights off and on. In 1989, a psychic induced a trance state and utilized channeling and automatic writing to recount the tragic story of this mother’s tortured soul. The psychic reported hearing the sounds of horse’s hooves on the street and communicating with “Madame” dressed in a green satin hoop skirt and her dark hair in a bun. She was sitting by the fireplace, fanning herself with a lace fan while speaking in French. “Madame” told the psychic that she is “having everything burned” but begs to be allowed to stay in the room. She describes a tiny black coffin and a funeral for her child that she is too grief-stricken to attend. With anguish she said “Mother of Mercy, just let me rock my little one again. They wait for me at the church with her little casket covered with flowers. Don’t let me leave this room.”

In 1965, the owner of the guesthouse, Andy Crocchiola, was planning a cruise to the Caribbean when he noted the words “No Voyage” etched in the ashes of the same fireplace. He cancelled his trip and later that week Hurricane Betsy entered the Gulf. Why don’t you book room 21and see for yourself? We double dare you! 1003 Bourbon Street, 504-581-2678.

Liz Zibilich, a born and raised New Orleanian and tour guide with 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 master storytellers offering Cemetery, Treme, True Crime, Saints and Sinners (for adults only and the popular Ghost & Vampire tours at 6 and 8pm every day. French Quarter Phantoms is rated with Trip Advisor as one of the top ten ghost tours in the world. Also, French Quarter Phantoms has been voted the #1 Haunted Tour in New Orleans and #2 in the United States for the past 5 years by Haunted America Tours. They were also featured on The Discovery Channel in June of 2015 as “The Official Best of Louisiana 2015.” Owner Cindi Richardson says "New Orleans is a city where spirits often find the coffin is too confining; mysteries and history combine to make this a very unique city. Join us for a tour and let us share her story." It’s not your ordinary cheap thrill! 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; adult tour guests may enjoy their Buy One Get One Free Hurricanes.

Each tour is personally crafted based on recorded history and folklore, so each guide’s tour is unique and never scripted. Liz’s favorite ghost story involves Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan… On March 21, 1788, the Great New Orleans Fire started on Good Friday and burned 856 of the 1,100 structures in the French Quarter, including the city’s main church, original Cabildo, the municipal building, the army barracks, armory, and jail. During the tragedy, a portion of Pierre Phillipe de Marigny’s mansion was burnt which now serves as Muriel’s Restaurant on Jackson Square.

During the next decade, the city of New Orleans was in a rebuilding process, trying to recover from the fire that swept the French Quarter. Among the new buildings in Jackson Square were St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, the Presbytere, and property on the corner that Mr. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan purchased from Marigny. Monsieur Jourdan built his dream home for his family and although he adored his beautiful home, he was a man who could never quench his thirst for the thrill and excitement of gambling. In 1814, in a raucous poker game where he thought he had a winning hand, he wagered his beloved home and crushingly lost the one thing he treasured most in life. The shock of the loss was so intense that before having to vacate the premises and hand over his beloved treasure, he tragically committed suicide on the second floor in the area that served as the slave quarters…the same area where Muriel’s Séance Lounges in The Soiree are situated today.

Monsieur Jourdan is still with us today in spiritual form; his ghost doesn't appear in human form, but instead as a glimmering orb of luminescent sparkly light wandering around the lounge. The Séance Lounges are named as such because it is believed that this is where Jourdan spends the majority of his time. Patrons and employees of Muriel’s have also witnessed objects being moved around throughout the restaurant.

Although Jourdan is considered to be their main resident, another slightly mischievous ghost in Muriel’s Courtyard Bar also roams the property. Glasses have flown from behind the bar twelve feet across to the brick wall and shattered. Could it be previous patrons or owners of the property or Jourdan trying to get across to the other side or desperately trying to communicate with mortals? Whatever the case may be, Jourdan continues to reside in his lovely home overlooking Jackson Square and he is always welcome to dine; a table reserved for him is always set with bread and wine. 801 Chartres Street, 504-568-1885.

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. 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.

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!