Local Haunts: New Orleans

The spirit of New Orleans, more than any other city I’ve visited, is almost palpable as you walk the historic streets of the French Quarter and the Garden District. The air surrounding you feels vibrant with history, and if you spend any length of time in The Big Easy, it’s easy to see why it is among paranormal enthusiasts’ favorite places to visit – you’re never more than a few blocks from a site that is reported to be haunted. Spend enough time chatting with the locals, and you’ll find them most eager to talk about two things: life pre- and post-Katrina, and ghost stories. For a city that has survived two Yellow Fever epidemics, the Civil War and a major hurricane, ghosts aren’t something to really be afraid of. They just get added to the canon of colorful stories passed down through local folklore, which, for a city in the process of rebuilding itself, is a way to keep the past alive in the present.

One of my favorite haunts when visiting the Crescent City is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. It’s one of the oldest buildings in New Orleans, dating back to 1722, and according to the bar’s website, “is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States.” Located on the corner of Bourbon and St. Philips streets, most imbibing visitors never take the time to stumble down to this quiet part of Bourbon Street, but it is well worth the trek. The dark, candlelit tavern is cozy, and if you grab a seat at the bar, you may be lucky enough to talk to the bartender; I was during my visit, and he shared with me stories of his personal ghostly encounters in the upstairs office. Lafitte’s has survived two fires over the years, and is rumored to have once secretly housed a smuggling operation by Pierre and Jean Lafitte, who were known as pirates, among other things. It is supposedly one of the most haunted bars in New Orleans; patrons of the bar have claimed to see an apparition of a woman in black, along with ghosts of soldiers, pirates and even Jean Lafitte himself.

This was once Anne Rice’s home, which we passed by on the Garden District tour. Our guide had just finished telling us that Nicolas Cage was staying there, and as we walked up, lo and behold, he was sitting on the balcony in his bathrobe. Upon spotting us, he quickly hopped through the window back inside; he moved so fast it was almost as though he had just seen the ghost of his former career run past.

In New Orleans there is no shortage of restaurants serving up delicious Cajun and Creole food, and there’s definitely a fair share of restaurants that claim to be haunted. But one of my favorite places to grab a bite to eat is the Napoleon House, which, as far as I’m aware doesn’t claim to be haunted. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it were, given the rich history of this 200-year-old landmark. It was once offered as a place of refuge for Napoleon himself (even though Napoleon never actually visited, they kept the name) and according to the restaurant’s website, has been “a haunt for artists and writers throughout most of the 20th Century.” I can only hope that one day my spirit haunts an establishment as fine as the Napoleon House. I recommend on your visit that you try the Roast Beef Po’boy or the Muffaletta sandwich, and wash it down with their infamous Pimm’s Cup as you soak in the history surrounding you.

For me, no visit to New Orleans is complete without taking one of the walking tours offered by the company Haunted History Tours. I’ve personally taken – and can recommend – the ghost tour, the vampire tour and the Haunted Garden District tour. Of the three, I would say that the ghost tour is my favorite; of course it probably helped that I had a fantastic guide for that particular tour, Midian Von Thorne (if I had a name like that, I would always refer to myself by my full name). As with any major tour company, some of the guides are better than others, but all were well-informed and eager to share the city’s tales. It is a bit disappointing that you’re not able to actually go into any of the sites – you just walk along and stop outside each location to listen to the guide tell the haunted happenings associated with that place – but it is an interesting way to explore the city and get a taste for the paranormal nevertheless.

Finally, St. Louis Cemetery #1 is worth checking out to admire the city’s above-ground burial system and to, of course, pay your respects to Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau’s tomb. It’s impossible not to hear her name come up if you only spend even a small amount of time in New Orleans, and if you don’t catch a glimpse of her spirit in the cemetery, then perhaps you can stop by Marie Laveau’s House of Voodooin the French Quarter; her ghost supposedly haunts this shop, too (it was apparently where her home once stood). It’s a bit too touristy for my taste, but here you can pick up spells, voodoo dolls and get a psychic reading done all under one roof, if you’re so inclined.

Those are a few of my favorite haunts in New Orleans, a truly spirited city. Happy travels!

Taken during my ghost tour of the French Quarter. The ghostly “legs” you see crossing the street are likely the result of my digital camera’s shutter speed and/or flash (the rest of the photo looks a bit blurry). But what I think is interesting is that this was snapped on the empty corner where we stood listening to the story about how bodies were stacked here during the Yellow Fever epidemic, because the cemeteries were too full. Even though my photo may be nothing more than a flash issue, it’s easy to believe that the restless spirits are actually wandering this street for eternity.


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