In a city with nearly 300 years of history, there are bound to be a few ghosts, and even more tales throughout New Orleans of haunting and inexplicable phenomena. There are so many ways and places to experience the paranormal and learn about the sometimes gruesome, sometimes comic and and always colorful haunted history of New Orleans. Here are some of the top places to discover haunted New Orleans.
New Orleans Cemeteries
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Steps from the French Quarter on Basin Street where the Storyville Red Light District once stood just next door is New Orleans’ oldest surviving cemetery, opened in 1789: St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. There you’ll find the earliest elite citizens of New Orleans buried in above ground tombs in a maze of tight alleys, twists and turns (the cemetery is still active with burials today).
One of the St. Louis No. 1’s most famous inhabitants is Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau, whose tomb near the Basin Street entrance is a popular spot for devoted followers as well as those just curious about our local celebrities. The cemetery is only open to visitors who are accompanied by a licensed tour guide; you can book a tour in advance and take one of the daily tours offered by the local non-profit Save Our Cemeteries, which have long been advocates for the preservation and appreciation of the city’s 31 cemeteries.
SOC also leads daily tours through Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery on Washington Avenue at Prytania Street in the Garden District, which was filled in the 1850s with victims of Yellow Fever.
Metairie Cemetery is a short walking distance from the end of the Canal/Cemeteries streetcar line, though if you have a car, you can drive inside the cemetery on one of its many interior roads and park which makes navigating this huge cemetery a little easier. The Flaming Tomb of Storyville Madam Josie Arlington, and many of the cemetery’s most interesting historic vaults are in the oldest portion of the site, near the corner of Metairie Road and Pontchartrain Blvd., just left of the entrance.
Josie Arlington commissioned her tomb of red marble in 1911, with two huge marble flames resting atop and a bronze statue of a woman mourning with flowers in hand. People reported seeing the marble burst into flames, and once Josie passed on in 1914, the statue of the woman with her back turned to the cemetery and its many families (as shunned as Arlington was in life,) it has been said, comes to life. While I didn’t see the statue move, or see a tomb burst into flames, I did enjoy one of the most pleasant cemetery walks I’ve ever experienced. The architectural significance of so many of these tombs, from the famous Weeping Angel statue of the Chapman Hyams tomb, to the stained glass and statuary throughout the grounds cannot be overlooked. There are also grim reminders of the South’s legacy as the burial ground for Confederate generals and soldiers here.
Haunted French Quarter
Walking tours are a great way to learn about the haunted history of New Orleans. While you won’t get to peek inside the homes of the most spooky places in the French Quarter and elsewhere unless you happen to be staying in a haunted hotel, a guided ghost or history tour led by a good storyteller will get you asking questions and pique your senses.
These tours are even better and spookier after sundown. Different licensed tour guides have different stories and locations so you’ll almost never get the same tour twice, except the highlights of our most famous haunts, like the story of the Sultan’s Retreat or the LaLaurie Mansion. You’ll get chills, see shadows, laugh at the stories of ghostly pranks, and become truly frightened at the real events that have taken place inside these homes.
I went on a tour recently with French Quarter Phantoms guide Liz, who stopped us at Le Petit Theatre off Jackson Square to recount her own stories of working at the theatre and encountering a mischievous spirit Caroline who liked to move around props in the attic, as well as the ghost of the longtime doorman Arthur Tong, who might just be holding the door open for you one night. The tour ended with some gruesome stories, including the infamous Royal Street haunted home of Dr. and Madame LaLaurie and their tortured slaves – made popular again thanks to American Horror Story: Coven.
Another way to experience haunted NOLA is to go on a ghost hunting expedition, which I did recently with NOLA Ghost Hunting Tours above the Jimani Bar on Chartres Street on the edge of the French Quarter. The second floor housed a gay bar called The Upstairs Lounge, where in 1973, an act of cruel arson by a disgruntled patron trapped and killed 32 people. The ghost hunting expedition takes place entirely inside the still un-renovated (but safe for guided visits) third floor and attic, and is led by Kevin Betzer of SyFy’s Deep South Paranormal on Mondays, and by Chris Melancon and others of Paranormal Society of New Orleans on the weekends. Armed with a lot of tools of the ghost-hunting trade like Echovox and Spirit Boxes, EMF Meters, a REM pod, and infrared cameras, you’ll get the full-on ghost hunting experience for 2.5 hours inside a very haunted and creepy building, led by professional ghost hunters. You’ll learn how they look for paranormal activity, trying out the equipment, and feeling around for ghosts yourself, including some one-on-one time alone in the creepy rooms, should you wish.
Discover the strange, unexplainable, mystifying and beautiful sides of haunted New Orleans wherever you go.
As a primer, I recommend several books of interest: “Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana” by Saxon/Dreyer/Tallant and “New Orleans Ghosts” by Victor Klein. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled, and your wits about you while you explore!
All photos by Paul Broussard