While New Orleans brings to mind a mixture of jazz, Creole cuisine and the vibrant colors of Mardi Gras, The Big Easy also possesses the title of arguably the most haunted city in America. Its rich and diverse history provides an explanation of why so many people claim to experience ghostly encounters and other eerie occurrences in this city. Whether you’re familiar with some of New Orleans’ dark past or just watched “American Horror Story: Coven” last season, it’s hard not to find places along the city streets that make people feel the hair on their necks start to rise. Here’s a list of 10 of New Orleans’s creepy, disturbing and most haunted sites.
Because of New Orleans’ low elevation in relation to sea level, people are buried in tombs above ground at St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, known as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country. Over 100,000 people are buried here, including the famous Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. In her lifetime, she developed a huge following and cult status — so much so that she was buried in an unmarked tomb to prevent her followers from turning it into a shrine. That hasn’t stopped them though. Just look for the small red Xs and offerings of coins, flowers, bones and other tokens visitors have left in hope they’ll receive her assistance from beyond the grave. Some people have even claimed to see Marie Laveau’s distinctive apparition near the unmarked tomb wearing a handkerchief around her neck. Tours are offered daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $20 and must be purchased in advance.
If voodoo sparks your curiosity, less than a mile away from Marie Laveau’s tomb is New Orleans’s Historic Voodoo Museum. Charles Massico Gandolfo, the museum’s founder, recalled tales of his great-grandfather being raised in the city by a voodoo queen, which prompted him to open the museum. There, you’ll learn all about the ancient religion, including its origins, evolution in America and some of its darker practices and rituals (like how to make a human “zombie” with poison extracted from a blowfish).The small building has a large collection of artifacts: gris-gris (voodoo charms), voodoo dolls, a clay “govi” jar for storing souls, alligator heads and other interesting items. You can even learn a little more about the Queen of Voodoo herself and how she impacted the history of the practice in New Orleans.
For over 150 years, the Lalaurie mansion (pictured above) has been considered the most haunted location in the French Quarter. This famous three-story corner mansion on Royal and Governor Nicholls used to belong to Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie during the 19th century. According to legend, it’s here that LaLaurie treated her slaves extremely inhumanely. After a fire broke out in the mansion, firefighters discovered an attic with over a dozen slaves chained to the wall, strapped to operating tables and other mutilated bodies all over the floor. If you saw Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Madame Lalaurie in “American Horror Story: Coven,” you get the idea. With the amount of torture that supposedly occurred in the house, the place is bound to be filled with ghostly apparitions and disembodied screams; many people admit to having seen ghosts in the windows or hearing strange noises as they walk by. Today, the house has been restored and is a private home, but the front gate is always decorated for Halloween with the likeness of Lalaurie herself, disembodied limbs and chains.
This stop is particularly creepy, presenting realistic depictions of the city’s history through 154 life-sized figures sculpted in wax and displayed in different vignettes. If that isn’t creepy enough, the figures look so real because they are made using human hair and intricate glass eyes. Visitors can see tableaus of different historical events from the Louisiana Purchase to Napoleon taking a bath. There’s also a Haunted Dungeon, occupied by “Masters of the Macabre,” including Edgar Allen Poe and Victor Hugo. This museum is quite informative of the overall history of New Orleans, but also includes the very dark and sometimes violent history that occurred in the city, like Madame Lalaurie’s.
This beautiful Greek Revival building is the site of one of the most gruesome mass slayings in New Orleans history. In the 1830s, Jean Baptiste LaPrete, a wealthy plantation owner, wanted to find a renter to oversee the property when he wasn’t home. A rich young man from Turkey moved in, along with his large group of men and women. Rumors began to spread that the man’s entourage was actually a harem he had stolen from his brother, a Sultan. One morning, someone walking by the mysterious house noticed blood was leaking from under the front door. As the police opened it, what they saw was horrific. Everyone inside had been dismembered, and the young Turk was found buried alive in the courtyard with one hand reaching through the dirt. Today, people passing by have claimed to hear strange tinkling music coming from inside, and residents of the house have reported seeing the young Turk himself. Perhaps he sticks around hoping someone will find his murderer.
A luxurious hotel known for its meticulously restored architecture and charm, Hotel Provincial is also known for its haunted buildings. The history of the land goes all the way back to 1725, when it was given to a French Lieutenant courtesy of King Louis XV. Five different buildings make up this hotel, and each was used for different purposes throughout its past. Building 5, however, is known to be the most haunted. During the Civil War, the building was used as a temporary infirmary where many soldiers died of their wounds. Some who have stayed the night in building 5 claimed to see blood stains appearing and disappearing on bedding; others have seen apparitions of Confederate soldiers and surgeons. One guest even reported that as the elevator door opened on the second floor, the old hospital in its entirety was in view.
Located in the Garden District, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 has been around since 1833. It was quickly filled to capacity by 1850 when hundreds of people fell victim to yellow fever and were buried there. There are even tombs where entire families who died of the disease were buried together. The eerie atmosphere of this cemetery filled with above-ground tombs captured the imagination of local author Anne Rice, who used the place in many of her books, like Interview with the Vampire. Many people who visit here often report seeing shadows moving around the tombs and feeling physical sensations of spirit activity. Walking tour is offered daily at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $15 and must be purchased in advance.
With a history stretching back to the Gilded Age and impeccable French décor throughout the hotel, Le Pavillon easily stands out as one of the most unique hotels in the downtown area. It has also earned the reputation of being one of the most haunted hotels in New Orleans, as a group of paranormal investigators admitted to documenting over 100 ghosts. Both staff and guests repeatedly seee apparitions, including Adda, the ghost of a teenaged girl who was struck by a carriage and killed during the 1840s. She is often mistaken for a Mardi Gras celebrant who vanishes right before people’s eyes. Le Pavillon is also the home of a ghost couple who are always seen together walking around the grounds holding hands.
This 200 year-old bar is considered one of the oldest in New Orleans, and has an intriguing past. It’s said that the second floor is where Pirate Jean Lafitte and Andrew Jackson planned their defense strategy for the victorious fight with the British in the Battle of New Orleans. When the narcotic-like spirit, absinthe, became popular in Europe, this old coffeehouse was turned into The Absinthe Room just to serve the drink. Unfortunately, absinthe caused hallucinations, delirium, madness and even death, and the drink was eventually outlawed in 1912. Today, the bar reports numerous ghosts, including the pirate himself, and those who work there are happy to share their ghost stories.
Showcasing what used to be the pharmacy of Louis Joseph Dufilho Jr., known as America’s first licensed pharmacist, this museum displays tools used for old medical practices like bloodletting and leeches. The creepiest part, however, is the story of Dufilho himself. Along with dispensing medicine in the 1800s, he used to perform exploratory surgery on women, many of which resulted in their death. He would then bury the bodies in the walls of the pharmacy. Eventually, he contracted syphilis and legend has it that as he became madder and madder, his experiments got stranger. Some say eerie groans and other sounds can be heard from the upper floors, even though nobody is up there.
Note: Volunteers in New Orleans work hard to preserve the city’s cemeteries. Please be respectful when visiting and observe hours.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 photo from treewoman8 on Flickr Creative Commons.