There are many really cool things about living in a very old city and in very old houses that I don’t know where to start. You pretty much know that death, disaster, and the wicked part of human nature have not been sanitized for suburban pearl-clutchers or commercialized by the mercenary. You live next to churches built for victims of Yellow Plague and cemeteries where the rain can wash up bones. Living in New Orleans isn’t like living in a European City with their pits filled of tens of thousands of black plague victims and underground cities stacked with skeletons. But, being in the French Quarter on Halloween night sure beats handing out candy to future obese, diabetics decked out in WalMart’s worst.
I really love watching spooky shows and movies this time of year. One of my newest addictions is the FX TV show American Horror Story: Coven. It has some great American actresses in it and it’s filmed in New Orleans. It stars Jessica Lang, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett. The two latter actresses play real New Orleans people.
Delphyne posted a link to my Facebook about scary as hell places in the USA. New Orlean’s St. Louis Number One Cemetery–where Marie LaVeau is supposedly buried–always pops up on the list. Bassett plays LaVeau in Coven. Bates plays Madame LaLaurie whose house is considered so haunted that no one lives there for long.
Frankly, I’ve never found St. Louis One to be spooky or ooky. Holt Cemetery is far more full of those weird vibes that you can feel in cemeteries. Holt is the potter’s cemetery where many of New Orlean’s best Jazz musician’s were eventually buried. The graves are shallow and not the little above ground houses you think about when you think New Orleans cemeteries so if you go there after flooding or rain you are likely to find human bones about the place. There were lots of them scattered around after Katrina. They’re trying to redo the place to stop these kinds of events.
I lived across from the LaLaurie Mansion for five years and never ever experienced anything akin to a haunt or a wicked bad vibe. Kathy Bates plays Madam LaLaurie who is supposedly cursed by LaVeau to live forever and is buried alive to be found in modern times by Jessica Lange early in the series. The series very much uses the city as another character in the story. The rest–of course–is pure fiction and very much in the genre of making a spooky story based on the modern idea of spooky. But, I do have to say it’s a fun twist and I love watching it display New Orleans in all its spookery.
I thought I’d share with you the actual stories of the LaLaurie House–which has been considered haunted for well over a hundred years–since it figures prominently in the plot of Coven. Here’s the original news story on the house that exposed the horrific things that Madame LaLaurie did to her slaves. This is also something that is essential to the plot of Coven. Again, I I lived across from the house for five years and really never experienced anything. That can’t be said for my own house now or other places I’ve been. We will get to that later.
April 11, 1834
The conflagration at the house occupied by the woman Lalaurie in Hospital … is like discovering one of those atrocities the details of which seem to be too incredible for human belief.
We would shrink from the task of detailing the painful circumstances connected herewith, were it not that a sense of duty and the necessity of exposing and holding to the public indignation such a wretch as the perpetrator, renders it indispensable for us to do so.
The flames having spread with an alarming rapidity, and the horrible suspicion being entertained among the spectators that some of the inmates of the premises where it originated, where incarcerated therein, the doors were forced open for the purpose of liberating them. Previous however, to taking this liberty, (if liberty it can be called), several gentlemen impelled by their feelings of humanity demanded the keys which were refused them in a gross and insulting manner. Upon entering one of the apartments, the most appalling spectacle met their eyes. Seven slaves more or less horribly mutilated were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other. Language is powerless and inadequate to give a proper conception of the horror which a scene like this must have inspired. We shall not attempt it, but leave it rather to the reader’s imagination to picture what it was.
These slaves were the property of the demon, in the shape of a woman whom we mentioned in the beginning of this article. They had been confined by her for several months in the situation from which they had thus providentially been rescued and had been merely kept in existence to prolong their suffering and to make them taste all that the most refined cruelty could inflict. But why dwell upon such aggravating and painful particulars! We feel confident that the community share with us our indignation, and that vengeance will fall heavily upon the guilty culprit. Without being superstitious, we cannot but regard the manner in which these atrocities have been brought to light as an especial interposition of heaven.
There are a series of later articles on the house’s haunted status that are also great reading. I love reading the articles in the vernacular of the day. This one is written in 1892 and describes the house’s reputation at the time.
In the Rue Royale stands this quaint, old-fashioned house about which so much has been written, and around which cluster so many wild and weird stories, that even in its philosophic day, few in the old faubourg care to pass the place after nightfall, or, doing so, shudder and hurry on with bated breath, as though midnight ghouls and ghosts hovered near, ready to exercise a mystic spell over all who dare invade its uncanny precincts.
“La maison est hantee,” that is what the Franco-Spanish residents of the “vieux carre” will shake their heads and tell you; and every one who lives in the rue Royale, whether descendants of the ancient habitue or member of that recent cosmopolitan element that has invaded the street, know the history of that old house, and repeats in guarded whispers, “The house is haunted” and will volunteer strange stories of how ghosts and spirits may be seen flitting mysteriously about the rooms after nightfall who the witches and hob-goblins hold high revel there, of the strange unearthly noises that proceed from the damp dungeon and attic, the mysterious, lambent lights that flit rapidly from window to window and then vanish, only to reappear with confused rapidity and the long, ghostly procession that winds up the stairway at midnight, and peers cautiously over the roof, where the figure of a little child may be seen upon moonlight nights haunting the latticed belvedere. And all this began long ago, when the great house was shut up for many years and broken windows and defaced galleries told the story of the uprising of an indignant populace and
laid the foundation for the wild and ghostly legends which succeeding years have woven about it. No house in the rue Royale has attracted so much widespread attention. Every stranger who visits New Orleans inquires for it, artists have painted it and travelers have written about it and several years ago Geo. W. Cable made it the subject of a special article in the Century Magazine. How much of that story is true, and how much the creation of Mr. Cable’s fancy the old Creole of New Orleans will tell you; but this fact remains, that the house has a history, a real true history that needs neither imagination nor art to make it one of the most interesting studies in New Orleans, both from a historical and romantic point of view.
The house is still on the Haunted Tours that are omnipresent in the Quarter. It was, in fact, owned briefly by Nicholas Cage. It is an imposing structure. My kids were anxious to take these tours but I have to admit I’ve never done it. I have been on many a street when guides were spinning the stories they spin at some point in time. I do know a lot of people that have lived in houses they will not return to and the majority of them are not on the tours so I kind’ve judge the entire thing based on that. In my experience, there’s an apartment sitting near Cabrini park at the edge of the Quarter that’s got far more hauntings. I’ve known folks that have lived there and nearly all of them have left within months of moving in the place.
I have had my share of really strange things that have happened since living in New Orleans and you can officially place me in the category of no longer skeptic about some kind of weird energies that exist that cannot be explained. Nearly all of my experiences have happened after really raging hurricanes which seem to have a habit of stirring up energy and the watery ground beneath the city. I’ve had experiences in my own home close after Katrina that I really can’t explain. The first one happened shortly after I got home when there was no electricity to speak of and no one else around. It was deadly quiet because there were also no birds about. I was lying in my bed and I had my curtains open wide. I no longer leave my curtains open on that side of the house now at night. Just call me extra cautious. I saw a glowing round, orangish face in the window over my desk. I really thought it was a person and since the neighborhood was mostly deserted, I was freaked out. I ran to the window and pounded on it. I broke the glass actually. It occurred to me the next day that there is no way any person could peer through my window. They would have to be standing on the shoulders of some one else to do that. There was no light to play tricks on me so I have no idea what it could’ve been. I was not drinking. I was not asleep. I was in the dark reading a journal article by small flashlight. If you can develop some plausible hypothesis let me know. Like I said, I never leave a curtain or window open on that side of the bedroom after dark any more.
My second experience in my house was not too long after that. I was walking towards the door to the laundry room by the same desk. A very solid thick glass, cheese crock that holds odds and ends lifted about 18 inches off my night stand, went across my chest in front of my eyes and dropped to the floor without breaking. My lama was in the house at the time and I ran to get him to show him the crock sitting on the floor. I have absolutely no explanation for that. It was midday. I was not drinking and I am very much a logical, data oriented person so I am not the kind of person that just sees spirits in everything. I know what I saw. I know there is absolutely no logical explanation for it.
The last time I really experienced something strange was last year after Hurricane Issac when I was sitting at a table at Buffa’s in the Quarter. I had gotten up to talk to a friend of mine. I felt a distinct tingly,freezing cold sensation in the shape of person walking through me on the left side of my body. It was like some one about 4 inches shorter than me walked straight through that half of my body. It was electric and cold and totally in the shape of a person. I distinctly remember the shape of a head and torso. It was not a linear shape. I didn’t feel it completely on that side. It felt like the imprint of a short-person. My friend Randy saw me turn pretty pale and could feel the temperature difference between my left and right hand. It was very odd.
Anyway, if you spend your Halloweens in the suburbs with kids and candy and fake costumes and fake tombstones bought at Walmart you are really missing out on things. I really love the Day of the Dead Celebrations that have gravitated here from Mexico. They’ve got the “spirit” of the day down pat. You really need to take the day to go to a real “haunted” location or cemetery and check out the energy then ride it to wherever it goes. Of course, New Orleans is probably the premier Halloween destination on my list. But, there are so many wonderful historical American cities with equally rich and real culture that I am sure you can get to one or the other. I’ve never been to Salem, Mass but I have to say I envy people within driving distance. Now, there’s a perfect Halloween destination!!!
Anyway, we have a lot of severe weather moving our way tonight. I’m going to be keeping the shade down on the window over my desk tonight for sure!!!