Ariadne's Travels - Lagniappe

Lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap) is a word used throughout Louisiana, and means "a little something extra." This section is devoted to extra thoughts, stories, and descriptions having to do with my trip that didn't exactly fit into any other section. You can go to any section by either clicking on the corresponding link (this may not work in Internet Explorer), or simply scrolling down. The choice is yours...enjoy your serving of lagniappe...

 

Random New Orleans Facts

- at any given time in New Orleans, you can be anywhere from 5-15 feet below sea level (a book I read said you'd only be 5 ft. deep, but a tour guide claimed it could be a low as 15 ft.)

- people are "buried" in above ground tombs due to the above fact (you can't dig the necessary 6 feet without it slowly filling up with water)

- before the people of New Orleans realized they were below sea level, they attempted to bury the dead underground...but coffins and corpses literally popped out of the ground and were washed into the streets during heavy rainstorms

- New Orleans was initially settled by pirates, prostitutes, and murderers

- Louisiana belonged to the French, was given to the Spanish, then went back to the French before it was sold to the U.S.

- although many things in New Orleans have French names, the people who live there do not pronounce the names with a French accent

- the architecture is a mishmash of styles due to two great fires that destroyed many of the buildings; the ironwork on railings, gates, and balconies is actually Spanish, added after one of the fires, when Spain was in possession of Louisiana

- New Orleans is called "the crescent city" due to the way the Mississippi River curves around it

- the French Quarter is also called the Vieux Carré (pronounced VOO cah-RAY), which means "old square"

- most people in the French Quarter have slight southern accents, if that

- the education system leaves much to be desired...and teachers have a starting salary of $12,000 a year

- when a teenage JFK was staying at a hotel in the Quarter with his family, a young Lee Harvey Oswald was attending school down the street

- both Richard Simmons and Truman Capote are from New Orleans

- Nicholas Cage supposedly invited the present leading voodoo priestess of New Orleans to his wedding to Lisa Marie Presley, and asked her to bless the union

- Lenny Kravitz had a home in the French Quarter; although he fixed up the inside, the outside looks old and run down (which I'm sure helps to prevent break-ins)

The Vieux Carré

The French Quarter cannot be described. Not in words, not with pictures and postcards...it's something that one has to experience for oneself. It's a place where sights, sounds, and smells come together to create a unique atmosphere that I can't begin to express. The beauty of the buildings, their balconies decorated with intricately designed Spanish ironwork, the abundance of antique and thrift shops, the exquisitely crafted masks, the gas lamps, the narrow one-way streets, they are what make the French Quarter what it is. Most importantly, there is a real sense that no matter who you are, you're welcome. I've seen drunk preppie tourists welcomed in a dark, Goth bar, little old ladies prancing down Bourbon Street in wigs and long feather boas, businessmen and women in suits drinking in a bar right next to another bar crammed with horny teenagers. I fell in love with it from the moment I arrived.

It's not a perfect place, however. Though the streets were kept mostly clean, the daily bags of garbage left on the sidewalk were noticeable, and public garbage cans were sometimes overflowing. The plethora of horse drawn carriages meant that a puddle on the street might not be water. The fact that many bars never close meant seeing people drink beer at 10 am or earlier (how they do that, I don't know). And, unless you're a big drinker (which I'm not), the charm of Bourbon Street is quickly lost at night when balconies are full of drunk teenagers begging the people below to flash their breasts or drop their pants for a string of cheap beads.

Still, there are small bars/cafes that are more like Europeans pubs - small, quiet, friendly places where you don't have to yell over blaring music to be heard, where you can enjoy the warm breeze and watch the people walk by.

There is something in the air in the Vieux Carré. Something wonderful and magical and fun. It is charming. As beautiful as the massive mansions of the Garden District were, I had the distinct impression that the neighborhood was far less tolerant of any kind of deviation from the norm. The Garden District was for the rich, preppie, and popular. The French Quarter is for freaks. :) That's not exactly true, though...because I've seen the rich, the preppie, the popular in the Quarter, and they look no less out of place than the Goths, the punks, the college students...in fact, it reminded me of college. The only four years of my life that popularity didn't really exist...when girls who I know must've been popular in high school thought nothing of being friends with someone like me (certainly not one of the popular people). I thought life would be like that forever after that, but have discovered that people revert to old habits once they graduate, and I am once again on the outside looking in at those who think themselves socially "better" than me.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that such a place exists where what you are is not nearly as important as who you are. I know I'll return someday, and have a chance to once again experience the welcoming embrace of the French Quarter.

The Green Fairy

What is absinthe? Absinthe was a green liquor popular in Europe, especially amongst artists (like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec). It contained wormwood, which would produce hallucinations (or "inspiration," as the artists would say)...and was deadly. These hallucinations often involved "the green fairy," though I'm not sure if random hallucinations of a green fairy inspired a marketing fad, or if absinthe was marketed using a figured called the green fairy, which inspired the hallucinations. In any case, the bartender in The Pirate's Alley Cafe, told us that instead of happy hour, Europe had a green hour, when absinthe was sold at a cheaper price.

You can still find pure absinthe in parts of France and Czech Republic, but this little bar in the French Quarter sells Absente, which uses southern wormwood instead of regular wormwood, thus cutting out the hallucinogenic/deadly aspect.

If you've ever seen Moulin Rouge, you've seen absinthe...it's that green stuff the Bohemians are always drinking. It also makes an appearance in From Hell, as Johnny Depp's character Inspector Fred Abberline is fond of both absinthe and opium.

Anyway, I digress. The bartender served it to us the traditional way. First she put a shot of Absente in a large glass. Then she put an absinthe spoon (which looks like a spoon-sized garden trowel with small holes in it) over the glass, and placed a sugar cube on it. She poured water over the sugar cube into the glass (dissolving some of the sugar), then lit the cube on fire to caramelize it. Once she blew out the fire, she stirred the remaining sugar in. That's it! It was pretty cool to watch, and a yummy drink. So yummy, that even though I'm not a big drinker, I'm seriously considering buying myself a couple absinthe spoons and tracking down a place nearby where I can purchase Absente.

Blood 'N Guts in Louisiana

I've decided to write down several of the stories I heard during my trip...they're pretty much typical ghost stories, except for the second one (The Nice Lady Murder House), which is pretty gory. I'm going to go ahead and give it a PG-13 rating, so if you're younger than that, or can't stand to the sight of blood, maybe you should skip the second tale of macabre and go on to the others...

Part 1 - Fooled You

This isn't really a ghost story per se, but it does have to do with the dead. In the early days of New Orleans, long before the advent of modern medicine, illness spread through the city like wildfire. Yellow Fever, which is contracted via mosquito bites, was responsible for the most deaths. At the time, however, it was considered to be a highly contagious communicable disease, and entire families were wiped out in short periods of time. Because of this assumption, doctors weren't too keen on treating people afflicted with Yellow Fever, so family members were often left to care for the sick. The last stage of the disease was a deep coma from which many didn't recover...and if you did survive it, you'd most likely wake up in a tomb. That's right, without the necessary medical knowledge, families were accidentally burying people alive! So, at the time, at least, moans coming from a cemetery were most likely coming from someone who had just woken up from their coma to find themselves in their final resting place, not ghosts.

Once people figured out what was going on, many added ropes to the inside of their family crypts. In the event the "recently deceased" woke up after their funeral, they could pull the rope, which lead to a bell on the outside of the tomb. Someone would eventually hear the ringing, and hopefully come to their rescue. One man had a "chimney" built into his future tomb, so people could hear him call out in the event he was buried alive.

On a similar note, since Yellow Fever often killed several family members in a short period of time, people naturally assumed that the first dead person had come back to kill the rest of them because he/she was lonely. Uh huh. Sure. Anyway, in order to "trick" the spirits, the living members of the family would turn the lock on their gate upside down. The assumption was that the ghost would come home, see that the lock was different, and not recognize the house (i.e. "Wait a minute, my house didn't have an upside down lock! I must be in the wrong place.").

So either the living assumed the dead were stupid...or the living were stupid themselves. Maybe both.

Part 2 - The Nice Lady Murder House

*Warning, this story is not for the faint of heart. It's kinda gruesome (to about a PG-13 level), so if that kind of thing bothers you, skip ahead to the next one by clicking here.

After we went on the Haunted History Tour, I couldn't remember the name of the woman involved, so I began to refer to it as "the nice lady murder house" (thus the title of the story). In the 1830's a woman by the name of Delphine LaLaurie inhabited the mansion on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls Street. She was rich, charming, married with two children...and very friendly. She was well known for throwing frequent lavish parties, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

One night, during one of her infamous parties, a fire broke out in the kitchen. Delphine and her husband kept their guests calm as they ushered them out of the building, and made sure their servants and slaves also made it out safely. As they waited for the fire department, Delphine even had the band play music, so the party could continue outside in the street.

Firemen arrived and extinguished the flames, and were horrified to discover a female slave chained to the stove. She was badly burned, and almost immediately confessed to starting the fire. The firemen were shocked - a crime like this was punishable by death - they didn't understand why she made such an admission. When they asked her why she did it, she said it was because she knew what was happening on the third floor.

They had to check the whole building anyway, and when the firemen reached the door at the end of the hall, they removed the bar keeping it closed, and slowly opened it. They were welcomed by a smell so putrid, a sight so horrifying, that some of them vomited. Not realizing that the men at the door were there to help, a woman jumped up and ran out the window, falling to her death in front of Delphine and her guests. Slaves were chained to the walls, some of their faces mangled beyond recognition from repeated beatings. One man had been the victim of a crude sex change operation. A servant whose arms and legs had been amputated was using her chin to pull herself across the floor in an attempt to escape. A box in the corner was rattling, and when it was opened, a horribly disfigured woman was inside...all her bones had been broken before she was shoved into the box, and they had healed at cruel, unnatural angles. Apparently Delphine was going to sell her to the circus as a "crab woman."

Interestingly enough, no arrests were made that night...and by the next day, Delphine and her family had disappeared. In the weeks that followed, people swore they heard screams and moans coming from inside. The mansion was now officially haunted.

The property has changed hands several times since then, with the owner often complaining of odd behavior (seeing a woman chasing a girl with a whip, hearing strange noise, etc.).

It wasn't until the old slave quarters were converted into apartments that the floorboards were torn up...and the bodies of over 70 people were found beneath. Think about it - could Delphine had made such a quick getaway if she had taken all her slaves and servants with her? No way. But she couldn't have them running around either...not with what they knew. So she lined them up and forced them to crawl beneath the floorboards, which she nailed back into place when she was done.

The screams people had heard following the fire weren't ghosts...they were the frantic cries of people who had been buried alive!

The main building is now owned by a family/company that refuses to comment on whether or not they've witnessed any supernatural activity...however, people who live in the apartments have said that sometimes they come home and find that their furniture has been moved. Nothing is taken...their possessions are just in different places.

Part 3 - Who You Callin' a Cheat?

Once supposedly owned by the notorious pirate, Jean Lafitte, it was said that this blacksmith shop was a front for his illegal activities (mostly smuggling, I believe). Today it's the longest continuously open bar in the U.S. It's also one of the few bars in the French Quarter that actually closes (at 3am). Located at the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip Streets, Lafitte's is owned by a policeman, and employs mostly cops or ex-cops...so if you're having trouble on Bourbon Street, this is the place to run for help.

According to our tour guide, after the staff lock up for the night, they go upstairs to count the money they've brought in that day. Intercoms have been installed downstairs so they can listen for anyone breaking in while they're upstairs. On more than one occasion, they've heard raised voices, tables being overturned, and swordplay on the ground level, but then when they run downstairs, the bar is empty. Experts have been called in to study the phenomenon, but only a few words of the exchange could be made out. It seems to be an argument between two people where one is being accused of cheating the other. What else would you expect from a building once owned by a pirate...?

Part 4 - Singing in the Rain

Once upon a time, Louisiana was "founded" by the French. Time passed, and the King of France decided that the colony wasn't worth the trouble (keeping in mind that it predominantly consisted of pirates, prostitutes, and murderers), and gave it to his cousin, the King of Spain. Well, the king eventually sent one of his men to be the new governor of New Orleans...he showed up and announced, for the first time, that the residents of Louisiana were no longer French...they were Spanish.

Needless to say, this news didn't go over well. Angered by the proclamation, the six wealthiest, most powerful men in New Orleans banded a small army together, and kicked the Spanish out. A new governor was sent from Spain (who wasn't Spanish at all...this guy's name was O'Reilly, but he had been kicked out of Ireland and was now a Spanish citizen), along with a good sized army.

O'Reilly wanted to show the people of New Orleans what a tough guy he was, so he had the six men who organized the rebillion executed in Jackson Square, then laid out the bodies on the steps of St. Louis Cathedral. He ordered the corpses stay there as a reminder to everyone else what would happen to them should they try to rebel against Spanish rule. Unfortunately, it was summertime. The corpses rotted and stank up the place, which isn't good in and of itself. But it was a church. Now, I'm not particularly religious, but I certainly wouldn't leave dead bodies decomposing in front of a church. That's not cool.

The priest of the cathedral was understandably upset. Of course, he wasn't pleased with the bodies literally on his doorstep, but he was more concerned for the six men's souls, and requested permission to give them a proper Christian burial. Time and again the O'Reilly refused. Finally, on a literally dark and stormy night, the priest gathered the families of the six men so they could have a funeral mass and give them a proper burial.

The next morning, the absence of the bodies was noticed right away, and the priest was executed.

On rainy nights, it's said that you can hear voices singing the Kyrie in Pere Antoine's Alley (on the right side of the cathedral as you face the front).

Part 5 - The Man Who Would be Sultan

I actually heard this story on the Travel Channel a long time ago, so I don't remember many of the details...however, I asked our Haunted History tour guide about it, and he helped me to locate the building in question on the corner of Dauphine and Orleans Avenues.

The way the story goes, a man claiming to be the brother of a Sultan of Turkey purchased the building, and moved in with his harem, which consisted of both women and young boys. He supposedly added to his harem by convincing young girls to join it via torture (this took place in the present-day bar known as The Dungeon). The house was always noisy - laughter, music, and voices could constantly be heard by neighbors...until the day a woman walking by realized that the place was silent. When she observed blood dripping from a balcony, she called the police. What they found was a massacre - everyone had been slaughtered, presumably on orders from the real Sultan. But all the doors and windows were locked from the inside...

Part 6 - Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow

The Myrtles Plantation, located in St. Francisville, LA, is said to be one of "America's most haunted homes." I personally didn't see anything, but I did take two pictures of a mirror from two different angles (it's the only place inside the plantation photography is allowed...apparently people sometimes get their film developed and "see" people that weren't there when they took the pic), and it kinda almost looks like there's a misty face in one of them, and a shadowy figure in the other. Maybe. Or not.

So why is it haunted? It all started with a slave girl named Chloe. Like most girls, Chloe was a big fan of gossip...to the point of listening at keyholes on a regular basis. She was warned not to do so several times by the head of the household, but I guess her curiosity got the best of her. One day, as the man of the house was having an important meeting, he heard a noise coming from the other side of one of the doors...lo and behold, there was Chloe, listening in. To teach her a lesson, he chopped off her ear and sent her to live in the slave quarters (she had been working as their nanny, and as such, slept in the main house).

In an attempt to win back the family's respect, Chloe plotted to make them sick, then nurse them back to health. She volunteered to bake a cake for one of the children's birthdays, and added deadly Oleander leaves to the mix. She added "a little"...but even a little ended up being too much. The mother and two children died shortly after consuming the cake. Chloe begged the other slaves to help her escape before their master returned, but the others knew they would be severely punished if they gave her any kind of assistance. So they hung her from a tree instead.

Rumor has it that Chloe's ghost, along with the mother, two children, and another slave who was killed with a shotgun, still roam the grounds of the plantation.

*Note - With the exception of the stories of the Sultan and Myrtles Plantation, all my haunted stories were told to me by a tour guide during a Haunted History Tour. My memories of these tales were refreshed by leafing through the book I purchased, Haunted History Tour Presents: Journey into Darkness...Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans. I have not plagiarized the book in any way, shape, or form, I merely used it as a reference.