by Clyde Linsley
This week we have a fun guest post from mystery author Clyde Linsley about New Orleans, the setting for his mystery novel Old River and a perfect town to talk about during the Halloween season. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Old River. We also have a link to order it from Amazon.
Mention the words “holiday” and “New Orleans” in a sentence, and a lot of folks immediately think of Mardi Gras. Some people may think of a religious holiday, like Easter or Christmas, or the opening day of the Saints’ NFL season, or Louis Armstrong’s birthday, or the beginning of French Quarter Days, or the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. All of these occasions are observed in the unique New Orleans style, but they aren’t the days that come to my mind.
I think of Halloween.
Halloween is the day that New Orleans was made for – not officially, of course, but naturally and unavoidably. Consider: This is a city whose residents walk the streets and sidewalks dressed (or undressed) in outlandish costumes, who consume…interesting…beverages right on the street, eat everything in sight (especially if it’s fattening), and sing bawdy songs at the tops of their lungs. That certainly sounds like New Orleans to me.
But there’s another reason why I always think of New Orleans on Halloween: ghosts.
Ghosts love New Orleans; it’s the city where dead people go to live it up. And New Orleanians love ghosts.
I don’t know if the city fathers have ever conducted a census of supernatural beings; wraiths and spectres are rather difficult to pin down, after all. But if popular mythology can be believed, there are nearly as many dead people in the city as there are undead people. Everybody you meet knows a ghost, or knows somebody who knows a ghost, and they will tell you about them at the least opportunity and in considerable detail. And all those above-ground cemeteries, with the tombs arranged as if in regular city blocks, would lead you to believe that the dead are always out and about.
In the city’s oldest cemetery, St. Louis No. 1, you can see evidence that the local folks think the dead are still with us. At the tomb popularly identified as the resting place of Marie Laveau, the Nineteenth Century “queen” of voodoo, there are often marks in brick clay, left by Marie’s supplicants, who have come to ask a favor: affection from a lover, vengeance against an enemy, that sort of thing. It was customary to leave a small offering at her tomb, in gratitude. Not surprisingly, transactions of this nature also attract a less desirable crowd, people bent on diverting some of these offerings into their own pockets, so the archdiocese has begun limiting visitors to the cemeteries. You can go only with a licensed guide.
Just so you know.
But if you want to see ghosts, New Orleans offers other options – quite some number of them. The city teems with unquiet spirits; there are so many, in so many places, that the business of escorting curious visitors has spawned a curious (but bustling) sideline to the local tourism industry. There are walking tours devoted to places associated with ghostly apparitions, voodoo, and the like. Most of these places are located in the French Quarter (the original French city), or the Garden District, which is the “American” neighborhood. Most of these haunted houses are in private hands and charge for admission. On the other hand, the tours aren’t free, either, so take your choice.
Remember that New Orleans is an old city. It has had a long history that has led naturally (well, supernaturally) to a considerable number of hauntings over the years. Following is a sampling of places – an appetizer rather than an entrée. I apologize if I’ve left out your favorite:
The LaLaurie House, 1140 Royal Street: Delphine Lalaurie was a fixture in antebellum New Orleans society who hosted dinner parties in which her guests were served by a number of household slaves. The servants did their jobs, but guests thought the servants looked cowed, beaten down. People talked, and suspicions ran free.
One night a fire started in the house. When neighbors broke in to rescue survivors, they found a number of servants chained to an upstairs wall, obviously beaten, some of them dead, with body parts strewn around the room. Confronted with this gruesome sight, the mood of the crowd grew ugly. As they gathered outside the house, a carriage broke through the onlookers and sped away from the angry mob, with Madame LaLaurie inside. The rumors soon began: eerie voices of weeping and agonized servants emanated from that upstairs room. The unfortunate slaves had all been removed, but the voices of the dead, apparently, lived on. Their tormented cries could be heard at night, even in an empty house.
The house has had several owners since then, including, for a while, the actor Nicholas Cage. He sold it. The present owners don’t accept visitors. The house is easy enough to find, but you‘ll have to admire it from the street.
Beauregard-Keyes House, 1113 Chartres St: Novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes, best known as the author of “Dinner at Antoine’s,” bought this pre-Civil War mansion early in the Twentieth Century and restored it to something of its former glory. Its claim to fame was that for four years its resident was Confederate Gen. Pierre G. Beauregard, the man who directed the firing on Fort Sumter, who lived there from 1866-68. A number of people have lived in the house at one time or another, and some of them, reportedly, remain.
Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal St.: one of the most prestigious hotels in a city that has more than its share. It has what some might consider the nearly perfect location: right on Royal Street, just two blocks from Canal Street, the main drag. But the Monteleone has something that newer, more modern hotels lack: its own resident cast of principal spooks. There’s a small child who died of a fever (so we’re told), and a former hotel employee who still wanders the halls, apparently unaware that he is deceased. And there are the physical phenomena: doors that unlock themselves, and an elevator that stops and opens on the wrong floor. (Of course, I’ve experienced that particular phenomenon in much newer establishments, without even a single spook to take the blame. Just my luck.)
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, 914Bourbon St.: Bet you didn’t know that New Orleans’ favorite pirate, Jean Lafitte, one of the heroes of the Battle of New Orleans, was a blacksmith on the side. I didn’t know it, either, and many historians doubt that it’s true, but it’s a good story. The legend is that Lafitte operated this shop as a front for dispensing the proceeds from his other business. The building predates Lafitte, dating back to 1722.
It isn’t a blacksmith shop today (if indeed it ever was). It’s a bar – a business considered slightly more respectable than piracy – at least in New Orleans. I’m mentioning it here because the Great Pirate is still reputed to drop by for a drink. If you happen to be there when he visits, it might be advisable to buy him a round or two, just to stay on his good side.
Before you leave town, you should wander out to City Park – it’s on one of the streetcar lines – and look for the Dueling Oaks, where Creole aristocrats used to settle their grievances with a sword or a pistol. They’re still called the Dueling Oaks, although I’m told only one of the ancient live oak trees survives. If you’ve never seen one, it’s worth the trip.
To enter to win a copy of Old River, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “river,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 29, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories (including more Halloween ones) in our mystery section and watch for many more Halloween short stories this month.
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