I love New Orleans. That’s incredibly high praise coming from someone who hates cities. I’d much rather hike in the woods or paddle a kayak on a quiet lake instead of spending all day shopping, then hitting up the clubs at night. But New Orleans is different…at least parts of it. The French Quarter in particular has a magical quality that nearly persuaded me (for a few brief moments, anyway) that living there might be a dream come true.
This was not my first impression of the city, however. My first impression was one of true terror—but not the kind I had hoped to find. There were no ghosts upon entering the city. No vampires. No rougarou greeting me with a vicious snarl, or an unknown creature reaching out from the depths of Lake Pontchartrain.
No. My first impression was trying to find my hotel by driving through ridiculously crowded Memorial Day weekend streets: Streets that were planned out in the late 1700s for a population of under 150,000 and haven’t been updated to accommodate hordes of drunks and 21st century traffic. There were far more drunk people in the streets than vehicles…and there were a LOT of vehicles.
I adjusted quickly. I typically do.
But how does one find ghosts, vampires, and all other creatures of lore in an environment so crowded? In a place that defines the term ‘sensory overload’?
Clearly people do. It’s known for being one of the most haunted cities in the United States, perhaps even the world. It’s filled with legends of vampires, and nearly every building has a ghost story attached to it. It seems like there’s a voodoo shop, metaphysical store, or museum dedicated to dark tourism on every block; at least in some parts of town. And yet, though every street has a scary story to tell, I spent a week there and didn’t find even one paranormal entity.
Of course, part of that is likely because I didn’t go there specifically looking for them. That surely would have made a difference. When I go back (of course I’m going back) it will be better. I’ll find so much more of the unknown. I know this, because I’ve identified the steps needed to track down all the ghosties and the beasties of the Big Easy.
- Stay in the older areas.
Stay in the areas where the inhabitants have gone to great lengths to keep history alive. Sure, there are probably ghosts in some of the modern, trendy buildings downtown, but they may be a bit harder to find. See, there’s this theory floating around the paranormal community that communicating with spirits attracts more spirits, and encourages the ones that were already there to be more active. In some cases, it has even been said that this can even attract ghosts to places where there weren’t originally any ghosts. And the old parts of town, the spaces that have kept their history alive, have ghost stories being told on the streets all day and well into the night. So, even if there weren’t ghosts there before, there certainly are now.
2. Go outside. No… The REAL outside.
Not everyone knows this, but there are two outsides. There’s the real outside, and the kind of outside.
Kind of outside includes streets and sidewalks, restaurant patios, Jackson Square, and any other city space where there’s not a roof over your head or walls around you, but you’re still surrounded by bricks, cement, and metal instead of nature. Sure, you’re technically outside. You’ll get wet if it rains. But you’re not really outside. Real outside means you’re actually out in nature. It means you can look around without seeing a row of buildings or a line of cars. Your paths are made of dirt or rocks, not pavement.
So, go camping on the shores Lake Pontchartrain. Spend a night or two in a cabin in one of the many natural areas outside of the city. You’re not going to see a rougarou on Bourbon Street. There are no swamp lights at Dat Dog.
Of course, you should still go to all those other places. It would be silly to visit New Orleans without checking out Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, and Dat Dog (or any of the other amazing restaurants the city has to offer). But take a little time to enjoy the peace, quite, and cryptids that the bayou has to offer.
3. Talk to the Locals
We went on tours every night, the entire week we were in NOLA. Some days, we did two per day. Each one was worth it, each guide with their own way of infusing their stories with their own personality. It brought the history to life.
However, there was one that stuck with me in a more real way than the others. I wish I could remember the woman’s name. She was different from the other guides. There were no theatrics. There was no elaborate story telling or catchy moments created to make people gasp. We didn’t go to the main attractions. I don’t know if it was because my sister and I were the only people on that particular tour, or if it’s just the way she does things. Either way, she took us to places the other tours didn’t. She took us down quiet streets and along the river at sunset. She took us past her old house, and the home of a friend, and told us her personal ghost stories. She told us of her own experiences in this haunted city.
When we go back, I plan to seek out more of that. I remember the first person who talked to us, other than the front desk people at the hotel. He was an exuberant man, sitting on the steps of a home somewhere between our hotel and Bourbon Street. I had my good camera around my neck, and he commented that I must be a photographer, and that I should take his picture. He said that HE was what New Orleans looked like; that he’d lived there his whole life. I took his picture, and we wished each other good days.
Looking back, I’m sure he had some amazing stories. He probably could have told us where to find the best ghosts, if only I would have asked.
4. Avoid the Crowds
I have a full time job in addition to this blog, other writing projects, and the Sister’s and Spirits podcast, so my sister and I went to NOLA when we were both able to get time off work, which happened to be the week of Memorial Day. It was busy. Much more crowded than either of us would have preferred. It was still an amazing trip, but we had to compete for the attention of the ghosts more so than what would have been ideal. It would be better to go when it’s quiet, when you could share the spaces with the spirits in a more intimate setting; when you could enjoy their company during a time that they’re not burnt out from hundreds of people trying to take their picture every day. Best to avoid the crowds of the living if you want to find the crowds of the dead.
5. Be Quite
This one is probably self-explanatory, but I’ll elaborate anyway because, well…that’s just who I am as a person. But also because New Orleans is not the type of place where ‘quiet’ comes naturally. In a place where activity is buzzing all around you, it can be hard to be still—to quiet your mind and your voice. It can be hard to draw your attention to a shadowy doorway when the homeless, the merchants, and the cat-callers are vying for your attention every few feet. It’s difficult to lift your eyes and gaze at a figure in a second story window when there are brilliant musicians and artists performing all around you. And how do you remember to sit quietly and scan the darkened corners of a bar for specters and spirits, when you only ducked in to evade a man, clearly under the influence of something not-quite-legal, who had been following you for the past two blocks? (true story)
Yes, it’s hard to be quite. Because New Orleans is not a quiet place. But surely it will be worth the effort when you catch a glimpse of something otherworldly, something unknown.
And when you do catch that glimpse into the world of the paranormal, as so many have in a city well known for its hauntings and its vampires:
Let me know where you were.
Let me know what you saw.
Did I miss anything? Or do you have a NOLA experience you’d like to share?
Let me know in the comments.