I finally made a longtime dream come true and spent time in the City That Care Forgot. I primarily blame Anne Rice’s vivid imagery for this, having poured through Interview with the Vampire through to Memnoch as each book in the series hit the bookstore shelf. Her words brought New Orleans to life for me, so much so that once I arrived, it was familiar as though I had only just returned.
Best of all, I arrived the day after Halloween and the day before Fête Ghede. What’s Fête Ghede? All Souls Day, technically. But really, in Vodun, it’s the day to celebrate Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte, the loa and keepers of the cemetery and the dead…similar to Day of the Dead. It kicks off Voodoo Week in Nola. In the Bay Area, we have to travel and hunt hard to find horrific haunted houses and fun Halloween events. In Nola, you’re surrounded by skeletons, wraiths, hanging eyeballs, voodoo wards and the like.
I have always absolutely loved horror, supernatural and grisly tales of ghostly revenge. It started around eight or so with Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck. From there, it was Stephen King for breakfast, eventually Dean Koontz for lunch, and gore kicked up a notch with Clive Barker for dinner. While the other middle schoolers read Judy Blume, I raced past the store’s youth bookshelves to hunt for Edgar Alan Poe and similar tales of decay with ghoulish delight. This is why I instantly fell in love with New Orleans. Every nook and cranny has a dark and twisted story full of intrigue. Every hotel, every establishment in the French Quarter has something to share, a warning to its patrons: “Don’t sit there, that’s Jean Laffite’s favorite chair,” or “Allister Crowley sat on that bar stool as he composed his first compendium of the dead”. Even the altars to famed Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau and her equally infamous daughters might knock or bang if you don’t leave a token of respect, they say.
If you go, like me, you can book a different walking tour for every day and night of the week. There are voodoo and witch tours, vampire walks, and of course, the ghost and cemetery tours, my personal favorite. And when you’re simply out and about in the French Quarter, you’re as likely to find a crepe shop as you are a hoodoo hut, perhaps even side by side.
Whether or not you believe the stories told is irrelevant. It’s the stories themselves that are wonderful, filling your head with scenes from the past and making you wonder deliciously as you peek into an old window, is something there? Did that shadow move? Did that chandelier tinkle in the wind or was it something more?
As a writer and a story teller, the places that hold the most superstition carry the best story fodder you could ever hope for. It all slinks into your imagination and takes hold….even the most truthful facts of each location end up embellished by years of added details from various story tellers. This is writing gold. Listen to the tales and speculations to which a multitude of imaginations throughout time have added their own spin, bringing you the cream of the crop in creep. Not that every story is merely that. Come to think of it, there were historical tours in which truthful details about the cemeteries themselves didn’t need any embellishment at all to make your skin crawl. (Did you know that the graves are mostly above ground? The details about what happens to the bodies below and above ground post mortem are fascinating.)
Sure, you can visit Nola to hit Bourbon St like a college senior and do the bar-hopping buzz-o-rama thing, but that’s not for me. When you’ve got a little over a week to soak up as much supernatural and jaw-dropping history as you can in such a fascinating place, there’s no time to waste. (Did you know Bourbon Street was not named for the alcohol, but instead after the Spanish family that came into power when France sold it to Spain?)
Now that I’ve been, I don’t just want to go back, I need to go back. Any excuse will do. Ping me anytime you want a pal to hit the cracked slate streets with. We’ll ghost hunt under the full moon and then swap “what did YOU see” stories over a chicory latte at Café Du Monde by the sparkling Mississippi river’s edge. F’true, y’all. Ping me.