“It’s not a ghost tour; it’s a parapsychology expedition,” explained our guide, Kate as we made our way through New Orleans’ historic French Quarter after dark. She may have been technically correct, but it in truth we were all there for one reason — to try to see a ghost.
For my part, I feet ghost-hunting is a little safer with a group.
New Orleans is said to be one of the world’s most haunted cities. Perhaps it is the fact that it has such a sordid past filled with legends involving pirates, slaves, voodoo curses, vampires and murderers. Any local who spends time in the French Quarter will have a ghost story to tell, but they will also tell you that some places are more haunted than others.
Our expedition promised to take us to the most haunted places in the Big Easy and to let us use scientific equipment to detect the paranormal.
The first stop on the expedition was 635 Toulouse St. We stood outside the courtyard of an old apartment complex and our guide asked us to put our arms through the wrought iron gates and see if we could feel or sense anything in the courtyard.
Although I didn’t really expect to feel anything when I put my arms through the bars, I was surprised to feel a slight tingling sensation spreading up my arm. It is possible that it might just have been a circulation issue, but Kate told us that a tingling sensation was common when one encountered “a presence.”
She said that the courtyard was actively haunted. In the early 1900s, a banker carved up his wife’s face because he was jealous and afraid that she was cheating on him. The banker and his wife both died many years ago, but locals say their spirits still linger in the courtyard.
Our next stop was a condemned building a short walk away. Again, we were asked to place our hands through the bars on the window to feel inside. Kate said the building once served as slave quarters and that sometimes people would see a child or feel someone take their hand when they inserted it through the window.
I really, really didn’t want to feel anything take my hand, but I placed it through the window anyway. Fortunately, I didn’t feel anything this time.
Kate explained some of the history of New Orleans as we made our way to our next stop at the Pharmacy Museum on Chartres Street. Dr. Louis Duffalo was a physician and the first registered pharmacist in the United States. In 1823, he built the townhouse and practised there for 35 years.
After his death, Dr. Dupas purchased the building. Legend has it that Dr. Dupas conducted experiments on pregnant slaves and other people who had unknown conditions. He made potions using voodoo ingredients, herbal remedies and other medicines and often gave his patients large doses with no consideration for the side-effects.
Many of the slaves died as a result of these experiments and their bodies were dumped through a trap door on the second floor and taken out of the city after dark.
The staff at the museum claim to have seen the spirit of a man in a brown suit and a white lab coat on the first and second floors of the building who gives off such powerful negative energy that it can be felt when standing outside the building. Pregnant women are said to be particularly sensitive to the negative energy of this presence.
We stopped next on Royal Street outside the Supreme Court of Louisiana. In 1930, two witnesses to a mob hit were shot inside the courtroom before they could testify in an important court case against the Mafia.
There are at least three apparitions that are said to wander the halls of the building. Some say they are the ghosts of the two witnesses who died that day and the ghost of the prosecuting attorney in the case. According to Kate, when they filmed the movie JFK, some of the security personnel encountered these apparitions and were so frightened that they left the job.
Our final stop was at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel on Dauphine Street. The site has a fascinating past and the hotel can trace its roots back to 1775. The hotel bar was once May Bailey’s Place, one of the better-known brothels in the red light district.
I felt a little bit like a Ghostbuster when Kate divided the group into teams and sent us into a room at the back of the hotel with special equipment designed to detect paranormal activity.
One device was designed to measure wind temperature and wind speed, another was used to detect electromagnetic fields, a temperature probe was used to detect sudden changes in temperature, and a divining rod was used to detect and communicate with ghosts.
We wandered around Suite 110 with flashlights in the dark and took readings using the instruments at regular intervals. Although I did not detect anything with my wind speed device, we did detect a temperature drop in the back right hand corner of the room near the closet. Another group detected electromagnetic activity in the same spot.
According to Kate, a young couple was brutally tortured and murdered by pirates in the 1700s at the site and the pair has stayed in the room ever since that time.
Halloween has a way of making you ponder the paranormal. If you’re wondering whether ghosts are real or not, I can’t really say for sure. We didn’t actually see a ghost on our parapsychology expedition, but we might have felt one.
If you go:
• Haunted tours are incredibly popular in New Orleans. Our ghost expedition was arranged through the International Society for Paranormal Research located at 718 Orleans Ave. in New Orleans. Expeditions take place nightly at 8:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. A ghost expedition as described will cost about US$40 per person. For more information, visit their website at ghostexpeditions.com or call: 504-585-1408.
• Our ghost tour guide said that cemeteries are often haunted places. Regardless, a cemetery tour in New Orleans can be fascinating. In New Orleans, bodies are buried above ground and there are many bodies inside one tomb. A cemetery tour can give you a new perspective on life and death in New Orleans. You may even recognize some of the cemeteries from favourite Halloween movies, such as Interview with a Vampire.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, T4R 1M9.