Day 3 in New Orleans: The Darker Side of its History

The 3 scratch symbol is etched all over one of Marie Laveau's suspected tomb.
One of 3 suspected tombs of Marie Laveau.

Though it would bring more tours, Day 3 in New Orleans is a little different from the first two.  We are finally exploring a graveyard, yet another way by which Crescent City sets itself apart from so many others.  Then, it’s on to the World War II museum before the nightly ghost tour.

As it turns out, our guide for St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was the same person as our French Quarter tour.  Clearly, this lady knows quite a bit about the Big Easy.  We meet just outside of the gates and go over a few quick rules.  It is a historical place owned by the Roman Catholic Church, so respect for the graves is important while vandalism is dealt with harshly.

And while we’re on the subject, most of the New Orleans graves are actually tombs.  Given the city’s geography as a swamp, and considering most of it is below sea level (“most” because the French Quarter is actually not), the dead were put in tombs rather than buried in the ground so they don’t rise from the grave during heavy rains.  According to the tour, these tombs – completely above ground – would hold entire families in a manner that could only happen in New Orleans.  During the city’s scorching summer months, these tombs would essentially act as an oven, causing corpses to decay into dust much more quickly.  They would then brush the ashes back before adding newly deceased relatives.

Tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

Another interesting faucet of this cemetery: it is strongly believed to be the resting place of Marie Laveau.  A total of three tombs are believed to hold her remains.  Speaking of 3, patterns of 3 X’s are drawn or scratched in all of her alleged tombs, a symbol that is supposed to grant good fortune.  Of course, after learning more about the infamous Voodoo queen during the respective tour, there is no reason to believe in this practice (and it only damages the cemetery’s historical features).  Why would the Roman Catholic Church allow this?  Try the tour for yourself to find out.

The 3 scratch symbol is etched all over one of Marie Laveau's suspected tomb.

One of 3 suspected tombs of Marie Laveau.

There are some oddities in the cemetery as well.  Nicholas Cage, a former property owner in New Orleans, actually purchased a tomb here.  Though owned by the Roman Catholic Church, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 does have a Protestant section towards the back.  Many of the surrounding walls themselves also serve as tombs, and those along the bottom have actually been slowly sinking over time.  Apparently, these graves will get buried one way or another…

The bottom row of tombs slowly sinking into the ground.

The partially sunken lower row of tombs.

The World War II Museum

After the cemetery tour, we veer from our usual course and head to the Warehouse District for a visit to the World War II Museum.  It certainly sets a different tone for our trip, but an important one to our nation’s history.  We find that it is actually a complex of several buildings, each fairly large.  Exploring this will definitely take longer than we thought.  It’s one day after Veteran’s Day, so the museum is also a little more crowded than normal.

The lobby resembles a train station, with a fake rail car beginning the journey. There are also various World War II vehicles and machinery on display, including an amphibious Jeep.  I had no idea that such a marvel existed before now. As such, acquiring one of my own has become my new life’s goal.  Inside, we are given a pass that, when scanned by the computer, will tell us the story of a soldier who served in the war.  These work at various stations throughout the museum.   We are also shown a quick introductory video while screens in the “windows” simulate movement.

An amphibious Jeep used during World War II

A Jeep designed for both land and water. It wasn’t as effective as hoped, but I still NEED one.

Experiencing World War II’s Varied Environments

Without revealing too much, I will say that the museum emulates different faucets of the war throughout. It’s like I’m enjoying a life-sized interactive history lesson of World War II. One moment, I’m standing in the hull of a submarine.  The next, I’m in the middle of a snow covered forest surrounded by artillery. It’s as if we’re in the same environments trekked by U.S. soldiers during World War II, though without the constant gun fire, persistent exposure and rationed supplies. Even with such realistic renditions, it’s impossible to imagine the conditions that became life for our soldiers.  Various World War II memorabilia, from uniforms to military orders, can be found encased along the way.

the museum also features a “4-D” documentary starring Tom Hanks. It uses props, multilayered screens and specialized seats to put us in the action. A superior sound system brings it to life, and is perhaps a little too life like at times. Needless to say, it’s definitely worth seeing the movie.

New Orleans Ghost Tour

It’s only fair to mention that the World War II Museum can easily take an entire day.  We want to take some time to explore the Warehouse District, but are unable to since it’s almost time for our ghost tour by the time we finally leave. It’s certainly hard to think of a better city for it, and we are eager to learn more about the Crescent City’s haunted history. Of course, we have already learned some of the lure after our voodoo tour. But this, well, would introduce us to a much darker side of the city.

The tour group meets at the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral on a cobblestone street lined with psychics. Faintly lit candles dimly reveal their faces and those of their clientele. Spotlights cast an ominous glow across the chapel. The church itself doesn’t have much of a haunted history, though we don’t have to venture far to find places that do.

The Haunted History of New Orleans

So much of what we learn is, sadly, the same. New Orleans is a city whose history is wrought with violence, betrayal and the occult. It is truly frightening and unimaginable to consider so much of what has happened here. One such infamous site is the actual house of Madam Lalaurie. Portrayed by Kathy Bates in American Horror Story, the real woman was just as disturbed as her televised counterpart. She would often excuse herself from social events – right in her home – to go upstairs and torment her slaves in a third-floor torture chamber (a room which is pointed out to us by our guide).

The actual house may not really be as large as the one depicted in the show, but it’s certainly cursed enough to match. No resident have ever remained for more than a couple of years. So many of its former owners, including Nicholas Cage, believe themselves cursed for ever stepping foot in the home. It is currently owned by an oil tycoon, but who knows how long that may last for?

The House of Madame Delphine LaLaurie

The house of LaLaurie

An Actual Vampire in the Crescent City?

We also visit an older, but still charming, house. Charming, at least, until we learn its history. We are told that it once housed a man so violent that his actions would actually inspire the vampire legend. In fact, he was actually Ann Rice’s inspiration for the famed character Lestat. Some believed he may have truly been a vampire, as his legacy would later reveal actions that seemed impossible to humans. Regardless, though, his house was once filled with corpses that had been drained of their blood.

The home of a serial killer and supposed vampire partially lit at night

the Roman Catholic Church’s Own New Orleans Enigma

And then, there’s a twist from the Roman Catholic Church of all places. It remains hidden in one of their many properties in New Orleans, the Ursuline Convent complex. This building was once used, among other things, to house young French women who were tricked into coming here due to a lack of eligible wives. They were housed in the adjacent building while being prepped and groomed for life in New Orleans. What’s interesting about this building is that the Ursuline’s Third floor is completely off limits. Why? No one knows.

But regardless of  whatever secret the Ursuline Convent’s third story holds, not even firemen are permitted access, which seems to violate coding laws. Yet the measure stands, and the Ursuline Convent’s third floor is protected by barriers, armed guards and video surveillance.  Over the years, several dead bodies have been found at the doorsteps of the church, and while many of those murders remain unsolved, it is often believed that the secrets in the Ursuline Covent’s third story holds an answer.

While exploring this unusual secret of the city, another famous New Orleans event, a wedding parade, began marching down the street.  It’s interesting to consider such a joyous event occurring just outside of an area known for unspeakable horrors.

A New Orleans wedding parade

And that, friends, is hardly an introduction to the rich history of ghosts in New Orleans. There was definitely much to see and learn for Day 3 in the Big Easy.  Yet, it already feels like we’ve been here so much longer.  We would be leaving the next day, though not before exploring a few more of the city’s surprises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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