The afternoon of the last day of October -- mere hours before the merry mayhem begins -- and I'm in Dark Entry, a one-stop dungeon shop on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, trying to get an answer to the question that's been bugging me ever since arriving in this city notorious for bad behavior and bizarre attire.
Halloween in New Orleans: How can you tell?
A reveler dressed as Mother Nature joins a New Orleans Halloween parade.
(Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune)
If skeletons dropped from the ceiling scare you, do not go to the House of Shock (4951 River Rd., Jefferson, www.houseofshock.com), a 20,000-square-foot space in which every satanic nightmare and creepy hallucination seems to have come to life. Young men and women dressed as demons, their spawn or their acolytes execute this intensely interactive experience with such conviction -- and gory accouterments -- that area church leaders once broke in to sprinkle holy water all over the place. As one local reporter wrote about what it feels like to come out of the House of Shock: "Deep down all you want to do is lie on the ground and suck your thumb." Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings only in October. Tickets $15 Fridays and Saturdays, $10 Sundays.
Prefer to confront your demons on the street? Supernatural-themed tours are popular all year long, but they become almost mandatory at Halloween. Here are three major operators who can hook you up with a group tour tailored to your interests, fears or sense of humor.
Haunted History Tours, 504-861-2727, www.hauntedhistorytours.com. Offerings include a Vampire Tour, Voodoo/Witchcraft Tour, Cemetery Tour, Ghosts of the Garden District, and Ghosts of the French Quarter Tour. Cost: $18.
Bloody Mary Tours, 504-523-7684, www.bloodymarystours.com. Options include Moonlight Graveyard Tour, Tour of the Undead, Gravestones and Ghosts Tour, Ghost Vampire Voodoo Trilogy Tour, and Marie Laveau Legacy Tour. Cost: Usually $20 in advance, $25 at the start of the group tour.
Historic New Orleans Tours, 504-947-2120, www.tourneworleans.com. Offerings include Haunted French Quarter Walk, Cemetery/Voodoo History Tour, and Garden District/Cemetery Tour. Cost: $14-$15.
-- William Triplett
Seems this would be a good place to inquire, since the kinds of things for sale (wait, isn't that illegal?) would suggest that the people who work here have probably seen it all, and then some.
"It's a lot more acceptable to people, especially tourists, to come into a shop like this around this time," a young, black-clad salesman behind the counter tells me. "On Halloween, everyone can be a little goth."
"So these aren't your usual customers," I say, referring to the dozen or so middle-aged men and women in running shoes, colorful shorts and tops trying on steel restraints and leather master/slave outfits as many other young, black-clad shoppers mill about.
"Definitely not," he replies with just a trace of a malicious grin.
I ask his name: It's Marc David Chapman. When I note that despite the different spelling, people may always associate him with Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's murderer, he says, "I know. Sweet."
Everybody raves about Mardi Gras, but this little interlude is more supporting evidence for my suspicion that Halloween may be closer to the true soul of New Orleans, known to many as the Crescent City, but known to -- and loved by -- just as many others as the City of the Dead.
After all, the dead have a special place here -- above ground, often in gorgeous, decaying crypts. The city's mud foundations make below-ground burial impossible. Cemeteries -- some crumbling and dangerous -- are a huge attraction here.
Moreover, New Orleans's dead have a reputation for restlessness. Indeed, tourism literature and Web sites of all kinds claim that this is "the most haunted city in America." Just about every house, establishment and neighborhood boasts a wandering spirit. Even the bed-and-breakfast I'm staying in -- a sprawling Victorian manse in the Garden District -- has a room with a ghostly occupant that refuses to leave, according to the owners.