New Orleans is also Voodoo Central -- the main port through which the West Indian religion entered the United States, a result of the slave trade. Both as product and spooky belief system, voodoo remains alive and well here. The Quarter is even home to a voodoo museum.
Speaking of slavery: Witnessing New Orleans's tragic practice of it, particularly the auctioning of new arrivals, was one of the principal motives that drove one-time resident Harriet Beecher Stowe to write "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
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
Need more? Horror novelist Anne Rice lives in the Garden District. The best-selling vampire Lestat, as well as a supporting cast of demons and evil spirits popular with millions of readers everywhere, were born here. And just outside of town, beneath the Huey P. Long Bridge on the way to Metairie, stands the House of Shock, described by a local paper as "the over-the-top horror experience, haunted house, freak show and pyrotechnic extravaganza that's been scaring the hell out of New Orleans for . . . years."
As I make my way down a side street, people in costume are already appearing, even though the sun is still up. Suddenly I see the Incredible Hulk in his car, looking for a parking space. He agrees to pause for a picture.
New Orleans is one of those cities where there's almost too much to do, a point made graphic even in just trying to decide which supernatural tour to take. Vampire tour? Cemeteries tour? Voodoo tour? Garden District ghost tour?
After reading a brochure promising "an eerie, chilling yet fun-filled adventure" complete with a visit to "a haunted bar along the way," I opt for "Ghosts of the French Quarter," an after-dark walking tour. The thought of a glass of wine to go with what I hope will be a splendidly cheesy evening is too appealing.
I know I am in capable hands when I arrive at the meeting point -- Rev. Zombie's Voodoo Shop on St. Peter Street -- to be greeted by a guide who goes by Midian, a name charged with both Biblical and occult meaning. Despite the humidity, he sports a long scarf, a tall hat and a tattered coat and tails. He solemnly gives each of us in the group a set of cheap, white plastic beads, which, he says, "have been blessed by a voodoo priestess for good luck. Don't lose them." This alone is worth the $18 ticket.
A great part of the Quarter's charm is, of course, its thick atmosphere of history. The Vieux Carre formed the original settlement of the city, and the French and Spanish influences are still evident, most obviously in the architecture. Wrought-iron balconies and wooden shutters, some in better condition than others, festoon stucco buildings along narrow streets. Sometimes garish and overlit, many of the buildings look like spectacular showboats in dry dock.
Gas lamps -- or electric lamps skillfully made to look like them -- seem to be everywhere. Papier-mache skeletons and witches strung from post to post between buildings serve as a sort of cartoon evocation of the Quarter's centuries-old decadent spirit(s).