Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the Quarter's ghosts are steeped in its history, which is as grand and grotesque as it gets. The LaLaurie Mansion, for instance, is a gray, antebellum monstrosity on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls streets. Midian says that in 1834 a fire broke out in the mansion, and as rescuers entered the attic they found buckets of blood and human limbs along with the mutilated bodies of seven torture victims, barely alive.
Suspicion fell first on Dr. Louis LaLaurie, who, it was said, conducted depraved medical experiments in the attic. But "experts," Midian says, now believe his wife, Delphine, was a vengeful, homicidal maniac because the victims were all slaves: As a child she had seen her father decapitated in a slave riot. But the LaLaurie family escaped before they could be arrested.
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
No one lived in or went near the mansion for 40 years, when Italian immigrant families moved into it. Soon reports of blood-covered apparitions and midnight screams became common. One young mother swore she awoke in the middle of the night to find a sock shoved into the mouth of one of her babies. Locals still refer to the LaLaurie horror as "the blemish of our city."
"Oooooooooooooooh!" a voice calls out in mock fear. A heckler leaning out of his car window as he cruises by. "Yeah, yeah," Midian says, turning toward him as if about to give him some unsolicited advice. Instead, Midian then turns back toward us and says, "Shall we move on?"
We stroll to Jackson Square, essentially the courtyard of the Quarter, where the Place D'Armes Hotel and several dozen other hotels, restaurants and shops are located. Midian says some vacationing guests at the Place D'Armes, upon returning home, have had their film developed only to discover that someone, or something, took photos of them asleep in their hotel bed.
On Chartres Street we come up to the Beauregard-Keyes House, which Confederate Gen. Pierre Beauregard called home in 1865-66. Midian says that in the 1940s a woman who worked there claimed to have seen the spirit of the old general tending to ghosts of horribly wounded soldiers (faces blown off, bleeding stumps) from the Battle of Shiloh. Similar reports continue to this day.
Back on Royal Street, Midian leads us to the Bottom of the Teacup Tearoom, where, he tells us, "A long time ago, an older man accidentally caused the death of his 16-year-old girlfriend, Julie, who used meet him here. He drank himself to death out of guilt. Both their spirits have been seen, especially hers." In fact, he adds, a television documentary was made about Julie. "During the filming, one of the cameramen said she appeared and flirted with the whole crew."
Time for that glass of wine! Fortunately, we now arrive at the Jean Lafitte's bar on St. Phillip Street, which crosses a far end of Bourbon Street. Basically a sagging 18th-century brick hut, it was originally a blacksmith shop built and owned by the nefarious pirate whose name it bears. Tonight the staff is dressed as vampires, and Barry White blasts from the stereo.
After getting our drinks, we gather outside around Midian, who then informs us that after closing time, bartenders have regularly heard what sound like voices in the basement, audible through the house intercom system, arguing in Spanish and French, and it always ends the same way -- "with a throat-cutting."
I decide against wandering back inside and asking any of the bartenders if that's true. Why ruin a good story?