Spooky. Silly. Sweet!

By William Triplett
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 24, 2004

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?

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.

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."

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