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In New Orleans the Paranormal Lies Just Below the Surface

 By Rita Cook (ritacook@wwwiz.com)

 New Orleans or ``Nawlins," as it's pronounced in the local vernacular, is a city rich with history.  In 1717, a mere flicker in the eyes of French colonists, New Orleans was already making an impression on the people that would someday call her home.

Through the years the city has also enticed the Spaniards and finally the Cajuns, but New Orleans has retained its French Creole roots.  It is still apparent today in the homes and the gardens and in the attitudes of the people. The citizens have a natural love of good food and music and there's plenty here to satisfy–incredible blues and jazz and truly exotic cuisine.

For an idea of restaurant and jazz choices visit http://nola.accesscom.net.  But great food and music are merely skimming the surface of what this famous old city has to offer: another world lies beneath. This is the

New Orleans that Anne Rice wrote about in her vampire novels, and the one that visitors can miss easily if they're not looking.  To plan your own vampire tour, visit http://www.hauntedhistorytours.com.

          There are many amusements in New Orleans, but on my recent visit I was most amused by the spooky, psychic diversions.  For a beginners' look at the spooky side of the city check out http://www.nolalive.com/haunted.  Tales of vampires, voodoo and ghosts living in homes that were built hundreds of years ago opened new doors for me as I delved deeper. The city is deeply rooted in Catholicism and voodoo.  But don't despair; a voodoo queen will not place a hex on you the moment you step foot in the city.  In fact, the legendary voodoo queen of New Orleans died in 1881. But while she was alive, she had to be reckoned with.  She was one of the most famous names in New Orleans in the 1800s, and 19th century travelers always visited her before leaving the city.

          New Orleans voodoo actually began in the African kingdom of Dahomey.  The primary god of voodoo is a snake, in most cases a large python. When the religion arrived in New Orleans, practitioners incorporated some Catholic rituals into the African religion.  Soon statues of the Virgin Mary and pictures of saints adorned many a voodoo altar, but the voodoo religion bore no resemblance to Christianity. Laveau, the voodoo queen, had a daughter of the same name.  It was said that the two of them had all the police and politicians in their power while they lived in a little cottage on St. Ann Street.  Their ability to ``voodoo" at will frightened everyone during their reign, and no one wanted to be on their bad side.

          Tales were told of 20-foot pythons, mummified babies, skeletons and good and bad luck altars all being in Laveau's home on St. Ann. Today there is still evidence of how deeply rooted the voodoo tradition is in New Orleans.  Take, for instance, the Voodoo Museum located at 724 Dumaine.  For a small fee you can tour the museum and in the back room there are two large pythons that are used in modern day voodoo ceremonies. 

The museum also offers a tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1.  On the tour you will learn voodoo recipes, curses and spells.  And more importantly, you learn a little history of this ancient and secret religion. I even learned a spell myself, how to make a wish.

 Instructions:

To be done at St. Louis Cemetery #1 at the foot of a tomb. Draw an X in red on the gravestone marker.  Kick your right foot backward three times.  Kick the grave three times with your right foot.  Knock three times.  Turn to the right three times.  Bow. Put your right hand on the X and make a wish.  Give your offering.  (Your offering can be three to five pennies.)

 You'll see a lot of red X's on those graves. Many of the graves have been robbed.  And, in New Orleans where the graves are built above ground because of the high water table, it can be quite interesting to look into an empty tomb.  During your cemetery tour, you will invariably visit the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau.  Even today you will find her tomb adorned with burnt candles, flowers and voodoo offerings.  You might even see an actual voodoo ceremony.

          Down the street from the Voodoo Museum is the Bottom of the Cup Tearoom.  The place is known nationally for the its fabulous tea leaf readings.  The woman who read my leaves came strangely close to some personal facts that she could not have known.  Ah well, be a skeptic.  But don't miss the tearoom when you visit (reservations are required). You may change your mind.

          There are several noted haunted houses in the New Orleans area.  There's the Myrtles and Oak Alley Plantation.  The Myrtles is a renowned haunted house listed by the federal government as one of only 10 authentic haunted houses in the country.  I spent the night in the garden room in the back of the house and took a tour of the place.  It was an interesting experience.  I felt as if I was in a crowded room when there were only a few of us on the tour. The following morning breakfast was served in a beautiful garden-breakfast room.  No otherworldly guests, as far as I could tell, dined with us.

The Myrtles is an antebellum mansion located in St. Francisville, La. It was named in 1796 after the lovely pink myrtle flower.  The fact that at least 10 people have died violent deaths at the Myrtles explains its haunted reputation. The first series of deaths was due to the owner of the Myrtles having an affair with one of his slaves.  The slave's name was Chloe. Chloe lived on the plantation and after the owner tired of her, she decided to seek revenge. She poisoned his wife and two daughters with oleander flowers in their dessert one evening. The other slaves were furious at what Chloe had done and decided to take matters into their own hands instead of waiting for the law.  They dragged Chloe down to the banks of the Mississippi River and hung her from a tree.  After she was dead, they tossed her limp body into the water.  Chloe is said to haunt the house along with the two young daughters.

There are other ghosts there too.  There's the French governess and the

Confederate soldier who takes up residence in the green room during May and June every year. There is an old slave graveyard in the back of the house that is surely home to a few spirits still living there. I heard there has only been one séance allowed to take place in the house. While the psychic was in a trance, one hand of the grandfather clock flew off and into the room.  The owner does allow guests to tape the ghosts.  The best way to do that is leave a tape recorder running in an empty room.  Between the unearthly noises caught on tape and some of the strange happenings, a visitor to the Myrtles can't help but wonder just how many ghosts really haunt this beautiful home. The Myrtles is located outside of New Orleans, but it is certainly worth the trip.

          Oak Alley Plantation is another old mansion that is supposedly haunted.  A picture, taken by a visitor several years ago, purports to show one of the ghosts. The picture is said to be of a lady in a black dress.  Others have claimed to see this same woman pacing the widow's walk or riding horseback underneath the massive oak trees.  The trees are estimated to be at least a century older than the home itself. Oak Alley has gone through many owners since it was built in 1830.   In 1925 it lay abandoned and boarded up for a time.  Finally, a new owner redecorated the home and returned it to its original glory. Oak Alley is in Vacherie you can eat or spend the night there as well.

          New Orleans is home to the Society for Paranormal Research International. 

This group offers a fascinating trip through some of the French Quarter's most haunted buildings. You'll also find tarot readers in the French Quarter, especially around Painter's Alley.  They will give you a quick reading out among the crowds.  The reading I got was hit or miss, but the lady did have a shop up the street that sold Love Oil, Courting Powder, Controlling Powder, Boss Fix Powder and the all important gris gris bag said to keep evil spirits away.

While you're enjoying all the spooks and goblins in this fascinating place, don't forget to stop and eat (http://www.123neworleans.com).  The town is known for its chicory, crawfish, gumbo and jambalaya.  For dessert have a Café Brulot. Never mind what it all is, you're going to need the energy to search for ghosts.

New Orleans is a city of splendor, with secrets too deep to reveal to the ordinary traveler.  Small signs make up the bigger picture.  Ghosts appear to those who believe and voodoo is there if you notice the subtleties. Look for the nine-pointed crosses atop many of the Catholic churches, this is a sign of the voodoo religion.  Or visit the popular vampire taverns and keep your eyes open for the pale flicker of a drop of blood.  Do vampires live in the French Quarter (http://www.frenchquarter.com)?  Do they lie hidden in the shadows and behind doorways on Bourbon Street after the sun goes down?  You be the judge.  Only you can decide if you dare lurk around, alone, after dark in New Orleans.  Don't say we didn't warn you.

For a live webcam of New Orleans visit http://www.neworleans.com.  To check the weather  go to http://www.insideneworleans.com/.

 Paranormal Tours in New Orleans

 Cukie's Travels will take you on a trip back in time on a ``Cities of the Dead" cemetery tour.  You learn about the history of the cemeteries while walking through two of them and riding through a third. (504) 882-3058

 Hidden Treasures visits the tomb of Marie Laveau and some of King Louis'

Muskateers. Unique architecture is observed: Greek Revival, Italian and

Egyptian. (504) 529-4507

Anne Rice's Very Own New Orleans Tour is a walking tour highlighting her property and other New Orleans sights that influenced her writing.  On Monday, Wednesday and Friday the theme is ``Inside the World of Anne Rice," and on Tuesday and Thursday the theme is ``Anne's Lost New Orleans." (504) 899-6450

 The Haunted History Tour is noted as ``more than just a tour... an event."  It's a walking tour that covers every paranormal experience in New Orleans. You get the voodoo cemetery tour, the Haunted History tour detailing the ghastly deeds of the old French Quarter, the Vampire Tour taking you into vampire taverns and into the mysterious world of the undead.  There's something for everyone on these tours. (504) 897-2030

 Magic Walking Tour takes you on a journey through cemeteries, the French Quarter, the Garden District, haunted houses and some voodoo haunts.  It's said to have a humorous edge to it as well. (504) 593-9693

  

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