Back to Friday in New Orleans

The John James Audobon:  Cruising to the Gators

Saturday I slept a bit late (after spending the night before up late on the laptop working on the pictures and associated webpage from Friday's activities), and once I hit the French Quarter I walked to the riverside to pick up a combined ticket for the Aquarium of the Americas, the Audobon Zoo, and a round trip on the John James Audobon riverboat down the Mississippi River between the two.

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These pictures are of the ship and the view of the Mississippi from its decks -- note the display attached to the rail in the picture on the right, of common invertebrates of the region. The opposite rail had a matching display of local mammals. (The assumption being that people visiting the zoo, aquarium, or both, would presumably be interested in the wildlife they might spot along the way.)

I took a *lot* of pictures at both the zoo and the aquarium, but I won't inflict them on anyone looking over these pages just to see the voodoo and cemetery stuff. So I put them on separate pages (that link back to this one once you're done looking):

The Audobon Zoo The Aquarium of the Americas

After I came out of the aquarium, I wandered back to Bourbon Street and hit one of those lovely pizza-by-the-slice/daiquiri places. A slice of cheese pizza later, I wandered back onto the streets, banana daiquiri in hand, and found my way to the Historical Pharmacy Museum on Chartres St. Which may or may not have been open by then (a bit after 6PM), but was definitely off-limits to anyone with food or drink in hand. So I headed back to the riverside and found a bench to park on and rest my aching feet. I found myself sitting in front of the Natchez again...

Natchez2.JPG (55203 bytes)They were doing something on board the ship. Something about a dinner and a brief cruise, with a live jazz band. For the hour or so that I spent sitting there, the passengers were boarding and the ship was still docked, but you could hear the band playing loud and clear. I listened to the music and enjoyed the breeze and just kind soaked up the atmosphere for a while.

Then, of course, I pulled out my cell phone and called a buddy and spent more than half an hour talking to her. A recap of my trip so far, and then we started talking TV and movies and other pop-cultural junk that we could have discussed at any time and in any place. It was fun, though. And then my battery went down and I enjoyed a brief moment of paranoia at the thought of having some sort of emergency that a phone might have proved useful or even vital in the solution of. But then I got up and walked back to the Royal Blend Coffee House for the evening Ghost/Vampire Tour. (With a pause along the way to get a strawberry daiquiri to replace the now-finished banana.)

The Ghost / Vampire Tour

I arrived well before starting time, allowing me to sign in with my pre-purchased ticket and then sit at a table and put my head down for a while. (Me being unaccustomed to alcohol, I was a bit dizzy by that point in the evening.) There were two tour guides this time, which was handy since there were so many tourists that they wound up splitting the group in two.

HaunHote.JPG (55346 bytes)I've forgotten the name of this hotel, and it wasn't legible in this photo, but that's just as well. This is one of the establishments that heartily denies any and all ghost stories under its roof. (Others use it as a selling point.) The story was fairly recent and involved a vision of blood drenching the sink in which the viewer was washing her face, the walls, and the floor to a depth of a few inches. Research eventually revealed that the hotel had been used as an emergency hospital in 1815 for the Battle of New Orleans, with many amputations taking place. Blood had indeed drenched the second floor and dripped through the ceilings to the ground floor.

DeLaurie.JPG (50524 bytes)This house relates to one of the most infamous ghost stories in the whole city. (I even saw it on an episode of Haunted History.) A doctor and his wife moved into the city, bought the house and made a name for themselves very quickly for the number of charity balls they held. Then the cook started a kitchen fire during once of those balls, and when the firefighters arrived she showed them how she had been chained to the stove and told them of the slave girl who had thrown herself from a second story balcony to her death to escape the madame earlier that day, suggesting that others may have been killed in the house as well. The firemen investigated and discovered that the little shed atop the building (still present to this day) was filled with the decomposing remains of gruesomely mutilated victims. The quadruple amputee woman with the spiraling incisions covering her body was still alive when they entered, but in rolling off the bed to attract the attention of her rescuers she broke the wounds open and bled to death. The tall man with the cheeks slashed and stitched open was seen as an apparition some decades later when the house held about twenty-five families of Irish immigrants. (The house emptied out within a day of the sighting.) The house's reputation as haunted was gained within weeks of the discovery of the master and mistress' gruesome habits, since screams were heard by the neighbors after the empty house was boarded up. In recent years during a remodeling remains were found under the floorboards, suggesting that in fact people had not merely been sealed up alive in the house but were still trapped there after the owners departed, dying in the days that followed. Attempts to use the house as a girls' school in the mid 19th century, as an apartment complex later on, and as a furniture store were ended by cold spots, the aforementioned apparition with the mutilated face, and mysterious vandalism of a guarded showroom, respectively. The current owners seem to have no problems of a spectral nature, though the owner and his son have been known to react to unduly loud tour groups in the street outside, turning a hose on a group in one incident. (That house had so many tours stopping at it we had to damn near fight for a decent spot.) I managed to get the full moon in the picture -- it was a nice eerie night for ghost stories. The tour guide is at the bottom right of the picture, facing away from the house.

AndJkHot.JPG (51145 bytes)This is the Andrew Jackson Hotel, on the site where an orphanage stood that had burned down, killing ten children. This is an establishment that uses its hauntings as a selling point. Our guide mentioned having nearly gotten a room there on his honeymoon, and when asking if it would be possible to get a haunted room being told it would be no problem at all. Seems that events have been associated with every room in the hotel. (When the tour guide asked the usual, "Are any of you staying at this hotel?" he said that a few nights back he'd had a woman cheer, "I knew it!" when he asked the group about this hotel. Seems she'd had a problem with the remote refusing to work, and a few minutes later the TV started turning on and off repeatedly like a kid was standing there fiddling with the power button.) One woman a year or two back had found a boy standing in the bathtub of her hotel room who ignored her when she asked if he was in the right room. When she called downstairs the desk staff told her to ignore him and he'd go away. Still thinking he was a child who had wandered away from his parents and into the wrong room, she tried to grab him and her hands went right through him. So she grabbed her videocamera, got a recording of him standing there, going transparent and disappearing, and was standing on the street the next day showing anyone passing by who seemed interested. She went on the tour that night and when they got to this hotel showed the videotape to the entire group. Then there was the couple from Wisconsin who stayed in the hotel and when they got home were very interested to discover that among their trip pictures was a shot of the pair of them asleep in their hotel bed. The interesting thing was that the picture was taken from about ceiling level, meaning that if a prankster had broken into their room and taken the picture as a hoax a ladder would have been required...

CupOTea.JPG (41974 bytes)This picture turned out even worse than my other night shots. The establishment is called A Cup O' Tea, offering tea leaf readings rather than the more usual refreshments. The building as a whole was once a single residence, that of a young man and his mistress. The woman, Jolie, made her lover promise to marry her when she turned 21 -- which was illegal at the time, she being a free woman of color and he being white. When she came to him the night before her 21st birthday, asking him to make good on his promise, he was angry with her for intruding when he was entertaining friends and told her that he'd marry her the very next day if she proved she loved him by waiting naked on the roof until he came for her at dawn. It was well past dawn when he sent his friends home, found her bed empty and remembered what he had told her to do. Coming up to the roof, he found her still waiting -- very cold and very dead. He never married after that, and supposedly Jolie can be seen sitting on the roof waiting for him on the coldest night of December each year. The tour guide said tourists and locals gather on the street in cold nights of December looking for her, and the famous Blue Dog gallery provided a picture that sits in the Cup O' Tea now, of New Orleans' only naked ghost, discreetly covered in a white dress.

There were other stories told on the tour -- of the "bells of regret" of the church that refused to ring its bells for the secular purpose of warning the city when the first fire that devasted the French Quarter broke out down the street on a Good Friday. Eight years later the second fire that devastated the Quarter (the entire city, at that time) broke out at the very same address. To this day a fire hydrant stands in front of the house -- the city will take no more chances with the site.

And there's the funeral procession that's heard starting at the oldest church in the city and leading towards the cemetery, growing louder as it gets farther from the church. Or the house that Confederate general Beauregard stayed in while writing his memoirs, that sometimes manifests the sounds and even the visuals of the battle of Shiloh, where the general lost the lives of so many of his soldiers. (Richard Simmons grew up in the house next door.) The former convent (now a museum) that is the source of the earliest tales of vampires in the city, for the "casket girls" (brides sent by the king of France for the settlers, bringing their only possessions in great casket-like crates) who were hidden in the attic until they were discreetly married off. (The lack of willing settlers for the disease-ridden swamps was so great that for a while there France was resorting to putting convicts on colony ships rather than in prison, meaning that the city was founded in large part by thieves and prostitutes. The results can be seen in the city to this day.)

And that's pretty much it for my trip to New Orleans. A night's sleep, a trip back to Dallas (with a wonderful morning drive along the Atchafalaya Swamp Highway, and an afternoon visit to my grandparents in East Texas along the way), and that's the end of it all...

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