Note: This is Part 4 of the From LA to NOLA series. For Part 1, click here.
We scheduled our flight to leave New Orleans and head back to Los Angeles very early on Tuesday so that we could make the most out of Monday and still be back in time to work. This day was a little more relaxed since other than two scheduled tours, there was really a lot of open time to explore on our own.
On Monday morning, we did the French Quarter & Cemetery tour hosted by New Orleans Legendary Walking Tours. The city changed the rules for visiting St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and unless you had actual family buried on the site, you could only see it if you were part of a guided tour. Anyway, we started at their home base on Decatur St and slowly made our way through New Orleans history as we traversed the streets of the French Quarter.
Some of the more interesting tidbits that I remember from the tour include…
- St. Louis Cathedral’s clock – Our guide asked the group what was strange about the clock at the front of the cathedral and one person correctly answered that the Roman numeral for the number 4 was written out as IIII instead of IV. After looking for an explanation online (I don’t remember if the guide explained this or not), it seems like other clocks and watches do this as well for a variety of reasons, some of which may or may not be true. There is a claim that King Louis XIV of France just preferred IIII over IV forcing clockmakers to use those particular numerals, which I think is amusing enough, so that is my favorite explanation.
- Jesus – Behind St. Louis Cathedral is a statue of Jesus Christ. He survived Hurricane Katrina, but ended up losing a finger or two. At night, they project a light on him and his shadow shines onto the cathedral wall. This will be relevant later.
- Shotgun houses – Many of the houses were built shotgun style, which basically means that it is one long and narrow building with room after room after room arranged one after the other. The buildings have doors at the front and at the back and they were named shotgun houses because you could stand on the front yard and shoot a shotgun through the front door and have the bullet move unobstructed all the way through to the back door. In order to go to one room, you needed to go through all the other rooms in between. I like my privacy, thank you.
- Romeo spikes – Many of the poles in the French Quarter have these spikes attached to them. What were they used for? Well, apparently, if a boy was secretly fooling around with a young lady who lived on the second floor of a building with these spikes, the only way out if he was caught by her father would be through the window and down the poles. The runaway would end up getting impaled trying to make his escape. Fact or fiction? Who knows, but it is an interesting explanation to these strange architectural choices.
After going through the French Quarter, we finally reached St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. We saw many cemeteries during our trip to New Orleans, but this was going to be the first time actually walking through one and it was so interesting to see how different it was compared to the cemeteries I know of in Los Angeles. I think our guide told us that above-ground tombs were preferable here due to the soil, and even some of those tombs were already sinking deeper into the ground.
What’s particularly interesting about the cemetery, other than those buried within it (including Homer Plessy of Plessy vs Ferguson fame), is the rule that guides and their tour groups must stay a certain amount of feet away from each other. This makes for an interesting scramble to try to take over certain spots before others and moving around in several different directions to avoid crossing into another group.
One of the tombs featured a bunch of X’s, though it wasn’t Marie Laveau’s tomb, which had been recently repainted white. It still would probably have been someone linked to the voodoo community and I’ve seen several explanations for what those X’s mean including being a symbol for crossing over from life to death and being used as signatures from those who have asked for favors from the voodoo queen.
Elsewhere in the cemetery was this infamous pyramid which reads “omnia ab uno” or “everything from one”. This tomb belongs to none other than America’s national treasure himself — Nicolas Cage. I’m not sure if Cage is seriously hoping to be buried there when the time comes, but it’s here and stands out among all of the other cube-ish-shaped tombs around it. Underneath the Latin phrase is another plaque area that is actually filled with lipstick stains from people who have left kisses on the tomb. Grody.
Finally, we were led to the rumored final resting place of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, though whether her remains are actually there is up for debate. You wouldn’t really know unless you had seen an image of it before (though because it was repainted white, it looks completely different) or you noticed the tiny plaque on the side. It reads:
“This Greek revival tomb is [the] reputed burial place of this notorious “voodoo queen”. A mystic cult, voodooism, of African origin, was brought to this city from Santo Domingo and flourished in [the] 19th century. Marie Laveau was the most widely known of many practitioners of the cult.”
That’s it. There were also a few different offerings set aside on the floor of the tomb, though they were mostly hairbands since Laveau was also a hairdresser. This tomb was the last stop in the cemetery and our guide brought us out for some final remarks before we were out to fend for ourselves once again.
Rona, Evelyn, and Shelena decided to get lunch so I opted to explore some more on my own instead. While walking, I heard some beautiful music and wondered where it was coming from. Eventually, I found the source: a violinist and a guitar-player duo named Tanya & Dorise. I was incredibly entranced by their music and so was a crowd of others who had gathered. When a street act has that much pull, of course you should donate to support!
I eventually met up with Evelyn again and we decided to hop on the ferry to cross the Mississippi River from Canal Street into Algiers Point. The ferry itself was pretty cheap and we were actually floating on the Mississippi River. The longest river in the United States and the fourth longest in the world. THE Mississippi.
It’s a totally different world on the other side. Algiers Point is New Orleans’ second oldest neighborhood and was founded in 1719. It really appears to be a quiet town with some nice buildings that Evelyn just went on and on about. Other than a few bars, there isn’t too much to do but walk around.
We had a few hours to rest again at the hotel before Evelyn and I went back to the French Quarter to take part in a free guided New Orleans ghost tour hosted by Free Tours by Foot. It’s not exactly free, but it’s a name-your-own-price tour so you can be as generous as you want based on how well your tour guide kept you interested. I was pretty excited about this one since New Orleans does have some significant dark periods in its history and I was also a fan of American Horror Story: Coven, which took place in New Orleans and featured Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and Madame Delphine LaLaurie as characters.
We met at St. Louis Cathedral and there was already a large crowd waiting in front. The rain was also starting to pour, but we came prepared with an umbrella. After checking in, the crowd got separated into two groups and we were on our way to learn more about the spooks hidden within the city.
One of the first stops was a restaurant called Muriel’s. Our guide told us a story about a table that is set and reserved every night to appease a ghost of a man who had originally lived in the building and loved it a lot. We were even able to peek down a hallway and see the table for one. Apparently, this ghost was quite destructive before he was finally given the recognition he felt he deserved.
A few blocks over was the place I was most looking forward to see on the tour: Madame LaLaurie’s mansion, where she was rumored to commit several gruesome crimes against her slaves, including having her own torture chamber where she and her husband would perform their own crazed experiments. America’s national treasure Nicolas Cage owned the mansion previously, but it fell into the hands of a new owner who actually made an appearance walking into the building while the guide was talking. At one point, the lights in the balcony started going crazy and turning on and off. Was it a ghost or a prank by the building’s current resident?
Other stops along the tour included various hotels where ghost children and ghost soldiers made appearances, scaring people in bed in the middle of the night. There was one story I remember about a picture that was developed which was taken from the ceiling and showed the couple who was renting the room sleeping. There was no possible way someone could have come into their room, taken the camera out of their bag, somehow gotten up high enough to where the angle would have worked, taken the picture, and put the camera away without waking the couple up.
The tour ended up circling back towards St Louis Cathedral and BAM. Holy Jesus. If those ghost stories weren’t spooky enough on the tour, there was this giant, scary shadow popping up, seemingly ready to devour its nightly human prey. And, of course, it was the statue of Jesus that I mentioned earlier that was being ominously cast onto the back of the cathedral.
On the side of the cathedral, our guide told us one last story about a priest (or monk?) who was mixed up in an ordeal when France (or Spain?) invaded and hung some people who fought against them in Jackson Square. My memory is a little cloudy on this one, but I think that this priest wanted to give these men a proper burial so they could go to heaven, but the guards would not let anyone take the bodies so the priest prayed for a miracle. A storm came with a fog that ended up giving the priest the ability to sneak out, retrieve the bodies, perform the last rites, and bury them in safety. Also, I think there was a parade involved to help distract or mask the sounds and people sometimes hear a parade happening on misty or foggy mornings. The rain just so happened to bring in a lot of mist that night as well.
Evelyn and I went to Cafe Du Monde afterwards to have one last meal in New Orleans before heading back to the hotel to pack. Apparently, Rona and Shelena were going to head there too since they found out Bourbon Street was a bust on a Monday night, but someone told them that there was a guy who had been stabbed nearby and they should turn around. Creepy.
We finished packing and then tried to get some sleep before checking out and taking a taxi back to the airport. Overall, New Orleans was a really fun city to visit and I love walkable areas like the French Quarter. I wish Los Angeles had more places like that, but alas, we have to drive everywhere since everything is so dang far apart and our metro system isn’t as expansive as it could be. Of course, that’s a rant for another day.
There’s still so much that I wanted to see, including Mardi Gras World and, well, actual Mardi Gras, so I’ll definitely have to come back eventually. It was just a lot of fun taking it easy in the Big Easy and I was really charmed by more than I thought. I guess you could call me spellbound.
Check out other posts in the From LA to LA series:
– From LA to NOLA (Part 1): Southern Comfort
– From LA to NOLA (Part 2): Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler
– From LA to NOLA (Part 3): Gators Gonna Gate
– From LA to NOLA (Part 4): The Voodoo You Do