A Guide to the Haunted History of New Orleans

If you’re looking for a ghostly guide to the Haunted History of New Orleans, look no further. This list makes for an easy, self-guided walking tour of the French Quarter – and its hauntings.

Why is New Orleans So Haunted?

Maybe its the above-ground graves or maybe it’s the colorful history of voodoo and dark magic, slavery and rebellion, fires and plagues and hurricanes.

Whatever the reason, New Orleans is always at the top of any list of America’s most haunted cities.

And after many trips to the Crescent City, I can certainly see why.

Touchdown Jesus in New Orleans
“Touchdown Jesus” in the garden behind St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans’ French Quarter

A Haunted History of Slavery in New Orleans

The frolicking French Quarter is just blocks from the crescent-shaped bend in the mighty Mississippi River where ships have long docked to unload their goods, including, at one time, slaves from the Caribbean and from neighboring southern states.

Many slaves passed through New Orleans on their way to plantations across the south, entering a slave trade that Solomon Northup described in brutal detail in his memoir “Twelve Years a Slave,” which later became an Oscar-winning movie. Northup was a free-born African-American who was kidnapped in Washington, DC before being shipped to New Orleans where he was sold.

The hub of New Orleans’ prosperous slave trade was the auction at the St. Louis Exchange Hotel. Today the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel stands in its place where guests report hearing the sounds of moaning and groaning from the hallways.

The word “change” remains on the wall, sketched above the arches on Chartres Street, reminding passers-by of the “exchange” that once stood here, trading in human sorrow.

Slave exchange New Orleans
I took this rather eerie picture near the place where slaves were once sold

Just seven blocks away, the LaLaurie Mansion presides over Royal Street where it’s said that the socialite turned serial killer Madame LaLaurie – also known as Madame Blanque – tortured her slaves, burying those who couldn’t endure her cruelty in the yard.

Most ghost tours of New Orleans will stop here to discuss the spirits that are rumored to haunt the home, including that of a little girl who is said to have fallen from the roof in an attempt to outrun the whip of Madame Blanque.

Haunted Halls, Brothels and Hotels

New Orleans is a city for walking, and any given walk means passing by buildings with twisted tales that lend to the legends of a haunted history.

We’ve already mentioned the Omni Royal Orleans where a slave auction once stood. But rumors of hauntings at hotels in New Orleans are whispered throughout the Crescent City.

The Andrew Jackson Hotel with its beautiful balconies jutting over Royal Street was once a Federal Courthouse where Jackson was indicted for contempt of court. Before it was a courthouse it was the site of a boarding house for boys. It’s believed the building was destroyed in one of the great fires that swept New Orleans in 1794 and that some of the boys were killed. This may explain the consistent sightings of ghostly young boys in the Andrew Jackson Hotel.

I once stayed in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, even opting for the most haunted floor, the 6th floor, where a Confederate Soldier is said to roam and where a nun is reported to make late-night, bed-side appearances in room 644.

Sadly, I saw no ghosts during my stay, but I did join a free ghost tour offered to guests and learned all about the hauntings of the place – especially the ghosts of the ballroom where a loan dancer is sometimes spotted swaying in the moonlight. Once an ornate place where society balls and duels took place, the ballroom was later converted into a convent, chapel and orphanage where the nuns took care of children – many of whom were killed when Yellow Fever swept through the city during the 19th century.

And so it is that the ghosts of children are said to join the dancer, the Confederate Soldier, and the nun amongst the many haunted legends of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.

While I can’t get into all of the haunted hotels in this post, it’s impossible to leave out the Dauphine Orleans Hotel. It was a hospital during the Civil War, which may explain the soldier sometimes seen here, but in 1857 the place earned its place in history by becoming the first licensed brothel of New Orleans.

With fines being levied across the Red Light District in the prostitution crackdown of the era, Miss May Baily paid the fee in advance and continued to operate. Her license still hangs on the wall of May Baily’s Place, a bar connected to the hotel (known today for serving a killer Pimm’s Cup).

May Baily's Place New Orleans
The first license for a brothel in New Orleans still hangs on the wall at May Baily’s Place

The most famous ghost of the Dauphine Orleans Hotel and May Baily’s Place is not the Civil-War soldier, nor is it one of May Baily’s gals who is said to rearrange bottles in the bar on occasion. No, the most famous ghost is that of May Baily’s sister, Millie, who is called the “Lost Bride”. Millie Baily’s fiancé died before their wedding, which may be why a ghostly woman in a wedding dress is sometimes spotted roaming the halls of the hotel.

To Tour or Not to Tour: Opting for a New Orleans Ghost Tour

The above hauntings offer a great self-guided ghost tour of the French Quarter. To really dig into the stories, though, buying a ghost tour is worth it.

There are tons of offerings for a ghost tour. When my friends and I visited New Orleans, we opted for the adult-only Lewd Spirits Tour, which touched on the bars and former Red-Light District in the French Quarter. We carried our drinks and stopped to chat at bars, prompting the tour guide to joke we were mixing spirits with spirits. It cost about $35 and it was worth every penny for the history lesson and for a really good time.

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