Aboveground cemeteries, voodoo priestesses, rumored vampires, and a history of cholera and yellow fever outbreaks, enslavement, fires, and floods—little wonder New Orleans is known for being one of the most haunted cities in America. Here, five locals share their scariest nights in their own homes, confronting that which cannot be explained. I’ll go first—my Esplanade Avenue ghost is as active as they come.
A Midnight Shrine
“I moved, on an insufferably hot August day, to one of the oldest houses on Esplanade Avenue, built in 1831. I rented the large upstairs apartment, which was flanked by two smaller rear units. On my second day, a back tenant was moving out. ‘We can’t handle the ghost,’ she said. ‘It’s horrible.’ I never caught her name, as she took off with her last cardboard box.
“I chalked it up to strange neighbors. That is, until things began happening. In the middle of the night, a golf ball rolled down the hallway. (We don’t golf.) The chandelier bulbs began dramatically sparking, going dead. One particular battery-operated cat toy ended up activated, rolling around the living room, despite being stored, in a closed box, in the guestroom closet.
“Halloween 2019 arrived, and my friend RJ flew in from New York. We decorated—black lacquer skulls, purple fairy lights, plastic ghouls, and faux spiderwebs. From our hangovers the following morning, we marked the first big party a success, threw all the decorations in an unorganized pile on the table, and sourced last-minute Ani DiFranco tickets. We returned just after midnight. I collided with RJ’s back, as he stopped dead.
“Every Halloween decoration was placed carefully and deliberately on the table. A shrine, made of Party City kitsch, was encased in plugged-in fairy lights. Four big skulls faced us, grinning. The effect was awful. I considered (and loudly discussed) moving out that very night. Instead, we unplugged the shrine, threw everything into storage boxes and tried to sleep.
“Three years on, with the help of the Historic New Orleans Collection, I’ve discovered our ghost is Jules Hugues De La Vergne. Born in 1818, he lived in the house and raised his children here. In a strange twist of fate (or, perhaps not), I became friends with his descendants, who reside in the Garden District.
“‘He loved this house,’ they told me one night, drinking wine in the living room, once his bedroom. Now, I regularly leave a shot of his preferred rum on the mantle. And he dutifully continues to toss golf balls down our hallway at 3:00 a.m.”—Jenny Adams, G&G contributor
A Grandmother Returns
“I remember this story vividly. I was in the seventh grade, and the house was on Carondelet Street. It was built in the 1870s, and my mother’s mother and family lived there before us. I had a friend over to spend the night, and it was probably about 10:00 p.m. We were up giggling, doing what girls do, when we heard heels coming down the hallway. It was a center hall cottage. The space was backlit. I could see a woman. It was my grandmother Nellie.
“We waited, pretending we were asleep. The footsteps stopped and my ‘grandmother’ disappeared. Alarmed and confused, I yelled out, ‘Mom, is Nellie here?’ It wouldn’t have been weird to see my grandmother, who lived over on Jefferson Avenue. My mom yelled back, ‘No, go to sleep!’
“My friend was really upset, but we finally fell asleep. I learned the next morning that when my mom was about seventeen, my grandmother Nellie brought her mother, Cornelia Ann McDevitt, home to this Carondelet Street house, because her health was failing. She was born in 1870 and died in about 1948. She lived her last year in that bedroom we were sleeping in. Cornelia looked like my grandmother, but with hair that was pulled back in a bun. I saw her…the heels, the dress, the whole thing.”—Andrea St. Paul Bland, Louisiana’s 2013 Preservationist of the Year and CEO of Cygnette contractors (and, as it happens, the great-great-granddaughter of Jules De La Vergne)
Trapped in the Chimney
“The house was built in 1836, in the Marigny, and I loved it the minute I walked in. I put in an offer the same day. Then I went home and googled it. It turns out, it’s ‘one of the most haunted houses in America.’ The Travel Channel did an episode on it. The story was terrible, about a woman hanging her dog and then herself. However, I’m a public health professor. I’m not easily spooked and am more apt to look for scientific explanations.
“I moved in and was told that someone who lived there before me was a spiritualist. Apparently, he did some ceremony to try and trap the ghost in the chimney. I opened the flue, and that’s when things really started happening. My cleaner felt a hand on her cheek. This one window wouldn’t stay closed. I put a curtain rod there, to keep it shut. The next day, I found the rod bent, laying out in the yard. People who worked on the house say they saw someone in the hallway, and the worst thing is, I sometimes hear a dog whining and scratching. I hear it coming from the chimney. I have friends that won’t even come in my house.”—Lorelei Cropley, public health professor
A Servant’s Staircase
“In fall of 2015, my parents began renting this studio apartment at the Pontalba Building. It was a fourth-floor walk-up attic unit. It was amazing. You could open the windows and hear live jazz. You felt like you were in the midst of everything going on in Jackson Square.
“When the Pontalba was first built, every unit had two staircases—a formal staircase and one for servants. At some point, they cut all the units in half. Our unit used what would have been the servant staircase. I remember it was seventy-seven steps up with no air-conditioning. You don’t forget a thing like that. The stairs got narrower and narrower as you went up, until it was barely one-human wide.
“Sometimes, you’d be walking up, and it was suddenly freezing. Not cooling you down, but more shivers-up-your-spine freezing. We investigated and found out there was a young woman who was hired as a night nurse. The baby was fussy, and in the middle of the night, she would walk the stairs with it. As the legend goes, she got tired and tripped and fell. She saved the child’s life with her own. Residents believe she now walks up and down that servant staircase, forever.”—Taylor Barron, director of partnerships, Tales of the Cocktail Foundation
“We own an 1850s townhouse right off Magazine Street. The house is often chosen as a set for films, and producers sometimes stay while they work. Back in the 1800s, the Odd Fellows were this super powerful, secret men’s society, similar to the Freemasons or the Illuminati. This house was once their satellite lodge, where they performed rituals.
“As a friend and I were restoring it, there was a section of flooring that didn’t match. We popped the floor open and there was this really old velvet-lined, coffin-shaped thing. I thought at first that maybe someone kept guns in it, but then I realized it was part of these weird Odd Fellows rituals.
“This house was a spiritual place of worship for a long time. I mention that, because there is a thing that happens here. People hear their names called out in the night. When it happened to me recently, I was asleep on the sofa. I very clearly heard my name, ‘Banks!’ It sounded like my wife’s voice, and it sounded perturbed. I opened my eyes, and I didn’t see her. I called out for her in the darkness, but got no response. So, I got up, walked in the bedroom. She was sound asleep. It’s happened to so many people now, including my parents. People think they’ve dreamed it, but there are just too many of us who have heard our names called, only to find there is no one there.”—Banks McClintock, architectural preservationist and designer