By Judy Berman
Fog enveloped Bourbon Street. We stepped inside a dimly lit gift shop in New Orleans where we spotted a book on ghosts.
That inspired us to book a walking ghost tour that weekend. Our guide, Richard, looked like he stepped out of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles.”
Like Lestat, he was an imposing figure – tall, dressed in black, and blond. But Richard’s hair was long and braided.
He could have passed for an outlaw, but he was a very entertaining storyteller.
Our tour was briefly interrupted outside voodoo Queen Marie LeVeau’s home. I doubt she was resting in peace as a heckler chose that moment to hassle Richard.
Several paying customers urged Richard to move on and continue with his stories. He did. Our next stop was at a voodoo woman’s home.
Except for a huge snake curled up in a cage, lit candles, burnt offering and dolls with pins in them (OK, I made that last part up), the voodoo woman’s home was like any other.
She gave us a quick tour. Then, we gathered in the backyard. The woman asked Richard if he wanted his future told. Perhaps, thinking of the unpleasant encounter, he just shook his head sadly.
“Knowing how bad my past was, I don’t want to know what my future will be,” he said.
The voodoo woman chided him, “If you know your future, your past may look good.”
We laughed and Richard joined in.
After we left her home, we continued our stroll through the French Quarter.
Each block appeared to harbor spirits. Richard stopped at one building, the Old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street, and told us about suspicions that it was connected to vampires.
In the mid-1700s, young women were brought over from France to be married off to men who settled in Louisiana. The nuns at the convent gave the girls shelter and an education.
While there were women in New Orleans already, some were plying the world’s oldest trade. Definitely not marriage material.
As the legend goes, 50 girls were sent here along with 50 “casquettes” or “caskets.” They were mockingly referred to as ‘casket girls.” (The number varies according to the storyteller.)
Odd! Many were dying in France at the time. So, there should have been a shortage of coffins – not chests – for their clothes and personal effects.
Their chests, containing a dowry, were locked in on the convent’s third floor. They would be opened when the girls married. But Richard said the chests were empty.
The shuttered gable windows on the convent’s third floor are nailed shut, he said. Superstitious residents say that was done to prevent any vampires – believed to be in the coffins – from escaping.
We hastened out steps as we left the sidewalk outside the convent. Would a light from the moon reveal that one of the windows was open?
Far from being repelled by holy things, Richard believes vampires are drawn to them. He said that’s why the vampires were sent to the convent. (I’m sure the church is delighted with this theory.)
Mysteriously, there is no record of what happened to the 50 coffins.
He wrapped up his story by telling us that in Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” the vampire has beignets (a pastry with powdered sugar) at Café du Monde.
The truly spooky thing is that lighter-than-air beignets do vanish into thin air along with the coffee.
Richard’s stories, however, have stuck with us for many years.
Do you have a non-gory spooky tale to share?
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Music Video: Bobby Bare singing Marie Laveau, voodoo queen from Louisiana http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpZzehuWdM4
1.Main Photo: Misty Graves – Easton Maudit churchyard, taken by R. Neil Marshman http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b0/MistyGraves.jpg/536px-MistyGraves.jpg
2.Photo: Old Ursuline Convent – French Quarter – taken March 1, 2010 by Infrogmation of New Orleans http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/44/UrsulinesFQExtChartresSideBalconyAboveEntrance.JPG/640px-UrsulinesFQExtChartresSideBalconyAboveEntrance.JPG
3.Photo: Café du Monde – café au lait and beignets – taken Jan. 12, 2013 by Ed Johnson http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b6/Cafe_au_Lait_and_Beignets_New_Orleans.jpg/640px-Cafe_au_Lait_and_Beignets_New_Orleans.jpg