Day Twenty One: Madams Laveau and Lalaurie, the French Quarter, and sore feet

I woke up on Monday morning about 6:00 AM wide awake and ready to go. Nearly seven years of marriage has taught me one valuable lesson, though: Dawn is never wide awake nor ready to go at 6:00 AM. So, I laid beside her, scrolling FB, leafing through New Orleans information, and generally killing time until I couldn’t wait any more. When I woke Dawn up and went to get her coffee, she said, “What is that beeping?” After nearly 100 rock concerts and a decade as a disc jockey, listening to loud music through the headphones, I am half-deaf and couldn’t hear anything. Dawn said, “I’ve been hearing it off and on all night.”

When I opened the door to the stairs, I heard. A smoke alarm, turned up to max volume, blaring somewhere downstairs. It was so loud, I had to plug my ears to walk through the small sitting room. Once on the sidewalk, I saw a haggard young man with big enough bags under his eyes to pack for a Lap Around America.

“Is that coming from your room?” A silent nod and thousand yard stare in return.

“Makes it kinda tough to sleep, huh?” A piercing look that questions my basic intelligence.

He said that the smoke alarm had gone off in their room from 2:00 AM to 2:45. He was on the phone with the “manager” of the B & B the whole time, but then it miraculously stopped. Until 4:00 AM, when it started again. Until about 5:00 AM. It had been going continuously since then. I followed his gaze up to the second floor window, where his wife was doing a fine imitation of Munch’s The Scream. 

“The worst part,” he said, “is not that we didn’t get any sleep. The worst part is that she wanted to stay somewhere else and I picked this place.” Spoken like a true married man, sensing defeat in hundreds of battles yet to come on.

With the alarm still blaring, we happily left for quieter quarters, which included anything up to an active gun range.

I am now convinced that there is no time of day or night when it is not (too) hot and (too) humid in New Orleans. Ten steps and we were already sweating. Didn’t matter – we had a whole day in the city to look forward to. We had no intention to return to our rooms until we were ready to drop.

As we walked through the charming Marigny (pronounced MAR-uh-nee) district, I saw a little park to walk through. Inside the gates of the park, we goggled a bit, as we saw what appeared to be a wild pig frolicking in the grass. As it turns out, it was no wild pig, but the very civilized Snuffleupagus Dawson. Like all animals, he was immediately attracted to Dawn.

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By the way, I know Snuffy is civilized, because he has his own Facebook page, found here.

We walked (a theme of the day – lots of walking) down into the French Quarter, where we had a great lunch – is there any other kind in New Orleans? I had the red beans and rice, while Dawn had calamari, hoping to avoid more food that came with faces still attached.

Then, we boarded a bus to go to St. Louis Cemetery. For hundreds of years, the curious could just drive to St. Louis Cemetery and wander around it to their heart’s content. Be warned, that is no longer the case. Too many incidents of vandalism and disrespect has caused the church to close the cemetery to anyone that is not with a certified guide. It didn’t really matter to us, because I wanted the guide anyway, to give me some perspective on what we were seeing.

One of the first stops in the cemetery is Marie Laveau, the most famous practitioner of Louisiana Voodoo in New Orleans. By the way, if everything you know about Voodoo comes from Hollywood, you’ve got it wrong. As with most things, Hollywood went for what worked for a story, not with the facts. Voodoo is another spiritual pathway to communicate with the unknown – not all that different from many other faiths and religions. In any case, here is a picture of Marie Laveau’s tomb:

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By the way, if you’re wondering why they bury the dead above ground in New Orleans, both that answer and the burial process itself is complicated. Here’s a good Wikipedia page that goes into much greater detail than I can, here. Overall, I will say that Dawn and I both found the elaborate methods used for burying someone in one of these tombs odd and a little disconcerting. I am going to make every effort not to die in New Orleans. 🙂

Not all the tombs are perfectly maintained. Some have fallen into obvious disrepair, such as this one:

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I admit, I really like the look of that one.

Nicolas Cage, who invested pretty heavily in New Orleans real estate at one time, has been forced to sell almost all of it, except for one item: his tomb in St. Louis Cemetery:

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My Latin is poor, but I believe that translates as “All From One.” He has also paid for Perpetual Care, which means that his tomb will unlikely ever look like the one pictured above.

By the time we got out of the cemetery tour, we’d been walking around in the heat of midday for several hours, so we hiked to a bar that had lots of shade and misters. Dawn reinforced herself with a margarita. For the ten thousandth time in a row, I failed to have an alcoholic beverage.

We finally spent some time walking up and down Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter. I didn’t enjoy it. Imagine if Disneyland was for adults, not kids. Now, imagine that they have not cleaned Disneyland since it was first built. It would still be cleaner and smell better than The French Quarter. The heat and humidity mixed with garbage, sweat, bodily excretions and God only knows what to form the French Quarter Funk. If I never smell it again, I will be happy. We saw a lot of glazed eyes, sad homeless people and neon signs with hucksters out front doing everything but grabbing you by the collar to get you to come inside. We hustled away to quieter environs. New Orleans is rightfully famous for its architecture, and I could share many pictures of why. I’ll just do this one, though:

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There are stunning buildings every where you turn.

Dawn is really into the macabre. She can’t get enough. Murder, Mayhem, disgusting happenings? She’s there. That being the case, we looked up the address of the LaLaurie Mansion and walked to it. Before I tell you what happened there, here is a picture of it:

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Nice looking place, right? It’s a single mansion, by the way, not a hotel. It was definitely a place you didn’t want to be if you were a slave owned by the LaLaurie’s in the 1830s.  The first sign of trouble was when a slave girl, chased by Delphine LaLaurie, holding a bullwhip, leapt off the corner of that balcony, trying to get away. Unfortunately she got tangled in the ironwork and fell head first to the pavement, killing herself. The LaLauries were fined $300. Yeah, you read that right: no jail time, $300 fine.

The next Very Bad Thing happened on April 10, 1834. Mr. & Mrs. LaLaurie were attending the opera. A fire started in the kitchen (just past where the two cars are parked in the picture above) and the police and fire departments were summoned. They found a dead girl chained to the stove, burned to death. While the police were investigating, some of the other slaves begged the police to investigate the “third floor, where the bad things happened.” They did, and they found a horrifying room where M/M LaLaurie had been torturing and killing their slaves for many years.

The LaLauries were tipped off that the jig was up while still at the opera, and they separated and fled. Mr. LaLaurie disappeared, never to be heard from again. Mrs. LaLaurie fled to France, where she lived until her death.

This was one of the pieces of New Orleans real estate that Nicolas Cage also owned. He was disappointed, because he believed he was buying a haunted mansion, but never saw so much as a piece of furniture go bump in the night. It is currently owned by a man named Michael Whalen, who has remodeled it in an interesting way. You can see what he’s done with the place here.

If that story interested you at all, the next time you are in NOLA, you should take a ghost tour. We did, and it was the best thing we did in our entire stay. Dawn is a believer in ghosts. I am a skeptic. Didn’t matter a whit – we both enjoyed our ghost tour for different reasons. Dawn loved the goosebumps and scares, and I loved hearing the history of the area from our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Daniel. It’s a good thing when your tour guide holds a degree in History.

After two more solid hours after tramping around looking at history, we walked back to our creaky old B & B. We were delighted to find it alarm-free. Our fitbits said we had walked just shy of ten miles. Our feet were sore, but our hearts were happy. Aside from the smell that emanates from the French Quarter, New Orleans is practically perfect.

Cheers, and safe travels!

4 comments

  1. Nawlens is definitely a wonderfully different place. The history of the place is fascinating. Did you get any information no the French Canadiens who settled the area (now called Cajuns)? They do have a unique way of speaking.

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  2. I loved reading about your day’s escapades. As always, your blog entry had the perfect blend of adventure, wit, and history lesson. I can’t wait to hear about where you go next! Safe travels!

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  3. I watch American Horror Story and one of the seasons was set in New Orleans and had the mansion featured as well as Voodoo. I really want to visit there someday and your post has fueled the fire! Enjoy your trip!

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