We arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana on the evening of May 14, 2015 via train. 27 hours we were on that train and let me tell you, it was less than pleasant. I have never been so happy to step out onto a bustling street filled with drunks. Of course, I’m talking about Bourbon Street. Though we were beat and gross and grumpy, we took a walk that led us to the Hard Rock Cafe where we enjoyed bruschetta, cheesy artichoke dip, and a plate of nachos bigger than my head. Soon after we called it a night because we would need every wink of sleep for the adventure that was exploring NOLA.
We started our day in New Orleans (early) at Café Du Monde, known in French as “The People’s Cafe”. Though it may just seem like your regular old open-air coffee shop, you couldn’t be more wrong. The traditional café au lait and beignets served at Café Du Monde are as old as the French Quarter itself. In the early 1700s, when the French came over to settle the land now known as New Orleans, they brought coffee which they mixed with chicory during a coffee shortage during the American Civil War. The chicory added a hint of chocolate. This concoction is still served today as, you guessed it, café au lait. They also brought beignets which are… let me put it this way: if you went out and bought the fluffiest, tastiest donut in the world, plugged the hole and then topped with half an inch of powdered sugar, you’d have yourself something almost as good as a beignet.
After breakfast, we perused the French Quarter on our own. We stopped by
the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, which is the oldest cathedral in the United States. The original church on this site was established in 1718 but has had many renovations due to weather damage, the need for expansion, and even a bombing that occurred in 1909. However, the cathedral itself is far less interesting than its cemetery, which houses the remains of many renowned residents of NOLA. Among these residents is Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Sound familiar?
If you’ve seen American Horror Story: Coven, it should. In this season, Laveau simultaneously works as a hair dresser and a Voodoo queen. This isn’t completely inaccurate as local folklore claims the real Marie Laveau worked as a hairdresser for members of the higher class in order to gain advantageous information.
One more fun fact about the St. Louis Cathedral burial grounds: actor Nicolas Cage has an empty tomb waiting for him there to serve as his final resting place. I know that might make you chuckle but there’s actually quite a story behind it that wouldn’t become apparent until our afternoon haunted house walking tour.
Along with several other mansions and even a haunted bar, our walking tour took us to the infamous LaLaurie mansion, which was home to Delphine LaLaurie, better known as Madame LaLaurie. The two-story mansion was one of the biggest estates in town and came equipped with an attached slave quarters. For all of you Coven fanatics out there, this should be ringing some bells as well. The mansion was occupied by this seemingly regular high class woman, her husband, and their two daughters from 1832 to 1834.
It wasn’t discovered until rescuers responded to a fire in the kitchen of the mansion on April 10, 1834 that the world would know just how seemingly un-regular the LaLaurie household really was. They found a seventy-year-old slave chained to the stove that had caught fire; she survived and explained that it was a suicide attempt to avoid being taken upstairs where LaLaurie’s slaves went to receive punishment but never returned.
In an attempt to evacuate everyone from the mansion, rescuers had to break down the door to the slave quarters. What they found inside was nothing short of horrific.A mix of 1800s hearsay and folklore say that seven emaciated, stark naked slaves were found chained to the walls with an array of injuries inflicted upon them by Madame LaLaurie herself. According to author Jeanne DeLavigne in her book Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans, those injuries included, but were not limited to, “their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewn together … Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains.”
An angry mob came after LaLaurie in the wake of reveal of her fowl mistreatment of her slaves and she fled to France where it’s said that she died many years later in a boar-hunting accident without having ever received any kind of punishment for her heinous acts.
After this horribly gruesome but insanely fascinating recount of what really went on in the LaLaurie mansion almost 200 years ago, we shook it off with a few drinks at Pat O’Brien’s. Pat O’Brien’s is known, first and foremost, for the Hurricane cocktail, which consists of rum, fruit juice, and grenadine. Said cocktail is said to have originated at this bar beginning in the 1940s. The history of the cocktail is more about a fluke rather than a stroke of genius on the bartender’s part. World War II caused something of a mess for the importation of scotch so bar owners were forced to purchase upwards of 50 cases of rum in order to get their hands on a singular case of scotch.
Pat O’Brien’s is also known for being the birth place of dueling pianos. Two pianists on two separate grand pianos take turns taking song requests from the audience while making jokes and generally just trying to get everyone drunk and riled up. It was a good time but all I have to say is that those Hurricanes are not for the faint of heart.