The Established Nomads of New Orleans

New Orleans is busted with so much twisted personality that it’s hard to believe that it all fits within the city’s 350 square miles. Although I got a taste of this last time I visited the jazzy little city, when you’re vacationing with your mother for a week and hopping on the most educational tours in town, you’re not going to get the full effect of the crazy that’s swirling around the rogue destination of the south.

When I finally hit Checkout on that Southwest ticket headed for for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, I was actually a little anxious because I had already been there. Doing something more than once bores me irreparably. I like to go to new restaurants, meet new people, wear new clothes, and, of course, visit new places. I wondered if I would find enough to entertain me during four more days running rampant around New Orleans.

Dancing in the streets of Royal

Who was I kidding.

Part of the devilish charm that is New Orleans is that it is wildly obvious that even though it is a prime tourist destination, people live there. It’s clear when you spot the same character, day after day, walking their dachshund around the French Quarter, chatting up gypsies. It’s clear when you stop to tap your foot to the friendly neighborhood ragged folk band, settled nicely on their street corner and bumming cigarettes off passer-bys. It’s charming when you stop by the ostentatious Garden District and watch kids in little suits running up the steps to their two hundred-year-old house.

It’s these characters that make the city different every round.

A handsome mansion in the heart of the Garden District

There are cities, arguably, that don’t have this peculiar little feature. Their populations are made up of seasonal tourists who want to strap on their sneakers and fanny packs, make sure they brought enough sunscreen and hop on the best all-day tours in town. There are cities where the locals stay snuggled indoors, stuffing their noses up at the thought of tourists bumbling about their town.

This is not New Orleans, because many of the city’s tourists have simply turned into locals.

There was Spock, or Taylin by birth, one of the many community nomads who sold jewelry but spoke in circles. With a bandanna wrapped around his head, he told stories that didn’t make sense together but were amusing one-by-one. In his typical flat voice, he told us how he broke into one particularly rude tourist’s Mercedes in western Florida, cut a rather large square of leather, and fashioned it into a rough wallet that was now for sale on his little table along Decatur Street.

Or Chilly, a name tailored onto his leather jacket, who told us about how he told his (former) wife that he had a new car awaiting her in the driveway and when she emerged, was greeted by a broom. She proceeded to chuck the broom directly at Chilly, making for an obscene absence of his left front tooth. He left the wife, left the tooth, and he and his tiny dog, Maximus, headed south to New Orleans, where they settled in by wandering the streets and talking to anyone who would listen.

And we can’t forget the rambunctious owner of Jimmy J’s, who’s name is not Jimmy. Amongst delivering coffee and making roses out of napkins for pretty patrons, he also performed magic tricks and told diners about his haunted house in the heart of the Garden District. Another man who talked in circles, he halfheartedly explained how he, a California man, ended up in NYC, then various other cities, and finally settled in N’awlins.

The desecrated tomb of a voodoo priestess in the St Louis Cemetary

I am not alone in my encounters with personalities in the Big Easy. Before setting off, I was encouraged to seek out a dreadlocked jazz player on Frenchman’s Street by my dentist, a theatrical phantom guide at the Voodoo Lounge by a lonely neighbor and a grayed lost fisherman in Pirate’s Alley. It’s a mystery how these eccentrics found their way to the city, but it’s no surprise as to why.

Characters flock to New Orleans because they know they have found a place to belong. Los Angeles is too blonde, New York City too expensive, D.C. too active and Phoenix too quiet. But New Orleans – New Orleans is the perfect hodgepodge of crazy, embedded within the cheesy disgust of Bourbon Street, the subtle elegance of the Garden District, the haunted history of the French Quarter and the cultural mass of Jackson Square to make even the dirtiest nomads feel at home.

The magical air of Jackson Square

The Backwards Haunted History of New Orleans

Although New Orleans is probably one of the most jovial stretches of 350 square miles around, there is a peculiar air of miscreant, a slight itch of a strange mix of beings that expands beyond the jumbling of psychics, artists, tour guides and alcoholics. It’s the undeniable stir of the living joined with the dead.

Jenna Intersimone Photography

My favorite part about the haunted background of New Orleans, a city that dates back to 1753 and has, and is, riddled with convicts, prostitutes, voodoo and disaster, is that much of it relies on myth. You’ll hear various stories from various locals about that ghost, this voodoo queen, or that cursed home but nobody has so much as the written word to back it up – only word of mouth. To those who have seen the haunts in action, this is more than enough.

It’s evident when walking through the Garden District, riddled with historical homes and anxious ghosts. It’s clear when strolling through the French Quarter, the site of two fires which literally destroyed the entire city. It’s even obvious when speaking to battered locals, who have the sense of what’s it’s like to have survived more than they bargained for.

Jenna Intersimone Photography
Jenna Intersimone Photography

According to one tour guide, New Orleans holds this air because it has seen more than its fair share of disaster in a very short amount of time. Hurricane Katrina, The Great Fire of 1788, The Great Fire of 1794 and the Battle of New Orleans, just to name a few. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, it is clear – New Orleans is one haunted city.

Haunts are definitely not limited to Orleans locals, either. Even celebrities are not immune.

Jenna Intersimone Photography

Nicholas Cage bought the LaLaurie Mansion, located on the corner of Royal Street and Governor Nicholls Street, in 2007 for $3.45 million. It was sold at auction a mere two years later. Why? According to popular myth, the place is cursed.

Marie Delphine LaLaurie, a Louisiana-born socialite, was a pretty popular person in New Orleans throughout all three of her marriages – that is, until April 10, 1834. Married to Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, a doctor, the couple threw frequent parties until on one ordinary day, a fire broke out. The party continued, flooding into the streets, and firemen rushed into the LaLaurie mansion to put out the blaze.

First, they came across an elderly African American slave who was chained to the stove. In hysterics, the woman admitted that she started the fire in a suicide attempt because she was told she was going to an upstairs room, in which no slave ever returned. She said the firemen could do anything they wanted to her – kill her, throw her in jail – but she was not going back to Delphine LaLaurie. Baffled, the firemen stormed the rest of the house to find the mysterious room, and what they found brought many to rushing out the door in a vomited panic.

Behind a deadbolted door, they found slaves tortured and bound in otherworldly ways. One slave had an inch of skin scraped in a circular motion around her entire body – the long strip of skin found in a jar in the room as well. Another had all of her long bones broken, only to be reset facing opposite directions so that she could fit inside a tiny box. It is said that as many as 100 slaves died in LaLaurie’s warped ‘care.’

Apparently, this didn’t bother Cage – until five years had passed, the same amount of time that the LaLaurie’s lived in their mansion. After that, his marriage fell apart, his assistant stole all his money, he went bankrupt, and his movie gigs abruptly stopped. He claims it was the house.

Cage went to a medium, who told him that to stop the curse from following him into the afterlife, he needed to build a pyramid-shaped tomb in the center of the St. Louis Cemetery at certain dimensions with the words ‘Omnia Ab Uno’ (Everything From One) in scripted on it and be buried there upon his death. Cage wasted no time.

Jenna Intersimone Photography

New Orleans also apparently houses vampires. John and Wayne Carter, two average brothers who worked at the docks, lived at the 800 block of Royal Street. On one 1932 night, an 11-year-old girl with cut wrists fled their apartment to the authorities, where she informed them that she had been ‘fed on’ after being abducted by the men. Upon entering the apartment, authorities found four others bound and cut, one already dead. When the Carters returned, it took eight men just to restrain the two, which were of average height and build and had been working manual labor all day long. Upon being put to death, the Carters were buried and in New Orleans tradition, the coffins were taken back after one year. However, both coffins were already empty.

I wish I could say that the victims went on to lead happy lives, but they certainly did not. Directly proportionate to how many times they claimed to have been fed on, the situations of the victims got worse and worse. The adult male went on to murder 442 people, dissolving his own victims’ bodies in sulfuric acid. The adult female voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital for life. Remember – this is a psychiatric hospital. In the 1930s. Committed voluntarily. Not pretty.

Then, there is the infamous voodoo queen Marie Laveau, who’s name rings loudly throughout New Orleans on everything from hot sauce bottles to voodoo museums. Many attest to seeing her in the flesh, leading rituals with naked followers dancing and chanting, as well as seeing her walking the streets of the French Quarter.

One place that Orleans goers can get a taste of Laveau is at her tomb at the St. Louis Cemetery, where she is laid to rest among thousands of offerings of makeup, candy, mirrors and money placed there every single day. She isn’t without desecration – just a few weeks ago, someone covered the entire tomb with pink acrylic paint which took the Catholic Church quite some time to scrub off.

Jenna Intersimone Photography

New Orleans may be pretty, but within the pleasant, pink mansions and colorful flowerbeds lies things much more sinister – the mark of uneasy souls.

Jenna Intersimone Photography
Jenna Intersimone Photography