Month: November 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

The Most Haunted Places in Central Jersey

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

With Halloween approaching, many are flocking to the nearest “haunted” attractions such as the Scare Farm at Norz Hill Farm in Hillsborough or Schaefers Farms’ Frightfest in Flemington. However, cheap scares from costumed teenagers are very different than the real thing.

If you’re looking to fork over $25 then laugh as you cling to your significant other, visit the attractions. But if you’re looking to meet some real ghosts at any time of the year, visit some of these haunted spots in Central Jersey.

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Pig Lady Road,” otherwise known as Roycefield Road in Hillsborough, has fed a local legend that tells of a severely disfigured woman who dwells in the woods adjacent to the estate of the late tobacco heiress Doris Duke, or Duke Farms. Folklore states that the “Pig Lady” attacks those who visit her lane late at night, which has brought tourists down the road to turn their cars off, flash their lights three times, scream “Pig Lady” and look for her in their rearview mirrors. The basis of the legend changes from source to source, as some claim she was a Duke family maid who was disfigured in a fall after a fire at the mansion, while others claim she was born so disfigured that her father put a pig’s head on her, and others still say that she was a withdrawn pig-faced farmer who killed local teens after they tormented her over her appearance.

The Devil’s Tree looks exactly as it sounds. A lone tree in a Mountain Road field in the Martinsville section of Bernards near Emerald Valley Lane, the tree holds many old scars that appear to be the result of chain saws and axes in attempts to remove the sinister oak. This has resulted in authorities wrapping it with fencing, but the scars are still very visible. So what makes this ancient tree so evil? As in most local legends, no one can agree. The stories range from a farmer killed his entire family then hung himself on the tree, to it being the site of many local suicides and murders, to a “death curse” that befalls anyone who attempts to chop it down. It is also said that in the winter, no snow falls around it.

The Union Hotel in Flemington, constructed in 1814, may not currently hold overnight stays for guests as it is under renovation, but the legends of its empty rooms remain with the supposedly constant stirring of ghosts living on the four floors. Hotel staff tell stories involving hearing the hum of a lullaby upstairs, a pressure paired with the feeling of a presence against the chest of staff and a cold chill, followed by the appearance of an empty pair of children’s black patent-leather shoes walking up the stairs.

The Piscatawaytown Burial Ground in Edison holds graves dating as far back as 1693, as well as many burial sites of Revolutionary War soldiers. The real haunting that surrounds the cemetery, however, is a local witch, Mary Moore, who was buried in 1731 after she was put to death following an accusation against her of witchcraft. Several local legends involve two boys who stole the headstone then died in a curse after meddling with it. It is said that if visitors walk around her grave three times and spit, her ghost will appear.

The Ayers-Allen House, a Metuchen private residence dating to the 1740s, is said to be haunted by Revolutionary War soldiers, Hessian soldiers, a woman searching for her son who was killed by British soldiers, or two Native Americans who were unjustly hanged in a tree in the yard. It is also believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

 

Jenna Intersimone’s “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” column appears Tuesdays. Her “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” blog is at MyCentralJersey.com, as well asLifeAboardTheTravelingCircus.com. Tweet her at @JIntersimone or email her at JIntersimone@MyCentralJersey.com.

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LOCAL HAUNTS

Pig Lady Road: Otherwise known as Roycefield Road in Hillsborough, or the property of the late Doris Duke.

The Devil’s Tree: Head to the intersection of Mountain Road and Emerald Valley Lane in the Martinsville section of Bernards. Across the street from Emerald Valley Lane, you will see an undeveloped field where the tree is visible from the road. The tree is tightly wrapped with metal fencing to prevent further damage.

The Union Hotel: 76 Main St. in Flemington. Currently closed for renovation but will reopen its bar, restaurant and hotel in 2015-2016. Visit unionhotelflemington.com for more information.

The Piscatawaytown Burial Ground: 2136 Woodbridge Ave. in Edison

The Ayers-Allen House: 16 Durham Ave. in Metuchen. Visit the landmark’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ayers-Allen-House/545427198814925

12 Hours of Autumn Attractions

Growing up in Long Valley, a place with few traffic lights and a general store, fall was the one season that I felt like living in my town was an advantage because of my proximity to countless farms, forests and autumn attractions.

During the summer, we braved over an hour-and-a-half of driving to get to the Jersey Shore, and in the winters we struggled on our winding roads, but at least in the fall, we were only moments away from pumpkin picking, apple picking and haunted hay rides.

Although there are close to 10,000 farms in New Jersey, some of which have national recognition, I continue to frequent the same ones from my childhood year after year. As a central Jersey resident, you’re probably better acquainted with other acclaimed farms and autumn attractions such as those found at pickyourown.org/NJ.htm orjerseyfresh.nj.gov/find/pickyourown.html. However, in today’s Travel Tuesday, I’m going to give you my personal 12-hour tour of some fall hotspots that might be further away than those you’re used to frequenting but are worth visiting.

First, I head to Ralston Cider Mill in Mendham around 10 a.m. for homemade hot and cold apple cider and cider donuts for an outdoor farm breakfast on the grounds. I always grab some cider and donuts to go home, as cider is sold by the cup as well as by the gallon and half-gallon. Hidden deep within Mendham’s dense woodlands, the mill is the last in New Jersey to operate as a fully functional apple cider mill and applejack distillery, now running as a museum that offers afternoon tours during October weekends.

Photo Courtesy of  Morris County Historical Society The Ralston Cider Mill

Photo Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society The Ralston Cider Mill

Then, I drive to Ort Farms in Long Valley, at 11 a.m., just 13 miles from the Ralston Cider Mill, for a day full of farm activities. Although there are countless farms in the area that cater to visitors in the fall months, Ort Farms remains remarkably uncrowded compared to other nearby farms while retaining many activities in its 450 acres. The family farm, which is open year-round, hits its peak during the fall months with pick-your-own pumpkins and a hayride, an 8-acre corn maze, farm animals, a farm stand, a food tent, small historical exhibit and an 863-pound pumpkin grown by Long Valley local Michael Starr.

Photo By Jenna Intersimone

Photo By Jenna Intersimone

Next, I go to Riamede Farm in Chester around 3 p.m., just four miles from Ort Farms, for some end-of-day apple picking. Believed to be New Jersey’s first pick-your-own apple orchard, according to their website, the 35-acre farm has been operating since 1974 and features 34 apple varieties. To access the apple orchard portion of the low-key farm, a free hayride can drop off visitors, or they can walk in. The farm, which also offers pumpkin picking, is known for a peaceful setting without tourist fanfare. Right now is its peak season, which lasts from early September until the end of October.

Photo By Jenna Intersimone

Photo By Jenna Intersimone

For a fine sit-dinner after a busy day, I make a reservation at the Gladstone Tavern in Peapack-Gladstone around 5 p.m., seven miles from Riamede Farm. This rustic American restaurant, equipped with a fireplace and a bar, is made for fall; it’s cozy and comfortable. Always featuring new seasonal specials, both original and traditional, the Tavern most recently celebrated local apples with items such as apple-parsnip bisque, pecan crusted trout with apple-bacon butter and apple fritter. This week, they will be making pumpkin-themed dishes.

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Finally, I make the hour drive to the Forest of Fear in Tuxedo Park, New York, at 10 p.m. New York’s No. 1 scariest haunted attraction features two haunted attractions and various vendors and food trucks. For $25, I visit this 12-years-and-over recommended park with its attractions The Slaughterhouse, a haunted house, and Blind Panic, a pitch-black indoor haunted maze. For an additional $5, you can also step inside The Last Ride, a buried-alive coffin simulator. They will also be hosting various special events in the coming weeks before Halloween, including the showing of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a game show party and a costume contest.

 

Five fall activities

Ralston Cider Mill at 336 Mendham Road in Mendham: Hot apple cider by the cup, gallon and half-gallon and cider donuts by single, half-dozen ($5.50) and dozen, as well as tours from 1 to 5 p.m. on October weekends for $5 for those under 7. Visitwww.ralstoncidermill.org.

Ort Farms at 25 Bartley Road in Long Valley: Visit this large farm for various fall activities, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Pumpkins cost 59 cents per pound, hay ride is $1, corn maze is $5. Call 908-876-3351 or visit www.ortfarms.com.

Riamede Farm 122 Oakdale Road in Chester: Open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., also with a pumpkin patch. Apples cost $1.89 per pound. Call 908-879-5353 or visitwww.riamede.com.

Gladstone Tavern at 273 Main Street in Peapack-Gladstone: Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Recent seasonal dinner entrees ranged from $21 to $26. Call 908-234-9055 or visit www.gladstonetavern.com.

The Forest of Fear at 600 Route 17A in Tuxedo Park, New York: Two haunted attractions for $25, additional $5 for one smaller attraction. Open from 7 p.m. to midnight Friday, 1 a.m. Saturday and 11 p.m. Sunday. Call 845-351-5174 or visitwww.renfair.com/forestoffear.

 

For other New Jersey fall attractions, visit pickyourown.org/NJ.htm orjerseyfresh.nj.gov/find/pickyourown.html.