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History and Legends

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New Orleans: Legends of Pirates, Ghosts, and Voodoo Queens

Without a moment of hesitation, I can name New Orleans as my absolute favorite city in America.

Sure, you might have heard some negative perspectives on it – people often say it’s dirty and full of drunk tourists.

And they’re right – but there is so much more to it, if you can get away Bourbon Street (not that Bourbon Street isn’t a great time).

This is a city full of culture and superstition. If you are attracted to cities with a little edge, a little mystery, and a little myth, New Orleans is sure to deliver. You’ll get rich histories, scandalous tales of pirates, plenty of ghost stories, and a touch of Voodoo. As soon as you arrive, you’ll know there is no other city like this in America.

I am always seeking the stories behind a city, and these are some of my favorites from New Orleans.

Let’s Start with Some Pirates

When New Orleans was still a French Territory, it was known to be a haven for the pirates of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The most well-known pirates to make appearances in these legends are Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre. Law enforcement was lax during this time, so pirates took advantage of this port city to take care of their business on land.

Jean Lafitte

“Pirates Alley,” a small road running between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, is rumored to be where the Lafitte brothers conducted some of their nefarious business. People still report seeing Jean Lafitte’s ghost strolling the alley from time to time – along with haunting a few local bars.

Of all the places in the city, why would a pirate feel most comfortable by a church and the governor’s offices? Perhaps it’s because Lafitte is said to have formed an unlikely partnership with Andrew Jackson during 1814’s Battle of New Orleans against Britain.

Although the pirate certainly didn’t respect the laws of any country, he saw Britain as his ultimate enemy because their navy was after his ships. He also used his cooperation as a bargaining chip when trying to negotiate the release of his brother from prison.

A Few More Ghosts

There are ghost stories around every corner in the Crescent City. Here are just a few:

Bottom of the Cup Tea Room – You’ll find a heartbreaking story here – a woman fell in love with a man of a higher station. He asked her to prove that her love was genuine by going to the roof, stripping off her clothes, and waiting for him. He did not come for her, but she stayed all night, falling ill because of the cold and dying. The man was overcome with guilt and killed himself. Now both ghosts continue to haunt the building.

LaBranche Building – Once owned by a wealthy plantation owner, his wife became enraged when she learned of his mistress after his death. She invited the woman over, then held her hostage and killed her. The wife died many years later, and the ghosts of both women continue to haunt the building – spending eternity unable to escape their greatest rival and enemy.

St. Anthony’s Garden – These grounds have seen much blood spilled and many lives lost to duels of the past. It is said to hold several unmarked graves that cause a shiver to run up the spine of those walking across.

For more haunts and ghost stories, check out our self-guided supernatural tour of New Orleans.

Don’t Forget the Vampires

There’s a reason why so many Vampire movies and novels are set in Louisiana. These creatures of the night commonly appear in New Orleans folklore, thanks to the strong influence of French culture.

One of the most famous legends surrounds a man named Jacques Saint Germain. He was rich and mysterious, always throwing grand parties with tons of food – but never eating a bite himself.

After one party, a woman reported that he tried to bite her neck, causing a struggle in which she fell off his balcony. She was not seriously injured, and the police immediately headed to Germain’s place to investigate.

They found that he had vanished, along with all signs of the evening’s party – aside from many bottles of wine. Upon closer inspection, they discovered the wine was actually human blood.

New Orleans Voodoo

You’ll definitely stumble upon a few Voodoo shops while exploring New Orleans. These old beliefs and traditions are alive and well in the Crescent City.

It’s important to remember that, although some businesses might use Voodoo culture to intrigue tourists, many locals take these practices very seriously. If you’re curious about this side of the city, be as respectful as possible.

Voodoo is a religion that began in West Africa and made its way to New Orleans through the slave trade. Louisiana Voodoo is now its own tradition, which borrows some of its symbols and customs from Catholicism, specifically Catholic saints. Voodoo rituals are typically elaborate prayers to spirits and ancestors who might intervene in the lives of humans when petitioned.

New Orleans was the home of famous Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. Her tomb attracts many visitors hoping to leave a gift and gain the favor of her spirit in the afterlife. After a gift is left, the visitor knocks three times on her tomb.

Gifts left at Marie Laveau’s tomb

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Did you immediately fall in love with its Gothic charm, or were you turned off by the constant partying in the French Quarter? What is your favorite American city and why?