Horror in the Quarter
Eagle News staffers encounter weird experiences in New Orleans
Horror in the French Quarter : Eagle News’ weird experiences in New Orleans
“Balfazaar ran to Radio Shack real quick . He’ll be right back.” This is the response I received from the young man working the check-in table at Cirque du Nuit, a gathering of vampires in the New Orleans Vampire Association (ironically dubbed “NOVA”). This unplanned encounter was but one of many brushes with the supernatural-infused culture of New Orleans the other editors of Eagle News and I had on our recent odyssey through the city.
The first night began with the normal wanderings, getting our bearings on the local scene, when we ran across Bottom of the Cup Tea Room, a sizable shop (for the area) specializing in psychic dealings.
“We sell readings, books, and crystals,” the elderly, unnamed shopkeeper told me. “We’ve been doing so since 1929.”
While I know these things to be placebos at best, I was compelled to nod my head. It wasn’t my place to burst in, ask questions, and then tell the man he’s a fool. Besides, between the tiny thrift shops and candy stores, the idea of amulets and palm readings just seemed to fit.
Next up was the aforementioned Cirque du Nuit. When we were traipsing down Bourbon Street, one of our number stopped to use the restroom at the Four Points Hotel. When he came back out, he mentioned seeing signs for a vampire conference. Obviously, it was my duty as a journalist to investigate. Inside, hotel staff directed us to a far-back room, where I hesitated. How was I going to interview them? What do you ask a vampire, and how do you avoid offending them? What are the consequences of doing so? Luckily, someone came out to assist us. We explained what we were doing, but he claimed he was “just working the desk.” He invited us in and to stay for Balfazaar Ashantison, head of the vampire houses in New Orleans. Ashantison is a legitimate, blood-drinking vampire. However, we had places to go, so I declined and we departed.
I was out walking alone the next day, when I stumbled upon Maskarade, something of a costume shop for your face . “Shop” is actually a little misleading. With hundreds and hundreds of different masks, “operation” is more appropriate.
“We’re the only store that has actual, hand-made masks,” store owner Mary Behler said. “I have 45 artists that make masks for me, and they’re all U.S. artists. That’s the difference.”
Opened in 2001, the store was spawned from Behler’s perfume shop around the corner.
“A friend gave me a beautiful, hand-made mask as a gift, and I put by my register,” she explained. “Everyday, someone wanted to know where they could find [one]. After hearing that about ten times a day, I decided I’d give them a place where they could .
I can tell you that these artists use every medium possible, we have leather, paper mâché, fabric, feather,” she continued.
I became curious about the store’s involvement with Halloween.
“We actually do more in sales for Halloween than we do Mardi Gras, which is kind of amazing,” Behler said.
That night, it was time for the pièce de résistance: St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. The famous graveyard had been featured in an array of media, and named by Yahoo! as one of the scariest places in the world. After dinner, I led EN through the French Quarter, getting distracted at a crucial moment and missing a turn. As we left the lights of Bourbon Street, the team began to doubt both my navigation skills and my sanity. Google maps was consulted and after passing numerous houses decorated with gargoyles and tombstones and crossing a highway, we got to St. Louis. It was closed. At that time of night, in the darkness and quiet, I’m glad it was. Peering through the gate and in the spaces between the vaults is chilling. The fact that the neighborhood around you is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina further removes you from any sort of solace. Afterward, we all went for frogurt.
While I expected all of these small businesses to be kind of irritated by some kid from a school they’ve never heard of asking inane questions, everyone I spoke to was very accommodating and friendly. Sure, maybe it’s savvy to put on a kindly front to a member of the press, but maybe it’s just that Southern Hospitality even lurks in those shadows of the scary and supernatural.