New Orleans is a city I absolutely love! It’s got my three favorite things: good food, good music, and an unhealthy fascination with death!
I was just there in March for work, so I had to kind of squeeze in my morbid little interests around the conference I was attending. But I think I did a pretty good job of it: for one, I ate me some really good food! I chowed down on fried alligator at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA, scarfed fried quail and Bananas Foster (prepared tableside!) at The Palace Restaurant, and enjoyed a po’ boy and a locally made Fest soda at NOLA Poboys – not too shabby!
Of course no trip to New Orleans would be complete without visiting the Historic Voodoo Museum and the Voodoo shops in the French Quarter. The Voodoo religion plays a really big part in the culture of New Orleans, and I highly recommend you check them out to educate yourself a little bit about what Voodoo is, what it means, who practices it and why. And if you want to pull a little magic into your life for whatever reason – a lover, a new job, a healing – they’ve got just the candles and soaps you need.
I also love me some good music, and New Orleans does not disappoint. I was able to catch a really good live blues and burlesque show at the AllWays Lounge & Cabaret, which I highly recommend. And by sheer luck, I was able to attend the Congo Square Rhythms Fest at Louis Armstrong Park. It was really a treat – awesome African music performances as well as lots of artists and vendors selling Afrocentric clothing, jewelry, and crafts. I really loved celebrating one of America’s founding cultures, shared with a total spirit of love and peace.
But I know you don’t read my blog to listen to all my Kumbaya – you want to hear about death! And murder! And crime! And so, my little darklings, you shall get what you came for.
First of all, New Orleans is a city that seems to have more of a connection to death then most. In the Voodoo religion, one of the loas (or spirits) who protects and presides over New Orleans is Baron Samedi, who is associated with death (and is often confused with Papa Legba). All over the city, you see his image – that of a skeleton (or a man with his face painted to look like a skull) wearing a top hat, black tailcoat, and dark glasses, with cotton plugs in his nostrils like a corpse done up for burial in the traditional Haitian style.
I think besides the Voodoo influence, this has to do with the Catholic influence on New Orleans. You see this embrace, and even celebration, of death in many Catholic countries, something that most Protestant-influenced Americans are deeply frightened of. There aren’t many cities where images of skeletons playing instruments, dancing, and otherwise being quite lively are found on nearly every street corner and shop sign.
So one of my first forays into the creepy offerings that New Orleans has was to take a true-crime tour. Now there are plenty of these to choose from, and my choice simply came down to price and convenience. I chose the New Orleans True Crime Experience that I booked on Airbnb. They were great! They took a group of about 12 of us to various places around the French Quarter that were scenes of crimes throughout history – and more currently. For example, they featured the gruesome tale of Zack Bowen and Addie Hall that unfurled across two locations. We also got to take a gander at Madame Lalaurie’s mansion on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls streets.
The only gripe that I had was something they really have no control over. The fact that we were sharing the street with lots of people – both the pedestrians that you would have on any city street as well as the loads of other tours going on – made it so that sometimes it was a little difficult to hear what the guide was talking about. But overall it was a great tour, really informative and respectful.
But for me the real highlight of my stay was getting to visit the Museum of Death. Now, the original Museum of Death is in Hollywood, so this is a smaller “satellite.” This was a really interesting, weird, creepy attraction. It’s devoted to everything that I find fascinating about death. There are rooms devoted to serial killers: letters and artwork by serial killers, clippings of newspaper articles about serial killers, and other murderabilia. There’s also a room that’s dedicated just to the death industry, featuring a real coffin right in the middle of the room. I don’t think there is an actual dead person in the coffin, but since it is closed, it’s sort of Schrodinger’s corpse, I suppose. It has a lot of things about Dr. Kevorkian (AKA Dr. Death), embalming tools, and all kinds of artwork and memorabilia associated with funerals and funerary traditions.
The only part of the museum that I really didn’t have the stomach for was the theatre of death in the very back. From what I could hear, it sounded like it was playing one of those 1950s cautionary car-wreck videos that shows lots of real-life gory deaths, or it could have been something like Faces of Death. I don’t know, and honestly, that was a bit of a bridge too far for me. I am fascinated by death, and I don’t think I fear death as much as maybe the average American, but I certainly don’t want to see people or animals being killed. Once they’re already dead, it doesn’t bother me; I feel like they aren’t there anymore. There’s no pain or suffering after death; they’re just an inanimate object, essentially. But actually witnessing the pain and the death of a living being, for me, is a little bit much. I know it sounds weird – someone who’s fascinated with murder and death is also so soft-hearted. Sorry-not-sorry.
Their gift shop is also almost as interesting as the rest of the museum. They have some really cool artwork by Madame Talbot, all death and/or Gothic related. I couldn’t buy anything at the time because I was afraid of being able to get it home undamaged. But I liked their artwork so much that I ordered a poster after I got home.
This was my second visit to the Big Easy, and I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I hope I’ll get to visit again before I die. And if not, then send me off with a jazz funeral!