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Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Orleans Strange But True


Mardi Gras. Bourbon Street. Voodoo. Jazz. Food.  Sin. The Vampire Lestat…

Chances are, I need not say anymore, and you’re thinking New Orleans. People often ask me why I chose the Crescent City as the setting for the Midnight Dragonfly books. In truth, there wasn’t any choice involved. I dreamed the opening scene: a group of teenagers sneaking into an abandoned Garden District mansion, once the site of extravagant parties but now rotting in squalor, each with their own agenda. By the time the last runs screaming from the house, a nightmare they never imagined has begun….

Why did I set the books in New Orleans? Simple. The city is as much a character in the story as Trinity, Chase, Jessica, and Dylan!

A Louisiana native, I grew up visiting New Orleans several times a year. I crept through houses believed to be haunted, skipped along streets once lined by the dead, and played in cemeteries. It was no big deal: that was just New Orleans. It wasn’t until I graduated from college and moved away that I realized how unique The Big Easy is…..

Here are just a few reasons why:
  • Situated along the Mississippi River and nestled among thousands of centuries-old oaks, New Orleans is frequently called America’s Most European city. The architecture is a unique blend of Spanish and French, the French Quarter is almost three hundred years old, horse-drawn carriages still trot down cobblestone streets, the food is unbelievably fantastic, music throbs twenty-four hours a day, and art flourishes. Of course, there’s also that whole below sea level thing. Probably not the greatest idea.
  •  The food. OMG, the food!
  •   In New Orleans, no one blinks if you mention seeing a ghost. In fact, people are more likely to look at you funny if you state that there’s no such thing as ghosts!  That’s one of the reasons why New Orleans is called America’s Most Haunted City.  Over the years, disease, war, and natural disasters have claimed many New Orleanians before their time, leaving their souls restless and confused, trapped between two worlds.
  •  That’s how Jazz Funerals got their start, mourners wandering aimlessly through the streets with a drummer or horn player in front, in order to confuse the spirit of the departed, so they are so disoriented they don’t know how to get back home.
  •  It is said that in New Orleans, the dead outnumber the living 10:1 (4,000,000:400,000)
  •  Some of those dead are Irish immigrants who succumbed to Yellow Fever in the 1800s while working to build the New Basin Canal. For simplicity,  most of those workers were buried where they fell. The canal served the city until the 1950s, when it was filled and turned into an expressway. Yep. People now drive over what amounts to a massive cemetery…
  • Malaria is another culprit for all those poor restless souls. In 1853, for almost 2 months, up to 200 people a day died. During the summer, the bodies were placed on the sidewalks of the extremely wealthy who left the city to avoid the unbearable (and disease). Carts would make their way through the neighborhoods to collect the bodies. At least, that was the plan. Sometimes the carts never showed. Um…yeah.  
  • But it wasn’t just disease. A port city, New Orleans had (and has!) its fair share of crime. No visit to the View Carre is complete without visiting the quaint Jackson Square, with its manicured lawns and graceful old oaks beneath which artists and psychics gather, the fence of wrought iron, the pigeons, and of course, the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. Of course, few realize that this same place was one the site for public hangings…




  • But while in the French Quarter, you quickly discover that anything can be purchased--ANYTHING. Especially stuff you didn’t know existed. I mean, where else can you be strolling along and stumble across Reverand Zombie’s Voodoo Shop?
  •   Yep, the Disney folks behind The Princess and the Frog weren’t exaggerating or being all that creative. Voodoo is still practiced in Big Easy. Talking about spells, curses or gris gris doesn’t make anyone blink, not even the devoutly Catholic, of whom there are many.
  •  With all the craziness going on, it’s not surprising that New Orleans holds the distinction of having the highest number of missing persons cases since those statistics began being tracked.
  •  Museums are a tourist attraction in almost every city, but in New Orleans, many of the most popular museums are…cemeteries. Because of that whole below sea level thing, New Orleans entombs its dead in elaborate, hauntingly beautiful, above-ground crypts, referred to as Cities of the Dead.



  •   Speaking of cemeteries, on All Saints Day, picnics are held for the dead—IN cemeteries, including wine, music, and dancing.
  • Still speaking of cemeteries, in St. Louis #1 you’ll find the crypt of New Orleans’ most famous and celebrated voodoo queen: Marie Leveau. It is said that even from The Beyond, she still grants favors, which is why her tomb is always adorned with dried flowers and votives. Legend has it you should knock three times when asking for a favor, and once the favor has been granted, return to the crypt and either mark an X or chip the brick.



  •  STILL speaking of cemeteries, a few rows over you’ll find a glowing white pyramid of concrete, ready and waiting for its future inhabitant: (the still very much alive) Nicholas Cage. Yep.



  • Speaking of Nicholas Cage, he once purchased New Orleans most haunted residence, that of the former socialite Delphine LaLaurie.  Some Very Bad Things happened there: Google it and see!  




(For the record, Nic no longer owns the property. No one does for long. Over the years it’s been a high school, a music conservatory , a tenement, a refuge for young delinquents, a bar, a furniture store, and a luxury apartment building!)
  •  Speaking of Hollywood….there really was a street car named Desire. The line folded in 1948, giving way to a much less evocative bus line. But streetcars do still run in New Orleans including one named…Cemeteries!
  • Perhaps no other city in America could have adapted so quickly following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. In addition to over a thousand dead, the city lost 30% of its population, people who fled the storm only to realize they had nothing to go back to. Walk the streets of the French Quarter and the Garden District and little has changed since Before The Storm (that’s how locals refer to it), but venture out a little further, and even now, the post-apocalyptic feel lingers. Much of the city stands vacant and waiting, from rotting houses to vacant strip center, shopping malls, movie theaters, a huge and beautiful Art-D├ęcor style hospital, even an amusement park.






Given all this, it’s easy to see why all the nicknames are true: The Big Easy. The Crescent City.  The City that Care Forgot. City of Mystery. Paris of the South. The Birthplace of Jazz. America’s Most European City. America’s Most Haunted City

It’s also easy to see why no other city could have played such a vital and spooky role in Trinity’s story, the story of a teenage psychic who sees horrible things before they happen...





5 comments:

  1. What a great post, Ellie. My Hero and I went to New Orleans on our honeymoon. Thanks for the memories.

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  2. Wow! Okay, I want to go to New Orleans with you, Ellie. Good food and ghost hunting???? Call it the Midnight Dragonfly Tour, and sign me up. Great post. ~ Ashley

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  3. Wow Ellie. This story sounds absolutely fascinating. I love the setting and your great pics. Very kewl post.

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  4. Wow Ellie. This story sounds absolutely fascinating. I love the setting and your great pics. Very kewl post.

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  5. Ellie, I love New Orleans and have visited the city many times. We used to take the kids every Christmas until the casinos arrived and made the city unsavory in so many areas. Still, it remains one of my favorite places. I used the city in a novel about a love that never dies. You've inspired me to pull that manuscript from the file drawer and work on it again. Can't wait to read yours.

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