The New Orleans’ sky was looking a bit ominous, but the threats were welcome. There’s something about a good thunderstorm that elevates the energies in places with known activities – or so I’m told. This being my first investigation, I was eager to capture some evidence and would encourage anything that might entice those little I-don’t-know-what’s to make their bumps in the night.
We drove into the French Quarter just as the rain was letting up, but the humidity kept us feeling damp. It was a quick unload, just some basic voice recording equipment and an obnoxious amount of batteries. I honestly had no idea what to expect or how to navigate this ghost hunting experience, but I knew something was going on as I was hit with a punch of vertigo within the first 15 minutes of arriving on the property. This wasn’t going to be a simple ghost tour.
Starling Magickal is the perfect example of old French Quarter architecture. Facing Royal St., the front door takes you into the “main house” which has been transformed into an occult book and supply shop, with living quarters upstairs. As you move through the building, the back door opens up to a traditional French Quarter courtyard with a 2nd house in the back, which would have been the slave quarters in the 1800s, and another courtyard behind the back house. The plan was to divide and conquer the space; the four of us would go into teams of two, with one team in the front house, and the 2nd team in the back house/courtyard, and then switch midway through the night.
I headed up to the main house with Tim, the founder of Ghost City Tours and the leader of the investigation. The spiral staircase made for a precarious ascent into the room where “Chloe” resides, one of the many mischievous spirits that the owner had told us about. Paranormal activity started happening right out of the gate.
The upstairs consisted of a main room, a small bedroom, and a bathroom. We entered into the main room and took a few moments to adjust our eyes to the dark; my vertigo was coming in huge waves, like the North Shore Pipeline. As Tim walked into the smaller bedroom, I heard what sounded like a thud hit the floor. I thought he had either dropped his voice recorder or had knocked something over in the room, as it was pretty challenging to navigate through the darkness. He turned to me and asked, “Did you hear that? Something just hit my leg.” But there was nothing there.
Moments later a text from the owner of the home, “Something was expecting you guys. In the attic, something dropped with a loud thud. Haven’t heard that up there in awhile.” – Here we go.
The next couple of hours in that space rarely had a dull moment. As Tim sat down on a sofa and placed his recorder on the coffee table, we both watched it move across the table and land on the floor, as if someone, or something, had pushed it. A few moments later I felt something putting pressure on the top of my head while simultaneously seeing shadows through the doorway of the small bedroom. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, as Tim didn’t see what I was seeing; but, at one point, the shadow stopped moving and stood completely still in the doorway, as if coaxing my brain to second guess my eyes. Was it Chloe? Is she uncomfortable with strangers in her space? Is she playing games with us? I respectfully decided to move out of the line of sight, to possibly appease her, and to keep my sanity intact.
The voices came next. I heard some on my recorder and Tim got a few on his. Some were audible words and sentences, some sounded like laughter, and at one point I heard what I thought was a whistle. Most were prompted by questions or comments and we quickly determined that it wasn’t just Chloe up there.
We had been told a few names that were considered “spirit suspects:” Chloe, Kurt, Sarah, and Belial. We called out to all of them, but it was Belial who responded almost immediately. He laughed, tauntingly, as we called his name. The air grew thicker and then we heard a male voice say, “Tim’s here.” All I could think was, “Great! They know my leader by name!”
In ancient Jewish text, Belial is the name of a demon; in Hebrew it means “without value,” and in some sections of the text, Belial was considered the “chief of all the devils.” In the Dead Sea Scrolls, Belial is the leader of the Sons of Darkness:
But for corruption thou hast made Belial, an angel of hostility. All his dominions are in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits that are associated with him are but angels of destruction.
Belial’s threats grew over the next few minutes, he demanded, “Leave.” He laughed at us as we confronted him and asked him questions. At one point he muttered, “Go now.” But it seems that even nasty bully demons have a short attention span. After about thirty minutes, Belial grew bored with us and grew silent. Then the air began to lift just a little and I no longer felt like I was standing on the edge of a building in the wind.
We wrapped up our time at the top of the main house taking note of our experiences: physical contact, taunting laughter, audible voices, and a few unexplainable noises. We needed a break.
We began our descent down the dizzying spiral staircase and through the courtyard to find the other half of our team for some story swapping. They had a few things come through on their voice recorders and were intrigued by what we had just experienced in the main house. After a breather, we switched places and Tim and I began our investigation of the back house and back courtyard. I thought the first half of the evening was exciting – it was only going to get better.
In the darkness, we headed out to the back courtyard. Shane had given us a flashlight to keep us from breaking our necks while moving through the blackness; I volunteered to be the holder of the torch without hesitation. We knew that they had left a voice recorder upstairs in the backhouse with the hopes of capturing some audio, as we carefully navigated our way into the courtyard, we saw the outdoor spiral staircase that leads upstairs, and it looked just as dizzying as the one inside the main house. I’d skip attempting that ascent, not sure my brain and stomach could balance much more.
I found myself standing next to an altar that is used for voodoo ceremonies and other practices. I watched Tim walk up the outside spiral staircase as I began to survey the area, deciding where I would let my feet blindly take me in order to plant myself for the start the the rest of the night. My flashlight found old round brick fire pit, I heard Tim’s footsteps coming back down the stairs, and I shuffled through the mysterious footing towards the middle of the courtyard.
I made it to the other side of the fire pit and watched Tim move passed the altar, standing on the other side of me, with the brick structure between us. It was almost immediately that we heard our first voice, a man, “They stabbed me.” Now, I’m not sure if I was still nurturing the chill bumps from Belial or if these were new and fresh ones, but I do know that the distant voice sounded tortured. I felt a wave a sadness come across me and a feeling of helplessness. It was quickly followed up by a young girl, “I told him to run.” Tim began to ask who they were, and what had happened. The male voice finally spoke again, and in an extremely clear tone he said, “Johnny.” He had introduced himself to us. He wanted us to know who he was. This made my grief even heavier.
The voices didn’t stop with “Johnny,” but it was Johnny’s story that we knew we had to investigate further – a stabbing of a man named Johnny. We spent about another hour or so gathering more evidence, and then radioed to the team in the main house that we were ready to wrap things up.
As we stood in the courtyard, sharing stories and talking about the unexplainable that we had just experienced, the evening took a turn to something even stranger than the voices and touches. “Did you guys go up those stairs and check out the room up there, where we left the voice recorder?” asked Ben. Tim responded, “No. I guess it’s still up there.” I stood there, completely confused, as a lump began to well-up in my throat. “Yes, you did. I saw you walk up the stairs. When we first came out here, you walked up the stairs.”
The confusion and the mystery grew at the speed of light. As strongly as Tim denied going up the stairs, I emphatically stated that I not only saw him go up, but I saw and heard him come down. I was the keeper of the flashlight, it couldn’t have been a shadow, my vision was clear, “I’m not crazy, honest.” I’m not going to lie, the female side of me took over and I feared that I was being gaslighted. I know what I saw. And now, the only way to prove either or our claims, was to go back and listen to Tim’s recorder and listen for him traversing up the stairs.
The steps weren’t there, none of the recordings would elude to the steps upstairs. There was nothing that would prove he had indeed gone up the courtyard’s spiral staircase. In fact, Tim claimed that he was next to me the entire time that I was positive I saw him on the staircase. Doppelganger?
In German, doppelganger literally translates to “double goer.” It refers to a wraith or apparition that doesn’t have a shadow but is an exact replica of a living person. Doppelgangers were normally considered signs of bad luck, or impending death. Tim is still around. He’s still my boss at Ghost City Tours. I guess you could say all of our deaths are “impending.” But, I must admit, there’s a part of me that wouldn’t be handling that night the same way had someone seen me doppelganging up those stairs.
I don’t think I can now call myself a “ghost hunter “ or a “paranormal investigator” after that night on Royal St. I was already a believer, so the investigation at Starling Magickal didn’t change my mind or open me up to accepting the paranormal. A shift did happen, though. I’m not sure that what I now feel and experience on a daily basis is effable, and if I could put it into words, I don’t know that I would. There is now something extremely intimate that lives inside of me and it won’t be released until I move on, into another space, for others to investigate and attempt to explain.