Why is New Orleans so haunted?

Here at Ghost City Tours we are frequently asked, “Is New Orleans haunted?”

We talked to our tour guides to get their take on why New Orleans is America’s most haunted city. Do they believe the city’s grounds are haunted, or if souls are drawn to the Crescent City because we promote the hauntings to tourists from all over the world?

Perhaps, it’s a mixture of both, with generations cultivating New Orleans’ landscape into a citywide Field of Dreams, and with Marie Laveau representing the soul of Ray Kinsella, listening to the emanating words, “If you build it, they will come.”

New Orleans: A Land Before Time

To understand why New Orleans is haunted, it’s important to understand the history of the land. The land which later became New Orleans formed around 2200 BCE from the product of deposits from the Mississippi River. This delta actually became the home of Native Americans 1300 years before Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville claimed the land for France in 1718.

Ghost City tour guide, and Voodoo Priest, Shane, elaborates on the land of New Orleans, “The Native Americans used to come down to the New Orleans area during the fall. So, they’ve been partying down here for a very long time. Also, the Mississippi River and its tributaries includes all or parts of 31 states (and 2 Canadian provinces). So, all that comes right past us, so New Orleans is like a collecting point for all of it. That’s my theory.”

In recent years, discoveries have been made by archaeologists who surveyed the land near Bayou St. John for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The archaeologists’ discoveries included pottery shards, animal bones and fragments of clay tobacco pipes all from around 300-400 AD.

Another of our tour guides (and, ghost hunter) Elaine believes that it’s also important to note the impact that the tragedies had on creating New Orleans’ essence: “Add in all the fires and hurricanes…Yellow fever! And, all the violence throughout the city’s history. New Orleans is such a strange city, it has a different personality that you just can’t find any place else.”

Haunted Places In New Orleans as Told by our Tour Guides

The German Coast Uprising was a slave rebellion in the New Orleans area in 1811, in which hundreds of slaves marched from the sugarcane plantations of modern day LaPlace toward the City of New Orleans.

Our tour guide Shane, whose home was built on part of one of the former plantations, has had recurring experiences with a Loa, a Voodoo spirit. The enslaved Haitians (who took part in the German Coast Uprising) not only prayed to their Loa, but also served to the spirit’s distinct tastes. To keep with the customs, Shane built an altar to his Loa.

His Loa appears as a little old lady with her lips sewn shut, and she often comes by his house and sits on his couch. During the process of renovating his home, he lost three contractors who were scared off by the sight of her.

He says, “They’ve asked me, where’s your grandmother at? And I tell them, I live alone.”

The contractors, naturally curious, would ask, “Who was the old lady on the couch?”

To which Shane answered, “There’s no old lady here.” The contractors left his house and never came back.

To this day, Shane has never personally seen the old lady with the sewn shut mouth—but others have.

New Orleans Cemeteries

Lafayette Cemetery No.1

Lafayette is one of the oldest city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans and can be found in the Garden District.

Famous vampire author Anne Rice immortalized the cemetery, as she made it to the final resting place for the Mayfair witches. But Lafayette is also one of the few non-segregated, non-denominational cemeteries in New Orleans. In the length of one city block, there are around 1,100 family tombs, and over 7,000 souls that call Lafayette home. Amongst these souls are Americans from 26 different states and immigrants from over 25 different countries, creating an afterlife melting pot.

St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery

De Paul is another notable cemetery, sometimes referred to as Louisa Street Cemetery. The cemetery is believed to be founded by a priest, and was once owned by infamous duelist, Senor Jose “Pepe” Llulla. Two of the cemetery's most famous residents are the spiritual leader, Mother Catherine Seals and a gypsy queen named Marie.

St. Roch Cemetery No. 1 and No. 2

A photo of the St. Roch statue within St. Roch Cemetery No. 1, located in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A photo of the haunted St. Roch Cemetery

St. Roch has the reputation for being “one of the most unusual cemeteries in New Orleans,” which is saying quite a lot. Despite this unique title, St. Roch is one of the least visited cemeteries in New Orleans.

Which might just be the reason why the ghosts enjoy chillin’ in this historic cemetery so much. For nearly a century, ghost stories have emerged from St. Roch. One of the these stories is about the Hooded Ghost of St. Roch Cemetery. The hooded figure can sometimes be seen walking through the cemetery’s pathways, then leaving right though the walls that surround St. Roch.

Another tale is that of a ghost dog, who is often seen roaming the cemetery. He is typically described as an “unnaturally” large black dog; his ghostly image has been captured in pictures and on video. Visitors, believing the dog to be a stray, have followed him throughout the cemetery, but just as they’re about to corner him, the dog vanishes. Coincidently (or not), St. Roch is the Patron Saint of Dogs.

Our guides Shane and Michael Bill have some advice for anyone who decides to visit these cemeteries: “Always walk into a cemetery backwards. You never want to walk straight into a cemetery. And, when you walk in, drop three pennies at the gate.”

Other Haunted Places in New Orleans

The Andrew Jackson Hotel

The Andrew Jackson Hotel is in the heart of the French Quarter, and while the two-story brick building has stood since 1890, the history of the lot itself transcends centuries. The hotel’s grounds carry the residual energy of the souls who came long before the Andrew Jackson.

One of Ghost City’s most energetic and enthusiastic guides, Randy, recalled an experience with a guest at The Andrew Jackson: “I had this lady come up to me, she was almost crying. She was telling me, she had just told her husband that there were these little kids in their room. These kids were pulling the sheets off of me while I was in bed, they were touching me from the side.”

Just a wee bit creepy.

Mahogany Jazz Hall

Another place to visit that comes highly recommended by our tour guide and Voodoo Prince Michael Bill is the Mahogany Jazz Hall, the home of many historical events that border on the unbelievable.

Many of the staff who work there have had run-ins with its resident ghosts. They have felt the phantom hand touches, heard the disembodied whispers in their ears and witnessed unexplainable shadows walking throughout the club.

Le Pavillon Hotel

In the mood for a PB&J? Stop on by Le Pavillon Hotel—you don’t even have to book a room. But, PB&Js are not the only thing that Le Pavillon Hotel is famous for; this “Belle of New Orleans” is one of the city’s most haunted hotels.

One story relayed to Ghost City occurred one night when a couple (Kim and Sy) decided to stay at the hotel. Sy worked offshore, so whenever he came back in, he and Kim would pick a different hotel to stay at. Their night at Le Pavillon turned out to be an interesting one to say the least. (It’s important to mention that Sy is a 6’5″ Cajun, who competed in MMA; needless to say, not the type that scares easily.)

Kim and Sy had just retired to bed, when Sy started to feel something touching the bottom of his feet. He looked up and around but didn’t see anything. Slowly, he then started to feel the sheet tug off of him. He began to panic when he felt a pressure push down on his chest, as if someone were trying to hold him down. And, despite being a 6’5″ Cajun, Sy couldn’t lift the force off. He could barely breathe, he actually started to think he was having a heart attack. Sy claims the experience lasted 5 or 6 minutes.

The Musee Conti Wax Museum

A photo of the Wax Conti Museum, which no longer exists, but is still one of the most haunted properties in New Orleans.
Before closing its doors in January 2016, the Wax Conti Museum was rumored to be one of the most haunted places to visit in New Orleans.

The historical Musee Conti Wax Museum unfortunately closed its doors in January 2016, though it has always been a treasured museum.

Ghost City guide Elaine’s first paranormal experience in New Orleans happened at the Conti Wax Museum (just before it closed): “Michael Bill and I were hunting together. We went upstairs by ourselves, in the little back rooms. And there was a shadow, it was standing right in the doorway. It would come in a little closer, and the meters would go off a little more. Then, the shadow would back away, and the meters would stop. Then, it just stood there, without movement for quite awhile. Every time it would take two steps forward the K-II EMF meter would go off, then the shadow would step back again, and meter’s activity would cease. In this case, there was both visual evidence and that spooky as hell feeling.” This verified encounter is an example of what we strive for on each Ghost City hunt.

Theories on Why New Orleans is So Haunted

Ever hear of the saying, “there are no rules in the afterlife?”

We like to picture the Great Beyond as a blend of Las Vegas and Tibet, both tranquil and exciting. Like a box of chocolates—thanks Forrest—you really never know what you’re going to get when it comes to explaining why New Orleans is so bloody haunted. One of our tour guides, John, appropriately claims: “People want that answer, but it’s hard to quantify [paranormal activity]. Some people may think they believe, but they want proof, corroboration.”

So is it our need to prove something theoretically “unprovable” that always leads us to wondering if New Orleans is haunted? Here are a few theories as to why New Orleans just might be the most haunted city in America.

The Theory that Ghosts Can't Cross Water

Ancient Times in Greek Mythology

Going back to the Ancient Greeks, there has been the belief that the dead cannot cross a body of water. For the Greeks, the River Styx existed just for this purpose.

Down in Hades’ domain of the Underworld, the River Styx segregated the land of the living from the land of the dead. Within Ancient Greek mythology, the deceased spirit could not pass over the River Styx unless they paid a fee to Charon, the ferryman. If it was the right fee, then off you went across the river into the Underworld.

On the other hand, if the fee given was not correct, Charon banned you to wander the banks of the River Styx for all eternity.

The Bible Says...

Matthew 12:43 reads: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.”

This suggest that it’s not that ghosts can’t cross water but rather that water often holds entities that would do them harm. Because negative energies were unable to find a place to stay on dry land, they made themselves at home within the water—ghosts would thus be unwilling to cross it in the worry that they’d end up as food for a demonic entity.

Spirits Crossing Water in the American South

A photo of the New Orleans port in 1885, titled 'Blue Water.'
Historic Map of New Orleans, "Blue Water," 1885.

Theories that ghosts can’t cross water have continued into modernity. In the American South, those who were enslaved pre-Civil War brought their own beliefs with them from Africa. They believed water was used to ward off evil spirits (Holy Water) and they sometimes even used blue pigment on their houses to mimic flowing streams.

In most religions, water represents purity—ghosts, for the most part, are believed to be wandering souls caught in limbo.

Is it possible that this is why New Orleans is so haunted? Geographically, the city is cordoned off from almost everywhere else. We’ve got Lake Pontchartrain on one side, the winding Mississippi River on the other. Even within the city, Bayou St John snakes its way through the soggy land.

Elaine points out, “There’s also that theory that ghosts can’t cross running water, and what is New Orleans surrounded by?”

“Water!” shouts Michael Bill.

“So, all the ghosts are stuck here. Plus, they love it here,” Elaine quips.

Not to be outdone, Randy adds, “It’s a fly jar. They get in, and they can’t get out!”

So, is this the case? As Elaine pointed out, New Orleans is a city built upon its dead. Water-locked as it is, is New Orleans so haunted because the ghosts can’t leave without crossing the bodies of water which surrounds us?

String Theory and the Paranormal

Let’s get scientific by discussing the endless possibilities of String Theory. I’m not going to pretend to be a physicist or even a scientist, but a common definition is: “String Theory theorizes that there might be 11 dimensions instead of the usual 4 standard—height, width, length and time.”

Or rather: there are different dimensions and it’s possible that the ghostly plane also exists on the Earthly plane, which explains the randomness of paranormal activity.

Countless of scientists have argued variations of String Theory. Our very own guide, Shane, has this approach: “If string theory is true, if there are infinite universes and infinite possibilities . . . [Well] what if spirits are part of string theory bleeding into our dimension?”

Is it possible that the plane of the no-longer living perhaps sits on the same plane as the living? Can this possibly also be an explanation for residual energy? In Gettysburg, for example, there are countless of reports about ghostly soldiers which have been spotted only chest-high weeding through the ground. It’s relatively well known that the soil level during the 1860s was much lower than it is now, which could explain why we see these spirits from only their chests up.

Spirits Hanging out in Multiple Places

If we argue that String Theory is a real thing, then what could that mean for some of the more “common” ghosts that are reportedly spotted in New Orleans? The lady in white. The little boy playing pranks in one of the hotels. The ghost of a Confederate soldier staring blankly into space before implausibly walking through a wall.

These stories have been told time and again. For one, the ghost of a little boy is known to haunt the Hotel Monteleone, the Andrew Jackson Hotel and about ten other places. The lady in white has been seen at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, the Maison de Ville and, you guessed it, about ten other places. As for the ghostly Confederate soldier? We’ve got the Andrew Jackson Hotel, the Beauregard-Keyes House, the Sultan’s Palace, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, May Bailey’s Place and on and on . . .

Elaine has this to say about our ghosts in New Orleans: “I actually have a theory, because there’s so many hotels in New Orleans that are haunted by little boys. What if they’re all the same little boys, running throughout the entire French Quarter because half of them have no stories. Like, I hear about a little boy at the Bourbon Orleans, but there’s no story, there’s no reason for there to be a little boy there.”

Charmingly, John throws in, “Maybe there’s just one ghost in all of New Orleans.”

Maybe there is, or maybe String Theory’s dimensional proposal also includes the fact that spirits are not relegated to staying in one place, but are allowed to move around at their own discretion.

There are no rules when it comes to the After Life. Maybe there is only one ghostly boy causing pandemonium in New Orleans’ hotels. One thing is for certain: New Orleans has got a whole lot of hauntings, and there isn’t a good way to quantify or even decipher whom they all might be.

The People You Pass By

Ever heard of the saying, “never judge a book by its cover?” Well, you also shouldn’t judge a person just by the looks of them, especially in a place like New Orleans.

For centuries, New Orleans’ history has been entangled with the fantastical. There have been folks who legitimately claim to be vampires, who visit “underground” vampire bars in the French Quarter.

Besides vampires, New Orleans can’t be discussed without mentioning Voodoo. Unlike the fanged folk, Voodoo has been a practiced religion in the Crescent City since the 18th century. It was brought from West Africa along the slave ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Today, there are nearly 60 million people who practice Voodoo (Vodun) throughout the world—and a great many of those people are in Louisiana.

Wiccans, witches, shamans, even satanists—in an old city such as New Orleans, there are countless belief systems and it’s likely that the meshing of these various viewpoints, along with the more traditional Christianity, etc., have added to the haunted fabric of the city.

And as these people look just like you and I, you might never know that you’ve walked by somebody who might be on their way to a ritual . . .

A Spell is Cast

It was late one night when one of our guides, Randy, was sitting in a dim bar in the French Quarter. He and his friend Samantha, a practicing witch, were out after completing their ghost tours for the evening.

It was late and Randy was beyond tired. He looked over at Samantha and internally froze. She appeared to be chanting some sort of spell. Without any warning, Randy watched as some strange ball of energy escaped her and shot straight through him. “I felt a strong wave of energy go through me,” Randy said, “I started screaming and cursing at her. I asked her what just happened, because I was so freaked out.”

Samantha wouldn’t say a single word.

They sat side by side at the bar, Randy contemplating how he could leave. Finally, he’d had enough. “I’m done,” he said abruptly, “I’m going home.”

Samantha begged him to wait until she finished up in the bathroom.

Randy desperately wanted to go home. He was tired, annoyed and, if he were being honest with himself, a little freaked out. But while Samantha was in the bathroom, and Randy sat waiting for her to finish, he suddenly felt as though he’d downed four red bulls.

His skin tightened and his thoughts started spinning faster and faster. The tiredness had evaporated and, oh wow, was he awake.

He saw Samantha approaching from his left.

“What did you to do me now?” he demanded. “You just did another spell in the bathroom, didn’t you.”

Samantha’s mouth shifted into a sly grin. “Maybe,” she murmured.

Rituals and Ghosts at 1022 Royal

A photo of the interior of Starling Magikal, where Ghost City's Ghost Hunt Experience takes place.
Do you want to experience haunted New Orleans? Join our Ghost Hunt Experience for the real deal.

Perhaps the best example of how people can often heighten paranormal activity themselves can be found at the location where Ghost City holds our Ghost Hunt Experience in the French Quarter. Without giving too much away—we don’t want to ruin all the surprises—part of the reason why the property is so active is due to its owner and the fact that we hold weekly investigations there.

Claudia, who is a dear friend of Ghost City, owns the whole lot. Up front, she operates one of the most popular occult shops in the city, where you can buy everything from incense to Voodoo candles.

Don’t get me wrong: the house is haunted and even once operated as a hospital in the 19th century.

But Claudia, who is a well-known Voodoo Priestess in New Orleans, has also been known to routinely hold Voodoo ceremonies in the courtyard. For those spirits who have nowhere to go, it is a belief in the Voodoo religion that these spirits can be brought to a location so that they are not forced to wander the world aimlessly.

1022 Royal Street is one of those places.

Naturally, this isn’t even considering that when we hold investigations, our investigators Michael Bill and Elaine are constantly interacting with the spectral residents.

1022 Royal Street is not a property where the spirits are left to themselves; they are engaged, questioned.

The property would be haunted on its own—but it seems that we, the living, have done our fair share in either bringing energies from other locations and of fostering those who already exist.

Coming to New Orleans

If you visit New Orleans, you may find that the city, and the people you meet tend to stay with you. Even years later, the city may call to you or a lost friend might even appear before your eyes.

If you’re ready to come to New Orleans, please allow us to help you have an experience that you’ll never forget. It’s our belief that the city of New Orleans is haunted, perhaps the most haunted place in all of America. It’s the history, the geography, the concept of multiple dimensions, the people you see on the street.

And our tour guides? They believe in the paranormal, have experienced phenomena that could not be explained. They each have their own ghostly tale to regale you with—like our Haunted Pub Crawl guide, John, likes to say, “There is no quantifying paranormal activity.”

New Orleans is haunted. Let our tour guides show you why on your next trip down to the Crescent City.