Room 208. Otherwise known as the most haunted guest room at the Andrew Jackson Hotel, which is located smack dab in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
For months, Ghost City Tours has been preparing for the first-ever public ghost hunt to be held at this historic and haunted hotel—July 7th and 8th or 2017 will prove illuminating in more ways than one in discovering what, if anything, is roaming the halls of this nineteenth century building.
But for now the stairs were creaking under the feet of Ghost City Tours’ paranormal investigator and Voodoo priest, Michael Bill. He and fellow investigator, Elaine, had agreed to stay the night at the illustrious hotel as a preliminary overnight ghost hunt. Backed with MEL meters, K2 meters, spirit boxes, voice recorders and other ghost hunting equipment, Michael Bill and Elaine were strapped with whatever they could possibly need to detect the spectral presences at 919 Royal Street.
The sun still shone brightly overhead as Michael Bill lugged the equipment up the outdoor stairwell. The U-shaped balcony led him past other rooms, until he stopped at 208.
Eagerly he stepped before his door, key in hand. The door didn’t budge. Michael Bill attempted another go round, but still nothing. He was supposed to stay in Room 208, right? He called the office, wondering if perhaps he’d gotten the rooms confused. But no, he had the right of it. Slinging his backpack full of heavy equipment up his shoulder, he went in search for one of the housekeepers for help.
She did so, using her own key to open the door. She flashed a smile, noting that perhaps her key was just the magical one. It could have been true, if the same thing did not happen to Michael Bill shortly later again. His key, a new one, would just not work.
A prayer slipped from his tongue as he removed his treasured wooden cross from around his neck, and placed it to the door to grant him entry.
It broke, just like that, snapping in half in his hand, while the bottom half of the cross dropped to the floor. Unease slithered through him. From the very first moment that he’d approached his room for the night, an overbearing sensation had settled over him that someone was watching.
Immediate. Threatening. Whatever was on the other side of that door inhabiting Room 208 at the Andrew Jackson Hotel did not want him inside. But who? What?
The spirits were hiding within, and it was a toss up on whether they would want to be discovered during Michael Bill and Elaine’s overnight investigation.
A few months ago, I wrote up an article about the haunted Andrew Jackson Hotel. I dug deep into the property’s history, determined to reveal the hotel’s secrets—and for the most part, I succeeded.
For years, stories have circulated as concrete fact among local tour companies:
At 919 Royal Street there stood an all boys’ school during eighteenth-century Spanish Colonial Louisiana, they say, before a nasty fire swept through the city in the dead of night and lit the school aflame. Five boys were the alleged victims of the devastation, and whose ghosts are said to still play pranks and alert guests of the Andrew Jackson to their spectral existence.
The spirit of Andrew Jackson is also said to haunt the corridors of the hotel, stumbling into guests and reminding them that he once went to trial at 919 Royal Street, once the old Federal Courthouse, and has apparently decided that camping out at the Andrew Jackson Hotel is his preferred haunting spot.
Tour guides are quick to call the Andrew Jackson Hotel one of the most paranormally active places to stay in New Orleans, thanks largely to the two ghost stories above.
But there’s a simple problem: those particular ghost stories aren’t true.
But the truth is: the hotel is haunted.
Michael Bill and Elaine returned to the hotel and to their room after their ghost tours that night. It was after 10PM, and they’d already set up equipment throughout the two or three hours they’d been leading tourists around the French Quarter. Later, they’d comb through that material in search for any significant paranormal evidence.
Little did they know what surprises were in store for them that night, as they sat and held EVP sessions with the dead.
Seated together in the guest room, Michael Bill and Elaine held voice recorders in hand as they settled in for an EVP session. They started off with what they knew of the haunted history of the hotel:
“Is anyone here with us?"
“Are the ghosts of the little boys who died in the fire here with us now?"
“Did the fire ever happen?"
The questions peppered the air, which was deathly silence since the AC had been turned off—no way did they want it interfering with their recordings.
After some minutes of questioning an otherwise silent room—except, of course, for that constant eery sensation of being watched—Michael Bill and Elaine opted to play back some of the recordings, in case something had been said by a spirit that could not be picked up by the naked ear.
Imagine their surprise when they heard the distinct sound of a male calling the name “Sara,” as if hollering at her from afar. Michael Bill and Elaine turned to stare at each other, excitement lining their smiles.
Sara. Who was Sara? The supposed ghost of a female caretaker who has been spotted by guests on the stairwell and on the second floor? A former mistress of the property?
One by one, these questioned were posed to the spirit, who seemed to have joined the ghost hunting party. With each question that was voiced, the MEL meters blinked to life, pulsing with bright red flashes to alert the living that they were not alone . . . the dead had joined them.
“Turn the meters off, please.” The questions continued, only this time, not only did the meters burst to life but the AC flicked on, whirring as it kicked into gear.
“Have you been here awhile, Sara?"
Blinking lights; whirring air. The room seemed to soak up the energy of the spectral visitor, and the temperature matched that too. Even with the AC turned off, the temperature dipped, dropping much cooler than the initial 78 degrees. The AC switched on in response to another question, and yet the temperature burned hotter that before.
Room 208 was alive with the spirits of days long ago, but Michael Bill and Elaine still had no clue as to Sara’s identity or relation to the hotel. They had only a name.
And the fact that she was willing to communicate with the—until the MEL meters slipped into silence and the AC unit stayed off, and the investigators were left to wonder if Sara’s spirit was no longer interested in playing their games.
Michael Bill and Elaine questioned that there had ever been a fire at the Andrew Jackson Hotel during its days as a Spanish Colonial school in the 1780s. In the first go around of historical research, Ghost City had proved that the fire of 1788 or 1794 had never touched 919 Royal Street.
But that hasn’t stopped guests from reporting the spirits of boys pulling pranks on them during their stay at the hotel. Guests have come forward to management to explain that their TVs have switched on and off without even touching the remote; others have heard the distinct sound of children’s laughter, even though there are no children staying at the hotel.
And even once or twice in the past, a guest or two has claimed to see the apparition of one of these ghostly boys.
Michael Bill and Elaine were skeptical, having matched up the history to the hauntings themselves, but in the course of their overnight investigation, the hauntings became only more confusing.
You see, Room 208 was visited by the specter named Thomas. His childish voice came through over the reworked spirit box—one that has eliminated all other noises on the radio airwaves—and so did the eery laughter of children who were nowhere in sight.
“Are you one of the little boys who died in the fire, Thomas?"
No sound, not at first, but then there was a distinctly chilling statement: “we are hiding."
It sounded like a group of children, not just one soul.
“Where?” Michael Bill and Elaine asked desperately. “We can’t find you if we don’t know where you are—can you give us a hint?"
“Come and find us . . . in the back house,” came the reply.
The next day, Michael Bill would reach out to ask if there was anything still in the back of the house—a barn, a shed. Today, the exterior of the hotel’s courtyard contains a shed generally used to hold items for the hotel—but in 1896, just a few years after the Old Federal Courthouse (and the Spanish School) were torn down to be replaced with the current building, there was indeed a barn, which appears in map records all the way back to the 1780s.
“In the back of the house?” they asked each other as the voices came through over the headphones.
And then there was one last EVP, which can only make one wonder what happened to the boy named Thomas and his companions: “Save us.""
When I first visited the Andrew Jackson Hotel to write my article for Ghost City Tours, I had the luck of being escorted around by Assistant General Manager Cody McLain, who has since become a great friend to Ghost City.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t forthright in asking about the hotel’s hauntings. In particular, I wanted to know about good ole General Andrew Jackson himself. McLain’s response was much the same as we ourselves thought within the company: sightings of Andrew Jackson’s ghost were probably nothing more, and nothing less, than wishful thinking.
Just because a location is named in honor of somebody does mean that their spirit has stuck around in the Afterlife.
But what about Sara? Thomas?
I returned to the historical records, and what I found could shed some light on the Michael Bill and Elaine’s preliminary investigation.
Take a walk around the French Quarter and you might find yourself thinking, “You know, this doesn’t look all too French around here.” And you’d be right—the architecture is not French, for the most part, but influenced heavily by the city’s Spanish descendants.
By 1763, the Spanish had purchased the Louisiana Territory from France; at the time of the Good Day Fire in 1788, the city was Spanish in name, although still French at heart. In the course of a single night, nearly 900 buildings of some 1,000 burned down to the ground.
Legend has it that the Spanish Boys' School at 919 Royal Street was one of the fire’s victims, but this isn’t true—after much digging into Spanish Colonial Records, I (re)discovered some pertinent information: it was not the building on 919 Royal Street that was caught up in the flames, but another property entirely.
In April 1788, less than three weeks after the devastating fire, real estate mogul Don Andres Almonester y Roxas offered to Don Andres Lopez de Armesto the use of a different property—a small house, he wrote—as a substitute for the school that Spanish educator Armesto had only just lost.
Where that previous school was located is slightly more confusing to uncover, as the Notarial Archives only show one other property where both Almonester and Armesto are listed together: that property is 841 Bourbon Street, only a block or so away from the Andrew Jackson Hotel, which, in 1786, was turned into Charity Hospital.
We know that then- Governor Miro ordered the property exchange to be made, and so the school boys were shuffled into a thirteen-by-twelve foot building to commence with their studies, until a new building—some $6,000 in estimated costs—could be constructed. That “new” building was and is where the Andrew Jackson Hotel stands today.
Which leads us to the major question: if the five boys did not die in a fire at 919 Royal Street, is it possible that they are still haunting the property?
Considering the paranormal evidence Ghost City Tours received from our preliminary stay at the hotel, it seems to be the case that the spirits of those boys who lost their lives perhaps continued with the school, their souls attached to their classmates who survived or perhaps even to their teachers, like Don Pedro Aragon.
Over two centuries after the fire, their souls seem to be caught in the In-Between—playing pranks on hotel guests, hiding from adults—but still begging to be saved. Although the question remains: are they asking to be saved from the conflagration that probably stole their lives, or something more sinister altogether?
Along with Thomas and the other school children, the most active ghost that night at the Andrew Jackson Hotel was definitely the ghost of Sara. She answered Michael Bill and Elaine’s questions readily, energizing the MEL meters into action, turning on and off the air conditioning unit.
But according to the audio EVP, it was a male’s voice who called out her name, not necessarily Sara who answered our investigations.
I’ll be honest, this makes me wonder if it was Sara herself interacting with our ghost hunters, or another entity or spectral visitor completely.
But if it was indeed Sara, who was she?
No Saras were matched to any of the wives or owners of 919 Royal Street. The search raged on—until I stumbled across a particular 1940 Census record, in which a Rosaria Catherine “Sara" Cangeloise was listed as living adjacent to 919 Royal at 934 Royal Street. She was roughly 42-45 years old at the time, and had lived at the property since 1907. She never married but lived with her family until the house was sold in 1948 after her father’s death.
Who did she live with? Sara was one of nine children, four boys and five girls. Both of her parents had immigrated from Cefalu, Sicily, just before the turn of the century. At the time of the 1940 census record, the Andrew Jackson Hotel was functioning as a hotel—although perhaps not necessarily the Andrew Jackson itself—and it’s quite possible that Sara worked just across the street from her home. The census lists her as employed, but does not list where.
Even if she was not a housekeeper at the hotel, the fact that Michael Bill and Elaine heard a man calling out Sara’s name would make sense, as paranormal activity can often form because of residual energy, in which a single event can be replayed over and over again on a different spiritual plane.
There’s only to discover more about the ghosts who made their presence known to Michael Bill and Elaine during their initial paranormal investigation—to join us for the first ever public ghost hunt to be held at the hotel.
During the nights of July 7th and 8th, guests will have the opportunity to venture into the hotel and investigate in a way that has not been done before. Will Thomas, the other children or Sara make a reappearance? Or will, perhaps, other ghostly visitors show themselves instead?
There’s one thing that’s for certain: the Andrew Jackson Hotel remains one of the most haunted hotels in New Orleans, and it seems evident that the property’s ghosts are more than wiling to engage with the living and to tell their stories.
As for ourselves, we’re desperate to learn more about Sara . . . and to discover once and for all, why Thomas and his companions need saving.