Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter—Decatur Street

New Orleans is easily included among the most paranormally active cities in the South, if not the entire country. Indeed, some have remarked that finding a location here that is not haunted is far more difficult than finding a place that is haunted. In order to comprehensively cover haunted places throughout the Crescent City, I’m starting with the oldest section, the French Quarter.

The French Quarter is generally defined as the section stretching from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue and from the Mississippi River northwest to North Rampart Street. This section of the city is where the city was originally founded by the French in 1718. With buildings and sites spanning three centuries, the French Quarter is perhaps the most paranormally active neighborhood in the entire city.

Decatur Street originally ran alongside the levee that protected the city from flooding and was called Rue de la Quai, Rue de la Levee or Levee Street until 1870 when it was renamed for early American naval hero Stephen Decatur. Until the early 20th century, much of Decatur Street was a working-class and immigrant area with “Upper Decatur Street” (the portion of the street near to Canal Street) serving sailors during their stopovers in port.

Ryan’s Irish Pub
241 Decatur Street

Patrons sitting near the back wall of this popular Irish pub have seen the apparition of an African-American workman. Jeff Dwyer posits that he may be a victim of the fire that swept through this section of the city in December of 1794.

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2017.

Bienville House
320 Decatur Street

This elegant boutique hotel began life in the early 19th century as a rice mill and warehouse. The property was transformed in 1835 into the North American Hotel and has served as a hotel for much of its existence. When Decatur Street began to see revitalization efforts in the mid-20th century, the building was renovated as a private apartment building. In 1972 the Monteleone family, owners of the famed and haunted Hotel Monteleone, purchased the building for use as a hotel again.

According to psychic and paranormal investigator Cari Roy, the Bienville is home to several spirits. One is the wraith of a young woman whom guests have awakened to find standing at their bedside. Often, the guests are unable to move for a moment, though the apparition vanishes after they are released from their momentary paralysis.

Sources

Kerry Irish Pub
331 Decatur Street

Ad from The Town Talk of Alexandria, LA, 10 August 1914. This business once occupied the building that now houses the Kerry Irish Pub.

This three-story commercial building was probably constructed in the 19th century. Ads in early 20th century papers show this building was utilized by the Southern Mattress Company, though that does little to explain the cold spots, disembodied footsteps and voices that staff and patrons have encountered within the warm interior of this pub.

Sources

French Market Inn
509 Decatur Street

Originally a bakery for the Dreux family, this 18th century structure has hosted an inn since the Baroness de Pontalba purchased the property in the 1830s. Reports of ghosts began to surface shortly after the building opened to guests. Shadowy figures slipping in and out of rooms and the sounds of metallic clanging, possibly the same sounds produced by a pulley system that operated in the original bakery, have haunted the inn for its almost 200 years of history.

The 500 Block of Decatur Street, 2007. The gold colored building is the French Market Inn. Photo by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Stories of guests waking to find a bloody handprint on their sheets have also surfaced. A paranormal investigator staying in room 218 was kept awake throughout the night by the feeling of unseen presences, an alarm clock going off periodically, her shower turning off and on on its own accord, and bangs and thuds of unknown origin.

Sources

Tujague’s
823 Decatur Street
 

The second oldest restaurant in the city after Antoine’s, Tujague’s (pronounced TOO-zhagz) has operated since 1856. Opened by Guillaume Tujague and his wife, Marie Abadie, the restaurant initially served the dock workers and laborers who crowded this neighborhood. For years, the restaurant’s biggest competitor was Beague’s which operated at the corner of Decatur and Madison, on Jackson Square. The owners of both restaurants teamed up and opened the Begue’s space as Tujague’s in 1914.

Tujague’s 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of
Wikipedia.

One of the more interesting spirits here is believed to be that of Julian Eltinge, the famous vaudevillian female impersonator. Eltinge always made a point to stop here when he was in town and a photograph of him once graced the dining room. After this photograph was moved to the attic, his image appeared in a selfie taken by some patrons in 2013.

On the second floor, which once housed the kitchen, the sounds of breaking glass and china is sometimes heard. This is thought to be related to a love triangle that existed between Madame Beague, who owned the restaurant, her second husband Hypolite, and a young lady who worked in the kitchen. 

Sources

  • Knapp, Gwendolyn. “A cross dressing ghost haunts Tujague’s.” New Orleans Eater. 28 October 2015.
  • Walker, Judy. “Poppy Tooker communes with Tujague’s ghosts in new cookbook.” Times-Picayune. 27 October 2015.

Turtle Bay
1119 Decatur Street

Writer Alison Fensterstock notes that the 1100 block of Decatur Street “is a particularly fertile area for haunting,” in her 2009 article, “When Ghosts Attack.” In fact, when she visited Turtle Bay while researching the article, her presence may have riled the restaurant’s resident spirit, “Boudreaux.” When she returned to the restaurant the following day, she discovered that the spirit had thrown a tantrum, throwing a couple knives and a pan in the kitchen. This activity, however, is not limited to visits by writers, the cook explained to Fensterstock that the business’ owner was not liked by the spirit and had once pushed a table into him.

Sources

Santos Bar
1135 Decatur Street 

Santos, a Rock n’ Roll bar, is the latest of many bars and clubs that have occupied this 19th century building. Spirits here include former patrons and staff members. For further information, see my writeup, “Sipping with Spirits—New Orleans.”

Sipping with Spirits—New Orleans, Louisiana

Santos Bar
1135 Decatur Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

For years, women have encountered a man in the ladies’ room. In the hedonistic atmosphere of New Orleans, this might not generally be cause for alarm, but when the man stares women down, they leave and notify a staff member. Dutifully, the staff member will check the restroom, though they know the man is only one of the handful of spirits that inhabit this ancient structure. Known as the “Guy in the Bathroom,” the gentleman, wearing a tank top and Jams shorts, is just one of the lost souls remaining here.

Peeling back the layers of history in New Orleans can be a fascinating process. The land upon which Santos Bar is located once was a part of the Ursuline Convent that still stands on the opposite side of the block on Chartres Street. Ursuline sisters from the French city of Rouen arrived in New Orleans in 1727 to establish a hospital and provide education for girls. The sisters were granted a large parcel of land stretching from the river to Chartres Street. This property held an assemblage of buildings including hospital buildings. With the many epidemics of cholera and yellow fever that swept the city in its early years, this site likely saw many deaths.

In the first decades of the 19th century, the convent was moved to a new building in the 9th Ward and the main convent building converted to use as a residence for the bishop of New Orleans while many of the convent’s buildings were demolished to make way for homes and commercial buildings. A series of three-story brick buildings were built along Decatur Street from 1830-1831 called “Ursuline Row.” There does seem to be some contention as what buildings were constructed as part of Ursuline Row. Samuel Wilson’s 1959 A Guide to the Architecture of New Orleans includes all buildings in this block facing Decatur Street, though the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) only includes Nos. 1107-1133 in their collection; stopping short of including the building at No. 1135. Regardless of if the building was part of Ursuline Row, the current structure was likely built no earlier than the 19th century.

Ursuline Row in June 1936. No. 1135 is in the background towards the right side. Photo taken by Richard Koch for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

For decades the neighborhood around Ursuline Row was a working-class neighborhood inhabited by dock workers, laborers, and immigrants. In the 1930s, saloons and bars opened up along the street and hosted jazz bands. This building was occupied by the Popeye Beer Parlor, which remained open for almost a decade. This would be one of the first of many drinking establishments that would occupy this building.

1135 Decatur Street in 2007 when it was home to The Whirling Dervish. Photo by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over the past few decades, this building has played host to a panoply of bars ranging from a lesbian bar, Rubyfruit Jungle, to a well-known underground goth bar, The Crystal, with many variations in between. As I write this, the building is a bar called Santos, run by the same owners of The Saint Bar & Lounge on St. Mary Street (which is also known to be haunted). While the clientele has changed over the years, spirits remain.

A 2009 article (this address was Rubyfruit Jungle when this article was written) on New Orleans bar ghosts notes, however, that the most well-known spirit on the premises was the Guy in the Bathroom. An earlier article, from 2004 when the building was occupied by The Whirling Dervish, explores more spirits. At this time, the bar was owned by a businessman who also ran a French Quarter haunted history tour, which featured the bar as one of its stops. The article mentions the Guy in the Bathroom, and includes three more spirits, as well as vampires that are rumored to inhabit the shadows here.

One ghost is always seen upstairs and another hangs out where the old DJ booth used to be.

The third is seen outside the bar where he was supposedly murdered when the club was known as The Crystal.

A fourth ghost, the owner at the time of The Crystal was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat in the upstairs room.

Now his ghost is said to lurk in the upper bar.

I have not been able to locate any information on murders here, though such tragedies in the building’s history are almost par for the course for New Orleans buildings.

In a city where spirits are a hallmark for many establishments, Santos, it seems, is a perfect place to hear good music and sip with spirits.

Sources

The battlefield ghosts of Blue Licks–Kentucky

Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park
10299 Maysville Road
Carlisle
 

Located on the Licking River, the Lower Blue Licks were a mineral spring and salt lick where immense herds of buffalo gathered before they were driven from the area. After the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781 ended fighting in the east, the British and loyal Native Americans continued fighting in the west, particularly in western Virginia, the area that is now West Virginia and Kentucky. After British troops under the leadership of Captain William Caldwell and a contingent of Native Americans unsuccessfully laid siege to the settlement of Bryan Station, on August 19, 1782 they attempted to lure a small militia led by Colonel John Todd (an ancestor of first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln) and famed frontiersman, Lt. Col. Daniel Boone.

The remains of a buffalo path at the Blue Licks Battlefield, 2009. Photo by Mason Brock, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Though the leaders of the patriot militia suspected they were being led into an ambush, Major Hugh McGary mounted his horse and stubbornly rode into the enemy trap. A 15-minute battle commenced killing Col. Todd and Lt. Col. Stephen Trigg and many of their men. Only Boone’s small force was left on the battlefield and, after he ordered a retreat, his son Israel was shot in the neck and killed. The death of Boone’s son and his defeat at Blue Licks would haunt him for the rest of his life.

During the 19th century, the springs attracted visitors wishing to take advantage of the mineral water found in the springs here. The Great Depression brought the construction of a Pioneer Museum here and lodge.

A monument at the Blue Licks Battlefield, 2010. Photo by SuzRstamps, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The multiple layers of a history here have left a varied group of ghosts throughout the park. Campers have encountered a mysterious black-clad woman who appears by campfires to warm her hands. Others have experienced Native American spirits and spectral British soldiers. The founder of the park’s museum was buried next to the building and is known to continue welcoming guests to his museum. Within the park’s lodge, the doors of the dining room are reported to open and close on their own accord.

Sources

  • Battle of Blue Licks. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 April 2018.
  • Morgan, Robert. Boone: A Biography. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2008.
  • Ross, Denita. “Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park’s First Ever Paranormal Weekend.” Fantasma: Kentucky’s Magazine of the Paranormal. Fall 2006.
  • Starr, Patti. Ghosthunting Kentucky. Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy Press, 2010.

A Heavenly Escort—Maryland

In late 1881, the country was reeling from the death of President James A. Garfield. On July 2, the president, accompanied by two of his sons and his Secretary of State, James G. Blaine, entered the Baltimore and Potomac Passenger Terminal in Washington to board a train for Massachusetts, where Garfield was scheduled to make a speech at Williams College. Entering the terminal’s waiting room, the entourage was approached by a man from the crowd who fired two shots at the president.

The Garfield assassination as depicted in Frank Leslie’s Newspaper, 1881.

Charles Guiteau, a mentally ill man from Illinois was arrested on the scene. Believing that God had ordained the murder, Guiteau had been stalking the president convinced that he was owed an appointment in Garfield’s administration. Both shots Guiteau fired struck the president, though only one penetrated his body: entering his back and coming to rest near his spleen.

The president lingered for more than two months while the country prayed for him to recover. While under modern circumstances Garfield would have recovered quickly, medical science of the period did not recognize and properly treat the infections that wracked his body. Garfield died on September 19 from a ruptured splenic artery aneurism with septicemia and pneumonia as contributing factors. Guiteau was charged with murder, found guilty and executed in June 30, 1882.

A few weeks after the death of the president, a curious notice appeared in a Delaware newspaper which was picked up by The Evening Visitor in Raleigh, North Carolina. The notice described a heavenly vision that was seen by residents of the Delmarva Peninsula. The vision was first viewed by a young girl in the Talbot County, Maryland community of Royal Oak.

The Evening Visitor (Raleigh, North Carolina)
13 October 1881, Page 4

Garfield’s Heavenly Escort.

PENINSULAR PEOPLE SEE THE LATE
PRESIDENT SURROUNDED BY SOLDIERS
IN THE SKY.

Peninsular people have been seeing ghosts and supernatural objects with alarming frequency during the last three weeks. The first instance of things heavenly having been seen comes from Royal Oak, Maryland. A little girl, some three weeks ago, living in the village, saw after night-fall, before the moon was fairly up above the horizon, whole platoons of angels marching and counter-marching to and fro in the clouds, their white robes and helmets glistening with a weird light. At intervals the heavenly visitors would dance mournfully, as if to the sound of unseen music and certainly unheard music. She rushed in to her parents and declared that the heavens had been spread and betrayed to her vision sights somewhat premature, as regard time, and then sank down in affright. Her father, to satisfy his doubting mind, went out and was rewarded with a sight of the unearthly spectacle. The news of the mystery quickly spread from mouth to mouth, from house, to house, and in an incredibly short space of time the inhabitants were out en masse gazing in open mouthed astonishment while the white robed hosts seemingly offended at the immense amount of genuine astonishment and wonder they were unearthing, slowly faded from sight, leaving Royal Oak a firm believed, from the little girl who was first on the spot to the ‘Squire in his little office behind the church in ghosts and winged goblins. But the phenomena seem to have been especially manifest in Sussex, Delaware.

Monday night two weeks ago William West, a farmer living near Georgetown, the county seat, saw, at a time almost identical with the appearance of the vision of Royal Oak, bands of soldiers of great size, equipped in dazzling uniforms their musket steels quivering and shimmering in the pale weird light that seemed to be everywhere, marching with military precision up and down unseen avenues and presenting arms at the sound of unheard commands. The vision was of startling distinctness and lasted long enough to be seen by a number of West’s neighbors who, after the unearthly military had taken its departure and been swallowed up in thin air, retailed the strange story to their eager friends who had not been so fortunate as they. But strangest of all, a man named Coverdale, who was driving thought the country along a lonely road at the same time, being then several miles away from West’s house and in an entirely different direction, saw to his astonishment and alarm the same band of soldiers in their faultless uniforms. Many people living near Laurel, many miles away, situated in the lower end of the Peninsula, saw the same extraordinary phenomena at the same time. A few go as far as to say, in spite of the ridicule of their associates, that they distinctly saw in the midst of the soldiers, and conspicuous by reason of his size and commanding presence, the hero President himself, pale, but with his every feature distinctly and vividly portrayed. There is no doubt of the fact that there were many who thought they saw Garfield in the clouds. In Talbot county the illusion was seen by [a] number. A farmer living in Clata’s Point on going out into his yard after dark saw, as he related it afterwards to his neighbors, angels and soldiers marching side by side in the clouds, wheeling and going through every evolution with military precision and absolutely life-like and natural.—Wilmington (Del.) News.

Sources