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

N.B. This article was originally published 16 June 2016 with North Rampart and Burgundy Streets. This article was edited for clarity 7 November 2020.

This article is part of my series, Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter, which looks at the haunted places of this neighborhood in a street by street basis. Please see the series main page for an introduction to the French Quarter and links to other streets.

Basin Street

Basin Street, or Rue Bassin, was named for the canal turning basin that was once located nearby. This portion of the Carondelet Canal provided a large area for ships to turn around and was filled in in the 1920s when its use declined.

Basin Street New Orleans Storyville
Looking “down the line” of bordellos along Basin Street, probably around the turn of the century. This view is from Iberville Street looking towards St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the mid-19th century, Basin Street was a noted residential street though it was overtaken in the 1870s when the fine homes were converted to use as bordellos, saloons, and music halls. The street formed the edge of the famous Storyville, the city’s most prominent red-light district. Basin Street was immortalized by Spencer Williams in his jazz standard, “Basin Street Blues.” Dr. John’s 1992 cover of the song includes a particularly interesting lyric, “I’m tellin’ ya, Basin Street, that’s the street/Where all the ghouls from Storyville and the St. Louis cemetery meet.”

After Storyville’s demise, the fine homes were demolished and replaced by the Iberville Projects.

Sources

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
425 Basin Street

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, the first of three such named cemeteries in New Orleans, is the oldest extant cemetery in the city. It opened in 1789 after the St. Peter Street cemetery was closed due to overcrowding and a year after a disastrous fire swept the city. Initially, the dead were buried underground, though this was found impractical after those graves were swamped because of the high water table. Above-ground vaults were found to be the most practical, and the cemetery grew from the ground up.

Basin Street New Orleans entrance gate to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 ghosts haunted
Basin Street entrance gate to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo by Infrogmation, 2007, courtesy of Wikipedia.

These vaults proved especially useful for holding generations of family members. After a loved one was interred within a vault, it would be opened after a period of time and the human remains cast into a crypt at the bottom while the coffin was usually burned. With this method, many thousands have been buried in this one block cemetery.

Since its opening, the cemetery has come to house a parade of both illustrious and ignoble New Orleanians. Among some of the best names are the great chess player, Paul Morphy, who is associated with the haunted Beauregard-Keyes House; Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U. S. Capitol Building among many other famous structures; and possibly, Madame Delphine LaLaurie, the infamous mistress of the famous haunted residence on Royal Street.

Perhaps the “Voodoo Queen,” Marie Laveau, is this burial ground’s most famous resident. Believed to have been buried in the tomb of the Glapion family, her grave remains a focal point for paranormal activity, rituals, vandalism, and curious tourists. Tradition holds that Laveau may grant the wish of someone completing a ritual at the tomb. After drawing an X on the tomb, the person is supposed to turn three times, knock on the tomb, yell out their wish, and return if the wish is granted. The X is supposed to be circled and the recipient expected to leave an offering. Thanks to this, the tomb is covered with many X’s and has received other vandalism.

tomb of Marie Laveau Basin Street New Orleans St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 ghosts haunted
Tomb of Marie Laveau, 2007, by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Visitors to the cemetery have reported seeing a woman wearing a “tignon,” or a seven-knotted handkerchief, near this tomb, who has been identified as Madame Laveau. Tour guide Katherine Smith reports that a guest on one of her tours placed her hand on Laveau’s grave to pray. As she did, she heard a woman’s voice speaking to her. Believing it to be the voice of Laveau, she left an offering and took some photographs. The photographs taken at the tomb were blacked out, despite all the other photographs on that roll of film being fine. There are also reports of visitors encountering the specter of a large black snake near the tomb that may be Zombi, one of Laveau’s pets.

Legends dating to the 1930s speak of cab-drivers avoiding the cemetery for fear of picking up a disappearing hitchhiker who appeared outside the cemetery. It seems that St. Louis No. 1 is home to many restless spirits who are seen walking through the labyrinth of above-ground crypts. One spirit of a man is even said to stop visitors and inquire as to the location of his grave.

Unfortunately, the vandalism of graves and crime in the area has led the Catholic Diocese of New Orleans to make the decision to close the cemetery to individual tourists. Only licensed tour groups can now enter the cemetery.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. The Haunted History of New Orleans: Ghosts of the French Quarter. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2013.
  • Christovich, Mary Louise. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. April 1975.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2016.
  • Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. New Orleans City Guide, 1938. Reprint by Garrett County Press, 2009.
  • Ghosts of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.” Ghost Eyes Blog. Accessed 11 January 2011.
  • Marie Laveau. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 29 July 2019.
  • Murphy, Michael. Fear Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Voodoo, Vampires, Graveyards & Ghosts of the Crescent City. NYC: Countryman Press, 2015.
  • Saint Louis Cemetery. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 29 July 2019.
  • Smith, Katherine. Haunted History Tours Presents Journey Into Darkness…Ghosts & Vampires of New Orleans. De Simonin Publishing, 1998.
  • Taylor, Troy. Beyond the Grave: The History of America’s Most Haunted Graveyards. Alton, Illinois: Whitechapel Publishing, 2001.
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