Rich history and culture of human settlements almost always are marred by dark pages we shudder to turn. Sugarcane cultivation was one of the major cash churning endeavor introduced in Lousiana in the 1800s. Large plantations of sugarcane and operation of sugar mills meant an adequate need for cheap labor, which during that time always meant African slaves. Whoever came up with the brilliant idea that a person can own another person!
Influenced by the movie Django Unchained on the same plot, we decided to take one of the plantation tours to peek into one such dark page of the past. Picked Oak Alley plantation. It was about 50 miles from the New Orleans city. One option was to go with the trip organizers who will pick us up from the city, finish the tour and drop us back, but that was a ridiculously expensive deal of 90$ per person considering the admission ticket into the plantation was only 20$. We rented a car and drove instead.
The twin row of 300 years old oak trees lining up the alley guarding the mansion house – I would definitely love to live in one and wake up to that. Trivia: the trees existed long before the mansion was built.
The place is currently managed by Oak Alley foundation who provide an hourly tour of the place for an admission fee of 20$. I was initially skeptic about the tour but it was informative, interesting and worth it, if you have a thing for the history that is. And of course the tour guide was pretty with a cool distinct southern accent.
It was an interesting piece of history. The mansion has gone through quite a lot – the good times when sugar business was at it’s peak under Mr. Jacques Roman’s administration, the bad times when the family was almost bankrupt after Roman’s death, the ugly times slave labor was exploited when they had to be amputated (which would mean a severe depreciation of their worth) often, given the perils of operation of sugar industry, the deadly times when diseases wiped out the rich and the poor alike given the absence of vaccinations, the dark times post civil war when the mansion was abandoned and inhabited by stray cattle and had undergone severe damage. Thanks to some of the renovation work done in the mid twentieth century we have something left still standing witness to the past.
Furthermore story and trivia in the pictures. Note the first one, the slave directory with their job specialty, race and their price. Quite fascinating.
That’s how the day went. It was a nice scenic drive back to the city with cool evening breeze in stark contrast to the hot summer winds of the afternoon, with pretty cool swamps, backwaters and sugar cane fields to gaze as the sun set.
Night it is and we are back in Bourbon street. This time though with a completely different, spooky plan of the itinerary.
When the sun set and the light goes that is when the dead arise.
New Orleans is considered one of the most haunted places in America. Something to do with many of the creepy and grisly deaths that have happened, especially in the french quarters. Horror stories are always pretty awesome to hear. Took a 2 hour haunted tour. Being a French quarters resident, old enough to have heard enough stories and to have experienced the supernatural, with a booming and sometimes intentionally spooky voice, our guide was just perfect for retelling a haunted history.
It all started during one fateful night when few french men under the influence of alcohol staged a coup against the Spanish. As one would expect in a horror story it ended in them being brutally murdered. Well, the Spanish could have stopped there. But no, they gotta send a message and put an end to any budding thoughts of revolt. The dead men were left to rot in the alley (right where we were standing listening to the story) beside the cathedral for days, for scavenging birds to poke their eyes, for maggots to infest their decaying bodies, for the rotten stench to stink all over the quarters, for the dead to creep the hell out of the living. Until one fine day when the skies opened and a storm came upon the town. With Spanish men having let their guard down running around for shelter, the french residents of the quarters made sure the last rites of the dead weren’t denied, but that ain’t good enough to appease the spirits. To this day whenever there is a storm, intent ears in the alley could hear the sad choir of the dead. And no – there was no storm when I was there. Unfortunately so.
While we still kept looking back at the alley we were led few blocks down to another street beside the Lalaurie Mansion. Delphine Lalaurie, a french quarter resident in the early 1800s enjoyed a respectable position in the society known to have employed slaves claiming to treat them well. Until a day a fire broke out in her kitchen spreading to other parts of the residence. Firemen responding to the call found an old lady chained to the kitchen. Turns out she started the fire as a suicide attempt as she didn’t want to end up with other slaves in the attic. The attic! Where men and women were imprisoned for months, limbs torn apart, eyes gouged, intestines gutted out, bones crushed and unable to walk, mutilated beyond recognition. Turns out Madame Lalaurie was a serial killer and torturer known to have involved in staging some cruel medical experiments on the slaves. Every now and then people experience apparitions in and around the mansion. No wonder!
As if that was not enough to twist our innards we were all set for the next story stopping by a building few streets further. Currently a hotel, it used to be a medical camp during war times. These were the times we did not have enough surgical advancements to mend broken arms and torn up legs. Only viable treatment to fix a body part damaged beyond repair was to get rid off it to prevent infection from spreading to other parts. Amputation was not done with proper anesthetics either. You gotta gulp down a bottle of whiskey to numb your mind and bite down on a leather strap while the doc is sawing off your leg. Not many would survive the procedure. Some lucky ones would die right there on the table, others would just die of infection, writhing in pain for days. Years later after the place has been rebuilt into an inn, a traveler staying at the place experienced a night he would have nightmares about forever. He woke up at the middle of the night for no reason. Something was not right. He could not move his body. He freaked out but his screams just died in his throat. Here comes the freaky part – a gentleman just walked by and started sawing off his leg. After a few minutes of horrible pain he woke up for real now and ran out of his room to the streets promising never to return ever near the place. Turns out the events that happened in the place were so horrible, there is some lingering energy that makes people relive those moments themselves. I do not remember the hotel’s name though to give you a heads up if you ever plan to visit NOLA.
The story of a romeo who jumped off his girl friend’s balcony to escape her parent’s wrath ending up with his guts spilled out, the orphan kids burnt alive in a fire, still running around looking for toys to play with, the middle-aged loyal head of a family walking back and forth in his porch guarding his family still, 200 years after his death, the haunting stench of the burning corpses lingering around for years by the mortuary that stood witness to countless victims of the deadly yellow fever that wiped out families like unwanted weeds – the stories are endless.
What is dead may never die.
Have a good night’s sleep with sweet dreams!