Monday, April 01, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 6

The Haunted Mortuary

                Chills, thrills, screams, yes! This beautiful old place was built as a home. Then it did, historically, become a mortuary; the embalming rooms remain today.

                I’m particularly fond of the Haunted Mortuary because we were able to see it in its infancy, before it was really decided just what it was going to be. There was work being done the first time we came; while failed businesses over the years—and Hurricane Katrina!—had taken their toll on the beautiful mansion, they hadn’t done her in.

                There were plans for it to house a paranormal research facility—which it did for many years. There was a wonderful upstairs room with an octagonal table where cards could be read. People could be tested to find out if they did have psychic abilities. 

                The paranormal research people have moved on, but the Haunted Mortuary—elegant in its gruesomeness—lives on!

                The first time I came when it was set up with the “haunted” house in the basement, I was really there to be upstairs to talk to the para-psychology group and it was daytime. But, they were set-up below for the haunted house to begin for the Halloween season. 

                Even by light, oh . . . !

                They do a fantastic job here!

                A year or so ago when we were doing our Writers for New Orleans conference on the Labor Day Weekend, the management was kind enough to allow our group in for a private “early-bird.” It was just our group—and I promise you, we stayed close!

                It’s now billed as one of the “most actively haunted” houses in the United States. Whether real ghosts have taken up residency or not, I do know that as a Halloween haunted house, it’s one of the most frightening I’ve ever seen. Live actors enhance the tingles that will seize you.

                We brought in our own catering that night with the blessings of the management the house was not fully up—it wasn’t due to open to the public for another week.  Connie was unaware that many of the creatures were motion activated. The basement level (where the embalming went on) is on the tour—it’s also where you can bring heavy things on through to the kitchen. As Connie entered from the backside with our trays of sandwiches and
munchies, she inadvertently walked right by a giant, creepy monster with huge skeletal arms and fingers and dripping moss. As she moved, the light came on—the monster moved and cackled—and Connie screamed, jumped a mile high—and sandwiches went flying.

                I’ve seldom been so scared by such a facility—nor have I laughed harder!

                They have simply done a spectacular job with the place. Rooms are truly historically tinged by the past and therefore, perhaps, they already offer a sense of that long time gone that we can no longer touch. Maybe there’s a faint whimper left on the air, the tears of a survivor saying goodbye to a loved one. The effects are worthy of a good Hollywood flick and the actors have a nice zeal for their jobs. 

                The Haunted Mortuary is a true Victorian mansion, grand in its scope. It sits at
4800 Canal Street (out of the Quarter!) but can be reached easily by car or streetcar. It was built in 1872 by a woman named Mary Slattery who surely imagined that in the decades to come, her children and grandchildren would live in the house. But dreams are seldom to be—in 1905 she sold the home, and in 1928, it was sold again—this time to become a business.

                By 1930, new owners were advertising the house as the P.J. McMahon and Sons Undertaking. In 1933, the garage entry was built—that same entry that nearly scared Connie to an early grave! The concept at the time was that a funeral home should have all the comforts of home, and, of course, give comfort to the loved ones left behind.

                Eventually, the funeral business gave way, as many will. During the years that followed, other interests envisioned the house in many ways. But it wasn’t until it became the Haunted Mortuary—and wonderful and tremendous work went on!—that the gorgeous place was really saved.

                Today, check out the venue when you’re in the city. It’s available for private parties, to film studios—and even for children’s birthday parties. 

                But, when Halloween rolls around . . . .

                I promise you, it’s terrifying. Yes, I’m a chicken—but I saw it scare big, grown men. Even big, grown men in law enforcement. 

                Oh—just by happenstance, the Haunted Mortuary sits next to an old Jewish
cemetery. You can look out the windows and see as the moon shines down on the graves next door.

                I was able to host my party there and it was quite a feeling, standing at the door in Victorian mourning, waiting for our guests to arrive. I was left alone in what was once a “viewing” room; I admit, I kept listening for people in the nearby bar area as we set up for our friends to come.

                Once, in the early states, I had asked a friend who worked in parapsychology more about the ghosts; I loved her answer. They might not all have died at the mortuary, and they might not have been at the mortuary for a viewing. But New Orleans was one of the most haunted cities in the world.

                Bourbon Street was riddled with ghosts. 

                It’s kind of like Field of Dreams in her mind. 

                If you build it, they will come!

                There must be something. Paranormal research groups from across the country have come here on their expeditions. You can arrange to take tours and learn what spirits remain behind.

                The displays are wonderful. Cobwebs and skeletal beings . . . and sometimes, you
may not be sure if they will or will not move . . . .

                Oh, and there’s a huge marvelous black chair decked out in a most creepy fashion (see pic!) that can also make quite a change.

                When the holidays roll around, Santa visits the Haunted Mortuary.

                What’s black becomes red. Ho, ho, ho!

                Yes, like New Orleans, the Haunted Mortuary can roll with the seasons of life!

                Visit and see! Their website is!


Mike said...

I had so many writing ideas pop into my head when I was in New Orleans. The city definitely inspires creativity.

Heide Katros said...

Love New Orleans. In fact, we are flying there in a couple of weeks. Thank you for describing the Haunted Mortuary so vividly. Then again, I never expect anything less from Heather Graham. You are not only a wonderful author, but you are one of the most gracious. Wishing you the best.
Heide Katros