Friday, April 26, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 23


It’s been a hot, sultry day. You’ve walked the city until nightfall and suddenly the air cools. The steam rises from the pavement and you’re walking in a field of mist by Jackson Square. And then you see him—a figure coming from the closed doors of the Cathedral. Perhaps he heads down one of the alleys that flank the Church, Pirate’s Alley or—Pere Antoine Alley..
                He turns to look at you with gentle eyes, kindness and compassion—and then
                You’ve just met one of the famous ghosts of the city, Pere Antoine, born Antonio de Sedella in 1748. Pere Antoine has a mixed history—but then, you see, he was a real flesh and blood man who came to New Orleans under the Spanish Crown as part of the Spanish Inquisition that took place in Louisiana.  And real human beings, we know, come with virtues and faults.
At first, a man rigid in discipline, he quickly became a humanitarian. He had no heart for any kind of cruelty and instead, tended to the sick and dying, cared deeply for the slaves and freemen of every color. He risked his own health time and time again to render help to those suffering from disease.
He is however, blamed by some for the Great Fire of 1788 that swept through the city—destroying 80% of the buildings, remember?—because it was Good Friday, and the Church dictated that bells not be rung on Good Friday. Whether he was directly to be blamed or not, the Church, as we know, burned to the ground and had to be rebuilt.
That didn’t stop Pere Antoine. He stayed in New Orleans until his death in 1829, loved especially by the poor and revered by the slaves.
If you encounter Pere Antoine—he also seemed to like misty mornings—you will usually feel a sense of peace and comfort.
But, this city is full of ghosts. Seriously, please, of course! You don’t go through all the history and trauma faced by one of our most unique and wonderful cities without accruing ghosts. I never want to leave NOLA—why would the dead want to go?
At 716 Dauphine Street, you will find another of NOLA’s more famous ghosts. The Sultan,
also known as Sultan Suleyman.
The story begins with local Monsieur LaPrete, a once-wealthy plantation owner, who also had a city mansion on Delphine when the Union took over the city during the Civil War. Property owners scrambled to find a way not to go completely broke—their Confederate currency was worthless. In the city, seeking the advice of friends, LaPrete met a man at a pub who had overheard his tale of woe. The man introduced himself as an emissary of a Turkish sultan. The sultan had a huge family and needed a big house and the four stories at the corner of  Orleans and Delphine seemed perfect. LaPrete checked out the sultan, found out he was incredibly wealthy, rented the house to the sultan and returned to his plantation.
The sultan had a huge family indeed. Wives, concubines, and even little boys, so the story goes, and plenty of children. He also had a small army of eunuchs to guard the house; they stood upon the galleries, ever watchful. It’s rumored that people disappeared into the house—people as in beautiful young women of every shade. It was a tough time in NOLA, with “Beast” Butler ruling things, the war going this way and
that—and it was hard to keep track of everyone.
Two years went by. Then, a neighbor walking past the house paused because she didn’t hear any noise. This place where so many lived, where the sultan entertained lavishly and enjoyed his many partners had gone silent.
Then . . . she saw it. Blood. Blood dripping from the gallery.
When the police arrived, they discovered that there was more than blood everywhere—there were body parts everywhere.
It was a nightmare. No one knew just how many people lived in the house, so it was difficult to put the body parts together and come up with an accurate count. One body, however, was mysteriously missing no matter how the parts were put together. That was the body of the Sultan, and he was eventually found in a shallow grave—one hand reaching through the earth. His lungs and throat were filled with dirt. In traditional Muslim funeral attire, he had
been buried alive.
The horrible massacre was never prosecuted because culprits could not be caught.  
Blame the pirates! Ahoy, matey, and why not?
Well, pirates were men of enterprise. They were fond of pistols and were known for killing their enemies with pistols or swords, but not cutting them into pieces. They liked women—women could be sold. And they were not known for the murder of children. But, for years, no one could think of anyone else to blame. Somewhere in history it was discovered that the Sultan wasn’t really a Sultan—he was the brother of the Sultan. Sometimes, the oldest son, the inheritor, was known to kill his siblings in order to make sure that an inheritance went directly to his oldest son.
Was this what happened in New Orleans? Were assassins hired to carry out the grisly task, slipping in and out by the darkness of the night?
No one knows. What they do know is that when the light in the city in misty, when morning first appears, when dusk takes claim, strange things may be seen at the Sultan’s house. Turkish guards appear on the gallery and sometimes passersby see a man in a turban and robes entering or leaving the house . . . or perhaps, they see when a hand reaches out of the dirt and the murdered man tries to dig his way back to the glory of the life he had so briefly known at the house on Dauphine.
Perhaps the city’s most famous haunted house is that which once belonged to Madame LaLaurie. Oh, the things that woman was reported to do—the horrors she perpetuated on others! For more on Madame LaLaurie, please watch the video located here:
Because, of course, you’re heading to New Orleans and want to experience all the wonderful tales for yourself!
There are many ways to do this. The city thrives on its ghosts stories. Ghost? You wouldn’t say that as a bad thing—certainly not! Ghosts are part of the fabric and character of a city.
So, first off—you can question carriage driver’s down on Decatur in front of Jackson Square and tell them you want some great history—and some great ghosts, too. Carriage drivers can be amazing guides and you can meet your mule, too, get to know the old boy, and enjoy a ride through the city.
There are also a number of wonderful tour companies to call upon. They include but are not limited to Big Easy Tours, Haunted History Tours, Dixie Tours, and French Quarter Phantoms. You’ll find pamphlets on many of these tours all over the city. There really is no such thing as a “best” tour except as each tour happens for each person. We all know that tour guide can make or break a tour—and that it also depends on your willingness to be part of the magic of a ghost tour.
If you want to plan ahead, just key in “New Orleans Ghost Tours” and choose what you see as the best.
Tired from all the sight-seeing? Take the carriage tour!
I couldn’t begin to introduce all the stories you’ll discover. This is New Orleans. A few cities do claim to be the most haunted. I promise you, New Orleans deserves to be in the top running!
Pirates, yes . . . .
Back to pirates!
But for now . . . .
You’re walking down the street. It’s very late at night and you’re far from the revelry of Bourbon Street. Before you, you see a woman in white and she is running, running down the

street . . . you turn! A phantom carriage is racing toward the river carrying Madame and Doctor LaLaurie as they try to escape . . . .
You run by Jackson Square. And it’s all cool again because gentle Pere Antoine is just leaving the Cathedral, reading his prayer book with his rosary in his hands, and he will comfort you!

1 comment:

Mike said...

Jackson Square was such an amazing place. You can really feel the spirits there, not to mention the two plates of beignets I ate at cafe du monde!