Seven things I now know about New Orleans (but should not have read just before bedtime)
New Orleans was a French colony, but became a Spanish possession through a secret treaty in 1762. Citizens staged a revolt, refusing to relinquish their French citizenship. The city returned to French rule in 1800 through the Treaty of San Ildefonso, but became part of the United States three years later through the Louisiana Purchase.
After the Louisiana Purchase, Americans began moving to New Orleans. But the Creoles and Spanish did not warm to their new fellow Americans, believing they “lacked social graces and had no appreciation for the New Orleans way to doing business” (Jeff Dwyer's Ghost Hunter's Guide to New Orleans, 2007, p. 41). The tension was so great, many newcomers moved out of the French Quarter and established an American neighborhood now known as the Garden District.
Irish immigrants are credited for digging the Garden District’s distinct, square-cut street gutters. But this work was so difficult, city residents would not even let their slaves do it. According to legend, many of the Irish workers – overworked and underfed – died in the holes and ditches they dug and remain buried there.
A common arrangement in 18th- and 19th-century New Orleans, plaçage was when married, white gentlemen had free young ladies of color or white Creole women as mistresses. Many of New Orleans’ ghost stories are based on the tragic results of these relationships.
The third floor of what was formerly known as O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub (508 Toulouse St.) has bars across the windows. These were installed during the yellow fever epidemic of the 1850s because several fever victims attempted to commit suicide by leaping through the windows.
During Prohibition, Antoine’s Restaurant (713 Saint Louis St.) had a speakeasy that was accessed through a secret door in the ladies’ restroom. This door would lead patrons into a small room in which gin was dispensed in coffee cups. When asked where the drinks came from, patrons replied, “It’s a mystery to me.” Hence, the illegal bar became known as “The Mystery Room.”
By 1860, above-ground burial was common in the city. This meant burial space was limited. In Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, it was common practice to open a grave one year and a day after burial. The remains of the occupant were removed and placed into the grave’s foundation in order to make room for a new occupant. Doing this, however, led to some gruesome discoveries. “On more than a few occasions, horrified family members and cemetery officials have discovered evidence that the dearly departed had not really departed before burial. The deceased was incorrectly pronounced dead when, in fact, he was in a coma. A year and a day after the funeral, when the grave was opened, the corpse was found propped up in a corner. Fingernails worn to stubs and scratches on the interior walls indicated the occupant had tried to claw his way out” (Dwyer, 2007, p. 55).