I am happy to report that the haunted spirits of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter are alive and well. Having just returned from a three week Mardi Gras assignment for a PBS television station (I produce the annual live coverage of the final events of Mardi Gras), I did manage to find time to wander around.
The lush courtyards, moss-covered patios, and narrow brick-lined alleys still provide enough nooks and crannies for the city’s resident ghosts. Perhaps it is the thick blanket of humid air that weighs them down and holds them in place or the casual acceptance of locals confirming their spirited presence with a nod, but they like it here.
To mark its remarkable fifth reprint by Pelican Publishing, I was asked to update chapters in my book, The Haunting of Louisiana. So I got to revisit some old haunts. One of my favorites had always been O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. I was aware that after Hurricane Katrina, owner and Irish balladeer Danny O’Flaherty did not reopen the popular bar. It sat vacant for a number of years and reopened under new ownership as the Old New Orleans Cookery, an upscale restaurant. I wondered what had happened to its trio of ghosts: Angelique, Joseph, and Mary.
Standing in the courtyard with its trickling fountain, I cautiously asked New Orleans Cookery owner Anna T. what it was like working in this historic building. She said they loved the old architecture: the bricks, the timbers, the arches. “And the ghosts,” I asked, “do you know if they are still around?” She smiled and said, “Absolutely. The staff and our guests talk about them all the time.”
In a chapter in my book, I dubbed this trio of ghosts the “Celtic Love Triangle.” Theirs is a tragic tale of love, lust, jealousy, murder, and suicide.
On October 13, 1806 widow Mary Wheaton Sevre took possession of the property on Toulouse Street by virtue of the death of her second husband Don Guillaume. Mary wasted no time picking out husband number three-Joseph Baptandiere. Trouble soon arrived with the appearance of a dark Creole beauty named Angelique Dubois. In eighteenth and nineteenth century New Orleans there was a practice known as placage. In this arrangement wealthy white, often married, men had liaisons with demoiselles de couleux, free women of color. These liaisons often lasted a lifetime with the men providing dwellings and the women regarding themselves as “other wives.” In Angelique’s and Joseph’s arrangement, there was a hitch. Angelique was madly in love with Joseph and insisted on becoming his real wife. As related by consummate storyteller and musician Daniel J. O’Flaherty, Angelique and Joseph had an epic fight, and she threatened to tell all to Mary, Joseph’s wife. According to Danny, “Joseph didn’t know what to do. He lost his temper and strangled Angelique; he killed her and buried her body in the courtyard.” On the night of the murder there was a witness. A little boy saw Joseph digging the grave and Joseph knew he was doomed. Says Danny, “Joseph knew he couldn’t face Mary so he went up to the third floor, put a rope around his neck and jumped off the building.” Danny adds, “Joseph is our grouchy ghost. If I jumped off the third floor, I’d be a grouchy ghost myself.”
Mary died in 1817. People continue to report that the ghost of an older woman rattles around throwing temper tantrums. They believe it is jealous Mary still in a rage over her husband Joseph’s affair. As for Angelique, she was often spotted looking down and listening to the music in the former Ballad Room. Danny explained, “She liked certain songs-usually traditional ones; sad ones. She would appear in the rafters and then disappear.” Luckily, for Angelique, the owners of the New Orleans Creole Cookery restaurant often invite local musicians to perform in the courtyard so Angelique can once again enjoy live music. In Creole New Orleans plus ça change plus ç’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same). Even the overwhelming force of Hurricane Katrina could not dislodge the city’s tenacious spirits from their favorite spots. New Orleans’ reputation as “Ghost Central USA” remains undisputed.