Did Hurricane Katrina Scare the Spooks Away from The Big Easy?

By Andrea Adcock and Robert Cleveland

When one mentions the Big Easy, what first might come to mind is all night drinking and partying on Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras parades and authentic Cajun food. Any night of the week you can find a throng of people walking around the French Quarter carrying large plastic novelty glasses full of frosty alcoholic beverages and wearing an array of colorful beads about their necks. In fact, beads are as specific to New Orleans as leis are to tourists visiting Hawaii.

There’s another side to New Orleans aside from the fabulous food and carousing, however. It is a darker, more mysterious side. The history of the city itself is cloaked in a shroud of supernatural intrigue and mystery. Tales of voodoo, vampires, and restless spirits abound. Given its turbulent history, it’s no wonder that New Orleans is a ghost hunter’s dream come true. In the French Quarter and Garden District alone there seems to be a haunted location on every block. Haunted taverns, haunted shops, haunted hotels. One could die from supernatural overstimulation, which in July of 2005 and then again in June of 2009, my partner and I set out to do. Our experiences between the two trips varied dramatically in ways that encouraged us to look for deeper theories about the very nature of why hauntings occur or change.

On our first trip to the Big Easy, we did our research and decided to stay at the Hotel Villa Convento, an old hotel on Ursuline Avenue in the heart of the French Quarter. Among other things, the building is one of a few that have been speculated to be the original “House of the Rising Sun”. It is also reputed to be a very active site for ghostly activity. The clerk at the hotel assured us that we would be staying in one of the most haunted rooms, and we were not disappointed.

Within 24 hours of checking into room 206, my partner and I had experienced several questionable incidents. We came back from a walk only a couple of hours after dropping our stuff off to find the shower curtain in the bathroom displaced. The rod was in the bottom of the tub rather than the top, but the shower curtain was still firmly attached. The weirdest thing is that it seemed the rod had been neatly adjusted to fit in its new place. There was a knock on the brick wall of the room when we attempted to get the spirits to communicate. The wall in question did not share with another room, so that ruled out the noise being caused by another guest. In fact, the wall faced the outside.

Our strange experiences in the French Quarter that first trip were not limited to the hotel we were staying at. We visited other locations in search of haunts as well. At the La Pavilion on Poydras, there is a ghost named in Ava who is reputed to haunt a suite on one of the upper floors. My partner and I stood outside the room and spoke her name. The compass we were using to detect EMF spiked and the door rattled several times as if in direct response to our query. We checked with the front desk to see if the room in question was rented out, and we were told it was unoccupied. The staff at the Bourbon Orleans hotel was gracious and happy to talk about the ghosts with us. They gave us a tour of the ballroom, where lavish Quadroon parties were once held. They spoke of hearing the sounds of music and merrymaking coming from the vacant room at night. We snapped pictures fervently, my partner capturing what appeared to be an arc of light in one of the shots.

Overall, when we left New Orleans after that first trip, we were both convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt in the existence of the supernatural.

When we returned to the Big Easy in June of 2009, we were expecting another ghost filled adventure. We had better equipment than the previous trip, including a video camera with night vision and a handheld digital recorder. Expectations were high. We stayed first at the Provincial which is reported to be one of the most haunted hotels in the city and then at the Andrew Jackson Hotel. In both establishments we came up empty. No activity what so ever. We searched the French Quarter like in the previous trip and also found no activity.

It was perplexing that our first visit had been a virtual jackpot of paranormal experiences as opposed to our second trip, which at least in the case of supernatural phenomenon had been very disappointing. When planning our June 2009 visit, we had speculated that the sorrow and turmoil that had welled up because Hurricane Katrina would have acted as magnet for lost souls, and also that the massive amounts of renovation and restoration would play a role as well. Unfortunately, this did not seem to be the case. After mulling over the details of each of our adventures we began to hypothesize that perhaps the theory about increases in paranormal activity after a disaster was inaccurate. We weren’t one hundred percent sure one way or another, however. It was a call for more research.

In order to get to the bottom of the mystery, we decided to contact 15 French Quarter hotels that are reputed to be the most haunted on the internet and in books. We asked them if they had noticed changes in paranormal activity within their establishment since the storm.

Three of the hotels denied any paranormal activity at all, past or present. Among those was the Hotel Provincial, which is cited by many paranormal researchers as one of the most haunted locations in the city. It should be noted that when we stayed at the hotel in June 2009, the staff members that we asked about ghosts laughed off our inquiries and quickly changed the subject. Weeks later, when I called the to see if I could get another angle for this article, I was transferred abruptly to the housekeeping department where an employee of 20 years said that they had never seen anything out of the ordinary or heard any reports from guests or staff members. A long-standing staff member at the Omni Royal Orleans also denied anything supernatural occurring at their hotel. The Columns Hotel was even more abrupt to admonish any evidence of ghosts at their establishment.

It is always refreshing when doing research when you talk to people who are willing to embrace and discuss their business’s haunted history. Luckily, it is more common for hotels to openly admit to the strange goings-on that occur beneath their roofs. Out of the fifteen we surveyed, twelve of them were more than happy to tell us whether or not their paranormal activity had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. To our surprise, more often than not the disaster hadn’t seemed to cause an increase or a decrease in the presence or sighting of ghosts.

Nicholas Smith works the front desk of the Dauphine Orleans, also reputed to be one of the most haunted hotels in the city. He said that the frequency of paranormal activity has been about the same as it was before the storm. Guests still report seeing a Civil War soldier in the area of the back patio and a young white female is often spotted dancing near the cottages. A black male in his mid fifties is regularly seen in the area of the carriage house. According to Nicholas, it is not just the guests that report paranormal goings-on. Just a week before we contacted the hotel, a maintenance worker reported that a shadow had been following him around.

The director of sales and marketing at the Hotel Monteleone, Andrea Thornton, also feels that the storm had no effect on paranormal activity at her hotel one way or the other. She said that a paranormal group that investigated the hotel estimated that 12 spirits call the elegant hotel home. The most active ghost is that of a young boy who haunts the 14th floor, especially room 1462. The boy died at the hotel sometime in the 1920’s of Scarlett Fever soon after receiving news that his parents had been killed in an accident. He is said to roam the halls forlornly looking for his mother and father. to still be at the hotel, searching for his parents. Ms. Thornton reported activity involving the doors of the hotel coffee shop, but it is unclear if it is caused by the little boy or another one of the building’s ghostly occupants. She said they receive and estimated 10 to 15 reports of paranormal activity a month.

An unnamed source at the Le Richelieu Hotel on Chartres Street has never personally seen anything strange at their hotel, but said that guests often report unexplained noises and apparitions in their rooms. There hasn’t been an increase or decrease in activity since the storm.

A long time employee at the La Pavilion also said that activity there has remained the same. Guests and staff still report seeing a young woman, possibly Ava, on the upper floors. A young girl has been seen in the kitchen, and an older couple dressed in period clothing still visits the dining room. When we asked how often they get reports of paranormal activity, we were told by another employee that it is estimated to be only once or twice a year.

Changes in staff at other hotels in the city makes it difficult to detect if there has been a dramatic shift in ghostly activity, but most of them insist the stream of strange occurrences is still steady.

An employee at the Cornstalk Hotel was a skeptic before working at the famous establishment on Royal. He said that when he first started working there, the hotel was quiet. Before too long, however, he observed doors opening and closing on their own, and also tapping on doors as if someone is wants to be let in. When he opened the door in response to the tapping, no one was there. Once a cynic, the employee is now a believer. A psychic who visited recently confirmed that an old lady haunts the hotel, and that she is pleased with the way it is being run.

An unnamed source at the Lamothe House Hotel said that their hotel is very active. There is a new staff and new owners so they have to rely on reports that were handed down when it comes to the frequency of paranormal experiences. In their opinion, it is not more or less active and still steady. Guests are still capturing ghostly faces in pictures and reporting the appearance of a lady and a child walking the grounds.

A staff member at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel started early this year and has received a couple of reports from guests calling the desk to report the sound of children in the hallway in the middle of the night. When the guests opened their door to investigate, they found the corridor vacant.

Some hotels have other reasons for why they can't confirm if activity has changed since Katrina. Paranormal activity at the Avenue Plaza Resort has been limited to the Ashley House which has not held a function since the storm. The Andrew Jackson has taken the most haunted rooms at their hotel out of commission, but they still receive calls from guests at least once a month.

Only two of the hotels we interviewed claim that their paranormal activity has increased since Hurricane Katrina. Two hotels claim that activity for them has increased.

Bubby Valentino, the general manager at the Place D'Armes Hotel said that he has seen a change in the city itself as well in his hotel. He said there seems to be more of a residual pain and sense of disharmony in the very air of the city. It has a different vibe. He also explained that native residents of the city don’t view hauntings as a novelty. Ghosts and supernatural goings-on are part of the very fabric of New Orleans, and its inhabitants are proud to embrace and celebrate it.

Another source at Place D’Armes said that they feel that there is more activity than before the storm. At least twice a week they get reports from guests about children playing in the back courtyard. However, one repeated occurrence has ceased since Katrina. The switchboard at the front desk used to receive random calls from empty rooms on the 4th and 5th floors. That no longer happens.

Randy Bush is the general manager of the Lafitte Guest House. He said that in his opinion paranormal activity in the French Quarter in general is increasing. His friends and associates seem to have more stories about supernatural experiences than before the storm. When it comes to his hotel, however, he says the hauntings are still steadily centered on Room 21. The story is that a young girl died in this room of Yellow Fever, leaving her mother heartbroken. Both the mother and daughter have been seen on the second floor and in the reflection of a mirror on the wall near Room 21’s door.

When I contacted the Hotel Villa Conveto to get their input on whether or not they’ve noticed a drop in paranormal activity since the storm, I was very surprised to learn that it has. I had a lengthy interview with Warren, whose family owns the hotel. He told me, “We still have reports of people having trouble sleeping. Feeling uneasy. Feeling as if they are being watched. But we haven't had reports of people being pushed out of bed or of being touched. There have been no reports of people seeing someone in their room since the hurricane. Of course we don't have as much business as we did before Katrina.”

Bottom line, New Orleans is a fun place to visit whether you are in search of the paranormal or not. Good food, good drinks, and tons of places to visit, historic or otherwise. I have no doubt that my partner and I will give the Big Easy another try in search of ghostly adventures. Now, more so than ever, we are certain of where to stay.

About the Authors:

Andrea Adcock and Bob Cleveland have been ghost-hunting together for the past seven years. Bob Cleveland, a licensed private investigator, has worked as a reporter and on the radio. His interest in the paranormal goes back to his first experience as a teenager. Andrea Adcock has been writing for over 15 years. She discovered she had certain clairvoyant tendencies around the age of 21 but has always been fascinated by ghosts. The two are currently working on their first book Paranormal PI, a first-hand account of private investigators visiting residential homes that the owners feel might be haunted.

They may be reached at: Paranormal_PI@hotmail.com.