Thursday, February 14, 2019

Ep. 291 - Jackson Square in New Orleans

Moment in Oddity - Times Beach, Missouri
Suggested by: Jim Featherstone

Times Beach was a town founded in 1925 near St Louis, Missouri. I say "was" because this town was abandoned in 1983. Before the residents had to flee for their lives, Times Beach had a population of 2000.It's origin story is rather unique as its founding and growth were tied to a promotion by the St Louis Star-Times newspaper. The purchase of a lot in this town included a six month subscription to the newspaper. The wealthy of Missouri used this as a summer residence area, hence the beach part of the name. Eventually through the years, the town became home for the lower-middle class, but it was a popular destination along Route 66. The roads in the town were mostly dirt and created a bunch of dust, so in 1971 Russell Bliss was hired to oil the streets. But he sprayed more than just oil on those streets. Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, Inc had asked a company called IPC to discard toxic waste for them and they hired Bliss to do that. Hmmm, he must have thought. Where could I put this toxic waste? His answer was to mix it with the oil he was spraying on the roads. That toxic waste contained high levels of dioxin. Eventually the scandal was uncovered and the government sued in 1980. Some people left and a flood in December 1982 caused an evacuation of the town. The people were told to not come back because of the dioxin, but one elderly couple refused to leave. The town stood as an eerie abandoned ghost town for years and was demolished in 1992. A full clean-up followed and that toxic abandoned town is now a state park that celebrates the famous Route 66 and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Alan Shepard Golfs on the Moon

In the month of February, on the 6th, in 1971, Alan Shepard hits golf balls on the moon. Shepard had become the first man in space in 1961 and this was his return trip aboard Apollo 14, which had launched on January 31st. This mission followed the nearly-catastrophic Apollo 13 mission. The Apollo 14 was the third mission to land on the moon. Shepard had to rig himself a golf club using a head he had brought with him and attaching it to a sample collector handle that resembled a fancy butteerfly net used for collecting rocks. Shepard told viewers, "Houston, while you're looking that up, you might recognize what I have in my hand is the handle for the contingency sample return; it just so happens to have a genuine six iron on the bottom of it. In my left hand, I have a little white pellet that's familiar to millions of Americans. I'll drop it down. Unfortunately, the suit is so stiff, I can't do this with two hands, but I'm going to try a little sand trap shot here." It was hard swinging in the spacesuits, but Shepard managed to connect and send the golf balls flying because of the Moon’s lower gravitational force. The balls flew at least 200 yards. The Apollo 14 astronauts did get back to their task of exploring the lunar surface and they collected 100 pounds of rocks before returning home February 9. A fun fact about that rock collecting is that Earth's oldest rock was found on the surface of the moon. The astronauts at the time didn't know that, but recent research found this to be the case and the theory is that the rock ended up on the moon after an impact billions of years ago launched it all the way to the moon.

Jackson Square in New Orleans

Jackson Square is a magnet for visitors to New Orleans. Centuries of history are represented in the square and this history includes shipping, trade, artists colony, pirates, war and executions. The beautiful St. Louis Cathedral is a popular subject for photographers and Cafe du Monde is a must stop for some world famous beignets. New Orleans is considered one of the most haunted cities in the world, so it should come as no surprise that this iconic area of this historic city is home to many ghosts stories. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of Jackson Square!

This is another location that I have personally visited. Jackson Square itself is a park with a prominent statue of Andrew Jackson at its center, thus the name. It is one of the only areas in the French Quarter that has grass, but this is not much consolation for dog owners looking for a spot for their dogs to relieve themselves as dogs are not allowed in the park because it is home to a cluster of stray cats. The square is on the Mississippi River, on Decatur Street, between the Jax Brewery Shopping Mall and the French Market, and bordered by key buildings like the St. Louis Cathedral,   Café Du Monde, Muriels, the Cabildo and leading off into Pirates' Alley. Jackson Square was not always known by that name. Long before Andrew Jackson became a war hero during the Battle of New Orleans, this area was called Place d’Armes.

When Louis H. Pilie, a landscape architect from France, designed the layout of New Orleans in 1721, he centered it with this one-block common open market area that originally overlooked the Mississippi River's port across Decatur Street. This location made it perfect for shipping and commerce and it was also used as a military parade ground by both the French and Spanish depending on which country had control of the colonial administration. The square became even more of a central hub with the addition of the St. Louis Church, that would become St. Louis Cathedral after it was rebuilt following the Great New Orleans fire of 1788, and the Governor's Mansion known as the Cabildo. So the seat of government and a church were here. And the Place d'Armes would become the scene of the Louisiana Purchase. The territory land deal was signed in 1803 at the Cabildo and gave the United States 827,000 square miles of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. The Cabildo would later become city hall and be used for court cases.

Since Place d'Armes was a public meeting area, it makes sense that public executions would be hosted here. These were conducted throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The German Coast Uprising was the largest slave revolt in America and took place in 1811. Following that, three slaves were hanged at the square and the heads of several of the rebels were put up on the city's gates. The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815 and was a huge American victory over the British with Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson leading the American forces. A woman named Micaela Almonester Pontalba was a baroness who was the wealthiest woman in New Orleans and she would lobby for and finance a redesign of Place d'Armes after the Battle of New Orleans into what it is today with an iron fence, gardens, benches and walkways and a new name in honor of Andrew Jackson.

Rabbit Hole: Now that I've mentioned Baroness Pontalba, let me take you down the rabbit hole to talk about her for a few minutes. Her father had become very wealthy working with real estate in New Orleans. When her father died, her mother married her off to a prominent cousin who gave her the baroness title. His family was only interested in her money and got her to sign papers giving her husband control of all her financial dealings. She eventually wanted to divorce and as she fought for separation in 1834, her father-in-law became enraged. He shot her point blank with a pair of dueling pistols at the family chateau in Paris. He hit her four times in the chest and she lost some fingers on a hand, but she survived. Her father-in-law killed himself that evening with one of the dueling pistols. She eventually did get her separation and a New Orleans civil law judge ordered the restitution of her property and she got her money back. She went on to build the Pontalba Buildings on Jackson Square and died in 1874 at the age of seventy-eight.

The area around the square has changed over the years. The streets were closed to traffic to allow for pedestrian traffic and paved with slate flagstone. An open-air artist colony now thrives here with artists using the iron fence to display pictures. Musicians play in the streets and horse-drawn carriages launch from here for tours of the city. The Spanish Colonial Cabildo is now a museum housing unique artifacts, historical documents and revolving displays. The Presbytere is on the opposite side of the cathedral and was designed in 1791 to match the Cabildo. It was originally called Casa Curial or “Ecclesiastical House” and used as housing for the Capuchin monks, but went on to be used for commercial purposes until 1834. The building became a courthouse at that time and eventually in 1911 became a museum, which it is today. Most of the other buildings have apartments on upper floors and shops and restaurants on the street level. The St. Louis Cathedral still serves as a church.

Clearly, these buildings have seen much history and much tragedy. New Orleans oozes with paranormal energy and Jackson Square seems to be a hub for it with many of its flanking buildings claiming to house spirits. Let's take a walk around and see what we find!

Muriel’s Restaurant – One of the best restaurants in town sits at 801 Chartes Street, on the corner of Jackson Square. Food offerings include Louisiana specialties like Jambalaya, Gumbo and other southern fare. The building was refurbished to its former mid-1800s glory and opened in March of 2001 as Muriel's. The history of this property reaches back to 1718. A young French Canadian named Claude Trepagnier moved to New Orleans and was awarded the lot where this building stands. He built himself a cottage, which soon became worth a lot of money when Jackson Square was laid out as the hub of the city. Because of its proximity to the port, there is a possibility that the cottage was eventually used for housing slaves before they were auctioned. Around 1745, the Royal Treasurer of the French Louisiana Colonies named Jean Baptiste Destrehan, bought the property. He tore down the cottage and built himself a mansion. His son inherited the home in 1765, but eventually he lost the home when the family money ran out and it was sold at auction.

Pierre Phillipe de Marigny purchased the residence in 1776 and used it as a home in the city when he visited from one of his plantations that is today known as Fauberg Marigny. On March 21, 1788, the Great New Orleans Fire broke out. The blaze burned 856 of the 1,100 structures in the French Quarter, which included the buildings around Jackson Square and part of de Marigny’s mansion was burnt. The Spanish quickly rebuilt opting for bricks over wood. *Fun Fact: The French had used cypress to build everything because it was the only wood termites didn't eat there.* Marigny sold the damaged home to Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan who returned the mansion to its original grandeur. Unfortunately, Jourdan was a gambling man and in 1814 he wagered his beloved home in a poker game and lost it. The loss was too much for him to bear and before moving out of the home, he hanged himself on the second floor.

Julien Poydras, the President of the Louisiana State Senate and a Director of the Louisiana Bank, moved into the house in 1823, but died a year later. His family stayed on in the mansion until 1881 and sold to Theodore Leveau. The Civil War had hit the Poydras families interests hard as was the case for many plantation owners and much of the wealth had shifted from the French Quarter to the American Sector in the Garden District and Uptown. Leveau kept the house for a decade and sold to Peter Lipari who was an orange baron of sorts. He refurbished the building to its present look. It then housed a series of commercial businesses, most of which were saloons. Frank Taormina bought the building in 1916 and ran it as a pasta factory and grocery store and a restaurant called The Spaghetti Factory until 1974. From 1974 to 2000, it was a Chart House Restaurant and then it became Muriel's Jackson Square.

During all of this time, the spirit of Jourdan stayed with the building and Muriel's has embraced their spirit even setting up a Seance Lounge in the area where Jourdan hanged himself. Employees claim that his specter does not make appearances, but instead is seen as a glimmer of sparkly light wandering around the lounge. He spends most of his time in the Seance Lounges on the second floor. Employees and patrons have witnessed objects moving on their own in the restaurant and whichever ghost is hanging out in the Courtyard Bar, it is pretty mischievous and likes to throw glasses from behind the bar at a brick wall 12 feet across from the bar. I say "whichever ghost" because there are those that believe multiple ghosts haunt the building. And some previous owners did die in the house. Paranormal investigations have been conducted over the years  and disembodied voices have been heard and shadowy figures have been seen. In the Seance Lounge, distinct knocks on the brick wall have been heard as a type of communication. EVP of a female was captured as well. Muriel's not only makes it known that they have a ghost, they always keep a table reserved for Mr. Jourdan and  set it with bread and wine.

Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carré – Le Petit Théâtre Du Vieux Carré is located at 616 St. Peter Street just off Jackson Square. The theater has called this home since 1922. It doesn't look like a typical theater, but it fits in with the style of New Orleans with wrought iron around its second floor balcony, black shutters and red brick. Le Petit was founded as an amateur theater group in 1916. As it grew in popularity, it was able to purchase the lot on the corner of St. Peter and Chartres Streets. The original building on this lot was built by Don Josef de Orue y Garbea, who was the head accountant of the Spanish Royal Finance Office and Army. Much of the structure was destroyed in the great fire. Three small buildings replaced the destroyed part. The theater removed them and incorporated the rest of the 1790s colonial building on the corner, which kept it with a Spanish Colonial style. Through its nearly century of production, the theater has been known as one of the leading little theaters in the nation. Facing financial trouble, the theater sold to New Orleans restauranteur Dickie Brennan and he opened a Creole Restaurant in part of the space and retired the theater's debt and it continues to put on productions to this day.

As is the case with nearly every theater, this one claims to have a spirit or two running around. There are claims that an actress named Caroline who worked in the theater in the 1930s is here in spirit. She apparently took a tumble over the railing to her death in the courtyard below. She was wearing a white wedding gown as her costume and so she is seen as a Lady in White. There is another ghost nicknamed "The Captain" who enjoys watching productions from his balcony seat. I'm not sure how he ended up here, but investigators claim he was sweet on an actress at the theater.

I really enjoyed the Haunted History Tours in New Orleans and this is the first one I recommend to people when they ask. It is one of the originals and was founded by Kalila Smith. He wrote, "New Orleans Ghosts, Voodoo and Vampires, Journey into Darkness" and in it he talks about a visit to the theater.He actually had his wedding there. He is sensitive and he felt as though there were several entities in the building and EMF readings were very high. Psychics who visited the building told Smith that although there is sometimes the smell of burning flesh in the theater, none of the spirits seem to belong to fire victims. The spirits mainly seem to belong to actors who have returned.

Faulkner House Books – Faulkner House Books is located at 624 Pirate’s Alley, just off Jackson Square, behind the Cabildo and opposite St. Louis Cathedral’s rear garden. The bookstore is owned by attorney Joseph J. DeSalvo Jr. and named for William Faulkner, the American author and Nobel prize laureate. When he wrote his first novel, he was staying in this house in 1925. The house was built in 1840 by the widow of Jean Baptiste LeBranche. The site had previously been home to the French Colonial Prison. It is Faulkner's spirit that is said to haunt the building. People claim to have seen his full-bodied apparition at a desk and the smell of his pipe has been detected.

Pere Antoine’s Alley – Antonio de Sedella was a Capuchin friar known to his flock as Pere Antoine. He was a controversial figure who was strong in his Catholic beliefs. He would help anyone in need whether they were poor, prisoners or slaves. In 1805, he was suspended over a dispute with the vicar-general of Louisiana, but he was so beloved by the people that they elected Pere Antoine their parish priest. The vicar-general's hands were tied and he remained the priest until his death in 1829 at age 81. St. Anthony's Garden behind St. Louis Cathedral was named after his namesake saint and was dedicated in Antoine's memory and St. Anthony's Alley was renamed Pere Antoine Alley for the priest. And it is in this alley where his restless spirit is said to still roam. Visitors to the alley claim to see Pere Antoine’s ghost in the early morning hours, clad in Capuchin black and sandals. Others have seen his full-bodied apparition in St. Louis Cathedral.

Haunted New Orleans Tour's website reported: "One recent account tells of a local woman who was rushing through Pere Antoine’s Alley on a rainy afternoon. Tottering on high heels, she tripped on one of the uneven alley flagstones and fell straight into the arms of a black-robed man with a white beard and surprised expression. He said nothing as he helped her gain her balance; when the woman turned to thank him, the man was gone. The woman further claimed that a sense of overwhelming peace came over her that afternoon and she fully believes she encountered not a ghost, but a saint."

St. Louis Cathedral – St. Louis Cathedral is a beautiful and stunning piece of architecture. This is not the original structure. This is actually the third version of the cathedral, which was originally called St. Louis Church and was named in honor of the French King Louis IX, the Saint King. It later became the cathedral and today is actually anointed as a basilica, but is sill referred to as a cathedral. The first structure here was a simple wooden structure built in 1718. The next church was built from brick and stood 1727 until 1788 when it burned in the Great Fire. The Spanish rebuilt much of what is seen today. Pope Pius declared it a cathedral in 1793. A central bell tower was added in 1819. This was designed by architect Ben Henry Latrobe, who also designed the White House. A renovation was started in 1850 because a larger cathedral was needed. The central tower collapsed, causing the whole cathedral to be redone, loosing much of the original Spanish architecture. However, the new design was solid and beautiful, creating a house of worship that has endured over 150 years!

St. Anthony’s Garden is located behind the Cathedral and its original purpose was as a burial ground. The bones were re-interred in St. Louis Cemetery #1 on Basin Street. Or at least, that is the story. And although this was meant to be a beautiful, peaceful garden, it eventually hosted illegal, deadly duels. After the Civil War, the site became just a garden. Both the garden and the cathdral are said to be haunted. Pere Dagobert hangs out here as well. His apparition has been seen walking with his head lowered down the aisles after worship. The ghost of Madame LaLaurie has been seen in the Cathedral and people believe she is here because she used to worship here in the early 1800s . That's strange since she didn't die here. 

The Cabildo - As stated earlier, The Cabildo was once the seat of government and the name translates as Council. It not only was the scene of the signing of the Lousiana Purchase, but the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson was decided in 1896 that rules that blacks were equal, but separate. The 1762 Treaty of Fountainebleau passed Louisiana from the French to the Spanish and this made the French angry since the trade had been an act of War during the French and Indian War. The French rebelled and the Spanish sent General Don Alejandro “Bloody” O’Reilly to put an end to it. He brought 2,000 troops with him in 1769 and killed the first Frenchman he came across. O'Reilly told the leaders of the uprising that he would like them to join him for a meal at the Cabildo and that he would work with them to settle the dispute. Instead, he handcuffed all the men and led them to the intersection of Esplanade Avenue and Frenchmen Street where he executed them all. And speaking of executions, the Cabildo hosted executions in its inner courtyard. Today, the Cabildo is part of the Louisiana State Museum, housing hundreds of early colonization and 19th-century artifacts including a bronze death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Staff at the museum claim to have had strange experiences, particularly when working in the off hours. They have reported being touched or tapped on their shoulders and finding no one behind them when they turn around. Strange sounds and shadows have also been reported. There are still jail cells in the rear of the Cabildo and this is where most of the activity takes place. Visitors have reported seeing the spirit of a British soldier, who was hanged here because he had been a spy during the Battle of New Orleans. His spirit is seen wandering throughout the building.

An anonymous person wrote on the Haunted Nation website: "My ghost encounter there was actually in the front of the building on the second floor in the long foyer that runs the entire length of the building. I was walking through towards the room with Napoleon's death mask and felt a tug on my left shoulder. I assumed it was my daughter and slapped at the hand on my shoulder. Again my shoulder was tugged hard and I slapped again and said "Stop it!". And turned to confront my daughter. There was no one in the entire front foyer. I was totally alone. Something made me speak out "I know you are there, and it's OK." I then hurried off to find my family. I could not speak about it until we left the building. I felt followed for some time in the museum. I was a non-believer until that happened."

Pirate's Alley - Pirate's Alley is situated between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo. Early in the day, the alley is quiet and seems to honor the posted signs that read: "Quiet: Church Zone." At night, the old lampposts light the way and the alley is filled with noise pouring out from the Pirate’s Alley Cafe and Absinthe House. This street was first laid out in the late 18th century and was called Rue Orleans and was always meant to be an alleyway. It was originally unpaved, but cobblestones were added in 1830. So why is it called Pirate's Alley? Legend claims that the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte worked out of this alley. It was in this alley that they say Lafitte made a deal with Andrew Jackson, that if he helped get Lafitte's brother Pierre released he would aid General Jackson in the fight against the British during the Battle of New Orleans. But the idea that a pirate would operate out of an alley next to the church is pretty improbable.

But then why do people claim to see the apparition of Jean Lafitte in the alley? Is it him or is it another pirate by the name of Reginald Hicks? Heicks had been kidnapped as a boy by pirates and he grew up in their ways. He traveled with Lafitte to New Orleans and fell in love with a girl there named Marie Angel Beauchamp, a beautiful French Creole girl. She got pregnant and Hicks insisted that they get married. The only minister they knew was a German man doing time in the Old Parish Prison. They begged the prison guard to let the minister marry them and it was done by the iron gate along Pirate’s Alley. Hicks was later killed in the war and it is said that his spirit returned to the place of his marriage. People have claimed to hear wedding bells early in the morning and the sounds of ghostly laughter in the alley. Ghostly male singing is heard in the alley as well and some believe it is Father Pere Dagobert visiting this alley too.

Jackson Square is a must see for the visitor to New Orleans. Besides the beauty of the park, the architecture here is fabulous and full of history. And apparently, possibly full of ghosts. Are Jackson Square and its surrounding buildings haunted? That is for you to decide!


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