Thursday, February 11, 2021

HGB Ep. 372 - Andrew Jackson Hotel and Napoleon House

Moment in Oddity - Andrew Jackson's Swearing Parrot (Suggested by: Scott Booker)

On this episode, we are featuring a location named in honor of Andrew Jackson. Most people know he was a great General and was a former President of the United States, but do they know he owned a parrot? A parrot with a very foul mouth. This was an African Grey that originally belonged to his wife Rachel, but when she passed away, the bird became Jackson's responsibility. The parrot's name was Poll and while no one knows for sure where he learned his colorful vocabulary, most people are sure it came from Jackson who was pretty cantankerous. When Jackson died, Poll was allowed to attend the funeral and this decision soon proved to be a mistake. Reverend William Menefee Norment described what happened, "Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house. [It was] excited by the multitude and … let loose perfect gusts of cuss words. [People were] horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence." Many Presidents have had pet birds, but Jackson's was the only one to swear and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Sweet Rationing Ends in Britain

In the month of February, on the 5th, in 1953, the rationing of sweets comes to an end in Britain. Oh what a sweet, sweet day! I'm a total sugaraholic. How tragic it would have been to live at a time when chocolate and sweets were rationed. This rationing lasted for ten achingly long years. Sugar was in short supply. Each person was only allowed 12 oz. of sweets a month. Once the rationing ended, long queues formed at confectioner's shops as people enjoyed being able to purchase boxes of chocolates. Many other items had been rationed during World War II. Meat was still being rationed as sugar was taken off that list and wouldn't be removed until July of 1954. A fun fact about rationing, in 1939 researchers at Cambridge University tested how much rationing an adult could endure and they found that adults could survive on amounts of food much smaller than the rations. The test subjects did well, but the increased level of fiber and starch in the diet led to “remarkable” levels of flatulence!

Andrew Jackson Hotel and Napoleon House

We had just one night in New Orleans on a recent road trip and we made the most of it since it was Kelly's first time here. We booked a room at the Andrew Jackson Hotel, had dinner at the Napoleon House - one of America's most famous bars - and took in a couple of the local creepy stores before heading on a ghost tour with Haunted History Tours. Join us as we share the history and haunts of the Andrew Jackson Hotel and Napoleon House.

As the listeners already know, New Orleans is THE destination for paranormal enthusiasts, particularly those who love history. Louisiana was clearly hard hit by two monsters of 2020: hurricanes and Covid-19. As we drove through Lake Charles, very few of the homes were without blue tarps over the roofs. This city on the Gulf was hit by two major hurricanes, Laura and Delta. Trees were shells of themselves. Damage was still evident everywhere and this was December. We continued our trek east as we headed for New Orleans. We drove the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain as we neared the historic city. Kelly got an overhead glimpse of one of the many cemeteries found in the city. The city is home to some of the coolest looking cemeteries with all the burials being above ground. We arrived at the French Quarter around four and lucked out in finding a parking spot right near the Andrew Jackson Hotel. 

The charming Andrew Jackson Hotel fits perfectly in the French Quarter with its iconic wrought iron on the upper balcony. This hotel is two stories with an exterior that is yellow with blue shutters and fronted with flags. The hotel is longer than it is wider. There are rooms both inside the main hotel and then outside along a courtyard that has a fountain, wrought iron tables and chairs and a cannon. Our room was on the far end on the first floor of the courtyard, which was just a bit magical because it was raining. The place is clearly old and in need of some updating, but we weren't here for comfort, we were here for ghosts. Which was a good thing because hot showers in the morning were elusive. The main lobby has an Old World theme with antique furniture and this carried over into our room with 18th century furniture and original wood floors. The real highlight of the hotel is that it is in the heart of the French Quarter, so in close walking distance to everywhere.

The site where the Andrew Jackson Hotel sits has a long history as is the case for the entire French Quarter. The first known building to stand here was used as a boys orphanage. The Spanish Colonial Government that was in control of New Orleans in 1792 was faced with a growing problem as Yellow Fever ravaged the city. Many children were losing their parents to the disease. Orphanages that also served as boarding schools was their answer. Things went well here until the fire of 1794 swept through and badly damaged the building. Stories claim that five boys lost their lives inside. Tracking down the truth on this story is difficult. Some tales claim the building was burned to the ground, while others say that it was one of the few buildings to survive the fire. Whatever the case may be, the energy of the boys who lived here at one time still carries on through the centuries. We'll discuss that in a moment. 

A U.S. Federal Courthouse replaced the orphanage after the fire. Again, we are not sure if the building was just repurposed or rebuilt, but it looked nothing like the traditional courthouse one would expect to see in a large city. The courthouse would be here until just before the turn of the 20th Century. It would have one very famous case that would involve General Andrew Jackson. He was held in contempt of court and charged with obstruction of justice in 1815. Jackson had come to New Orleans in December of 1814 to help defend the city against a British invasion. He declared martial law against the British. No one was allowed to enter the city and no one was allowed to leave. Shortly thereafter, the Battle of New Orleans was fought even though the War of 1812 had already come to an end. Word had not made it to New Orleans. After the battle, Jackson still refused to lift the order and a senator, Louis Louaillier, publicly called on Jackson to stop the order. Jackson's response was to have the senator arrested. When United States District Judge Dominick Hall ordered the senator released, Jackson had the judge arrested.

Jackson eventually lifted the martial law. When the judge was back in court, he charged Jackson with contempt of court and fined him $1,000. Jackson showed up out of uniform and looking shabby, demanded a trial by jury that was refused and eventually paid the fine. Many of the people of the city had offered to help Jackson pay the fine because he was a war hero, but he asked them to give the money to the widows and orphans who had suffered loses during the Battle of New Orleans. Congress would order in 1844 that the money Jackson paid for the fine be repaid to him. This was repaid with interest and Jackson received $2,700. The federal courthouse was demolished in the early 1900s and the building that would become the Andrew Jackson Hotel was built. It was added to the Register of Historic Places in 1965.

The Andrew Jackson Hotel is said to be one of the most haunted hotels in the city. There are several ghosts here reputedly. Obviously, with several boys losing their lives in the fire, there are claims of seeing young male ghosts and hearing the laughter of boys and sometimes even some screaming. It should be pointed out that this is mainly an adult hotel, so children are rarely staying at the hotel. One ghost that is seen most often has been nicknamed "Armand." He is a prankster who likes to wake up guests by either trying to push them out of bed or laughing loudly near their head. They sometimes feel a cold touch on their skin. No one is sure how Armand died, but it wasn't in the fire. Some believe he was thrown from the balcony, others claim he jumped himself. He appears most often in the most haunted room in the hotel, 208.

The former caretaker of the orphanage is seen fluffing pillows and cleaning. Sometimes furniture is rearranged. This was a female housekeeper according to various accounts. Televisions and lights turn on and off by themselves. Disembodied footsteps are heard. And there are some who claim that even the hotel's namesake, Andrew Jackson, has been seen roaming the halls. As for us, we had very little interaction. A recorder was left on all night and only picked up the occasional clicking on and off of the air.We did a brief dowsing rod session without much response. We think we were talking to a woman and wonder if she was the housekeeper or caretaker from years ago.

Jaime S wrote on Tripadvisor: The hotel is old and quaint. Rooms are extremely basic. The location is excellent for French Quarter activities and has an chic courtyard restaurant, Cafe Amelie, across the street. I did not believe in hauntings until I stayed here! They have a history of "friendly" hauntings, but I did not expect to experience anything. However, two nights in a row, we returned to our room to find my clothing moved. The first night, clothes thrown about with some folded in front of the door when we opened it. The second night my pajamas laid out like a person on the bed with a small hobbit door high above the bathroom that was open (it was definitely closed before and we could not reach it). Creepy to say the least...We thought the hotel staff may have been involved to perpetuate the haunted rumor, but they denied it. Also, cleaning staff comes early and leaves early. In the evenings there is only one hotel attendant who mans the desk so it seems unlikely that he would leave his post to mess with my clothes!

We had a ghost tour booked and decided to get some dinner and hit a couple of shops before the tour. Our first goal was to buy a large umbrella due to the rain that we had a feeling was going to be around for the entire evening. After accomplishing that, we hit two shops we were dying to check out, Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo and Boutique du Vampyre. Laveau's House of Voodoo was opened in 1988. This had been Marie Laveau II's house. The shop is full of wonderful things for learning and practicing spiritual and religious Voodoo ceremonies. There are talismans, charms, tribal masks, statues and t-shirts. They offer psychic and spiritual readings. And there are two altars inside, one dedicated to Marie I and the other to Marie II. Make sure to leave equal gifts at each altar, so as not to make either spirit jealous. It is believed that Marie II haunts this location. Visitors claim to feel her icy fingers on their shoulders. Readings are given in a backroom and her ghost has been seen at various times in there during spiritual readings.

At Boutique du Vampyre, Diane picked up the owner's book "New Orlean Vampires, History and Legend." Marita Woywod Crandle opened the shop in 2003. The About Us on the website is wonderful as Marita explains her entrance into vampire life in 1764 in Germany. She moved on to Transylvania and then over to New York and finally settling in New Orleans where her husband was originally from. The truth is that Marita is from Germany and lived in California before transplanting to New Orleans where she and her husband have rescued over 650 dogs. The shop is crammed full of goodness from books to oddities to candles to clothing to make-up to custom fangs to gargoyles, one of which Kelly brought home with us. We also learned about the secret speakeasy from a friend and asked about it while we were checking out. You need to make an appointment due to Covid right now, but it is a great gathering place for weirdos and vampires! We then headed off to find dinner, which is more difficult with Covid. Kelly got to hang out on Bourbon Street on a Saturday night, which was deserted compared to Diane's previous experience there. We finally happened upon the Napoleon House, which had a table available in the courtyard just shy of the pouring rain, which again made it a magical evening. Kelly had the Grilled Chicken and Brie and Diane had Gumbo. (Napoleon House Dinner)

The Napoleon House has stood at 500 Chartres Street for 200 years. New Orleans has passed through the hands of several countries in its history. By the time 1803 rolled around, New Orleans had gone from French control to Spanish and then back to French. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was the ruler of France and he had told Spain that he would not give the territory of Louisiana to anybody else, but he lied. He worked out the Louisiana Purchase with the United States of America. Napoleon was popular in New Orleans, especially with Nicholas Girod, who was the mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815. The mayor owned a mansion at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis Streets. His brother Francois Claude Girod bought the property on October 26, 1798 at an estate auction. Claude passed away on April 28, 1814 and left the property to Mayor Girod. The following year, the mayor was forced to resign over financial issues.

The Mayor decided to renovate the entire second floor of the house and offer it to Napoleon in 1821 as a refuge during his exile. Unfortunately, Napoleon would never make it to America because the British captured him and sent him into exile at St. Helena. Mayor Girod would not give up easily though. He put together a rescue mission and sent a ship to bring the Emperor to America. The mayor would watch for the ship to return from an octagon shaped tower on top of his mansion. The emperor died from arsenic poisoning in May of 1821, before the mission could be completed. Joseph Impastato rented the building for $20 a month starting in 1914 and he opened a grocery store on the first level and lived on the second floor with his brothers and sisters. Eventually "Uncle Joe" as everyone called him, bought the property for $14,000. There was a side room connected to the grocery store and Joe made that into a tavern that continued to run as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Joe was fond of opera and classical music and he would play opera records for customers on his Victrola and as you heard in our clip, that tradition continues today. 

Uncle Joe grew weary of the business after the end of World War II and he handed it over to his brother Peter Impastato in 1945. Peter's son Sal inherited the business when Peter died in 1971. Sal was only twenty-four at the time. Ralph Brennan took over the business in May of 2015. He is a third generation scion of the family known for their New Orleans restaurants. He actually stopped by our table shortly after we were seated. As we left, we snapped pictures of the iconic bar that has writing all over the walls and the beautiful tile entry way with "The Napoleon House" inlaid. The flooring in the bar is a melon and cream colored Carrera marble floor. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Napoleon House is said to have the best muffulettas in town. This is an Italian sandwich made with Italian bread and filled with olive salad, cheese, and a variety of meats like ham, salami, mortadella, and capicola. The restaurant and bar is aldo known for its Pimm's Cup. This is ginger ale mixed with fruit, cucumbers, mint, and a strong shot of gin. This was invented in 1823 by James Pimm, who served it at his oyster bar in London.

There are ghost stories connected to this property. The craziest ones claim that Napoleon himself wanders the building. These stories started in the early 1900s. The second floor had a reception hall at that time and their was a party taking place one evening. Several guests noticed a little man who was strangely dressed like Napoleon. They assumed he was a hired actor for the party and watched him walk around and then enter a coat closet. They waited for him to exit, but he never did. After twenty minutes, one of the guests went up to the manager to express concern that the actor may be in some trouble in the closet. Or getting into trouble in the closet and stealing their stuff. The manager looked at them confused and remarked that no actor had been hired, particularly one dressed like Napoleon. One of the guests worked for the newspaper and he wrote a brief article about the strange occurrence. Before long, the paper was flooded with letters from people claiming to have seen the same man who would disappear into the closet. All of these on different days. And no one had mentioned it before because they assumed he was a flesh and blood actor dressed in a costume. Had Napoleon come in spirit over to the city that had wanted him to come stay so badly?

Other spirits at this location are not nice to those who doubt the existence of ghosts. A woman was walking down the stairs one time and remarked that she didn't believe in ghosts, so this location certainly could not be haunted. No sooner had the words crossed her lips than she felt a hard smack on the back of her head and a heavy push on her back that almost sent her falling down the stairs. A woman ho had once lived in an upper apartment claimed to experience ghosts often. She said, "You get a creepy vibe from it. When you're there by yourself, you feel like someone is there with you, but no one is with you." Lights would flicker, she would get touched while she slept, which woke her up and sometimes be pushed by something she couldn't see. Other tenants claimed to have the same experiences.

An Executive Chef at the restaurant told Nola Weekend that they have three ghosts in the building and that a paranormal group has detected them. These spirits include an old sailor who drinks in the downstairs bar late at night, an old woman who likes to sweep the floor and a young woman who was murdered or died a bad death in the courtyard. The attic was a barracks at one time where sailors lived, so there is a possibility that a sailor might have lost his life here.

Then we were off to meet our tour. Diane's favorite tour company in New Orleans is Haunted History Tours. She had done a vampire one previously, but this time we were doing the traditional ghost tour. We checked in and then had to pop in to catch a classic cocktail to take along. (Tour Hurricane) The original hurricane cocktail was first mixed at Pat O'Brien's bar in New Orleans during the 1940s. There was so much rum in the city, they needed an easy way to get rid of it. While this cocktail has been remade over the years , the original was uncomplicated and had three ingredients: blend of rum, passion fruit syrup and lemon juice. The recipes of today are more complicated with many more ingredients. A typical recipe goes like this:

    1/2 lime, juiced
    2 ounces light rum
    2 ounces dark rum
    2 ounces passion fruit juice or purée
    1 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
    1/2 ounce simple syrup
    1/2 ounce grenadine
    Garnish: orange slice
    Garnish: maraschino cherry

Cedric was our tour guide and he was amazing. He had the coolest looking homemade face mask and was dressed in an amazingly creepy costume that we shared on Instagram when we were in New Orleans a few weeks ago. (Cedric Tour) We had a glorious time in New Orleans and can't wait to return for a longer visit. Are the Andrew Jackson Hotel and Napoleon House haunted? That is for you to decide!

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