In a city known for macabre mysteries and the unknown, there are some places you can visit that celebrate the darker sides of life. Some are just for scary fun, and others are deadly serious. Note that some areas mentioned below should be respected as places of true worship; please don’t disturb the living, or the dead.
1. The Museum of Death. Opened in December 2014 by the infamous Museum of Death in Hollywood, the Museum of Death New Orleans offers an education in death, something they feel is guarded from the general public. This morbid museum feels right at home in the French Quarter; locals and tourists alike have been enjoying, or detesting, its contents. The artifacts include the letters and art of serial killers, coffins, shrunken heads, lots of bones and even a macabre theater. Museum of Death is not meant to gross you out, but rather inform you about what death looks like in a real and tasteful manner.
2. Requiem Oddity Shop. If you would like to take some oddities home with you, Requiem: A Curiosity Shop is full of strange treasures to tickle your creepy fancy. You can select from a large collection of bones and skulls from various creatures, taxidermied toad bow ties and coin purses, antique medical machines and much more. Buy your main squeeze some jewelry fashioned from teeth, or buy your beau an old phonograph machine. Old medicine bottles abound and Ouija boards are in abundance. The owners are constantly refreshing their collection, so check back often to see more of the strange things they find.
3. OTO Temple. There’s no doubt that New Orleans is steeped in religion; this a place for all faiths, even the ones you haven’t heard of like Thelema. The Alombrados Oasis of Ordo Templi Orientis is a temple for the practice of the philosophical law of Thelema made by Aleister Crowley, which is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.” Their Bywater temple has candles burning on a golden altar flanked by a coffin in a dark room with beskulled wallpaper, reached by going through a room full of books and tribute candles.
4. Lakeview Bomb Shelter. Postwar America was fraught with fears of nuclear retaliation by other superpowers, which created a boom in bomb shelter construction. In the 1950s, the Office of Civil Defense in New Orleans built a Civil Defense Control Center and fallout shelter in Lakeview for city officials in case of an attack; citizens had to go to city hall. The shelter fell into disrepair, flooded and became shielded from view by grass, but those who dare can still visit the site; however, those who dare to visit it should use extreme caution and know that their visit is probably not legal.
5. Tomb of the Unknown Slave. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave outside of St. Augustine Church in Treme is a monument to the ”nameless, faceless, turfless Africans who met an untimely death in Faubourg Treme,” according to its plaque. Placed on October 30, 2004, the large cross is made of chain links with pairs of shackles and chains hanging from it to note the horror of slavery across the country and those who were buried in unknown locations in the Treme neighborhood since the settling of the city. It’s the only church in America where free people of color bought pews for use by enslaved people.
6. Musee Conti’s Chamber of Horror. The long-running Wax Museum will sadly be closing its doors for good come January 2016, so now is the time not only to see the many historical Louisiana wax sculptures, but also to take advantage of the dark and creepy horror wing. Peer through gated windows at torture subjects and look with fear upon monsters you thought could exist only on the silver screen. The eight figures featured in the dimly lit, winding wing are favorite classic monsters, including the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein and the lesser-known literary loser the Corpse in the Waxworks. See them before they’re gone.
7. Pharmacy Museum. This museum can transport you to a time when medical science was more rustic: alcohol had medicinal qualities, surgical instruments looked sadistic and leeches were used to extract bad blood from the body. The Pharmacy Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places because shop owner Louis Dufilho, Jr. was the first licensed pharmacist in America. Though many of the museum’s oddities are obsolete in today’s more advanced field, you can see walls full of jarred herbs, curious pharmaceutical labels and even some live leeches in their untouched glory. You can also host your wedding among these treasures.
8. Voodoo Museum. Voodoo is not a religion to fear; however, some items in the Voodoo Museum can seem strange, like the many corpses of bats and a plethora of bones. The recent passing of museum manager John Martin, who always had one of his pet snakes around his shoulders while greeting guests, was a blow to the museum’s mystique, but you can still witness the skeletons, altars, costumes and ritualistic tools that are associated with voodoo spiritualty. If you ask with true curiosity, the staff will tell you how these artifacts are used in ceremonies. Please don’t disturb the altars.
9. Bottom of the Tea Cup Ghost. At the little psychic store at 734 Royal Street, opened in 1929, lives a resident who just won’t leave. The Octoroon Mistress, Julie, died for love and forever remains in this realm. According to legend, Julie waited naked on the building’s rooftop according to her wealthy secret lover’s joking request to prove her love. She froze to death in the winter night waiting for the Frenchman who arrived too late, not thinking she would actually undertake the stunt. The store employees claim to have encountered her longing spirit, and sometimes even the forlorn Frenchman, roaming the building and courtyard.
10. Angel of Grief Tomb. This solemn statue is not unique to New Orleans, but it’s still heavily photographed for its remarkable sadness. The original Angel of Grief statue was made in 1894 by William Wetmore Story and has been replicated the world over. The Hyams family mausoleum in Metairie Cemetery is lit by three blue stained glass windows that cast striking light upon this grieving angel in the middle of the tomb. It’s the only Angel of Grief replica in the state. Save Our Cemeteries is dedicated to preserving such artifacts and you can check out their site (saveourcemeteries.org) for more information on visiting the city’s cemeteries.
11. Mystere Escape Rooms. Escape rooms can be a fun, sometimes stressful endeavor. I escaped such a room at Clue Carre, and now The Mortuary is operating Mystere Escape Rooms during the Halloween season. There are five frightening rooms to choose from, with varying levels of fright, including the Serial Killer room. Warning: You may not be alone! Find the clues and solve the puzzles to escape in an hour and become one of the lucky few survivors. Mortuary ticket buyers can receive a discount for the immersive experience. And there’s also a discount just for being a local!
12. St. Louis Cathedral Graves. The most recognizable building in New Orleans, St. Louis Cathedral, is the heart of the city. Countless nuptials, funerals, masses and even musical concerts have taken place within its sacred walls since its construction. Some people enjoyed the church so much, they didn’t want to leave. Beneath the beautifully decorated floor lie many priests and church officials. There are so many bodies buried that the church lost count, but at least 100 faithful members are interned there. As you walk the aisles of the golden cathedral, you walk upon the dead.
13. St. Roch Cemetery. This particular boneyard presided over by Saint Roch, the patron saint of healing and dogs, has a unique chapel. In a room on the side of the small chapel inside St. Roch No. 1 are numerous fake limbs and body parts. They are put there by patrons who need St. Roch’s healing power or to acknowledge parts he has already healed. On the hooks that line the walls hang plaster legs, hearts and crude, old prosthetics. Each brick on the floor is etched with the word “Thanks,” and coins and notes are scattered about. Mary holds a plate of glass eyeballs.
14. Dueling Oaks. New Orleans has a way of raising tempers, and when gentlemen felt the need to settle a score, they headed to the Dueling Oaks located in modern-day City Park near NOMA. To fight a duel with a weapon such as a sword or pistol was to fight with honor, but the reason for the duel could vary from claiming a lover to showing off sword skills. Some duels indeed ended in death or injury. One of the original oaks still stands at the intersection of Dreyfous Drive and, of course, Dueling Oaks Drive in City Park.