A French Quarter Investigation

I recently guided a group of women on a ghost tour, and from the start, something felt off. I love storytelling and sharing history. I love watching the faces of both skeptics and believers when I introduce them to a local haunted legend or eerie tale. I’m a good tour guide, but there was something painfully off with this tour. I felt like every stop was another patch of quicksand I had to navigate through.

After the tour, a guest commented, “I’m not sure you’re actually a believer.” At first, my ego felt attacked, and I took it very personally. I let it percolate for a day. I began to question all my experiences and tried to debunk a lifetime of unexplainable encounters and witnessed activity. One night, in particular, jumped out of my memory and back into my consciousness.

Bourbon Street in the Rain

Bourbon Street; Shutterstock

The Lay of the Land

There’s something about a good thunderstorm that gets the paranormal juices flowing. They say electromagnetic fields are affected by barometric pressure. Energies need energy, so a supercharged thunderstorm can give the ghosts a little boost — so I’m told. But if that is true, it might help explain why so many of “the most haunted cities” are port towns with a rainy climate: New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, Boston, London, and Edinburgh, to name a few.

As we drove into the French Quarter, the rain was just letting up, and the humidity was heavy. The space we were about to investigate was small, so we scaled back on the gear and gadgets, just a few voice recorders, cameras, an EMF detector, and a Mel Meter. I’m not a ghost gear girl, but “when in Rome.”

I know the owners of the property and set this investigation up for the four of us. (Who the “us” are doesn’t matter.) It is a small Occult Bookstore; the owners are both practitioners of esoteric rituals and beliefs. When they bought the building decades ago, they created their living quarters upstairs as they built out the Occult Shoppe.

Behind the store and their home, there is a typical but no less magical French Quarter courtyard. There is an outbuilding, also known as the “slaves’ quarters,” and another courtyard behind the outbuilding.

As we began to sort out the plans for the investigation, I suddenly felt a wave of vertigo. I felt like I had just walked off a roller coaster, dizzy and out of balance. No time for nausea, we divided up and set off to conquer the space. I went with a teammate, Kris, into the main house.

The Main House Investigation

The spiral staircase made for a precarious ascent into the room where “Chloe” resides. Chloe is one of the many mischievous spirits the owners said inhabit their home. But Chloe was harmless; it was “Belial” we were to be wary of.

Upstairs is a master bedroom with a sitting room, a guest bedroom, and a bathroom. We entered the sitting room and took a few moments to adjust our eyes to the dark; my vertigo was coming in huge waves. I sat in a chair, and Kris walked into the guest room.

As soon as Kris entered the adjoining room, I heard a loud thud on the wood floor. I thought he had dropped his voice recorder or knocked something over. I stood up to head his way when he loudly whispered from the other room, “Did you hear that? Something just hit my leg.” There was nothing there.

My phone began to vibrate. The owners were downstairs in their shop and sent me a text:

Something was expecting you guys. That loud thud. Haven’t heard that up there in a while.

The next couple of hours were packed with WTFs. Kris sat on the sofa and placed his voice recorder on the coffee table. Moments later, we watched the voice recorder move across the table and land on the floor.

Not long after the dancing voice recorder shimmied itself off the table, I felt something putting pressure on the top of my head while simultaneously seeing a shadow in the doorway of the guest room. Surely my eyes were playing tricks on me. But then the shadow stopped moving and stood completely still in the doorway.

I went to the sofa and sat next to Kris. As soon as I got comfortable, I felt the pressure on the top of my head again, but this time, it lasted longer. It was like a giant hand was pressing down on my skull. My heart began racing as I sat on the sofa’s edge. I took a few deep breaths then Kris said, “something just pushed down on the top of my hat. I felt the pressure on my head.”

We began to play back our voice recordings, curious if there were any answers to our prompts or voices not heard with the naked ear. There was laughter, mumbling, and a very clear answer to Kris’s question, “is Belial here?” A man said, “Kris is here.”

Belial

New Orleans Voodoo Ceremony

New Orleans Voodoo Ceremony; by author

In ancient Jewish text, Belial is the name of a demon; in Hebrew, it means “without value,” and in some sections of the text, Belial was considered the “chief of all the devils.” In the Dead Sea Scrolls, Belial is the leader of the Sons of Darkness:

But for corruption thou hast made Belial, an angel of hostility. All his dominions are in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits that are associated with him are but angels of destruction.

If this sinister voice was Belial, he was pretty long-winded. He demanded, “Leave!” and then laughed maniacally as we asked him more questions. His tone sounded irritated, maybe even threatening, as he continued to spew his quips.

This banter continued for about thirty minutes until the mysterious voice quietly muttered, “Go now.” Then silence. Almost immediately, the heavy air lifted, and I no longer felt like I was standing on the deck of a ship in a hurricane.

We went downstairs for a break and to write down our experiences inside the 225-year-old building. I felt like I was writing a chapter in a Southern Gothic novel. I was skeptical of what had just happened and questioned my brain.

New Orleans Courtyard Gate

New Orleans Courtyard by Mary Hammel

Voices in the Courtyard

In the humid, sticky darkness, we headed to the courtyard. Some light from the waxing moon and the French Quarter nightlife illuminated the courtyard just slightly, which was somewhat comforting.

We chatted with our teammates around the fire pit, and they let us know they had left a voice recorder recording upstairs in the outbuilding. We said we’d fetch it.

As the other two headed to the main house, I planted myself at an outdoor altar that the owners use for voodoo ceremonies and other rituals.

I watched Kris go up the outside spiral staircase to grab the voice recorder that was left up there. I scanned the area outside, deciding where to begin. There were reports of angry-sounding voices heard in the courtyard.

I felt drawn to return to the old round brick fire pit, so I gingerly navigated the precarious grounds in the dark. In the meantime, I heard Kris’s footsteps coming back down the staircase. I watched him stop at the altar where I had been standing.

Kris and I looked at each other through the darkness, then he slowly walked over and stood across from me. Suddenly, we heard a man’s voice, “They stabbed me.” The distant voice sounded tortured. Grief rose up inside of me.

Then Kris’s recorder picked up a young girl’s voice, “I told him to run.” We were getting complete sentences. Were these intelligent hauntings?

The man’s voice returned, “Johnny.” There was no mistaking what he said, it was crystal clear. Was this man Johnny? My grief grew stronger.

We later discovered through our research that a man named Johnny had been stabbed in 1857, a block away. He stumbled into this courtyard and fell to the ground. Moments later, he bled to death — where we had been standing.

Mind Games

We spent another hour or so gathering more evidence, but we were all exhausted and ready to end the night. The four of us compared notes on our experiences. Then one of our teammates reminded us about the voice recorder left upstairs in the outbuilding, “Did anyone go upstairs and get the voice recorder we left up there?” Kris responded, “No, I guess it’s still up there.”

Wait.

What?

Confused, I said, “You got it. I saw you go up there.”

Kris and our two teammates looked at me. Were they gaslighting me? I knew what I saw, “But I saw you go up the stairs and come back down. You went to the altar and then walked over to me.” Kris said, “I was next to you at the altar and followed you to the firepit.”

In German, doppelgänger translates to “double goer.” It refers to a wraith or apparition that doesn’t have a shadow but is an exact replica of a living person. Doppelgängers were usually considered signs of bad luck or impending death. As far as I know, Kris is still physically alive (his soul is questionable, but that’s for another post).

To Believe or Not To Believe

What happened that night? Going back and reading about it in my journal brought up a lot of thoughts and questions. Paranormally speaking, this became one of many times I experienced unexplainable events. But the woo-woo side of me sees more into it, metaphysically. Now I know the doppelgänger/gaslighting episode was foreshadowing (also for another post).

My thoughts on the paranormal have evolved. I look at every experience as an honor and a privilege. I know what it’s like not to be heard or seen. What it feels like to be misunderstood. I can’t imagine going through all of eternity reliving the same trauma or never being acknowledged, never feeling relevant or valid.

Are there messages in every interaction? Probably not. I think most activity is residual. Energy leftovers on a loop, replaying until all played out. But perhaps there are signs or signals presented to us with intention. It is up to us to be open and receptive to those nudges, to open our eyes and see the offerings made to us.

I heard someone say that a “belief is merely a thought and a feeling.” That gives us a nice margin of error if we are ever proven wrong. But how can we prove anything when it comes to ghosts and hauntings? We see less than 1% on the light spectrum. We are limited. We’ll probably never really know anything about the paranormal until we’re dead. Gives us something to look forward to, I reckon.

And to the woman who questioned if I was “a believer,” I say, “good!” I have filled journals with paranormal experiences, but I will remain a skeptic amongst believers and a believer amongst skeptics.