USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Ursuline Casket Girls Of New Orleans

Storyteller:

“Okay, so there’s this convent and off the top of my head I don’t remember it but if you google like “New Orleans Convent Vampires” you’ll find like a version of it. So that’s when New Orleans was being like built into a new city and there were all these traders and fur trappers or whatever. So women, so they has women brought over from Europe who were essentially going to be mail order brides for these men. So there are crude jokes of it being like early human trafficking and the women were like exposed to the sun on the trip over on the boat so they got like severely sun burned so the men like freaked out when the women got off the boat and rejected them. So they took the women in at the local convent and they like turned the top floor into the places for them to stay. But somehow because it’s New Orleans and this is what happens, people started saying that the women up there can’t be exposed to sunlight, they must be vampires…and it turned into this whole legend about the vampires of the convent. So like if you go on the voodoo tour in New Orleans, you will go to this convent and be told the story.

Me: That is so interesting, wow.

Storyteller: It is crazy! I mean the stuff in New Orleans…like who thought that was true and you know…it’s New Orleans so who knows if it’s true…you never know there.

Background: The storyteller is from New Orleans so she had a couple stories to pick from but decided to share this one. She told me that although she couldn’t remember the exact name of the story (I later looked up the real name and titled this post with it), she knew that because of the weird history of New Orleans, an ancient event turned into a creepy legend.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me a few stories…one is this legend. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is interviewed in a different post).

Thoughts: I have come to realize that there are many legends and ghost stories that come from the south. The reason for this is probably because of the south’s horrible history especially with slavery and the general mistreatment of black people and women. I think that whether or not this legend is true and the women actually were vampires (even though it seems unlikely), it is interesting to me how easily skewed a simple story can become in New Orleans. It seems like the city has a rich culture and likes to accumulate as many interesting stories as it can. It makes it unique.

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

Great Grandmother’s Murder House

Storyteller: “So my mom’s entire family is from New Orleans, which is essentially the most haunted city in the world…like there is so much tragedy and everyone…like if you grew up there you kind of believe in ghosts? Like you pretend you don’t but you do. No city can have that much tragedy and death and not have stuff wandering around. So my great grandmother had this really nice house. And I remember like being…sort of with it enough as a kid to be like ‘we are not rich, how did she afford this really nice house.’ And it was because it used to be a brothel and there was a murder there and so my family got it really cheap. So it was a murder house right? So the story was that one of the women that worked int he brothel was married. And her husband came in and dragged her up to the attic and they had a huge fight and he killed her. And there were these dark stains on the floor up there that everyone said was blood stains…that would not come out. Whether they were or not I don’t know, but that’s what I know this story was. So, basically they would always tell us that ‘Herald’, essentially, used to live in the attic because it’s where he killed his wife. And we were like ‘yeah whatever. Ha ha. Very funny.’ So my cousins and I are upstairs one day and we are playing in the attic and all of this weird crap starts happening. Like a door slams and a window that like…things like open and not a problem open and like weird weird stuff. And so we were like ‘oh you know what it is. It’s uncle M, he’s trying to scare us…because my uncle was notorious for scaring the kids all of the time. So we were like, ‘it’s just him.’ And then we were like ignoring it and then I looked out the window and my uncle M was downstairs. And we literally screamed and ran downstairs as fast as we could [laughs]. And to this day…NO explanation for what was happening in that attic. We were like ‘maybe it was like the uncle? or whatever…’ but could never prove that it was another human in our family.” [seeing my disturbed face she adds] “Yeah…it’s very upsetting! [laughs] I did not enjoy that! But yeah, that is the story of my great grandmother’s murder house.”

 

Background: The storyteller is from the south (specifically New Orleans) and she got to spend a lot of time growing up there. As a result, she not only has a lot of knowledge on the stories people told about the city, but she also had her own personal experience with a ghost in her great grandmother’s murder house.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…one of them included this first person narrative of her experience with what she still to this day believes was a ghost. I met up with her and another storyteller for coffee to go over the details.

Thoughts: Like the storyteller already pointed out, New Orleans is famous for being one of the most haunted places in the world. There really is so much tragedy that has occurred in that city throughout the years that it is not hard to believe that there are many ghost stories and legends that derive from it. It is scary to hear and see things out of the ordinary especially when we cannot figure out the realistic cause of it. Many people refuse to believe in such things as ghosts and live in denial with the fact that they may be real. Some things that cannot be explained frighten us.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Haunted House in New Orleans

My sister’s friend, she’s in her late thirties, and we call her Sam. She’s from Jamaica too but she lives in LA. She and her best friend, once a year travel to somewhere cool together. And at the end of last year, around November, they travelled to New Orleans together. And there’s this street that’s a well known street in New Orleans, I forget the name of it but I could ask my sister, where really pretty houses are that have been there for a super long time, it’s just one street with really old houses. And so they were just looking around touring the area, it’s near Bourbon Street. And they drove upon one really pretty house, it stood out from the rest of them because it just looked so well kept, well taken care of, it looked like somebody lived there.

 

Do people live in the houses?

 

Some of them. This one there was no car in the driveway, none of the windows were open. And the door was like a wooden double door, and the top of the door had like glass, about three quarters of the door was glass, so you could kinda see through the house, and it was all empty. And so they drove upon the house, and then all of a sudden, both of them started saying they don’t have a good feeling, like the house is beautiful but they just don’t feel like they should be here, like they’re infringing on somebody’s personal life and personal property. And okay, Sam is the most non-believer of all the non-believers. You know, she’s like the atheist of believing in ghosts. And she just kept complaining that she felt down in her emotions, she just felt weird, and she got super antsy and like, I don’t want to be here because I don’t want to get them mad, I don’t want to get them mad. And her friend was like, who are you going to get mad? Like what are you talking about the house is empty, it’s clear that nobody lives there. And Sam was like somebody’s there and I know. Like with conviction she was just like we are not supposed to be here. Somebody’s not happy with us being here. And her friend was like what are you frickin talking about, this isn’t like you to say any of this…and then her friend started being like you know I think you’re right, like I think we shouldn’t be here. And this is while they’re talking in the car, and how my sister described it was like, this is where the car was, and this is where the front door was, so it wasn’t a long driveway. So they looked back, at the house, and they saw a little boy…I hate telling this, don’t you ever think that when you tell these stories it sounds just ridiculous? They saw like a little boy in an army uniform, like a khaki button up with badges and buttons. And they said it was evident it was a boy’s face because he had little blonde hair, he had baby blue eyes, his face was super young, but they both said they saw him perfectly, in the doorway. And they were like…he couldn’t be that tall for us to see him in the doorway, and both of them saw him.

 

So they saw him through the glass in the door?

 

Through the glass, and then they just started freaking out. They weren’t scared, they were just like holy shit, and both of them saw him. And they were like, it wasn’t only me, she’s my witness, it was there. And then they left, and they were like we’re researching this, find out the history of the house, the history of this street, everything. And it turns out that that house was a refugee house for people during World War II, and the little boy was one of the ones who lost his dad. His dad was a soldier. So they think the little boy was wearing his dad’s uniform. And they said that when they looked up the story and everything, multiple people had, when they see that house…like they weren’t the only ones who reported that story, like they read others, and the little boy is there to remind people to never forget them, that there’s a history here and don’t forget this history, it’s alive and well. Okay so the story has a twist, you’re gonna be like what the fuck. After they researched, it blew their mind, they wanted to go inside and look around. They came back and they couldn’t find the house. They could not find the house for the life of them, they drove up and down the street and they were like this is where the house was. The house wasn’t there. I swear to god. They couldn’t find the house. They were on the exact same street, and they couldn’t find it anywhere.

 

And after that, Sam was like I will never doubt anyone’s story ever again. She was like I feel like a dumbass telling this story.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a third hand account of someone’s personal experience. Clearly the ghost story was compelling enough for the informant’s sister to tell her, and for the subject to tell her friend. An additional aspect that enhances the belief in this legend is because both the friend and the sister know the subject’s reputation as a general non-believer of all things spiritual or having to do with legends. We might also infer that the subject is a good story-teller, or purveyor of folklore, because it seems as though the account is very detailed, specific, and compelling. It could also be the case that all three of the people in the line who have told this story are good storytellers, if indeed the story and its details have remained intact. There is also the possibility that either the second hand account or third hand account was embellished or changed, depending on their memory of the account they heard, how they interpretted the story, and the nature of how they tell stories. The account is also reinforced by similar stories on an internet database, where other people have had similar experiences. Adding to this the fact that the subjects didn’t know this history or the legends surrounding this house until after having had their own experience, so they had nothing to influence or bias their experience, and you get a pretty compelling and chilling account.

Foodways
Holidays

King Cake

One of my co-workers lived near New Orleans, so she told me about a food tradition in New Orleans during Mardi Gras known as a King Cake.

“It’s called a King Cake and it’s Mardi Gras and they bake it and you can get them everywhere. It’s like a pastry that has cinnamon in it, it’s like a big cinnamon roll, it’s in the shape of an oval, like a ring, and there’s icing on it and all these sprinkles, like green, yellow, and purple sprinkles for Mardi Gras. You bake the cake and once you get it there’s a little figurine, like a baby, about the size of your thumb and you stick it somewhere in the cake and then you cover it up and as you eat it, whoever gets the baby in their piece of bread has good luck for a year.

Q: Can you buy a cake that has a baby in it or do you have to make it?

“That’s the thing, it’s actually kind of a problem, because some people swallow the baby if you eat it too fast. So, when you buy the cake you can get them in there already, but most of the time if you get them at a Rouses, it’s like a chain grocery store, they’ll have them taped on the top of the box and they’ll give you the figurine and the person who buys it sticks it in there, so they know not to give that piece to a little kid…You frost it so you can’t see the hole, so I would stick it in and then mess the frosting around so you couldn’t tell where it was. And then you get good luck for a year.”

According to my informant, because the cakes are meant for Mardi Gras, you probably wouldn’t see those types of cakes during the rest of the year unless they were specially ordered. Also, it would be considered strange to eat a King Cake that didn’t have a baby inside, since the type of cake and the folklore surrounding the baby figuring go hand in hand.

For more information on this topic see:  Barclay, Eliza. “Is That A Plastic Baby Jesus In My Cake?” The Salt: What’s On Your Plate. NPR, 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 01 May 2014.

Customs
Foodways
Material

King Cake

My informant moved around quite a bit when he was younger; he spent a couple years in Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi. In his adolescence, his family moved to Louisiana. Because that is where he went to high school and is therefore the last place he lived before coming to college, it is the place he considers his home. He is proud of being “from” the area near New Orleans. Here is his description of a traditional cake he ate around Mardi Gras:

“A King Cake is a circular cinnamon-roll like cake with green, purple, and yellow icing, the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. It’s named after the three kings from the Bible. Growing up, I consumed King Cake at school with my classmates as well as at home with my family. The cake is consumed during the season of Lent and contains a small plastic baby, which represents baby Jesus. The person who gets the baby in their slice of cake is obligated to bring the King Cake for the following week. So we had King Cake every Friday at school during Lent, since on Fridays you’re allowed some reprieves from the strict Lent rules. The King Cake is very symbolic of one of the most festive times for Louisianans, and it brings all of the community together in celebration of the season. However, while delicious, the cake also serves as a reminder of the obligations one has during the season of Lent.”

This cake became such a significant tradition for my informant that when he went away to college, his grandma mailed him one. Mardi Gras is not nearly as big of a deal in Los Angeles—where my informant attends university—as it is in New Orleans, so he greatly appreciated the gesture. It reminded him of his home and the traditions he spent years celebrating, so it does make sense for him to be sentimental about a cake. What may seem like a simple dessert to an outsider actually has quite a bit of symbolism. As my informant said, even the colors of the frosting have meaning: they are the festive Mardi Gras colors. Food is often intrinsic to special celebrations, and Mardi Gras is the biggest celebration of the region my informant lives in. It is comparable to a birthday cake in that it is a cake eaten at a special time with family and friends, but the King Cake has an added community-building element. The fact the person who eats the piece with the little plastic baby in it has to bring the next cake means that the King Cake itself perpetuates the gatherings of those people. It provides a kind of assurance that they will all come together again in a short time to share the same food and celebrate the season. Therefore, one of the functions of this folklore is the guarantee that those people will meet again.

Folk Beliefs
general

Supersitions from New Orleans and Variants from East Asia

I was interviewing my informant about superstitions he had at home and this is the transcription of that interview:

Informant: Well, I’m Glenn and I’m from New Orleans and I’ve been there since I was a toddler. I guess a story that I know of, back home uh, whenever, there are certain things, nerves that go off and if they do, you’re supposed to know what that means something like if your ear itches, that means that someone has been talking about you and if your hand itches that means that you are going to get money soon and uh, it’s just a bunch of things…if you, uh, bite your lip or your tongue, it means you’ve been lying a lot lately. It’s not true, but it’s what you’re suppose to believe

Collector: Where did you hear this?

Informant: You hear this all over the place, it changes from time to time, like sometimes you hear that if your eye twitches, someone you know had died and you’ll be like–no, that’s not true, no, if your eye itches, no, I don’t quite remember.

Collector: But who did you learn this from? Your parents?

Informant: No, I didn’t–Well, I guess, yes, uh, my stepmother would say if your hand itches that means you’ve got money coming your way.

Collector: So, why do you think these are important?

Informant: It’s definitely something you tell kids, it’s something like if you’re not sure what’s the real medical reason is, you could always just use one of these, and I’m not sure exactly why your hand itches sometimes to this day…I believe money’s just coming your way [smile].”

This interview reveals many of the superstitions concerning body parts from New Orleans. I believe my informant has elaborated enough about many of these beliefs, but it’s easy to see where these beliefs come from. For example, “your ear itches because someone has been talking about you” clearly comes from the fact that talking and ears go together. Similarly, hand passes through money and the itching must have to do with that fact. Moreover, you use your mouth to lie, so of course, lying must be related to the mouth–you bite your tongue when you lie. These are just many of the superstitions that parents pass down to their children in different cultures and like my informant said, most likely originated before there was a medical explanation for everything. With a lack of medical or scientific information, people turned to superstition for explanation.

Just a few variations from different cultures I’ve heard. Before that, here’s a bit of my background for reference: I’m a third generation Chinese Taiwanese male student who was born in Taipei, Taiwan. I speak English and Chinese. I lived in Taipei for two years before moving to New Jersey, where I lived for seven years. After that, I returned to Taipei where I finished high school.

Returning to the subject, in Chinese culture, if your ear is hot, then that means someone misses you. If your hand is stubby and thick, then that means you will be good at making money. In Japanese culture, you sneeze suddenly when someone is talking behind your back. While I don’t know why some of the same reasons are attributed to different body parts, it is quite interesting to note that each culture places the same sort of significance on things like coming into money and people talking behind your back.

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