The urban legend:
“Back in the ’20s or so, a couple visited a hotel in the French Quarter. The only room that the hotel had available was rumored to be haunted, but not believing in superstitions, the couple took the room. Weeks after the trip, they received in the mail pictures of themselves in the hotel room – pictures taken from the ceiling of the room.When they called the hotel and asked where these pictures came from, the owner replied, ‘I warned you. The room is haunted. A man hung himself in that room years ago.'”
The informant first heard this story when she was 17 and on a ghost tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans, which was also her home town at the time. Ghost tours are perhaps more on the edge of folklore being that one of their objectives, in addition to preserving lore, must be to make a profit, and the stories the employees share surely come from an authored text of some training manual. Nevertheless, by virtue of a ghost tour existing in New Orleans, I would venture to guess that ghost stories play enough of a part in the culture that even the manual’s stories has its origins in native lore.
Keeping this in mind, I think it appropriate to first note the aesthetic of this ghost story. Like many ghost stories, the scare tactic of this story lies in the use of an unobserved presence: the Ghost that was in the room that the couple didn’t recognize was there. Then again, while no physical harm comes to any of the characters, they experience a subversion of belief through the evidence of what they previously didn’t believe to exist. What is also unsettling is that a haunted room in a hotel would be available despite the owner knowing it’s haunted. The ghost illustrates a continuing discomfort over the liminal space between life and death. While the story (as the informant told it) excludes any details as to why the man hung himself, the informant herself seemed to fear that he would reach out to the living even without considering that the ghost’s motivation may not have been out of malice. When I asked the informant if she remembered a more specific date for the occurrences in the story, she said she did not. It seems then that perhaps the element of time, the ambiguity over when the story occurred is less important, that the story’s having survived over the years is enough to be unsettling. Something to note, however, is that while the date is unspecified, both the fact that the story is placed in the reality of our world – in fact, an existing construction – and the ambiguity of whether it’s true contribute to the overall aesthetic of the piece.
However, being that the informant heard the story in a ghost tour, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether the story serves as anything more than entertainment in the existing culture. As for the informant herself, she explained that she shares the story to peers that tell her that they’re going to visit the French Quarter to “psyche them out” and also get them interested in the area. Interestingly, a story that very well could have come from lore, entered authored literature for tourism, and has returned to the realm of folklore to further tourism.