by Angeliska on November 12, 2009
I became friendly with the ghosts of 807 Esplanade
not long after I moved into the building. The house
held so much history, it would seem strange if it
weren’t haunted at least by a few souls. The place
was huge, and there was some heavy energy
out back by the the former slave quarter apartments
where the drunks and dealers and recluses made
their sad lairs in little garrets connected by a very
rickety and dangerous wooden staircase. The whole
place was falling apart, long neglected by the owners.
I originally moved into the tower, alone at age 20,
a new resident of New Orleans. One night, my neighbor
who had lived in her apartment for years decided she’d
finally had it with pieces of the ceiling falling in, and
trying to raise her little daughter, Aurelia, in such an
unsafe house. She stormed out in a screaming fury,
and I ended up moving into her much larger and grander
apartment on the third floor. Two balconies, a clawfoot
tub, a gorgeous chandelier and two Italian Carrera marble
fireplaces (outfitted with freaky, fire-spitting gas heaters).
(Photographer known, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten his name!)
The ceilings were 15 feet tall, and there were leaks in
every room when it rained, which it did nearly every afternoon.
We were plagued with rats, mice, giant flying cockroaches,
stinging caterpillars, noisy drunks from Bourbon St., and
general decay – but none of that mattered at all. In fact,
none of the hard things about living in New Orleans
really affected me, as long as I was living in that marvelous mansion.
We called it “Crumblydown Manor” or “Bramblebee Estates”
but mostly I called it the “We Have Always Lived in the Castle Castle”,
because it reminded me of something out of a Shirley Jackson story.
It was the ultimate in Southern Gothic dilapidated opulence,
and I felt like a queen surveying the hoi polloi, hidden behind
massive oaks on the balcony overlooking the neutral ground.
I still feel like it’s my house, and I always will. I go there in my
dreams all the time. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss it.
This is where I would lock up my bicycle every day. (Photographer unknown)
Alas, I digress! On to the ghosts – they mostly congregated in the stairwell,
playing little tricks on the other neighbors, and making mischief.
I felt quite a few presences there, and I felt that there was something
about the liminal space of the staircase, the landings and the halls
that kept them there. I would generally greet them warmly and politely
when climbing up or down the three flights as I did several times a day.
They repaid me for my good manners by saving my life on more occasions
then I can count. I am not the most coordinated lady, and was frequently
in ridiculously tall heels and often quite inebriated. I was constantly
taking a misstep on the steep stairs and nearly toppling to my death,
but somehow- it never happened. I would trip, and start to fall backwards-
that horrible, slow-motion slant backwards, arms wheeling, a slave to gravity
preparing for the worst until I would feel hands on my back pushing me forward
and back up onto the step. Sweating and gasping, I would thank them profusely.
Lucky for klutzy me, to have such kind and watchful ghosts looking out for me, eh?
(Photographer unknown – Melissa G., are these yours perchance?)
One afternoon, I was locking my bicycle up to the big mahogany post
at the base of the stairs. As I bent over to attach the lock, I felt someone
standing near me, and I glanced to the side expecting to see a neighbor.
Our of my peripheral vision, I saw a man standing there, wearing an olive
green wool army uniform, I reckon 1940′s WWII era. He was solemn and
sad seeming, standing there very straight, almost at attention. His hair
was blond, and curled over his forehead, looking almost marcelled.
Blue eyes. I think he wanted something. I think he wanted help finding
the way out, or just desired company. I only saw him that once, and it
was so short. As soon as I turned my head to look at him head on,
he was gone. I sensed him lots of times after that, though. His energy
reminded me of one of my favorite descriptions from the His Dark Materials
Trilogy, by Phillip Pullman:
“How much easier if his dæmon had been visible!
She wondered what its form might be,
and whether it was fixed yet.
Whatever its form was, it would express a nature
that was savage, and courteous, and unhappy.”
It was not too long after that that my friend Miss Carrin
came to visit. After her first night staying with us, she
informed me that our house was haunted. I was shocked to
find out that the ghosts had crossed the threshold! They
generally were very respectful, and stayed to the stairs
and the landings. She was drifting off to sleep, when
she suddenly sensed someone standing over her.
She opened her eyes to see a man staring down
at her lying there. He disappeared after a moment,
but not before she got a good look at him. I asked her
to describe the man she saw, and she told me that he
was wearing some kind of greenish uniform or suit,
and had blond wavy hair. I had not told her anything
of the ghost I had seen prior to this. A while later, a
guest told me that something in that room had kicked
him in the ribs while he slept. Perhaps the blond man
took a disliking to him, or maybe it was some other
mischievous phantom. I wonder how that soldier is
these days- if he’s crossed through, or if he’s made
any news friends. I imagine him still heartbroken,
searching. Maybe angry that I’m not there, and
making trouble for the filmmakers that are renovating
my old home and turning it into a production studio.
This is the house a long, long time ago.
When the turrets were still in place, and the
oaks and ivy had not yet sprung up to clothe
her bare and sienna-stained edifice. Nary
a single tree in what I knew as a somewhat dank
and shady leaf-clogged courtyard. Dirt roads
and women all in white, men all in black.
To know what my room looked like, and
to know the story of the terrible things that
happened after, when everyone who lived
there was given the boot, and the house
was desecrated, please see: Mutatis Mutandis
I also advise you to find out what happened
after that, to know more about the angry ghosts,
do read: Ghost Story – it’s quite creepy.
I still can hardly believe it. So strange.
☛ Tod Seelie’s photos of our mutual friends and various stompin’ grounds
in New Orleans are truly magic. He’s damn good, and his pictures
make my heart feel funny. Longing, and laughing.
Especially check out his post from the The Day Of The Dead
parade and Viking funeral for Colby – they are breathtaking.
DRAGGIN’ SOMEDAY OUT TO SEA
and a perfect visual explanation for me,
of what it means, to miss New Orleans:
NEVER SANG A LOVE SONG, NEVER OWNED A CAR
☛ Details of cornices and murals from the house,
in a book I want very much: New Orleans Architecture Volume 4:
The Creole Faubourgs – By Roulhac Toledano & Mary Louise Christovich