A Walk on New Orleans' Wild Side

The Museum of Leprosy is just the beginning

St. Roch Cemetery
••• St. Roch Cemetery is scary in general, but especially in this photo from the early 20th century. Public Domain

New Orleans is one of America's wildest cities, no matter which way you look at it. A French-inflected city in the Deep South, as filled with tourists as it is with cemeteries, and with black magic as much as a part of its cultural tapestry as sweet beignets, it's an unlikely mainstream destination if there ever was one. If you're under the impression that the wildest thing you'll see in New Orleans is drunk people throwing beads, you're in for a big shock when you keep reading.

New Orleans' Haunted Hotels

Many of the hotels in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter sit inside historical buildings, as rife with heritage as they are with flamboyant architectural embellishments. But a significant number of these hotels are also apparently conspicuously haunted, whether by soldiers, child servants, slaves, or even an entire Turkish Sultan's harem, in the case of one hotel.

Because so many visitors to New Orleans find the city's haunted hotels charming instead of chilling, you're unlikely to get a ghost-in-room discount, although the good news is that if your haunting drives you to become a ghost yourself, you probably won't have to pay—you can just float right out of your room!

Cemeteries, Voodoo and Ghost Tours – Oh My!

New Orleans is also home to many cemeteries – so many, in fact, that unless you happen to be in the Big Easy for a week or longer, you'll probably only have time to visit a tiny percentage.

For example, St. Louis Cemetery, which dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, has three separate sections that occupy more than a dozen city blocks over an area of 4 square miles. St. Roch is another popular New Orleans Cemetery that makes for a creepy diversion from your ordinary activities.

Likewise, New Orleans is a hub for voodoo, the most famous of its voodoo shops being Island of Salvation Botanica, which is actually run by a Ukrainian Jewish woman, in spite of being mostly Haitian in terms of the creepy artifacts it sells.

On the other hand, if you're curious about New Orleans ghosts but don't actually want to sleep with them, skip the haunted hotel and book a tour with French Quarter Phantoms, whose guides take you through creepy places you'd never imagine where in New Orleans' most crowded district.

Visit The Museum of Death

Located behind a conspicuous skull cutout in the middle of the French Quarter, New Orleans' Museum of Death might seem gimmicky from the outside, but inside it's totally legit. Housing artifacts such as body bags from murder cases and coffins of famous people, and documents such as portraits of serial killers and photographs of grisly crime scenes, the museum presents the end of life in a way that's oddly entertaining—well, unless you're one of the people whose death is documented in the museum.

How About the Museum Dedicated to Leprosy?

Leprosy, however, is not a topic of levity, not even keeping in mind the good humor of New Orleans. To be sure, the National Hansen's Disease Museum presents its exhibit on leprosy (which causes skin lesions and nerve damage) in a decidedly clinical light, making it difficult to see the condition in an emotional light, one way or another. It's technically a bit outside New Orleans, near the town of Carville, but since it treated (or attempted to treat) many leprosy patients from New Orleans, who might have otherwise haunted the city as ghosts, it gets a spot on this list.

 

Then again, you could just spend your New Orleans vacation so blacked-out drunk that you see ghosts, voodoo priestesses, and reminders of your own mortality. No matter the circumstance, one thing is for sure: Your trip to New Orleans is going to be anything but normal!