Kittie Howard

Friday, January 6, 2012

Haunting at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel

The Bourbon Orleans Hotel enjoys a rich New Orleans history that involves my great-grandmother.  While a young girl, her parents booked passage on a ship destined for New Orleans in order to escape rampant persecution of Jews in Spain.  Her parents died in the 1867 yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans. 

Spanish Carmalite nuns found her begging on a street corner.  My great-grandmother was approximately seven years old.  The Carmalite nuns didn't want a Jewish girl in their convent so brought her to what is now the Bourbon Orleans Hotel (and where my husband and I stayed during Christmas, as we did last year.)  The African-American nuns gave her shelter and educated her.  (She later converted to Catholicism, sorta.)

In 1867, this French Quarter hotel housed a Roman Catholic convent and orphanage run by the Sisters of the Holy Family, the first African-American Catholic order, founded in New Orleans by Henriette Delille (1813-1862), "a free woman of color", and recognized by the Vatican in 1842. The Sisters of the Holy Family remain an active order to this day. In 2010, the Catholic Church declared Henriette Delille 'venerable', the first step toward sainthood.  (In 2001, Lifetimetelevision premiered a movie about Henriette Delille's life, The Courage to Love.)

This year we stayed in room 421.  The night of December 28th we slept soundly.  The occupants of room 424 did not.

They called the desk several times to complain about the noise above them.  The irritating noise sounded like a food cart being rolled back and forth.  They also complained about the light going on and off in their room.

Staff checked the floor above the fourth floor, where the convent used to be.  The large room contains little today and is locked during the night.  Staff found no one hiding on the convent floor, no one who had slipped in during the day for a mischievous trick.

An electrician checked the wiring in room 424 and found nothing wrong.

However, once the staff left and people had settled into the night, the noise returned on the convent floor, and the lighting continued to irritate the hotel room's occupants.  The checking - and finding nothing wrong - continued throughout the night.

Later that morning one of the staff told me about the haunting (what they're called in New Orleans, where hauntings abound) and said, "Maybe it was because you're here.  Your great-grandmother was looking for you."  He wasn't joking.  As far as the staff of the Bourbon Orleans knows, I am the closest descendant of anyone in the convent from that era who's ever stayed there.

The night before the haunting, December 27th, as I sat on the room's sofa, I felt a whoosh of air and double-blinked at what looked like a puff of white that disappeared.

No, I hadn't been drinking.  (I wouldn't have a couple of glasses of wine until New Year's Eve.)  No, I hadn't had a Henry VIII-type meal or had otherwise indulged.  Louisiana natives don't go wild in the French Quarter.

Like last year, we stayed at the Bourbon Orleans because I wanted to touch my great-grandmother's history.  I can't say that I did; I can't say that I didn't.  I can only say that the staff couldn't find the source of the noise on the old convent floor or the source of the lighting problems.  But I did feel that whoosh of air.  I did see that puff of white.

Because I didn't make reservations earlier in October, we had to go to the Monteleone Hotel on the 29th.  Before we left New Orleans on the 2nd, I walked over to the Bourbon Orleans and asked if there had been another haunting.  There hadn't been another.  Hmmm.

Anyway, Happy New Year to each of you!  May your inner light shine.  May your smile bring smiles to others.  And, whatever your goal, may you feel the joy of success.

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