If you've wandered the French Quarter during the evening hours, you've inevitably stumbled upon hoards of rapt pedestrians immersed in the tales of one of New Orleans' most haunted neighborhoods. True tales of horror are a marker of where the city's been and what informed its residents, so says tour guide Elizabeth Zibilich, who was kind enough to lead us off-tour and straight to her own, personal ghost stories.
Zibilich's job intermingles the bravado of storytelling with the fascinating history of the French Quarter. "It's part of the history in New Orleans," she explains. "how the stories were passed down, who were telling those stories. It gives you a perspective of how the city has grown and changed and the beliefs here."
Her own personal ghost stories are as curious as a slamming door, whose jarring sound she presumed came from her parents checking on her after coming home late shortly after the storm...
It was after curfew had lifted. I came home late one night, headed to bed, closed my door, rolled over to go to sleep and not even two minutes after I laid down, my door opens. There's a pause and then it shuts. I thought it was just weird and figured it was my family checking in on me and making sure I'd gotten home. I woke up the next morning and asked my mom and dad. I said, 'you know, thank you for checking to make sure that I got home. That's really sweet.' And they asked, 'What are you talking about? We weren't awake.' Later, I'd come to find out that the prior owner of the house had died in the house. I had no idea at the time. I found it out later. It's the only thing I can think it was. ...to the truly bizarre, as with a particularly frightful incident at the Shim Sham Club. Folks know 615 Toulouse St now as One Eyed Jacks, a music venue that hosts stellar touring acts. Its history has long been associated with performance and revelry. Zibilich, whose background is in theatre, started her night with the Running With Scissors troupe like any other evening of performance. She got to the Shim Sham early, turned on the lights underneath the bar, and that's when she smelled something strange, something sweet — flowers.
"It wasn't bar sweet," Zibilich says. "Bar sweet is different than flowers. I didn't see any flowers around but figured maybe there was something somewhere that I didn't catch. Everybody else shows up and we're getting ready for the show and everything's going fine. I was running the lights and the sound for the show up in the DJ booth."
The DJ booth, mind you, is just up a series of narrow steps and around a balcony catwalk. It sits front and center above the crowd below and right behind it is a tiny bar. Now, VIPs and performers sit along the side catwalk for shows but during this particular performance, it was just Zibilich upstairs. That is, until the white noise starts chattering in her ear.
I remember doing the show and hearing something in my ear but there was nothing there. It happens again, just nothing distinct, very garbled, almost static-like. I hear footsteps behind me. I go look on the catwalk and there's nothing. I have to do my cue, I do my cue. I hear footsteps again, and then the static. I go back to the bar and there's no one either in the bar or on the catwalk. I start talking to it: 'Okay, I understand that this is your home. I'll be out of your way in about half an hour.' It continues to happen. Finally, I'm freaked out enough that I'm still trying to run my show, trying to talk to them and say that I'll be out of their way. Zibilich heads to the upstairs bar for some small comfort in the form of a tiny Miller High Life pony from a tiny refrigerator. By the time she comes back to the DJ booth, the static sound has grown louder and the footsteps begin pacing. A final warning keeps the spirit at bay and it's only one month later that Zibilich discovers who was up there, walking so impatiently, almost in waiting.
Right next door [to the Shim Sham] at some point had been the New Orleans Paranormal Society. They had studied the building and they had come across three different ghosts — the first is an angry ghost that is upstairs on the catwalk on the first balcony, in the first room, he looms over where the office is. The second is a ghost that is onstage. Supposedly, when it was a speakeasy, a jazz musician had suffered a heart attack died while performing. Reports have always been that people have started feeling chest pains onstage. Then, the other ghost is... Zibilich pauses for dramatic effect. This is it. This is the ghost who smelled of flowers, who had walked through the catwalk and all the way to her. "At one point the building was a speakeasy and the legend goes that it was owned by the mob," her full storyteller's cadence takes hold and the rhythm of her words guides a sad tale indeed —
The mob owner has a daughter who is often there. She meets a musician and falls in love with him. Her father doesn't approve, eventually her father has him whacked. She would meet him up on the inside balcony, so one night she shows up and this man simply doesn't. A short time later, she kills herself out of despair and now that ghost supposedly wanders around the upstairs looking for her lover. I didn't know the legend when I went and did that show. I knew that they had hauntings but I didn't know the story behind it. So that's what I found out after I had that weird experience, which further confirmed what I had already felt. · Halloween Coverage [Curbed NOLA]
· French Quarter ghost tours mix centuries-old stories with sensational crimes of today [NOLA.com]