Photo by Karen M
People often ask me if New Orleans really has vampire tours. The answer is yes. What else can you expect from a city that has so much haunted history? If you visit our magical city, you should plan one. They are walking tours that begin after dark and take you to various landmarks giving you the history of each one. They are entertaining and fun, but are they factual? Well, I’ll let you decide.
Among the morbid tales, you will hear the story of the notorious Carter Brothers. In the 1930’s, John and Wayne Carter worked as longshoremen on the Mississippi River. One evening, before the brothers returned home from work, a young girl escaped from their French Quarter apartment and ran to the police. Her wrists were cut but not badly enough for her to bleed to death. She claimed she had been locked up for weeks and the brothers had been feeding on her blood. The police immediately investigated and found four other young women tied to chairs with their wrists cut, and over a dozen dead bodies turned up in the apartment drained of their blood. The brothers were arrested and executed for their crimes. Their bodies were buried in the family tomb. Later, when another Carter family member passed away, the tomb was opened to make room for his remains, but there were no remnants of John or Wayne in the grave. To this day, there have been reports of sightings of the brothers wandering the French Quarter.
One of the most famous legends is the casket girls and the Ursuline convent. The old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. The building no longer functions as a convent. The first floor is a museum, and the second floor is the home of the Archdiocesan archives dating back to 1718. But what’s on the third floor behind those mysterious shutters that are always tightly closed? Nobody seems to know the answer to that question, but there are speculations.
The Ursuline nuns were sent to New Orleans from France in 1725 to establish a hospital and educate the young girls. The early settlers were pirates, scoundrels, murderers, and thieves. Most were prisoners who had been exiled from France and promised if they reformed in Louisiana, they could return to France. The men outnumbered the women five to one, so the city’s founder, Jean Baptiste LeMoyne Bienville, asked the king of France to send over marriageable women. In 1728, a group of orphans arrived to marry the colonists and populate the swamp called La Nouvelle Orléans.
When the girls arrived, they each brought with them one wooden chest shaped like a coffin called a cassette or a hope chest which held their clothes, linens, and sometimes a bridal gown. Since their eccentric chests looked like caskets, they became known as the casket girls. The girls were brought to the Ursuline convent to live among the nuns until they were married, and their cassettes were stored in the attic until the girls found a husband.
After the arrival of the fille à la cassette, nobody could explain why the mortality rate drastically increased. Suspicion mounted when the girls later opened their chests, and they were found empty. Fear of what the girls may have smuggled into La Nouvelle Orléans prompted the nuns to contact the Archdiocese. As a result of an investigation, the convent attic was sealed off, and the attic shutters sealed with thousands of nails; each one blessed by the pope.
Legend has it vampires were smuggled into La Nouvelle Orléans in the caskets. They remain sealed in the attic to this day, and that explains why the attic shutters remain closed. Occasionally, late at night, someone will see them suddenly fly open in spite of the blessed nails meaning a vampire has come out.
In 1978, two curious paranormal investigators set up in front of the convent and waited through the night for paranormal activity. The next day, they were both found dead on the steps of St. Mary's Catholic Church next to the convent with their bodies drained of eighty percent of their blood.
Is this heinous crime fact or fiction? It may be difficult to verify something that happened centuries ago, but it seems if this alleged murder happened in 1978, it should have been a major news story. I was curious to see if there were any news reports to corroborate this tale, but my investigation turned up nothing. The only stories I could find about it were related to the vampire legend.
Ursuline Academy for girls still exists in New Orleans, but girls who attended in 1978 have no recollection of this event. It seems if this murder happened, there would be something about it in the news archives, but so far nothing has surfaced. Since there is nothing to validate it, unless there’s a special paranormal division of the New Orleans police department we don't know about, I have to assume it's either false or an exaggeration of another murder that happened around the same time, but what do I know?
Another reason for doubt is there are many variations of this tale including stories that the girls themselves were vampires. There are also discrepancies between the dates that the girls arrived in New Orleans and the construction of the convent, but the explanation for that is when people started dying in large numbers, and the vampires were figured out, the caskets were later transferred by day to the convent attic. It seems a little preposterous, but, on the other hand, why are those shutters always tightly closed? Does some kind of evil lurk in that attic?
So that brings us to the question; are the vampire legends fact or fabricated? Legends are legends so let’s just say nobody knows. Whether they are true or not, I still recommend going on a vampire tour in New Orleans. Real or made up, they’re always fun, but don’t be surprised if a real vampire shows up and protests.