Saturday, February 14, 2015

Encounter with a Gentleman—New Orleans

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
941 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

In the world of paranormal stories and legends, many people often speak in generalities when talking about hauntings. Singular personal encounters are sometimes grouped together as a hauntings are described so, a frightening encounter hearing a voice may be reduced to “disembodied voices have been heard.” A singular incident which may be very telling may sometimes be stripped of detail and even importance as an author retells the event. Indeed, I am guilty of this as well, though I’d like to rectify this in highlighting specific encounters with Southern ghosts.

As I have been searching for events, I have come to realize just how these generalizations often harm the subjects they are describing. Where a number of fascinating stories of encounters may exist, these encounters have been grouped together and only render the nature of a particular haunting in general terms. At times, generalizations about a particular location may serve to obscure the singular encounters. This problem often tends to rear its head when places gain notoriety for being haunted; places like the famous Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar in New Orleans.

After searching a number of sources on New Orleans ghosts, I finally was able to locate a long and very detailed description of an encounter at this most famous and historic of NOLA watering holes. This encounter is documented in Dan Asfar’s 2007 Ghost Stories of Louisiana. The author speaks of a couple spending their honeymoon in New Orleans. After taking a ghost tour, the couple stumbled upon the bar and was drawn into the curious building, though their ghost tour had made no mention of it being haunted.
 
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, 2004, by Lobberich. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.
Once inside, the wife was enchanted by the dark and crowded bar: “You couldn’t see across the bar because it was so dark and crowded inside, but it was so special. It’s hard to explain, but it was so real inside, you know? We could have been sitting down there 200 years ago, and I think it would have looked very much the same.” After sitting down, the wife felt an odd chill, though she dismissed it after it dissipated quickly.

The chill returned a few minutes later, “It wasn’t like a normal cold from cold weather. It was more as though the cold was coming from inside. I felt it like a cold hand in my back. It came so fast it made me jump in my seat.” Her husband noticed behavior and asked if she was ok. She asked him if he felt the cold, but he did not. The woman rose to head to the restroom and she felt something following her as she walked. The feeling left her in the restroom and she calmly returned to her table.

Upon sitting, she noticed an odd gentleman nearby. He was standing among a group of people talking, though they did not seem to notice him. “It was dark, but from what I could see, he was a very handsome man. He had broad shoulders. It was hard to see his face clearly, but I could see that he had a very big mustache, and also a big hat.”

She saw him and the cold, clammy feeling she had felt before resolved and the young woman felt “normal again.” “Even though I couldn’t see his face too clearly in the dark, I knew this man was smiling at me.” She felt herself smiling back.  Her husband noticed and inquired as to who she was smiling. She turned away for a couple to second to ask, “Can you see that man?” When she pointed to where the smiling gentleman had been standing there was no one there.
 
An anonymous, early 19th century portrait
purported to be Jean Lafitte. From the Rosenberg
Gallery.
Later, when the couple was on a history tour, the guide described Jean Lafitte and mentioned that his spirit is supposedly seen within this building that he supposedly built.

This ramshackle structure may be one of the oldest buildings in this ancient city, but like everything else in this city, that is arguable. Most likely, the building was built in the 18th century, most likely the latter portion of that century. Legends hold that this building was associated with the famous pirate, Jean Lafitte, a swashbuckling and romantic hero who appears in countless Louisiana legends and ghost stories.

Lafitte is supposed to have used this building as a cover for his operations within the city. Here he may have carried on operations dealing with ill-gotten goods as well as some of the “black ivory” (African slaves) that may have also dealt with. Historians have argued that the building may have never actually been used as a blacksmith shop, though others imagine that a hammering blacksmith may have served as a good cover for the illicit dealings taking place in the back of the building.

Woven into this legendary history are many mentions of ghosts, including the possible shade of Lafitte. While imbibing in Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, be on the lookout for a smiling gentleman. If you see him, smile back but don’t look away.

Sources
Ambrose, Kala. Spirits of New Orleans: Voodoo Curses, Vampire
     Legends, and Cities of the Dead. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press,
     2012.
Asfar, Dan. Ghost Stories of Louisiana. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine
     Publishing, 2007.
Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA:
     Pelican Publishing, 2007.
     New Orleans.” Preservation Nation Blog. 20 November 2014.
Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Louisiana. Gretna, LA: Pelican
     Publishing, 2006.
Snell, Charles W. National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings for
     Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. 10 May 1968. 

1 comment: