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Vampire Hunting in Louisiana


Anne Rice's vampire novels can set my heart pounding months after I've read them. I have only to envision scenes from Interview with the Vampire and my blood runs cold. Finally one night I jumped up from my reading chair and booked a trip to the bayou swamps, the historic old streets of New Orleans' French Quarter, and the moss-laden oaks of vampire country. Why have my heart pound by reading a vampire novel when I could be pounding the pavement of a known vampire haunt?

 

The historic French Quarter of New Orleans. Copyright Terry Zinn.A vampire walking tour in New Orleans is bound to evoke serious chills from even the most unimaginative tourist. Not only did my guide Midian Von Thorne (now that's a name for a vampire novel!) look and act the part of a shadowy man of the past, he was more than willing to go into all the gory details of each street's bloody past, punctuated with gory histories of individual homes and mysterious family happenings. But while the tales were enough to curdled my sensible soul, no real vampires or ghosts of vampires were spotted on the tour.

I continued my quest for vampire sightings on crypt and cemetery tours. Even in daylight hours, these tours with tales of macabre, above ground death rituals inflame the imagination. I found myself huddling close to my tour group to ward off any chance that I might be abducted by some spirit lurking behind a crypt.

Leaving behind the crypts and cemeteries, I headed out of the city where a trip up the Mississippi River Road offers the chance to see truly haunting attractions. Amid a string of decaying old plantations are a few restorations that whisper to a time, centuries ago, when unexplained happenings were commonplace.

Alligator Bayou Tours outside Baton Rouge spirited me into the backcountry where the swamp scenes from Interview with the Vampire must have been shot. The genial hosts offered surprisingly excellent meals amid a campy bayou setting replete with alligators, water snakes and other wildlife.

Louisiana swamps set a dramatic tone, even without their toothy inhabitants. Photo courtesy of Alligator Bayou Tours.A truly evocative spiritual setting can be found even at midday at Laura Plantation, a Creole plantation near Vacherie. The main house, in various states of restoration, and the vacant slave cabins out back speak volumes through their decaying gray wooden structures. It was here that African slave tales were absorbed into Creole folklore and finally Americanized by Joel Chandler Harris in his Uncle Remus stories illustrated by the Walt Disney live action animated film Song of the South.

Nottoway, in White Castle, is the largest antebellum home in the South. After touring the main house, visitors may dine in its adjacent restaurant and if they've made reservations in advance, spend the night in one of the bedrooms originally built for the many sons of the original owner. Each room has its own private entrance so the young men could come and go at will. The daughters' rooms were in the plantation mansion so the young ladies could be protected from over-enthusiastic suitors or perhaps eerie strangers of the night.While in this corner of the state, a quick walk around Houmas House Plantation and Gardens near Burnside will bring back the haunting chills evoked by the Bette Davis movie, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. It was filmed here among the moss-draped oaks.

Perhaps the most famous Mississippi plantation is Oak Alley in Vacherie, about an hour's drive north of New Orleans. Its house and grounds, with a 300-year-old Alley of Oaks, has been the setting for many a memorable film, including Interview with the Vampire.

Laura Plantation and its grounds. Copyright Terry Zinn.The oak alley leading down from the back of the house to the Mississippi River levy is stunning in its ageless beauty and surprisingly void of the gray moss that so commonly decorates oak trees in the Deep South. The preservationist who saved the property from the wrecking ball thought the moss gave an unsavory and dark tone to the property and insisted it be removed. She also saved some of the oaks from the ax when the modern levy was built. Construction workers wanted to straighten out the River Road along the new levy and to do so would have had to cut down a couple of the massive oaks. The owner fought to keep the trees and the curved road is testament to her will and foresight.

Workmanlike cottages on the property can be rented. Aware that a solitary stranger is the perfect candidate for a vampire attack, I put myself to the test and booked an overnight stay. At midnight I ventured out into the dark and silent oak promenade. While taking the house tour earlier that day, I asked the tour guide about the safety of nighttime walk on the grounds. The high school-aged girl was shocked at the proposal and sincerely cautioned me, "Oh no. I wouldn't do that."

Of course that was all I needed to insure that I would be strolling the deserted grounds come the witching hour. The three-quarter moon was waning toward the horizon through the thickly branched sky as I cautiously walked around past the gardens into the quarter mile of wooden columns. Forget about what the walls of hundred-year-old plantation houses could tell; these massive 300-year-old oaks were already venerable at the time tales of vampires and mysterious disappearances were commonplace.

"Oh, Grandfather Oak, have you seen a vampire during your lifetime? Have you seen one tonight? Are they hungry or not? Talk to me, witness of the past," I silently demanded. "Fill the silence that engulfs this shadowy calm night. Tell me your tales."

Oak Alley creates an atmosphere ripe for My eyes darted from shadow to shadow as I struggled to reassure myself there were no ghosts, goblins or vampires darting from tree to tree across the promenade or flying up behind the arbor of overhanging branches. I became bolder as the minutes wore on. I spun around and around until the world was spinning. Dizzy with the otherworldliness of it all, I opened my arms to welcome and embrace the night. It was not a victim's death wish, but a time-traveler's invitation to greet the unknown.

While I thought I was playing all alone, two eyes sparkled and disappeared near the low-lying, massive knee of an ageless oak. I spun around, heard nothing and looked again. This time a faint scampering "whisk" stirred the air. Totally defenseless, my spirit quickly sobered up from the intoxication of a previous cocktail and the eerie Deep South plantation night.I glanced away from the spot where the eyes had appeared, and there they were again, this time close enough to touch. Could it have been the reflection of the moonlight or the landscaping light from the plantation house over a hundred feet away? The eyes were low to the ground again, and then scampered away. The night was deathly still. I was more isolated in time and space than if I had been on an unmapped Pacific Isle. The startled pounding of my heart subsided as I decided I should saunter back past the main house and to my overnight cabin. A frightened tabby cat scampered across my path.

When You Go:

Where to stay in New Orleans:

It's best to make the French Quarter your vampire-hunting headquarters in the city. When not stalking vampires, you can saturate your senses with the sights and sounds of ancient buildings, modern traffic and the aromas of some of the best food in the world. The Bienville House Hotel (www.bienvillehouse.com) at 320 Decatur St. has the feel of the historic past with all the amenities of a modern first-class hotel at reasonable rates.

Vampire eats:

A sampling of world-class dining can to be enjoyed at Arnaud's, the Court of Three Sisters, Brennan's, and the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, Antoine’s. The vintage of Antoine's makes it feel like prime vampire territory. And if you must, and you must, a visit to some of the Quarters nighttime bars will certainly increase your chances of vampire encounters.

Vampirish diversions:

Also feel free to dabble in the occult world and have a tarot card reading at Bottom of the Cup Tea Room, where fortunes, not cups of tea, are served. For the more adventurous, poking around the voodoo shops is encouraged.

Walking tours are a must. I can recommend the Garden District Tour, where you actually go by Anne Rice's home and soak up the history of the Garden District-versus-French Quarter rivalry. I also experience and enjoyed the Vampire Tour and the Haunting Tour. Contact Haunted History Tours at (504) 861-2727.

A classic New Orleans crypt. Copyright Terry Zinn.

The New Orleans Visitor's Bureau can be found at www.neworleanscvb.com.

Where to stay outside of New Orleans:

Spend a night at Oak Alley (www.oakalleyplantation.com) or Nottaway (www.nottoway.com) plantations.

Both Laura Plantation (www.lauraplantation.com) and Houmas House (www.houmashouse.com) are open for tours year-round.

To take a swamp-boat tour of the bayou, try Alligator Bayou Tours (www.alligatorbayou.com).

While in this corner of the state, a quick walk around Houmas House Plantation and Gardens near Burnside will bring back the haunting chills evoked by the Bette Davis movie, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. It was filmed here among the moss-draped oaks.

Perhaps the most famous Mississippi plantation is Oak Alley in Vacherie, about an hour's drive north of New Orleans. Its house and grounds, with a 300-year-old Alley of Oaks, has been the setting for many a memorable film, including Interview with the Vampire.

Laura Plantation and its grounds. Copyright Terry Zinn.The oak alley leading down from the back of the house to the Mississippi River levy is stunning in its ageless beauty and surprisingly void of the gray moss that so commonly decorates oak trees in the Deep South. The preservationist who saved the property from the wrecking ball thought the moss gave an unsavory and dark tone to the property and insisted it be removed. She also saved some of the oaks from the ax when the modern levy was built. Construction workers wanted to straighten out the River Road along the new levy and to do so would have had to cut down a couple of the massive oaks. The owner fought to keep the trees and the curved road is testament to her will and foresight.

Workmanlike cottages on the property can be rented. Aware that a solitary stranger is the perfect candidate for a vampire attack, I put myself to the test and booked an overnight stay. At midnight I ventured out into the dark and silent oak promenade. While taking the house tour earlier that day, I asked the tour guide about the safety of nighttime walk on the grounds. The high school-aged girl was shocked at the proposal and sincerely cautioned me, "Oh no. I wouldn't do that."

Of course that was all I needed to insure that I would be strolling the deserted grounds come the witching hour. The three-quarter moon was waning toward the horizon through the thickly branched sky as I cautiously walked around past the gardens into the quarter mile of wooden columns. Forget about what the walls of hundred-year-old plantation houses could tell; these massive 300-year-old oaks were already venerable at the time tales of vampires and mysterious disappearances were commonplace.

"Oh, Grandfather Oak, have you seen a vampire during your lifetime? Have you seen one tonight? Are they hungry or not? Talk to me, witness of the past," I silently demanded. "Fill the silence that engulfs this shadowy calm night. Tell me your tales."

Oak Alley creates an atmosphere ripe for My eyes darted from shadow to shadow as I struggled to reassure myself there were no ghosts, goblins or vampires darting from tree to tree across the promenade or flying up behind the arbor of overhanging branches. I became bolder as the minutes wore on. I spun around and around until the world was spinning. Dizzy with the otherworldliness of it all, I opened my arms to welcome and embrace the night. It was not a victim's death wish, but a time-traveler's invitation to greet the unknown.

While I thought I was playing all alone, two eyes sparkled and disappeared near the low-lying, massive knee of an ageless oak. I spun around, heard nothing and looked again. This time a faint scampering "whisk" stirred the air. Totally defenseless, my spirit quickly sobered up from the intoxication of a previous cocktail and the eerie Deep South plantation night.I glanced away from the spot where the eyes had appeared, and there they were again, this time close enough to touch. Could it have been the reflection of the moonlight or the landscaping light from the plantation house over a hundred feet away? The eyes were low to the ground again, and then scampered away. The night was deathly still. I was more isolated in time and space than if I had been on an unmapped Pacific Isle. The startled pounding of my heart subsided as I decided I should saunter back past the main house and to my overnight cabin. A frightened tabby cat scampered across my path.

When You Go:

Where to stay in New Orleans:

It's best to make the French Quarter your vampire-hunting headquarters in the city. When not stalking vampires, you can saturate your senses with the sights and sounds of ancient buildings, modern traffic and the aromas of some of the best food in the world. The Bienville House Hotel (www.bienvillehouse.com) at 320 Decatur St. has the feel of the historic past with all the amenities of a modern first-class hotel at reasonable rates.

Vampire eats:

A sampling of world-class dining can to be enjoyed at Arnaud's, the Court of Three Sisters, Brennan's, and the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, Antoine’s. The vintage of Antoine's makes it feel like prime vampire territory. And if you must, and you must, a visit to some of the Quarters nighttime bars will certainly increase your chances of vampire encounters.

Vampirish diversions:

Also feel free to dabble in the occult world and have a tarot card reading at Bottom of the Cup Tea Room, where fortunes, not cups of tea, are served. For the more adventurous, poking around the voodoo shops is encouraged.

Walking tours are a must. I can recommend the Garden District Tour, where you actually go by Anne Rice's home and soak up the history of the Garden District-versus-French Quarter rivalry. I also experience and enjoyed the Vampire Tour and the Haunting Tour. Contact Haunted History Tours at (504) 861-2727.

A classic New Orleans crypt. Copyright Terry Zinn.

The New Orleans Visitor's Bureau can be found at www.neworleanscvb.com.

Where to stay outside of New Orleans:

Spend a night at Oak Alley (www.oakalleyplantation.com) or Nottaway (www.nottoway.com) plantations.

Both Laura Plantation (www.lauraplantation.com) and Houmas House (www.houmashouse.com) are open for tours year-round.

To take a swamp-boat tour of the bayou, try Alligator Bayou Tours (www.alligatorbayou.com).