Investigating some of New Orleans' most haunted museums

Investigating some of New Orleans' most haunted museums
October 31, 2011
Bill Capo

NEW ORLEANS -- The Cabildo dates back to 1799, and was New Orleans' first City Hall. The Louisiana Purchase was signed here.

But when the sun sets, and the tourists leave, there are many who believe the old building isn't as quiet as it should be.

"I've heard stories of people feeling a tap, or a touch on their shoulder," said Louisiana State Museums spokesman Arthur Smith. "They'll look around, there's nobody there."

"I have access to some of the doors that the public can't get through, and it is almost like when you're going in, you almost hear something," said Craig Schexnayder.

Schexnayder is a volunteer with Friends of the Cabildo, and is often here late at night for various events.

"I've never seen anything, but I've always felt that there's people following you," said Schexnayder.

"I come back the way that nobody else comes except for staff. It feels like somebody is helping me push the cart."

But everyone was surprised when young members of the 'Roots of Music' program pointed out a painting that badly scared them during a recent rehearsal here.

"The lady started moving her eyes, and then she reached out her hand," said wide eyed student Tyreil Beal. "When I turned around I felt something touching my shoulder, and then I felt a slight breeze. I looked back, and her arm was actually out of the painting. "

"I saw like a rocking chair in the corner," added student Joshua Montgomery.

Arthur Smith asked: "Was anybody in it?"

Montgomery: "No."

Smith: "It was rocking by itself?"

Montgomery: "Yeah."

Behind the main building are what once were jail cells, the heavy iron bars still attached to the doors, and it is here that people report seeing the ghost of a British soldier from the Battle of New Orleans, who was hanged here as a spy.

"Those who've seen things in the Cabildo say sometimes they'll see a soldier, and he'll be in a tattered uniform, and that's pretty creepy," said Smith.

But they say the most haunted museum is the Old U.S. Mint, which dates back to 1835. And there's a ghost they still get reports about. Just this afternoon, they directed my attention to the balcony in front, saying that during the Civil War a man was thrown off that very balcony, and hung, and they call him Poor Mumford.

William Mumford was executed in 1862, when federal troops recaptured New Orleans.

"His Marines ran up and put the U.S. flag over the building," said Louisiana State Museum Curator Greg Lambousy. "Mumford came in, took the flag down, tore it into shreds, and was going through the city with it, and he was later arrested."

"This was the courtyard," added Smith. "This was where the crowd would have been. This is where they hanged poor old Mumford, right here."

"One person said that they saw a shadow of a man walking through the lobby area, and they were pretty scared by that," said Lambousy.

But there are many reports of ghosts in the old building, and the museum storerooms contain some macabre objects.

"This is a 19th Century autopsy table," said Lambousy. "You can see where the neck would rest right here. If you're in this room, and say the lights go out it can get pretty spooky."

"This door has been known to open and close by itself," said Smith.

But in an isolated wing is a federal prison three floors high, 30 jail cells with metal walls dating back to the 1920s and 1930s.

"Bill, this little jail complex, which nobody knows about, I think is one of the creepiest places in New Orleansm," said Smith.

And it is here that they see the ghost known as Lonesome Larry.

"The story that I've heard from some of the security folks here is that this balcony, sometimes they'll see an apparition in prison stripes, and he'll be out having a smoke," said Smith.

Whether you're a believer or not, even the skeptics say there might be more than meets the eye.

"Our whole history, and our whole culture is preserved here, and that's I think the real meaning of the haunted Cabildo, and the haunted museums of our state," said Smith.
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