I love New Orleans and I love Ghost stories. So The Haunted History of New Orleans by James Caskey_ was a must-read, particularly since I am going to be visiting New Orleans again very soon. At first I was disappointed at how long it took for the book to get started. Seriously, why does a book need both a preface and an introduction? What was his agent thinking?
The preface was about Caskey’s previous Haunted History book, his background as a tour guide and writer and how he came to write the book. All of it unnecessary. It should have been a much shorter “about the author” page in the back. Then came the dry introduction about what ghosts are (or are not) and why New Orleans might be prone to collecting them. Important topics, sure, but I would have liked to read that stuff nestled in with the narrative. I was tempted to skip it all but I’m glad I didn’t. I found the information useful later even if it was tedious as an info-dump. Then, as if that wasn’t enough background material, Caskey starts the actual book with a travelogue on his arrival in New Orleans. If the book had just started there, I wouldn’t have minded but it was a bit much after two preliminary sections. Get to the ghosts already!
Finally, 10% into the kindle edition, it gets good and stays good! Just when I was thinking I should put the book down, the stories really get started. The basic formula of the each chapter is simple but engaging. Caskey describes how he heard about a haunted site. Usually it involves entertaining anecdotes about him interacting with locals and reports of ghostly activity. Then he tells the ghost story associated with the site. Finally, he explores the historical evidence supporting or undermining the tale. Each chapter tells the reader about a site worth visiting, some local color and contemporary culture, a ghost story, and an entertaining history lesson. Even if you are not into ghosts, It would still appeal to anyone planning a visit to New Orleans who wants to get a feel for the city.
What wander-readers will love:
It’s an armchair ghost tour with more detail and fact-checking than you will ever get from a tour company. If you are going to New Orleans, take the book with you. Look up the addresses of the places in the book (or ask the locals to help you find them. They will!) Many of the haunted sites are public. When you’re not part of a crowed tour group you can go inside many of them and spend some time. Have a cocktail at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. Have dinner at The Gumbo Shop. If it rains, take a stroll through Pere Antoine’s Alley and listen for the Kyrie. Get your nightcap at Pat O’Brien’s Bar. Then spend the night in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. You’ll get far more than the average ghost tour will give you if you already know where to go and what to watch for.
Not so much:
Way too much info-dump in the beginning. Caskey does a great job spicing each chapter with history, contemporary culture, and personal experience that two sections of background should be unnecessary.
If you love New Orleans or enjoy ghost stories, I completely enjoyed The Haunted History of New Orleans but I recommend skipping the preface and skimming the introduction. You can even rush through the first chapter unless you are a history buff or ghost hunter. The book really begins at the chapter titled, “Antoine’s Restaurant”. If you, like me, are getting ready for a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, take this book with you. It makes a great travel guide of haunted sites.
Read ~ Write ~ Wander