Books We're Reading
Tue October 29, 2013
Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans
Just in time for Halloween, LSU Press has republished the 1946 classic "Ghost Stories of New Orleans" - a collection of 40 ghastly tales by journalist and New Orleans native Jeanne deLavigne.
In the Author's Note, deLavgine wrote:
“There is no place on this continent which possesses so vast a reservoir of ghost tales as does Louisiana. In New Orleans along there are enough of these legends to fill volumes.”
Folklorist Frank de Caro wrote the foreword for the newest edition and said deLavigne drew on local lore, newspaper account and even her own correspondents to turn these ghost stories into what he calls “literary productions”.
De Caro said the author, who was very big into detailing the time, place and background characters in her ghost stories, was sort of a ghost herself. He said it was actually rather difficult to find anything out about deLavigne aside from that she was born in New Orleans and her father came from France.
"I was never able to find a birth date," said de Caro. "I finally went to the copyright office and found information from them about when the copyright had been renewed and it was renewed actually several years after her death and the address that was given on the copyright renewal form was in Franklinton, across the lake."
He said then an editor at the LSU press found her obituary in the Franklinton paper, which established deLavigne died in 1962 under her husband's last name Scott.
De Caro said there aren't really very many collections of Louisiana ghost stories.
"In fact, after her [deLavigne's] book we have to go really to the '90s before somebody else starts bringing out any books on collecting Louisiana ghost stories," said de Caro. "It’s kind of a unique historical document, the book is."
De Caro thinks people tell ghost stories over and over again because they like to be scared and since ghosts are scary, the stories help us feel that little thrill of fear. He also thinks ghost stories give people a way of talking about what happens on the other side as well as a way of commenting on commenting on this side.
"In fact, you’ll find in several of the stories in the Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans basically they’re stories about things that get carried on after death," said de Caro. "There’s one called the “Warring Wraiths”, for example…and it’s about a man and a girl who basically carry on their feud after they’re dead. I think that’s a comment on people feuding in this life."
De Caro said deLavigne's ghost stories are also a way to preserve history and in many ways say something about the development of New Orleans as a place over time.
De Caro's favorite story in the book is “The Soldiers that Never Die”. He said it transpires near where he lives in New Orleans' Garden District and he knows the house where the story supposedly takes place. But de Caro said he has never actually seen a ghost or encountered any phenomenon he thought was ghost.
"I don’t disbelieve in ghosts," said de Caro. "I think there are spiritual forces in the world and it’s quite possible that ghosts are one of them. But I don’t really believe in them in the sense that I’ve ever encountered one."
In conjunction with the republishing of “Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans” by Jeanne deLavigne, the LSU Libraries Special Collections will host a talk and reading with Frank de Caro on Tuesday, Oct. 29th, at 5:30pm at Hill Memorial Library.