A deep dive into the dark and macabre subject and often taboo topic of death!
Having spent time earlier in the day on a tour of the St Louis #1 cemetery I thought I would carry on the macabre theme and visit the Museum of Death on Dauphine Street in New Orleans French Quarter. This small museum made up of three or four rooms provides a breadth of uncompromising materials and displays on this often taboo subject.
The frontage of the museum is fairly subdued so you could easily pass it without noticing. You enter through the gift shop and things are a little dark and grungy – fitting for a place that is exploring a dark place to go for many people. The ambience reminded me of the sordid feeling I get when going into a sex shop – yes I have frequented adult stores before!
One thing to note is that there is no photography allowed in the museum at all (apart from the gift shop). The museum has a lot of exhibits on loan and does not have the image rights, hence no photography, so you will have to be satisfied with my descriptions.
The first room you enter has a few skeletons which set you up for the rest of the experience. These are largely skeletons of animals – and most of us have seen things like this before in natural history museums and school science classes.
It is not long before things heat up. There are several exhibits on serial killers and violent criminals, that go into graphic details of their crimes, including footage, witness report and photographs. Even though over the years I have read, heard and seen many of the stories around these criminals it is reassuring that I still have enough humanity in me to find this stuff still shocking!
Having found and convicted these criminals then comes the punishment. For many of these cases in the United States, this meant death by electric chair or gas chamber. The museum provides written descriptions of these executions and in some cases photographs before and after. I am not personally a fan of capital punishment, even for the most heinous of crimes, so I found this stuff distasteful.
The story goes on. There is a video of doctors who actively supported assisted suicide, shrunken heads, victims of war and tales of people who died whilst practising autoerotic asphyxiation – each to his own.
Probably one of the most disturbing features of the Museum of Death is the small movie theatre. Here there is a running reel of gruesome footage of death and mutilation. I couldn’t bring myself to watch for too long but I managed to sit through a horrible autopsy and a film, which seemed quite old, of the aftermath of a brutal attack in some city where people are checking for those who are alive – they were mostly dead and there were a lot of them.
I found the Museum of Death fascinating. It does not pull any punches or try to glamorise death and promise something good will be there for us in the afterlife. It simply shows death in all its forms in a graphic and unsentimental way. Not being religious and having an analytical mind I liked this approach – it is great not to have something presented to you in a way that is aimed to validate or persuade you one way or the other.
I can recommend a visit to this museum, but not if you are at all squeamish about death. I also think this is not a place for children – perhaps older teenagers would find it interesting but for the younger ones, it would likely scare the bejeebers out of them and make them have nightmares for many months!
Planning your visit to the Museum of Death
Getting around New Orleans
The best ways to get around New Orleans are on foot and by public transportation. The city’s neighbourhoods are very compact, making them perfect for strolling sightseers. If you don’t feel like walking, hop on one of the famous streetcars. Another option is cycling. Since New Orleans is flat, it’s easy to get around by bike. You can rent a bike from several companies. To get into the city from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) – located about 15 miles west of downtown New Orleans – you can take the Airport Shuttle for $24 per person one-way or $44 per person round-trip. The shuttle services the downtown and uptown districts as well as the French Quarter. Taxis are also available, but you can expect to pay $36 to get from the airport into the Central Business District and the French Quarter. Uber and Lyft are also widely available.
Streetcars, run by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, have been a staple attraction ever since Tennessee Williams’ play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and they are a fun way to navigate the city. While many of them were replaced by less romantic buses, they have since made a comeback and are once again running in central New Orleans. The bus – although less charming than the streetcar – features more extensive routes. Operating hours for both streetcars and the buses vary by line. Consult the RTA website for more information. Nearly all of the city’s top attractions, such as the Garden District, City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art, can be reached via streetcar or bus.
For more information about the public transport options check out the Regional Transport Authority website: https://www.norta.com/
Best time to visit New Orleans
The best time to visit New Orleans is from February to May when the weather is comfortably cool and the celebrations are in full swing. If you’re not interested in Mardi Gras mania, plan to visit in December or January, when the city is calm and you don’t have to worry about making hotel reservations a year in advance.
Vegan dining in New Orleans
1. SWEET SOULFOOD
Sweet Soulfood, has a modest storefront, so you could easily miss it. Like the exterior, the inside is modestly decorated, definitely more cafeteria than home comfort, with plain wooden tables and not too comfortable chairs. I went there at the end of the day, so it was very quiet, but I understand it is often packed with people.
The food is buffet style, with a dozen or so options from entrees to veggie sides. The good thing is that this place is 100% vegan so you don’t have to think a lot about what you choose. You pay by the number of dishes you choose to have on your plate – I was definitely feeling peckish so I ended up with four different selections including an eggplant lasagne, a curry and a couple of veggie sides – including some delicious portabello mushrooms in gravy. The menu changes daily.
3. VEGAN WIT’ A TWIST
Three barbers decided to try their hands at running a vegan restaurant and the result was Vegan Wit’ A Twist.
This is fast food. Vegan With a Twist takes your favorite comfort foods and transforms them into delicious vegan dishes. Cauliflower tacos and wings, “hot sausage” burgers, wraps and more can be found at Vegan With a Twist. Just along St. Bernard Avenue, this is the perfect pre or post Jazz Fest spot to indulge in without the added guilt.
Where to stay in New Orleans
1. INN AT THE OLD JAIL
Lock yourself up at the Inn at the Old Jail for a unique vacation getaway. Originally built as a New Orleans police jail and patrol station in 1902, the striking Queen Anne-style Inn combines historic preservation with modern amenities.
Wanting to pay homage to the NOPD, the innkeepers restored the rooms and public spaces to salute the city’s brave men and women in blue. Its nine bedrooms are rich with architectural details and antiques, including original police memorabilia. Even the Inn’s Yvonne Bechet Library is named after the highest-ranking female officer in NOPD history, who served at the Old Jail stationhouse for 22 years.
If you’re curious about history, it’s the perfect place for you, but don’t forget to also enjoy the wonderful city of New Orleans. Stop by the Uptown New Orleans Historic District, drink your way through Bourbon Street or visit the infamous French Quarter.
2. OLIVER HOUSE HOTEL
3. LA BELLE ESPLANADE
The most interesting place to stay in America’s most interesting city. Visit New Orleans like you belong here. Located in a picturesque neighborhood that is close to everything but off the usual tourist radar, La Belle Esplanade will surprise and delight with it’s quirky authentic details, locally sourced breakfasts, and lively intelligent conversation. You have at least two friends in New Orleans.