Editor’s Note: The following series “Via Voodoo Vie: an Exploration of Voodoo in NOLA” is a week-long series curated by Emily O’Connell as a part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Institute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skillsets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.
The history and tradition of Louisiana Voodoo has become a unique part of the culture of New Orleans. However, it goes deeper than the Voodoo that has been popularized by the media and tourist attractions. With origins in West Africa and Haiti, brought to Louisiana by enslaved and freed people of color, Voodoo has a rich and often overlooked history, so let’s explore how Voodoo has made its mark on the city and how the city has, in turn, influenced the perception of Voodoo. Among the many things that make New Orleans an attractive place for tourists, it’s not the allure of the French Quarter, the King Cake during Carnival, or even the world-class Cajun food that draws some to the Big Easy. Horror Tourism is on the rise in New Orleans because of its rich history and tendency to embrace the supernatural. The history of Voodoo gives NOLA a unique status among spooky cities, offering visitors a way to engage with the culture surrounding the practice. Originally published on June 22, 2020.
What makes New Orleans such a popular tourist destination? While the city’s vibrant party culture and world-class food likely come to mind, a new kind of tourism is on the rise. This new tourism, often referred to as horror tourism, explores New Orleans’s relationship with the occult. From haunted houses to the thriving underground metal scene, horror tourists are captivated by the rich gothic history of the city. Filmmaker Ian Glotfelty examines tourism in New Orleans from Bourbon Street to the graveyard, showcasing a darker, moodier side of the industry.
When you think of a tourist in New Orleans, what do you picture? I think of an overweight man with a tucked-in polo shirt wearing beads around his neck even though Mardi Gras has been over for months. I think of women in their 30s. They’re wearing bachelorette party t-shirts and getting drunk at two o’clock in the afternoon because they came to the city to indulge their impulse to become an alcoholic for a weekend. I think of someone who thinks that the purpose of the city is to get drunk and act like a dumbass in public. People exactly like this.
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty and Tourist #1]
Hi, why did you come to New Orleans?
Oh we’re celebrating life, just hanging out together. First time.
Just celebrating? Was it just for a vacation or?
Yeah! Us four, we’re all together for a vacation.
So why did you decide New Orleans over a different city?
Well we haven’t been here yet. We’ve all wanted to come, you know, check it out.
Heard bourbon streets a blast.
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty]
Hi I’m here on Bourbon Street. We’re here to find some tourists to interview. Now you may ask yourself, “Hey, why are you on the part of Bourbon Street where no fucking tourists are?” It’s because the audio is gonna be really bad over there and I didn’t want to shoot this there.
Now you also may ask yourself, “Hey, aren’t you gonna have to film over there for
whenever you’re actually interviewing tourists?” Yes and I’m not looking forward
to it. It’s gonna suck in the editing room. Let’s go.
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty and Tourist #2]
So what brings you to New Orleans?
My bachelorette party!
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty and Tourist Group]
Where are you guys from?
Miami! Florida State [and the] University of Miami. I don’t go to Florida State. Go gators! Go ‘noles!
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty and Cat’s Meow employee]
Are you from New Orleans?
You’re from Baton Rouge. All right why did you decide to move to New Orleans?
Uh cuz it’s a fun-ass city and I came here for school and then I never left.
Alright, so everyone in there can hear us?
Hi everyone! I don’t know, I didn’t think I’d get this far. I thought they’d tell
us to stop filming inside this bar.
They don’t give a fuck!
Yea no this is great for me. I’m gonna be honest. Interviewing you has nothing
to do with what the documentaries on. I just thought it would be fun.
What is it?
It’s on tourists but you’re not a tourist.
Tourists! I’m not a tourist but I deal with tourists. She’s a tourist!
[Other woman]: I’m not a tourist! Born and raised, baby, from here! Just trying to party.
How do you feel about working with tourists?
I love working with tourists! They’re so, like, yeah they’re fresh. We wouldn’t have such a fun city without tourists. Tourists make the whole process of, like, New Orleans fun.
[Other woman]: They make the world go round.
How do you feel about the alcoholism culture that’s perpetuated by the tourist industry? Oh that’s crazy all my friends are alcoholics and I’m like 23.
[Other woman]: We are not alcoholics!
We are alcoholics, girl.
I’m 19 and I’m in AA.
Yeah yeah it’s…my friends who like can’t do anything without being drunk…I think it’s a very big problem. I don’t drink because I only drink for work but that is a big problem too because I work every day.
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty]
But that isn’t exactly what tourism has to be in the city. New Orleans has a rich underground scene that is widely unknown to people that may even live in the city. Here there are thriving goth and punk scenes that play around the city in bars and whatever venues they can manage. Underground filmmakers making overwhelmingly gory slashers on shoestring budgets and countless shops that sell components for spells and other occult items.
It is because of people like these that a new kind of tourist is trying to be attracted to the city: the horror tourists. The city already has a history of ghosts and killers and it makes sense to establish it as the premiere place for fans of horror and the occult.
I spoke with acclaimed goth Mange Voorhees about the concept of horror tourism and he had this to say about the topic.
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty and Mange Voorhees]
As an artist in a city known for its very tourist friendly culture, what role do you think underground art culture holds in New Orleans?
Specifically in New Orleans, I think it holds a lot because again a good chunk of the tourist industry here is based off of the fact that we’re considered to be a very haunted town. We’re considered to be a town very intrinsically tied to voodoo so that infuses everything around here. You can take a look at how many touristy style shops specifically advertise towards that. You can take a look at how many tour guides in this area specifically advertise towards the morbid, the occult, the Voodoo side of things. Um, with that, people come in this town there’s a large draw to come into the area looking for underground music and art.
I know, for example, that Scully’s Records, which is in the French Quarter, are always being asked “So what are the local bands around here in the punk or metal or goth scene?” We see a lot of people who are coming into town saying on Facebook “Hey, we’re gonna be in New Orleans for the first time. Where do we go to hang out at cool bars? Where’s a rock and roll bar? Where’s as a metal bar? Where’s a punk or a goth bar?”
[Full transcription of Ian Glotfelty]
I know that I personally can say I am interested to see how this budding industry will play out. It is a definite improvement on the played-out debauchery of the traditional tourists we get.