Guided tours can be found around every spooky corner of the French Quarter. I’ve taken many tours from many different companies while visiting. Most visitors are interested in the rich history and equally interested in the ghosts, the pirates, the voodoo priestesses, the vampires and anything else that can thoroughly creep you out. During my most recent visit I took a friend on a ghost tour guided by the very knowledgeable, very entertaining and very seasoned scholar Jonathan Weiss with Dark History Tours. This tour was different. It was grounded in actual history instead of a chiller story about lost love, wine bottles filled with blood and bricks in the mouth. Check out the interview below to see what Jonathan has to offer while taking a French Quarter tour.
ER: How long have you lived in New Orleans? What drew you to New Orleans? And how long have you been leading tours?
JW: Well, I’ve lived in New Orleans for 13 years at this point, and have been coming here since I was 7. I came here originally with my family for a short vacation, and spent the whole time wandering around and staring at everything – the buildings, the streets, the people, and thought to myself, “it is magic here. I will live here when I grow up.” And while it took me a little time, when I arrived here permanently I had a much greater appreciation for its charm and its importance than if I’d moved here at 22, as I nearly did. I’ve been leading tours for about the same amount of time that I’ve been here.
ER: Why is history important to you? Why should it be important to everyone?
JW: It’s important to me, as it should be for all of us, in that it’s the story of all our ancestors, and their struggles to survive, prosper and move forward. I think if you understand the actual history, and not the sanitized and now politically manipulated history we’re having thrust upon us, you can not only gain insight into what’s going on in the world, but wisdom of how to put it into context. If you can do this, you gain a bit more perspective on events, and why they’re happening. It also is rather inspirational to realize that because you have a disappointment, it’s nothing that your ancestors didn’t have, and often theirs was worse – but they kept moving forward. And you can too.
ER: Who are some of your favourite historical (NOLA) figures?
JW: In the city, there are numerous fascinating figures: the founder of our city, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, was a 16 year old when he bluffed a British warship into turning around and leaving the river as it was heading straight for the nascent undefended French colony of New Orleans. Jean Lafitte, the buccaneer king was not only the last leader of 300 years of Caribbean piracy, but also the man who saved New Orleans from the British. Oliver Pollock was the single greatest financial contributor to the American revolution. Baroness Pontalba designed and paid for the gorgeous three story buildings that flank Jackson Square but also paid for the redevelopment of the square into the beauty it has been for 150 years. There are too many to count, and more that we still discover every day.
ER: Tell me about one of your favourite stops on your tour.
JW: The Square! While beautiful, elegant and blooming now, historically…
ER: How is New Orleans different from other cities?
JW: In every possible way. Culturally it’s the only old Southern city that was defiantly European and Catholic in a region that was and to some extent still is mono-culturally Anglo-Saxon and Protestant dominated. A true melting pot due to close quarters and necessity, and the unifier of a common religion. A place that has always celebrated differences, and appreciated the eccentric. A place where music and food have been forces for bringing people together, and a common desire to celebrate life while surrounded by disaster and all too short lives. When people ask “How are you?” they’re actually waiting for the answer.
ER: Why should visitors take a city tour?
JW: Without a doubt it’s the best way to learn about the city’s amazing history and cultural offerings. The only way you can understand New Orleans is to see it through the eyes of the people who’ve chosen to live here. The new arrivals – of which there are many – can give you an appreciation of how exciting it is to know that there’s a place that’s completely not like where they are from, and in which they’re encouraged to participate. And those few of us who are [pre-Katrina] can give you the understanding of how things worked before, and how different the city has become in just 10 years. Not taking a tour – you can enjoy the drinks in the street, the amazing food and music, and the beauty of the city, but if you don’t know why it is… well, it’s like seeing a picture in black and white as opposed to colour, or hearing a movie, rather than being able to watch it as well.
ER: What sets your tours apart from other tours/tour companies within the city?
JW: Simply, it’s the fact that I’ve not only been here for more than a decade, but I’ve been coming here for decades before that. It gives perspective, without a doubt. But in addition to that, I have been living in the neighbourhood that comprise the old city (the Quarter itself), but also the old French neighborhood (the Marigny), and I know it in a way that others simply can’t. Combining both those things gives me an edge that the others can’t have. I love the history and while I know a lot and have a large library, the only thing I’m really sure about is that I don’t know anything.
Jonathan Weiss has consulted on/with CMT, Travel Channel, “The Originals,” http://bit.ly/294xr1r Swedish National Television and AT&T U-verse.
Jonathan is a long time student of ‘the city’ for several decades as well as a theatre and history student in both the US and the UK and loves to officiate weddings in Jackson Square.
To book a Ghost, Ghost and Legends, or Vampire tour with Jonathan Weiss visit http://www.jonathanweisstours.com/
To book a private tour contact Jonathan at http://firstname.lastname@example.org
and visit http://www.jonathanweisstours.com/
Enjoy your tour and be sure to review Jonathan Weiss Dark History Tours on http://TripAdvisor.com