My two favorite cities, Columbus and New Orleans, have much in common. Both are lovely and populated with friendly people. The histories of these cities are rich and inspire a deep respect for pasts that contributed to making us what we are today. And, both cities are quite haunted.
Flannery O’Connor, one of the South’s favorite writers, said, ” … while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” No matter if you believe in ghosts (Christian or otherwise), you must admit that we have thousands of spooky stories, told and re-told for a couple of hundred years. They are so much a part of our chronicles, oral and written, that these tales are difficult to discount.
Some people may be surprised to learn that the accounts of Southern ghosts do not all stem from the legends of generations ago. There are “new” ghosts popping up everyday.
WGNO, a television station in New Orleans, reports that a ghost named Vera is haunting a burger restaurant that was just built in 2012.
Like most reports of restless ghosts, this one begins with a sad and tragic death. The day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Vera Smith was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street. Here is the horrible part — she lay there for five days. According to neighbors, she bled out into the street. Authorities ignored her body because their priority was to tend to the living.
The neighbors buried her on that corner and created a makeshift memorial. There she lay until Charcoal’s restaurant was built. Vera’s body was then removed, cremated, and sent to her family in Texas.
However, Craig Walker, one of the owners of Charcoal’s, said that Vera’s spirit is still felt. Evidently she is not happy about having a burger cafe situated just over “her” corner. The owners blame her for business being slow, and many other curious problems.
“Our brand new meat grinder went out the first week we opened,” said Walker. “There have been broken waterlines, vandalism, and fighting with the city to open the doors.” He added, “Our message to Vera is that our heart and soul is in this restaurant. We want you to support us.”
What would you do? Well, in New Orleans, they called in an artist to help. (And you thought artists were fairly useless.) Folk artist Simon Hardeveld was a friend of Vera’s. “She was not a sad woman. She had a very good life. In the neighborhood, everyone knew her and loved her,” he said.
Hardeveld created a memorial fountain for her, now placed outside the building, steps from where she was killed. The artist and restaurant owners hope this peace fountain will make Vera happy and make Charcoal’s successful. (You can read more about this and see a video at wgno.com/2013/12/10/hurricane-katrina-victim-haunting-new-orleans-burger-joint/#ixzz2yPaaUHHz.)
Most of our local ghosts are not troublemakers. But rater than exorcising them, we might consider honoring their memory. It couldn’t hurt.
Author Pat Conroy said, “The South’s got a lot of wrong with it. But its permanent press, and it doesn’t wear out.” Yes, we sometimes include a bit of hyperbole in our legends, but I promise I wrote this column “vera”ciously.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.