Last weekend, I went searching for a bayou’s ghost.

When the French arrived on the scene back at the end of the 17th century, a small trickle of water connected Bayou St. John with Bayou Gentilly—an even smaller, more sluggish slip of liquid, even more deserving of the term “bayou,” than the waterbodies it linked together. There was no indication that the waterway was used for navigation, or much of anything at all, but it appeared on early maps snaking along what would eventually become the heart of Faubourg St. John. Its claim to fame might have been that the old portage route followed its basic arc from Bayou St. John to Bayou Gentilly (to the site of the Place Bretonne Indian market) before continuing on its way toward the present-day French Quarter.

map by author, used in previous post on Place Bretonne

The official name of this bayou (I’ve come across several), and when exactly it got filled in, remain a mystery. But during an interview with a Faubourg St. John resident, I was told that a slight declivity along N. Dupre street marks the old trench of this long-forgotten bayou. And, of course, I wanted more—I wanted to trace the ghost-bayou’s bed from start to finish!

Alas, the results of my adventure through the neighborhood are not all that impressive. Nothing definitive. No ghost-bayous jumping out to spook me. Just small dips along the relevant roadways that may or may not have anything to do with said trickle of yesteryear. As any New Orleanian knows, irregularities in the elevation of the city’s streets are not exactly rare….

I walked from Moss to Crete streets, zig-zagging between DeSoto and Bell along Hagan, N. Rendon, N. Lopez, N. Gayoso, N. Dupre, and N. White—searching all the while for indications of the ghost-bayou’s wanderings.

It is said that the bayou broke off from Bayou St. John around present-day 1222 Moss Street. It’s as if the house itself—hiding behind its lush foliage—seeks to hide its watery underpinnings….

photo by author

photo by author

Does this puddle along Hagan Avenue indicate a bayou-related dip?

photo by author

What about this driveway’s slope on N. Rendon?

photo by author

Or this mansion’s sunken drive?

photo by author

Is it just me, or does N. Lopez look a little concave right here? (My dog’s second photobomb…he was helping me look.)

Photo by author

What about here? The slightest of dips along N. Dupre….

photo by author

Here is the clearest indication of the ghost trench (shown to me by the same Faubourg St. John resident mentioned above), where Crete meets Esplanade.

photo by author

Ok, like I said, nothing too terribly amazing. But was the journey worth it? You bet! And maybe someone reading this post will have their own bayou ghost story to share, and will tell us all where to look next time we’re in the neighborhood….


More Times-Picayune gems for your perusal, culled from my Bayou St. John research on the Times-Picayune Historical database this past week.

Police notes, July 9, 1878: “Between 10 and 11 o’clock Monday morning, a dispute arose over a game of cards on board a fishing smack lying in Bayou St. John, near the lake, between a Manila man named Marian Lacroste, aged 25 years, and Louis Bancart, his partner. The dispute was ended by Bancart, who seized a hatchet, and inflicted a severe cut on Lacroste’s hip. The wounded man was conveyed to Charity Hospital, and an affidavit was made against Bancart.”

Losing at cards? Just grab your hatchet!!


September 8, 1880: “An Unfortunate Somnambulist: A Woman While Asleep Walks Into the Bayou St. John

Yesterday morning the body of a white woman clad in her night clothes was found floating in the Bayou St. John, between Dupre and White streets. The fact of only having her night gown on, led to the supposition that the woman had committed suicide, and an investigation was at once set on foot by the Coroner Board. It was ascertained that the deceased was named Mrs. Ruth A.G. Patterson, aged 57 years, and residing at [obscured] Canal street.

The unfortunate woman was afflicted with somnambulism and fell a victim to her disease. During the night she walked into the canal and was drowned. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the circumstances, and the remains were taken in charge by friends.”

Poor, poor Ruth. What an eerie image: Ruth walking from Canal into the bayou in the middle of the night….I wonder what she was dreaming?


September 8, 1882:”On last Wednesday night an unknown thief entered the sexton’s office of the St. Louis Cemetery, on Esplanade street, near the Bayou St. John. The thief stole two cages, containing live singing birds, which were owned by Mr. H. Bienvenu.”

Wow, those birds must really have been worth something! But to poor Mr. Bienvenu, alone in his office amidst that sea of tombs day after day, their singing must have been pretty key….


July 10, 1883: “Garroters in a Streetcar: At half-past nine o’clock last Monday night as car No. 4, of the Dumaine street line, turned the corner of Dumaine and Bayou St. John, two unknown highway men jumped into the car and rushing at Paul Bertuchaux, the driver, demanded his money.

Paul was not going to be bulldozed, and refused to deliver up his cash, whereupon he was assaulted and beaten and cut over the face by the parties. He tried to defend himself by striking at them, when they ran off without accomplishing their purpose.

Their description as far as could be learned has been telegraphed to all the stations.”

Paul would NOT allow himself to be bulldozed!! I hope the city gave him a raise.


April 1, 1884: “The Performing Bear and Its Masters Find Their Way to the Lock-Up

For some days past a Frenchman named Costick, and a Turk named Yunovasch Turnovich, have been exhibiting a performing bear on Bayou St. John near Metairie Ridge. On last Monday evening the owners of the bear and the beast himself imbibed too freely of spiritous liquors, and as a consequence became drunk.

The bear was told to pounce upon one David Edmonds, which it did, and in a few moments Edmonds was lying on the broad of his back, as if Sullivan had hit him. Edmonds well knew he was no match for his grizzly opponent, and thereupon summoned Sergeant O’Rourke and Officer Hanley to his rescue. The bear was taken away; its masters were taken to jail for being drunk and maintaining a public nuisance in exhibiting the bear without a license, and for causing the animal to assault Edmonds.”

Wait, is this an April Fool’s joke? The bear got drunk too? Only in New Orleans, as they say….