A Spooky Halloween Holiday
by Jaq D Hawkins
October, 1992. I was married at the time to someone who had a penchant for visiting old, atmospheric cemeteries, mostly well known ones like Highgate in London, which I have to admit is the most interesting tribute to necrotic statuary I’ve ever encountered. But Halloween 1992 was to take us to Coven Party III in New Orleans, an annual event to honour the author Anne Rice in a setting reminiscent of her famous vampire novels.
We managed to book a room in the old, Georgian hotel in the Garden District that was the venue for the event itself. There were only a few rooms available in the converted mansion, so that in itself was an accomplishment. My husband, known to the Internet as Nemo, had got to know the organisers and we ended up helping spread cobwebs about the public rooms. The entire hotel had been taken over by Anne Rice vampire enthusiasts and we had the run of the place, antique furniture and all.
But playing vampires with Anne Rice fans wasn’t the only Halloween event in New Orleans. We had taken a long weekend to experience all that pre-Katrina New Orleans had to offer for this most Gothic of holidays. Among the sites was the Westgate Gallery, an art gallery dedicated to the Angel of Death, Azrael.
The artist, Leilah Wendell, ran the gallery and created the works dedicated to he whom some know as The Grim Reaper. The old Victorian building itself was painted in shades of purple and black which created a stunning effect. Inside, the walls were also purple and accented with lightning bolts to add atmosphere between the displays, which included a full size statue of Azrael himself, towering over visitors in all his imposing splendour. The Westgate gallery no longer occupies that building, but its legacy lives on with an online presence.
We left the gallery wearing little coffin necklaces, a concession to tourist tat that would make the Addams family proud. They would, after all, fit in well at the vampire party.
The weekend wouldn’t have been complete without visiting a famous New Orleans necropolis, specifically the one where we could find the grave of Marie Laveau. The infamous Voodoo Queen had left her legacy and it was believed that if one were to draw three Xs on her gravestone, leave an offering and turn around three times, a wish would be granted. Of course I made my wish, and after some disruption and pain, it came true. Was it Voodoo magic? We’ll never know for sure.
The party itself was something to remember. Most attendants were dressed either in classic vampire capes or in Victorian dress to suit the mood of the event. I met enthusiasts who attended annually, some taking the cosplay so seriously that one had yellow contacts and custom fitted vampire fangs made to order by a dentist. Anne Rice herself smiled at my little ‘Claudia’ from beyond a wide doorway to another open room and great fun was had by all.
The following day, we shared a bottle of an aptly named red wine that came in a coffin shaped box with some of the organizers and that night we moved to the room that had been theirs, the biggest one in the hotel. When we left New Orleans, I felt some trepidation at the separation, knowing that even if I did come back someday, I would never see the city the same again.