‘Ghost Tourism’ lecture exposes industry

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Tiya Miles presented her lecture on “Ghost Tourism and the Specter of Slavery in New Orleans” to approximately 50 attendees Tuesday, April 12.

Miles, a University of Michigan professor, has a background in African studies, history, Native American studies and several other disciplines. Assistant professor of history Dr. Jennifer Stinson introduced Miles, who then began her speech.

Miles began visiting ghost tours during her holidays from 2012 to 2014, and she happened to hear a story about a slave woman in Savannah, Georgia, and chose to investigate the death. The tour led her to the story of Delphine Lalaurie, a rich slave owner in New Orleans who was known for being beautiful but evil. Many different descriptions were given to Lalaurie, but the terms of her cruelty were continuously brought up in tours, books and television.

The first half of the lecture was spent describing the stories, what facts Miles had learned for herself about the Lalaurie residence and supposed ghost stories that followed the tragedies in Savannah, now described as “The Most Haunted City in the U.S.”

“Marginalized groups were not fairly expressed and were often over exaggerated,” Miles said about the tour guides.

She also said that they used buzzwords such as cannibalism, voodoo and black magic when describing the slaves because tourists found it more intriguing. In the second half of the lecture, Miles detailed the source of her complaint with the ghost tourism industry in New Orleans.

During one specific tour in the fall of 2013 at the French Quarters Haunted Tours, Miles noted that the tour guides tended to turn on stereotypes and minorities. She also found that many violent images have appeared about the Lalaurie story online and in many books.

“It gives enjoyment, pleasure or satisfaction of gruesome abuse,” Miles said.

Miles also noted that tour guides expressed that slavery in New Orleans was considered “kind” so that slaves wouldn’t want to run away.

“This lets tourists and tour guides off the hook by saying that it wasn’t so bad because it reinforces the idea in people’s minds that in some places, slavery was OK,” Miles said.

One problem that Miles ran into with her research for her book was finding real evidence versus lore about the stories. Season three of the FX show “American Horror Story” greatly involves the Lalaurie story, but takes its own liberties with it and reinforces images of black people, Miles said. Many ghost stories have been told regarding the Lalaurie house, and tourists are even invited into rooms where slaves were known to have been mutilated and killed.

Many books about the Lalaurie house have been published since the house fire that broke out in 1834, but many of them have added fictional details and their own elements to the story.

“Social tensions taking place in the 1800s due to the Louisiana Purchase and other historical happenings that led to different interpretations of the story,” Miles said. “Everyone looked at this story was Euro-American and/or in the tourism industry, so they had something to gain from it.”

Miles didn’t specifically state that she believes the ghost tourism industry is evil in nature, but she did suggest revisiting it.

The lecture was followed by many questions, but much of the story is based on speculations, so Miles couldn’t answer several of the inquires because the evidence simply isn’t there for many of the rumors.