A spirited view of the Big Easy

ational Geographic calls New Orleans the most actively haunted city in the country," said our tour guide, Brett. And with that, the Ghost Tour of New Orleans' French Quarter began.

Haunted History Tours offers a wide array of year-round supernatural walking tours, including a Voodoo/Cemetery Tour, a Vampire Tour and a Witchcraft tour.

And these tours go way beyond rehashing the fiction of local author Anne Rice.

"New Orleans has a reputation for being the most haunted city in the country," said Sidney Smith, owner of Haunted History Tours. "I think it lives up to its reputation on our tours."

The beauregard-Keyes House.During the Ghost Tour, the French Quarter buildings that by daytime are stately and elegant begin to exude a sinister glow, especially as the tour guide tells stories about the disturbing events that have led to ghostly apparitions.

There is the tale of Julie, the ghost of a woman who died when her lover refused to marry her; the spirit of William Faulkner, which reportedly wanders his former home, and ethereal pirates lurking in a dark alley.

And then there are the top two haunted sites.

The Beauregard-Keyes House has reported 23 documented hauntings, according to Brett, and "is the second-most haunted place in New Orleans."

One of the most legendary ghosts at this historic home, which was built in 1826 and now houses a museum, is that of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, who once lived there.

Beauregard was a Civil War general who led the Confederate forces at the Battle of Shiloh, where 11,000 men died. According to local legend, his grief and guilt about Shiloh leads his ghost to re-enact the scenes of the battle inside the house.

"People in the area have reported hearing gunshots, screams and cries," Brett said.

Other shades include Paul Morphy, a chess champion, who was born in the house in 1837 and eventually committed suicide, and the members of the Giancona family, who as owners of the property killed four Mob intruders who broke into their home.

LaLaurie House, known as the most haunted house in the city.Visitors wondering which house bears the distinction of being the most haunted in the city find out later in the tour, as the group stops in front of the LaLaurie house.

"This house has been called a blemish on the face of New Orleans," our guide said.

In 1834, a physician named LaLaurie lived in this attractive home on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls streets with his wife and their two children.

On April 10, 1834, a fire broke out during one of the LaLauries' lavish cocktail parties.

In a locked, third-floor room, the fire brigade found family servants who had been maimed and murdered.

Since then, neighbors have claimed hearing screams and cries coming from within.

Later, there were reports of a bloodstained man wrapped in chains pacing the balcony.

In subsequent years, floorboards were pulled up in what had been the slave quarters, revealing the bodies of more than 70 additional people, according to legend.

The house remained vacant for 40 years, and subsequent tenants have reported strange happenings.

There is time on the tour for a bit of relaxation, with a stop for drinks (not included in the tour price) at one of the neighborhood bars, such as the Babylon Club.

But guests shouldn't relax too much, we were warned: The Babylon Club is housed in a former mortuary possibly haunted by a mortician who stole jewelry from cadavers.

Tour participants looking for even more detail about New Orleans' supernatural attractions can buy "Journey Into Darkness: Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans," an illustrated guide written by Haunted History Tours co-owner Katherine Smith.

A video based on the book also is available, segments of which will be featured on the Travel Channel's Fun & Sun series, due to air in March.

The price for all tours is $15 per person and $7 for children ages 12 and younger. Travel agents can take the tours for half price (with I.D.).

The company offers group discounts and works with agents. Retailers should contact the firm directly about commissions.

For details, call Haunted History Tours at (888) 6-GHOSTS or (504) 861-2727.

The Web site is at www.hauntedhistorytours.com.

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