One dark night, without warning, bricks started hurtling around a backyard in the 200 block of Cherokee Street. Sharp stones, hunks of iron, and wooden debris rained down as well. The residents of the home, thinking the aerial assault was the result of mischievous children or some old vengeful grudge, went out to confront the vandals. But there was no one to be found.
The mysterious nightly hail of projectiles went on for months, witnessed by neighbors, police officers regularly called to the scene and the usual curiosity seekers. But the source of the missiles was never found; they just seemed to materialize out of thin air. Eventually, the mystery was solved and brought to an end. It turns out, the residents were right from the beginning: the cause was both a mischievous child and an old vengeful grudge, but its origins were from beyond the grave, for this was a violent battle between two poltergeists.
Strange Uptown occurrences
The neighborhood where the nightly clash took place is in what is now called the Black Pearl, so designated by the Office of Policy Planning during Moon Landrieu administration. The OPP was tasked with giving names to over seventy previously unnamed New Orleans neighborhoods. “Black Pearl” was chosen because Pearl Street ran through a predominantly Black neighborhood which is bound by Broadway, St. Charles Avenue and the Mississippi River. Legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson began her career singing at churches in the neighborhood.
But back in 1890, it was home to one Abner White. If you looked up “cranky old man” in Ye Olde Dictionary, there’d be an engraving of Abner with the classic “you little hooligans get off my lawn” expression on his curmudgeonly puss. His hatred of the neighborhood children was well-known. He accused them of harassing him and calling him names, disregarding the old adage about “sticks and stones may break my bones…” (More on that later.)
In reality, the kids were scared of Abner and mostly avoided him. However, one day it is said he was grumping around the neighborhood when he passed a group of giggling, whispering girls who accidentally bumped into him. Ol’ Abner went ballistic, screaming and swearing at them. He grabbed one girl named Ollie Voss, violently shook her and threw her to the ground before tromping off down the street.
Abner then went to his house, attached a bunch of balloons to it and flew away to…whoops wrong story. No, he just woke up dead one morning and the entire neighborhood celebrated because (they thought) he could no longer plague them from his tomb. But alas, ornery Abner wasn’t going to rest in peace.
Within a week after Abner was entombed, little Ollie Voss was standing near the fireplace in her home when a super-heated brick was belched from the fire, lighting her cotton nightdress ablaze. She screamed at her mother, saying “It’s old Abner White! He’s there in the fireplace grinning at me! It’s old Abner White!”
Her mother was unable to save poor Ollie from the flames and the girl was laid to rest in the Voss family tomb not far from their home. In the ensuing years, the tomb began to suffer from the elements, cracking and crumbling so badly that the family disinterred Ollie and reburied her in another nearby cemetery.
Stick and Stones
According to an 1880 map of New Orleans graveyards, there were (and still are) two cemeteries close to the neighborhood, Carrollton Cemetery at Adams and Birch, and St. Mary’s Cemetery two blocks away at Adams and Cohn. It stands to reason that the Ollie of this story would have been moved between these two cemeteries. As soon as she was reburied, the shower of bricks, sticks and stones began, threatening to break bones every night in the backyard of Ollie’s family home.
So guess where Ollie had been re-entombed in the other cemetery? Yup, right near the tomb of Abner White, and the two were having none of it. No longer the timid girl she was in life, the ghost of Ollie fought back against Abner as their enmity transcended the afterlife. During their nightly skirmishes, the Voss yard filled with fallen bricks and stones which nobody dared to remove. The story went that a girl was struck by one of the projectiles and immediately “vomited lizards and spiders and bits of brains and splintered bones” before dying.
One of the older neighbors finally pointed out the proximity of the two tombs in the cemetery and suggested that this was the cause of the mayhem. Seeking to end the dangerous nightly conflict before any further fatal regurgitation of lizards, the Voss family bought yet another tomb and moved their daughter away from her eternally cranky neighbor. After Ollie was relocated, the violent phenomenon immediately ceased and the accumulated wreckage of the months-long war disappeared as if it was never there, the yard thick and green with grass as if the flinging feud between the ghosts of Ollie and Abner had never been.
Campanella, Richard. Cityscapes of New Orleans. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2017
deLavigne, Jeanne. Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1946
Jackson, Charmain. A Bird’s-Eye View of the City’s Black Pearl. Louisiana Weekly, October 22, 2018. http://www.louisianaweekly.com/a-birds-eye-view-of-the-citys-black-pearl/. Accessed March 2022
Quackenbush, Jannette. Ghost Stories and Folk Tales of New Orleans. Creola, Ohio: 21 Crows Dusk to Dawn Publishing, 2021
Saxon, Lyle, Dreyer, Edward, & Tallant, Robert. Gumbo Ya-Ya. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2012
Taylor, Troy. Haunted New Orleans: History & Hauntings of the Crescent City. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011