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Halloween in New Orleans: A mini-Mardi Gras

NEW ORLEANS (AP) ― New Orleans calls itself “America’s Most Haunted City,” and the Halloween season has become one of the most popular times of year to visit, with a music festival that attracts 80,000 people, one of the top haunted house attractions in the country and ghost tours galore.

In some ways, Halloween here almost feels like a mini-Mardi Gras. There are costumed revelers, French Quarter hotels fill up, and two parades roll, complete with beads and trinket-tossing.

“If you’re looking for haunted, we have it,” said Kelly Schulz of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have a haunted culture here with all the ghost tours and haunted tours. It’s a very old city with a lot of legends and stories.”

While other cities may devote one night to trick or treating, with Halloween falling on a Monday this year, the celebration in the Crescent City will fill out a three-day weekend.

The Voodoo Music Experience, which runs Oct. 28-30, features both high-profile national artists and famous local musicians amid acres of shady live oaks, bayous and lagoons. This year’s lineup includes Blink-182, Girl Talk, Soundgarden and TV On The Radio.

The elaborate House of Shock, right outside New Orleans in Jefferson, is rated the No. 1 haunted house in the country by some industry publications. More than 25,000 people will pay $25 or more to encounter live actors portraying freaks and ghouls amid faux graveyards, butcher shops, swamps and a cult church, all strewn with bloody body parts, rats, and dangling cobwebs. The attraction’s busiest time is Oct. 26-31, but it opens Sept. 30 and also runs every Friday and Saturday through Nov. 5.

“None of us can believe it’s grown like this,” said Ross Karpelman, who created the attraction with two childhood friends.

There are historic Halloween-worthy attractions as well, like tours of the city’s above-ground cemeteries, one of which houses what is believed to be the tomb of Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. In nearby Metairie, Lake Lawn Cemetery offers free self-guided tours of its ornate tombs.

New Orleans Ghost Tour, New Orleans Spirit Tours and Haunted History Tours, Inc., present the tales of ghosts and vampire-style crimes in the French Quarter, Garden District and more. They also conduct night tours through St. Louis Cemetery (hash)1 and other haunted site visits.

The Monteleone Hotel claims 14 ghosts, unexplained opening and closing of doors, and guests who will attest to a variety of alleged paranormal activity. Frances Dalton of Austin, Texas, claims to have had a good night’s sleep interrupted by the noise of children laughing and running in the hall.

“I finally turned the TV on with the sound up high and even that didn’t drown it out,” Dalton said. “It sounded like a group of 10-year-olds having a party out there.” After complaining about it the next morning, Dalton was told ― surprise! ― there were no children staying on her floor.

At Brennan’s Restaurant, reservations requests jump for the Red Room at Halloween time. A former Victorian parlor when the old building was a private residence in the 1800s, it is still lit by a gas chandelier and claims to be haunted by the spirit of a man who was killed there.

All weekend around New Orleans, and certainly Halloween night, people go out to eat or bar-hopping in costume.

“I love it,” said Liz Landry, of New Orleans. “Last year we were a group of witches and the tables beside us were all in costume. It was a hoot.”

For the younger set, there is Boo at the Zoo (Oct. 21, 22, 28 and 29) at Audubon Zoo. It has games, trick-or-treating, a haunted house, the Zoo’s Ghost Train and more. A limited number of tickets are sold for each night to limit crowding.

Finally, if creepy crawlers are your thing, head to the Audubon Insectarium. It’s the largest freestanding museum in the U.S. dedicated to insects.