Offbeat New Orleans

Cemeteries

The old cemeteries in and around New Orleans, where tombs have to be built above the boggy ground to keep the remains of loved ones from drifting away, are fascinating places to visit. Those near the French Quarter (St. Louis No. 2 and St. Roch, for example) are best visited on a tour or with a group. Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery (5100 Pontchartrain Blvd. 504/486–6331), on the other hand, is safe to visit on your own: the office even has audio guides to help motorists find their way around the stately cemetery, the final resting place of luminaries like Al Hirt, Louis Prima, and Civil War general P.G.T. Beauregard. Because it's a busy cemetery, officials prefer that people visit between 8:30 and 10:30 am or after 3:30 pm, when there's less chance of disrupting a funeral.

Weird Museums

Home to a small but interesting collection of art and artifacts related to voodoo history and practice in the city, the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (724 Dumaine St. 504/680–0128) offers insight into a spiritual tradition that persists to this day. If you’re not squeamish about toying with the black arts, there are handcrafted voodoo dolls and gris-gris (magic talisman) bags sold in the small shop.

Louis Dufilho, America's first licensed pharmacist, operated an apothecary, La Pharmacie Francaise, in an 1823 townhouse. Today it holds the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (514 Chartres St. 504/565–8027), a collection of ancient medicine bottles, a huge leech jar, eyeglasses, and some truly unsettling surgical instruments.

In a former funeral home, the small, quirky Backstreet Cultural Museum (1116 St. Claude St. 504/522–4806) has everything you want to know about second line and Mardi Gras Indian traditions, with fascinating displays of Mardi Gras Indian suits, the fans and umbrellas of social aid and pleasure clubs, and the vestments of lesser-known traditions, such as the Baby Dolls and Skull and Bone Gangs.

Tiny Abita Springs, north of Lake Pontchartrain, is notable for three things: artesian spring water, Abita beer, and an oddball institution known as the Abita Mystery House (22275 Hwy. 36, at Grover St., Abita Springs 985/892–2624 www.abitamysteryhouse.com). Artist John Preble's obsessive collection of found objects includes combs, old musical instruments, paint-by-number art, and taxidermy experiments gone awry.

Sno-balls

In the days before air-conditioning, New Orleanians developed the sno-ball as a way to cope with stifling summers: it’s a ball of shaved ice served in a cup or Chinese take-out container, topped with flavored simple syrups and add-ons like condensed milk. A New Orleans inventor designed the patented SnoWizard machine to produce the finest shaved ice imaginable, so a sno-ball in New Orleans is different from those elsewhere. Hansen's Sno-Blitz Sweet Shop (4801 Tchoupitoulas St., Uptown 504/891–9788 May–Oct.) has been dishing them out since 1939; another local favorite is Plum Street Snoball (1300 Burdette St., Carrollton-Riverbend 504/866–7996 Mar.–Oct.).

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