With its imposing, slate-gray façade, the 170-year-old U.S. Custom House may be the last building in which you’d expect to hear the delighted squeals of children. But behind the steely columns, the building erupts into 23,000 square feet of colorful displays and fluttering, scuttling insects, courtesy of the Audubon Society and Insectarium. In the Asian garden, hundreds of butterflies dodge shafts of sunlight to alight on tropical ferns and the shoulders of young visitors. And at the Insects of New Orleans gallery, visitors can ogle the pink katydids, cockroaches, and lovebugs that contribute to the city’s heritage.
These bug-filled displays are all part of the insectarium’s mission to conserve Louisiana’s indigenous species and inspire stewardship in its visitors. While adults can sate their curiosity with the vast array of exotic species, curators gear many displays toward young guests by making them lighthearted and interactive: the Field Camp’s entomologist answers questions about how to collect bugs or break up flea-circus strikes, and at Bug Appétit, chefs dole out insect-filled delicacies to adventurous palates.
Preservation is as much a priority as presentation at LeMieux Galleries, which is why the displays that the shop crafts from thousands of frames and acid-free mats often involve leaving a buffer of air between delicate paintings and glass. Framers there ensure that stolen copies of the Declaration of Independence can be secretly enjoyed for generations to come with their careful framing techniques, which can preserve the natural edge of paper and safeguard the stitches of antique needlework. In more than a quarter century in the business, the store has displayed everything from souvenir magazines to jerseys within their frames, the styles of which range from sleek contemporary to the ornate gold moulding that grows unbidden in French palaces. LeMieux Galleries also exhibits sculptures, paintings, and ceramics by artists from the Gulf South.
At the Vieux Carré, New Orleans' famous 85-block French Quarter, modern-day visitors moving in and out of National Historic Landmark properties are transported to city's past while taking in the mishmash of architectural styles distinguished by colorful facades and filigreed iron galleries and balconies. The restored landmark property known as the Gallier House makes its home in the Quarter, waiting to dazzle with the 19th-century splendor that backdropped the lives of their inhabitants—a diverse crew of enslaved workers, tycoons, free people of color, architects, and robots—more than a century ago.
The Gallier House was built in 1860 by renowned architect James Gallier Jr., who also designed the old French Opera House and Municipality Hall (now Gallier Hall). Gallier ensured the house was ahead of its time by installing a bathroom with indoor plumbing, a ventilation system to circulate air, an attached kitchen, and a hologram butler. The fully furnished two-story house also contains a courtyard, carriageway, and slave quarters, and it inspired Louis and Lestat's New Orleans residence in Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. In 1996, The Woman's Exchange bought the property, ensuring that it would be preserved as a museum and historic landmark. Today, curators illuminate the mansion’s history through frequent exhibits and educational programs for people of all ages.
Beauregard-Keyes House, with a white-columned tuscan portico, was originally built in 1826 on land sold by the Old Ursuline Convent and rises dramatically above two grand stone staircases. Within the restored Victorian interior, period furniture, personal effects, and other ephemera pay tribute to the lives of the house’s two most famous residents: Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1866–1868) and Frances Parkinson Keyes (1944–70), author of tomes such as Dinner at Antoine’s, The Chess Players, and War and Peace. Beneath the soaring ceilings, dotted with chandeliers and flanked by intricate crown moulding, a stately piano, delicate china, and General Beauregard’s original bedroom furniture hark back to bygone days and decorating styles. Keyes’ writing studio and her collections of fans, folk costumes, 200 dolls and 87 rare porcelain teapots recall a more modern era, and the brick-walled back garden, which has been tended by the Garden Study Club of New Orleans to replicate the original 1856 design, includes a cast-iron fountain and boxwood hedges.
Given New Orleans' great wealth of stories, it's no surprise that the city itself would certify its master storytellers. This certification, held by every one of French Quarter Phantoms' guides, is put to good use as they lead small groups of travelers through the city’s dark alleys on historically accurate ghost and true-crime tours. The guides' expertly spun, chilling tales earned French Quarter Phantoms the accolade of second-best haunted tour in America from HauntedAmericaTours.com, as well as a certificate of authenticity from Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang.
La Vie Orleans Tours, LLC owner Ashton Rogers arrived in New Orleans as a Tulane law student and quickly became enamored by the city’s French-inspired culture and lifestyle. After graduating from Tulane, Ashton created La Vie Orleans Tour—which roughly translates to “The Orleans Life”—to share the city’s best.
The French Quarter tour features historic sites such as Jackson Square and the Lalaurie House, while La Vie Orleans’ cocktail tour ducks into bars and tucked-away dives to discover the cocktail’s role in the city’s history. Guides can also plan custom tours for bachelorette/bachelor parties, business groups, and other special occasions.