City Park comprises some 8,000 acres in the
heart of New Orleans. Framed by four professional
golf courses and dotted with bayous lagoons,
and ponds, the feeling is more like the cypress
swamps of southwest Louisiana and one has
to remind oneself that it is still the heart
of a thriving urban city.
In the early 1900's, it is said,
a philanthropist well known in the city for
his generosity, endowed City Park with a collection
of statuary. There was such a collection that
at first the New Orleans Parkway Commission
didn't know quite what to do with them. There
was only one stipulation from the donor, that
one statue in particular be given special treatment:
the statue was a beautiful bronze designed in
the gothic revival tradition of the late Victorians.
It had been commissioned to commemorate the
death of the philanthropist's only daughter,
Mona. This statue, he mandated, must be given
special treatment and must stand alone.
The park arborists and landscape artists
were called upon to help determine a fitting
placement for the imposing work: a youthful
woman in the pose of "The Birth of Venus,"
gazing eternally heavenward with a mysterious
smile upon her face. The solution: a mile
long promenade to a cul de sac where the statue
would be placed on a pedestal in the center.
The outcome pleased everyone, and probably
most especially the philanthropist.
But as with all secluded spots in cities
the world over, the cul de sac soon became
a magnet for teenaged lovers who could be
found parked along the road side or cruising
around the pedestal. One night things got
out of hand, or so the story goes, and instead
of cruising there was a car chase that sent
one car careening into the statue's base.
And the pious vision of Mona came crashing
to the ground.
It wasn't long afterward, after
the remnants of the statue had been removed
to the basement of the New Orleans Museum of
Art, that ardent teen aged lovers began to bring
back more than just tales of their own exploits
on the secluded little road. They began to exchange
nervous whisperings about the ghost of Mona.
This is how the legend grew, added to over
the years until it became no longer simply
Mona haunting the back road cul de sac in
City Park, but instead Mona Lisa was haunting
the darkened paths of City Park.
It didn't matter what she was called, all
the stories agreed on certain aspects of the
haunting: A lilting figure in white, with
a pained and mournful expression, would "float"
up the car window -- usually the passenger's
side -- and scratch forlornly at the glass.
She would exchange a last sorrowful look and
simply vaporize, disappear into the night
air. And the hauntings were reported in all
seasons but were especially prevalent in the
Mona Lisa Lane, as the cul de
sac came to be commonly called, soon became
unused and overgrown. No one went back there,
unless they were part of the Parkway Commission
crew who had the unenviable job of clearing
undergrowth or trimming the weeds. Soon, the
road became completely consumed by the roots
of spreading oak trees and bouganvillia vines.
But if you are able to find it, not far from
Popp's Fountain, and are persistent and courageous,
you may be able to sift your way through the
undergrowth to the spot where the deteriorating
pedestal is all that remains of the bronze
statue of Mona.
What remains of her ghost is anyone's guess.
This is passed down by some
as the "other" Mona Lisa Lane story.
Sometime way back, a sailor in port met a
young lady who was not very attractive but
who had a mysterious smile like Mona Lisa.
Wanting to have his way with her, he vowed
his love for her, and she her body to him.
When he was finished, he said that he had
to ship out and really didn't love her at
all. She made such protests that he killed
her and threw her body into a nearby lagoon.
It is said that when the moon is full, her
ghost returns to the lovers' lane, and, in
revenge, kills a young man out with his girl
and throws his body into the lagoon.