Long before there was a Scream Park on City Park’s Scout Island there were other apparitions that haunted the oaks.
There was, for example, a story of love gone wrong. One version of the saga is that a wealthy family once lived in the building that now houses Christian Brothers School. The gentleman of the house had a daughter named Mona and she, as she reached adulthood, had a yearning.
Mona developed a romance with a young man, most often believed to be a sailor. They might have spent their days walking hand in hand alongside the nearby lagoons, but the father did not approve of his daughter’s suitor. He forbade her from seeing him. The daughter was heartbroken beyond her father’s expectations. If she could not live with her sailor than she could not live at all. One evening she ran outside the mansion, leaped into a lagoon and ended her life.
A variation of the story justifies the father’s apprehension. The sailor it turns out was just looking for a fling and had no long-term interest in the girl. Standing alongside the lagoon he told the girl that he was leaving for another port. The two got into a tussle and the girl was fatally pushed into the water.
A follow-up says that the old man would eventually donate his vast property to the city, but under the condition that a Venus statue honoring his daughter would stand in a cul-de-sac at the end of a nearby road. The monument was erected but there was misfortune. The site attracted large crowds, quite often pairs of lovers. One night the Venus was knocked down. Eventually, the fallen monument was destroyed through neglect and both the road and the cul-de-sac were overcome with vegetation. The exact location would be lost except that it was somewhere near the Popp Fountain toward the back of the park.
Not lost, however, was Mona. There would forever be stories of an apparition appearing at night, quite often delivering a mournful sound especially at the sight of parked cars and embracing couples. Because of her first name, her haunting area would be known in popular legend as Mona Lisa Drive.
Non-believers dismiss her as just another lover’s lane urban legend. Former UNO anthropologist Ethelyn Orso studied such tales and noted that as the population shifted so did the location of the stories. One version placed Mona Lisa Drive near Williams Boulevard in Kenner. Orso also observed that many of the teenagers who told the tale confused the apparition with the sound she supposedly made. They wrote her name as being “Moaner” Lisa.
Wherever legend takes Mona Lisa Drive, City Park, with its moss-draped oaks and moonlit ponds, is where it should be forever. Not far from Mona’s mansion, at the Dueling Oaks where hot-headed Creole men once fought beneath the trees, poor Mona deserves to roam freely looking for the embrace of nature if not her wayward sailor.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.