This was 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 in City Park. 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 said 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, then she could not live at all. One evening she ran outside the mansion, leapt into a lagoon and ended her life.

A variation of the story justifies the father’s apprehension. The sailor, it goes in that version, 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 pushed into the water and drowned.

A follow-up says that the old man agreed to donate his vast property to the city but only under the condition that a Venus statue honoring his daughter would stand in a cul-de-sac at the end 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 moved by the story behind the statue. 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.

Not far from the drive, near where the tennis courts stand, I personally experienced supernatural sounds in the night, especially in the evenings during the weeks when the first chills usually set in. Over the sounds of tennis balls being whacked, there would suddenly be screams, cackles, sirens and yells. Even the nearby raccoons would scurry as the sounds grew progressively and then disappeared only to return again. In the distance, there would be blinking lights silhouetting the trees.

Mona might have experienced the sounds, too, although nonbelievers dismiss her as just another lovers’ 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 listed her name as being “Moaner” Lisa.

Not legends at all were the wails and screams heard from the tennis courts. Those sounds lasted through several Octobers but were eventually exorcized by Katrina. After the storm, the nearby old swimming pool, which housed the former Sheriff Charles Foti’s annual haunted house, was torn down. No more would the hay wagons wind their way through the park. The automated scary sounds would be muted. The blinking lights of the ever-protective police would go elsewhere.

Now the autumn evenings in City Park are as dark as they once were. Lovers’ lanes have moved to other places. As the evening progresses, Mona has the night to herself. The quietness is broken only by the sound of acorns making their plunge.

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 where hot-headed Creole men once dueled beneath the trees, poor Mona deserves to roam freely, finding at least the embrace of nature if not her wayward sailor.

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