Monday, October 25, 2010

October Spookfest-Madame LaLaurie

New Orleans is known to be one of the most haunted places on earth. There are numerous tales of ghosts that haunt the grand plantations and Cities of the Dead. The story of Madame LaLaurie is one of the most notorious because of how grotesque it is. Its almost too crazy to be true. The fact that it is true is why I love it so much.

In 1832 Dr Louis LaLaurie and his wife Delphine moved into a Creole mansion in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The exterior of the house at 1140 Royal Street was rather plain. Inside, however, the 3 story mansion was decorated with fine hand carved mahogony, grand chandeliers, and exquisite furnishings from all over the world. The entire house was made for entertaining and Madame LaLaurie was a natural hostess.


All of New Orleans upper class coveted an invite to one of Delphine's famous parties. She was one of the most respected members of society and also one of the most beautiful. An invite to her home meant an evening of exquisite pampering by the hostess and her dozens of slaves. To the oustside world, Madame LaLaurie appeared to have it all. To her slaves, however, she was literally the devil incarnate.


Most of the rest is taken from PrairieGhosts.com.

"She kept her cook chained to the fireplace in the kitchen where the sumptuous dinners were prepared and many of the others were treated much worse. We have to remember that, in those days, the slaves were not even regarded as being human. They were simply property and many slave owners thought of them as being lower than animals. Of course, this does not excuse the treatment of the slaves, or the institution of slavery itself, but merely serves as a reminder of just how insane Madame Lalaurie may have been.... because her mistreatment of the slaves went far beyond cruelty."

"It was the neighbors on Royal Street who first began to suspect something was not quite right in the Lalaurie house. There were whispered conversations about how the Lalaurie slaves seemed to come and go quite often. Parlor maids would be replaced with no explanation or the stable boy was suddenly just disappear... never to be seen again."

"Then, one day a neighbor was climbing her own stairs when she heard a scream and saw Madame Lalaurie chasing a little girl, the Madame’s personal servant, with a whip. She pursued the girl onto the roof of the house, where the child jumped to her death. The neighbor later saw the small slave girl buried in a shallow grave beneath the cypress trees in the yard."
 
As rumours began to swirl about Delphines cruel treatment of her slaves, her position in society began to deteriorate. Invitations to her famous parties were ignored. The authorities attempted to investigate but Madame LaLaurie was too smart for them. She would hide the slaves until they left. It wasnt until a fire broke out in the kitchen that all of Delphines secrets were brought to light.
 
"After the blaze was put out, the fire fighters discovered a horrible sight behind a secret, barred door in the attic. They found more than a dozen slaves here, chained to the wall in a horrible state. They were both male and female.... some were strapped to makeshift operating tables... some were confined in cages made for dogs.... human body parts were scattered around and heads and human organs were placed haphazardly in buckets.... grisly souvenirs were stacked on shelves and next to them a collection of whips and paddles.

It was more horrible that anything created in man’s imagination.

According to the newspaper, the New Orleans Bee, all of the victims were naked and the ones not on tables were chained to the wall. Some of the women had their stomachs sliced open and their insides wrapped about their waists. One woman had her mouth stuffed with animal excrement and then her lips were sewn shut.

The men were in even more horrible states. Fingernails had been ripped off, eyes poked out, and private parts sliced away. One man hung in shackles with a stick protruding from a hole that had been drilled in the top of his head. It had been used to “stir” his brains.

The tortures had been administered so as to not bring quick death. Mouths had been pinned shut and hands had been sewn to various parts of the body. Regardless, many of them had been dead for quite some time. Others were unconscious and some cried in pain, begging to be killed and put out of their misery.

The fire fighters fled the scene in disgust and doctors were summoned from a nearby hospital. It is uncertain just how many slaves were found in Madame Lalaurie’s “torture chamber” but most of them were dead. There were a few who still clung to life.... like a woman whose arms and legs had been removed and another who had been forced into a tiny cage with all of her limbs broken than set again at odd angles."

As reports spread of the atrocities committed by Madame LaLaurie, a murderous mob gathered at the LaLaurie house, intent on vengeance. They never got it though. The entire LaLaurie family sped off in a carriage, never to be seen again. In fact, there are no records of their whereabouts after that day. There are, however, plenty of ghost stories circulating about the house at 1140 Royal Street.
"After the mutilated slaves were removed from the house, it was sacked and vandalized by the mob. After a brief occupancy, the house remained vacant for many years after, falling into a state of ruin and decay. Many people claimed to hear screams of agony coming from the empty house at night and saw the apparitions of slaves walking about on the balconies and in the yards. Some stories even claimed that vagrants who had gone into the house seeking shelter were never heard from again.

The house had been placed on the market in 1837 and was purchased by a man who only kept it for three months. He was plagued by strange noises, cries and groans in the night and soon abandoned the place. He tried leasing the rooms for a short time, but the tenants only stayed for a few days at most. Finally, he gave up and the house was abandoned.

Following the Civil War, Reconstruction turned the empty Lalaurie mansion into an integrated high school for “girls of the Lower District” but in 1874, the White League forced the black children to leave the school. A short time later though, a segregationist school board changed things completely and made the school for black children only. This lasted for one year.

In 1882, the mansion once again became a center for New Orleans society when an English teacher turned it into a “conservatory of music and a fashionable dancing school”. All went well for some time as the teacher was well-known and attracted students from the finest of the local families.... but then things came to a terrible conclusion. A local newspaper apparently printed an accusation against the teacher, claiming some improprieties with female students, just before a grand social event was to take place at the school. Students and guests shunned the place and the school closed the following day.
A few years later, more strange events plagued the house and it became the center for rumors regarding the death of Jules Vignie, the eccentric member of a wealthy New Orleans family. Vignie lived secretly in the house from the later 1880’s until his death in 1892. He was found dead on a tattered cot in the mansion, apparently living in filth, while hidden away in the surrounding rooms was a collection of antiques and treasure. A bag containing several hundred dollars was found near his body and another search found several thousand dollars hidden in his mattress. For some time after, rumors of a lost treasure circulated about the mansion.... but few dared to go in search of it.
The house was abandoned again until the late 1890’s. In this time of great immigration to America, many Italians came to live in New Orleans. Landlords quickly bought up old and abandoned buildings to convert into cheap housing for this new wave of renters. The Lalaurie mansion became just such a house.... and for many of the tenants even the low rent was not enough to keep them there.

During the time when the mansion was an apartment house, a number of strange events were recorded. Among them was an encounter between a occupant and a naked black man in chains who attacked him. The black man abruptly vanished. Others claimed to have animals butchered in the house; children were attacked by a phantom with a whip; strange figures appeared wrapped in shrouds; a young mother was terrified to find a woman in elegant evening clothes bending over her sleeping infant; and of course, the ever-present sounds of screams, groans and cries that would reverberate through the house at night.

It was never easy to keep tenants in the house and finally, after word spread of the strange goings-on there, the mansion was deserted once again. The house would later become a bar and then a furniture store. The saloon, taking advantage of the building’s ghastly history was called the “Haunted Saloon”. The owner knew many of the building’s ghost stories and kept a record of the strange things experienced by patrons.

The furniture store did not fare as well in the former Lalaurie house. The owner first suspected vandals when all of his merchandise was found ruined on several occasions, covered in some sort of dark, stinking liquid. He finally waited one night with a shotgun, hoping the vandals would return. When dawn came, the furniture was all ruined again even though no one, human anyway, had entered the building. The owner closed the place down.

Today, the house has been renovated and restored and serves as luxury apartments for those who can afford them. Apparently, tenants are a little easier to keep today than they were one hundred years ago.

Is the Lalaurie house still haunted? I really don’t know for sure, but one has to wonder if the spirits born from this type of tragedy can ever really rest? A few years ago, the owners of the house were in the midst of remodeling when they found a hasty graveyard hidden in the back of the house beneath the wooden floor. The skeletal remains had been dumped unceremoniously into the ground and when officials investigated, they found the remains to be of fairly recent origins. They believed that it was Madame Lalaurie’s own private graveyard. She had removed sections of the floor in the house and had hastily buried them to avoid being seen and detected. The discovery of the remains answered one question and unfortunately created another. The mystery of why some of the Lalaurie slaves seemed to just simply disappear was solved at last..... but it does make you wonder just how many victims Madame Lalaurie may have claimed?"

The house today.
I actually found the home in a real estate listing priced at $2.9 million. View it here. I read that it was owned by Nicolas Cage for a while. Here are some interior shots.

4 comments:

  1. EEWWWW! What a disturbing story! If ever a place had a right to be haunted I suppose it's this one...
    I looked at the photos of the current real estate listing, and noticed a weird thing...the artwork in the house is very strange & spooky, down to pix of Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Phantom of the Opera. Do you suppose the agents are trying to market it as a haunted house? Might be their best bet!
    Loving the Halloween posts! Thanks :) for keeping me entertained at work!

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  2. I noticed that too. I actually thought that maybe that was Nick Cages artwork and furniture still in the home. He's kind of an odd guy so I could see him buying that house because of its history.

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  3. WOW that's just unreal... and just for the records all THIS host keeps in his attic is dust bunnies.

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  4. Oh I love it, now I want to go see it in person.

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