[I got some queries on Madame LaLaurie when I mentioned her in my "Why Not Repatriate?"
article. I have put a question mark on this one because, while the LaLaurie House
is still there, there is some question in my mind as to whether any of this actually
happened. I have never seen any reliable documentation on it. This whole story may
be just tourist hype. - HAC]
The haunted history of the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans is perhaps one of the
best known stories of haunted houses in the city. It tragically recounts the brutal
excess of slavery in a horrifying and gruesome manner because for more than 150 years,
and through several generations, the LaLaurie house has been considered the most
haunted location in the French Quarter.
Let’s just say this story is not for the faint of heart ... and not for the weak
of stomach either.
The origin of the ghostly tale dates back to 1832 when Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his
wife, Delphine, moved into their Creole mansion in the French Quarter. They became
renowned for their social affairs and were respected for their wealth and prominence.
Madame LaLaurie became known as the most influential French-Creole woman in the city,
handling the family’s business affairs and carrying herself with great style. Her
daughters were among the finest dressed girls in New Orleans.
For those lucky enough to attend social functions at 1140 Royal Street, they were
amazed by what they found there. The three-story mansion, although rather plain on
the exterior, was graced with delicate iron work but the interior was lavish by anyone’s
standards. The house had been made for grand events and occasions. Mahogany doors
that were hand-carved with flowers and human faces opened into bright parlors, illuminated
by the glow of hundreds of candles in gigantic chandeliers. Guests dined from European
china and danced and rested on Oriental fabrics which had been imported at great
Madame LaLaurie was considered one of the most intelligent and beautiful women in
the city. Those who received her attentions at the wonderful gatherings could not
stop talking about her. Guests in her home were pampered as their hostess bustled
about the house, seeing to their every need.
But this was the side of Madame LaLaurie the friends and admirers were allowed to
see. There was another side. Beneath the delicate and refined exterior was a cruel,
cold-blooded and possibly insane woman that some only suspected ... but others knew
The finery of the LaLaurie house was attended to by dozens of slaves and Madame LaLaurie
was brutally cruel to them. 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
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.
A law that prohibited the cruel treatment of slaves was in effect in New Orleans
and the authorities who investigated the neighbors claims impounded the LaLaurie
slaves and sold them at auction. Unfortunately for them, Madame LaLaurie coaxed some
relatives into buying them and then selling them back to her in secret.
The stories continued about the mistreatment of the LaLaurie slaves and uneasy whispering
spread among her former friends. A few party invitations were declined, dinner invitations
were ignored and the family was soon politely avoided by other members of the Creole
Finally, in April of 1834, all of the doubts about Madame LaLaurie were realized.
A fire broke out in the LaLaurie kitchen. Legend has it that it was set by the cook,
who could endure no more of the Madame’s tortures. Regardless of how it started,
the fire swept through the house.
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 there, 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. [I have never seen
any photocopies of these alleged news articles from the New Orleans newspapers. -
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
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.
Needless to say, the horrifying reports from the LaLaurie house were the most hideous
things to ever occur in the city and word soon spread about the atrocities. It was
believed that Madame LaLaurie alone was responsible for the horror and that her husband
turned a blind, but knowing, eye to her activities.
Passionate words swept through New Orleans and a mob gathered outside the house,
calling for vengeance and carrying hanging ropes. Suddenly, a carriage roared out
of the gates and into the milling crowd. It soon disappeared out of sight.
Madame LaLaurie and her family were never seen again. Rumors circulated as to what
became of them ... some said they ran away to France and others claimed they lived
in the forest along the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain. Still other rumors claimed
the family vanished into one of the small towns near New Orleans, where friends and
relatives sheltered them from harm. Could this be true? And if so, could the terrible
actions of Madame LaLaurie have "infected" another house in addition to the mansion
in the French Quarter?
Whatever became of the LaLaurie family, there is no record that any legal action
was ever taken against her and no mention that she was ever seen in New Orleans,
or her fine home, again.
Of course, the same thing cannot be said for her victims.
The stories of ghosts and a haunting at 1140 Royal Street began almost as soon as
the LaLaurie carriage fled the house in the darkness.
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
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, 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 1880s 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 1890s. 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 an 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?
And how many of them may still be lingering behind in our world?