Once owned by actor Nicholas Cage, the home’s old-fashioned facade still keeps its secrets, especially those surrounding the atrocities committed by its mistress close to 200 years ago.
The three-storied home at 1140 Royal Street (Rue Royale) in the French Quarter is presently for sale for a cool $2.9 million, but for many years it stood empty and ruined. It was only back during 1832 when it was just newly built for its owners, Dr. and Madame LaLaurie that it was as beautifully furnished as it is now.
For two years Delphine LaLaurie, a Creole socialite, hosted lavish soirees that were attended by all the prominent citizens in New Orleans; however all that changed on a spring afternoon on April 10th, 1834 when an old Negress cook set a fire in the kitchen. Neighbors rushed in to save valuables, including the slaves and what they found confirmed their suspicions beyond their worse expectation.
After leaving the kitchen which was located over the carriageway building across the courtyard, volunteer firemen and other neighbors entered the main house in search of other slaves. They finally found them in the attic area in a secret room, more than a dozen poor wretches, tortured, tormented and locked away where their screams could not be heard. Some were chained to a wall emaciated and close to death, a few were strapped to crudely made operating tables, and others squeezed into cages made for dogs. Human body parts were found in buckets.
The fire was extinguished, however the scandal that was ignited by an article published by the local newspaper the New Orleans Bee telling of the conditions of the slaves and describing Madame Lalaurie as “the demon, in the shape of a woman” swept the city.
Many remembered an event only a year before when Delphine Lalaurie was seen by a neighbor whipping a young female slave, who in a frenzy to escape from her had fallen from a balcony and died. Rumors had it the child was secretly buried that night on the grounds of the home. It was not a difficult story to believe since by then the mistress of the house had a reputation for maltreatment of her slaves, which she justified as keeping them in control.
Some wondered if this was Delphine’s way of exacting retribution for her mother, Madame Macarty, who was murdered on a Carrollton plantation during a slave uprising. Nonetheless a judge ordered for her slaves to be sold at auction and the LaLauries were fined, however relatives bought the slaves and sold them back to their mistress. Many now wondered how many had been brought back to suffer such a horrible fate.
As the story circulated throughout New Orleans, the fury it stirred finally broke loose five days later and infuriated citizens of the Vieux Carre stormed the house and destroyed the interior. The LaLauries barely escaped with their lives and left the city, shortly thereafter setting sail for France, never to be seen again.
The house was not rebuilt until 1837, and even then it already had the reputation for being haunted. Ghostly apparitions, screams, moans and flickering lights finally drove the new owner out within three months of moving in, and he then rented it out to business owners. During the Civil War it was a Unionheadquarter and the stories of hauntings persisted, especially the sound of chains clanking coming from the old slave quarters. The house went through different incarnations, as a school, private apartments and by the 1920’s it was a tenement where one occupant described seeing a man walking around carrying his head on his arm. Another apparition was that of a woman leaning out of a window.
By now the house was reputed to be the most haunted in New Orleans, and even though there were those that insinuated that many of the stories written about Madame LaLaurie, and what had transpired on April 10th, 1834 were grossly exaggerated, making her a victim of yellow journalism, it is impossible to discount and explain the remains that workmen found while doing repairs to the house. From under the floorboards human skeletons were dug up, too near the surface to be part of a graveyard, and the bits of fabric and hair still found on the jumbled bones confirmed they belong to Negroes. Even more chilling was the fact that it seemed they were put in the earth during the early part of the 1800’s. Some of the skulls had large holes in them, this and the fact that they were not buried in a trench, confirmed this was not a mass burial due to an epidemic. Were these other victims of Delphine, secretly buried in shallow graves in the dead of night?
So who does walk the halls of LaLaurie Mansion? Is it Delphine LaLaurie paying penitence for her deeds, or is it her victims reliving the worse moments at her hands? Or maybe it’s both, and in that dark upstairs garret that’s been sealed away the victims are now allowed to exact their revenge in any way they see fit.
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