Traditional summer rains fell upon a well known haunted house which faced a square bounded by Washington and Tchoupitoulas Streets. The specter of demolition loomed on the horizon, and more than one group of thrill seekers made plans to get inside and find out if the legend was true of a skeleton hidden in a corner of the wall at one of the windings of the grand staircase. But it was not a burial, but a punishment to keep a secret, and the person was walled up alive.
NEW ORLEANS, 1863
The house's attic was flat-roofed and once used as a storehouse by pirates who kept valuable packages they meant to sell to country merchants. They would smuggle the goods through the bayous and lakes, then forward it to the Mississippi River somewhere between Algiers and Gretna, until they were concealed in the house. During those years it was a sumptuous mansion, located a little over two miles from the city limits. It was an extensive plantation surrounded by beautiful gardens and parks. The main entrance was bordered by a grove of orange trees.
In truth there was little known about the history of the brick mansion, standing a short drive from New Orleans. Its true age is unknown as well, some say it was one of the first constructed in Louisiana. Stories circulate the Barataria pirates met under its roof, that is, until their leader was captured by General Andrew Jackson in 1814.
Throughout the years, many came to live there, including the best families of Louisiana, and many left suddenly, until it remained abandoned and fell to ruin.
Another rumor put the treasure on the second floor, on the north side of the house. Another story said it was buried in the ground under the main floor of the home.
Four years before certain police officers from the Fourth District set to work to find which of the stories was accurate. Supposedly they did find the right place, but kept it a secret. One night, with picks an shovels in hand they set to work. After digging four feet the spade struck something made of wood.
The leader was a sergeant, who brought his lantern down in to the hole, and the light fell upon a wooden keg. They strained to raise it out, sure that it weighed so much because it was filled with gold. They took it to their homes, and their expectations were bitterly dashed when they only found gunpowder, caked with dampness.
They returned the following two nights, even digging at the same place. Soon the cavity filled with water, and in time they gave up.
A few years later, a group of young men challenged each other to spend a night inside the building. A little after 10 p.m. they entered and went to the second floor. First they conversed and laughed, and slowly they became quieter. They heard the church bell chime the midnight hour. One of them posed going up on the open roof. They agreed and decided to spend the rest of the night there.
About 1 a.m. they heard slow steps causing the stairway to creak as it ascended. It came up until the young men thought they looked upon a corpse. It was a woman dressed in white who joined them.
Their courage fled and they rushed for the stairs. Panic made them fly down the winding, perilous staircase, and they didn't stop until after they jumped the low fence and were at the open street.
Then they realized that one of them was missing. They called his name and whistled for him, but there was no reply. They all returned to their homes, anxious about their friend, but scared to go back inside.
The young man left behind, finally arrived at home as dawn broke. When asked what happened he said he fell through a hole in the roof, and found himself in the attic. He stayed there until daylight. He never talked about those hours he spent alone the narrow room.
Not long after he took his life by ingesting poison. The inquest listed his death as a suicide, the cause being, "unaccounted for."
Then in appropriate fashion a lady's casket was found in the debris of the Haunted House by a volunteer helping the demolition workers.
The box was disfigured with age, and opening it was difficult. Once opened, the onlookers found nothing, except a old, ribbed paper with the words, "Look within?" written in dark red ink. Another mystery to be solved.
The page found in the casket was said to belong to the autobiography of a young lady, "which she seems to have written while condemned to a secret death, and which she has written in her album, and then torn the leaves out and hastily secreted them."
Later it came to be discovered her name was Caspar Hauser, and some wondered if the story was true or just a romance penned by a young woman. The handwriting was neat, beautiful and evidently that of a lady.
The next day a letter was received by the newspaper editor, which they reprinted:
I see much talk in the papers lately about the Haunted House on Washington Avenue; much of it incorrect. In your paper I see that you say its age is a matter of dispute. The reason is that it is mixed up with another old house that was built a long time after. The house on Washington Avenue was built in the years 1789 and 1790 by Gilbert Lacroix, a celebrated architect. He stayed in Louisiana only four years but was well known to my grandfather. I have often heard speak of him in the family when I was a boy.
In those same days, another newspaper printed a story titled, The Canary and the Skeleton: A Tale of the Haunted House.
In the summer of '47 when the saffron scourge claimed a victim from almost every family in the city, a rather singular occurrence took place in the upper portion of the city. A golden plumed canary escaped from the cage one morning, and but few attempts were made to regain it, for the bird's fond mistress was lying at the point of death. In the course of a month or so the bird was seen on the balcony where its old cage hung, and when a servant attempted to catch it, it flew to the top of the Haunted House. Day after day the visit was renewed, and day after day the bird took its flight in the same direction. At length a venturesome party of young men pursued, and lo! on the top of the house they beheld a human skeleton, and inside the skeleton the bird had made its nest and raised its young. There was a lesson of life and death! The ghastly and the beautiful met together, and the living claimed a shelter from the dead!
On August 21 1863, the newspaper received another letter explaining the history of the house. It read:
I have seen many different stories the last few days about the Haunted House. Being an old citizen of New Orleans, coming into this country sixty years ago, I can give you some details concerning the house. This fine mansion (for it was one of the most magnificent structure in the country) was built before this century and was constructed for the family of Mr. Livaudais, and Mme. Livaudais, who now resides in Paris, still owns the property. It has never been finished. During the time that old Mr. Livaudais occupied the house, a pirate of Lafitte's gang came and sought refuge there, and revealed to the proprietor the place where there was treasure hidden. He was then very sick and died shortly after; but when search was made the treasure was not found, although a small casket, containing different papers, was discovered.
A few days later the gentleman sent another letter dated August 27, 1863, with the following content:
Dear Sir, in my last I omitted many things concerning the Haunted House, which I now give in this letter.
In January, 1864, the house still stood, now stories were whispered that at least seven bad spirits had taken refuge in the minds of persons walking past the mansion. Some described being knocked down, and a small crime wave of robbery perpetrated by a gang which attacked pedestrians was believed to be the pirates that once came to the house to hide their loot.
When and if the brick mansion known as "The Haunted House" was demolished remains unknown.
Source - The Daily True Delta c.1963
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer