Mardi Gras falls on March 4th this year, and my husband and I are planning a fabulous trip to New Orleans to celebrate. While we’ll be enjoying all the customary Mardi Gras festivities – donning masks and costumes, watching parades, eating King Cake, etc. – it just wouldn’t be right to vacation in N’awlins and not explore it’s dark, haunted past.
I’ve planned out a three day itinerary of spooky sites to see for our haunted Mardi Gras, but there is one in particular that I’m crazy excited to visit – The LaLaurie House.
The latest season of American Horror Story featured a highly fictionalized version of Madame Delphine LaLaurie, and although the real LaLaurie didn’t use the blood of slaves as a beauty tincture, reality isn’t far enough from fiction for anyone to rest easy.
Madame Delphine LaLaurie
A History of Horror
In 1832, Delphine LaLaurie and her husband, physician Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, moved into their three-story mansion at 1140 Royal Street. It didn’t take long for rumors to surface that the LaLauries were mistreating their slaves.
During her 1836 visit, Harriet Martineau recorded the horrifying stories recounted to her by New Orleans residents. While most seemed to be nothing more than secondhand gossip, one story could not be refuted. One of LaLaurie’s neighbors told Martineau of the death of a twelve-year-old slave girl named Lia, who fell from the roof of the house while fleeing from a whip-wielding Delphine. The girl’s body was hurriedly buried under the cypress trees on the mansion grounds.
The incident led to an investigation of the family, and they were found guilty of illegal cruelty. The Lalaurie’s slaves were seized and sold at auction, but later returned to the mansion after Madame Lalaurie convinced relatives to buy and sell them back to her in secret.
On April 10, 1834, the truth came to light when a fire broke out in the mansion. Upon their arrival the police and fire marshals found the cook chained to the stove by her ankle. She confessed that her fear of LaLaurie was so severe that she had set the fire as a suicide attempt. She claimed any slave taken in punishment to the uppermost room of the mansion never came back.
Bystanders attempted to enter the slave quarters to confirm that everyone had been evacuated – but had to break down the doors after being refused the keys by the LaLauries. What lay inside was bone-chilling.
Reports stated, “Several slaves more or less horribly mutilated, were seen suspended from the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.”
The following day, the editor of The Advertiser wrote:
“The sight was so horrible that we could scarce look upon it. The most savage heart could not have witnessed the spectacle unmoved. He had a large hole in his head; his body from head to foot was covered with scars and filled with worms. The sight inspired us with so much horror that even at the moment of writing this article we shudder from its effects. Those who have seen the others represent them to be in a similar condition.”
Out of the nine reported slaves, only seven were found. But where were the other two? According to the book Strange True Stories of Louisiana, “A little digging brought their skeletons to light – an adult’s out of the soil and the little child’s out of the ‘condemned well’.”
When news of the tortured slaves spread, a mob of citizens attacked the LaLaurie residence and destroyed the house, leaving “scarcely any thing [remaining] but the walls.” Fearing for their lives, the LaLauries fled their mansion, eventually settling in Paris. They never received justice for their crimes.
The LaLaurie Mansion
A Haunting on Royal Street
In the years since its turn as the LaLaurie’s grisly abode, the mansion has seen many incarnations. It’s been a girl’s school, music conservatory, apartment building, furniture store, and saloon. One thing that never changes is the persistent claims that the mansion is all kinds of haunted.
During the house’s time as a furniture store, the owner was plagued by the strange destruction of his merchandise. He first suspected vandals when the furniture was found covered in a dark, stinking liquid. After spending an entire night in the store hoping to catch the vandals, the owner found the furniture ruined again in the morning – even though no one had entered the building
As for the mansion’s time as apartment buildings, stories range from disembodied screams and agonized wails to full body apparitions. At the turn of the 20th century, one resident claimed he was attacked on the stairwell by a black man in chains – who then promptly disappeared. Around the same time, a woman reported seeing Delphine herself hovering over her infant.
Whatever may or may not be lingering in the LaLaurie mansion today, its past will always remain appallingly ghoulish.