New Orleans Haunted Houses- LaBranche Building, 700 Royal Street
Sometimes the unspoken agreement isn't actually agreed upon...
For about 150 years many in New Orleans practiced the system called plaçage, where a wealthy white man of culture would keep a mistress, typically a "demoiselle de couleur," or young woman of color.
These women were of mixed heritage, although the law considered them to be black, and while they were free women and not slaves, their social options were quite limited. These arrangements were often even negotiated by the young lady's mother to get her the best situation possible, typically a household of their own (which would stay theirs after the arrangement ended), a generous stipend, and servants of their own.
In return, the women were to be available, obedient, and above all discreet.
Despite it being a form of sexual slavery/prostitution, many affections did develop between couples, and there are stories of long lived relationships. Though, not surprisingly, there are far more stories of the women wanting to make the relationships permanent than there are of the men agreeing to do so!
Wives were expected to turn a blind eye to the shenanigans, as long as everyone involved remained discreet.
Unfortunately, no one told Mrs. LaBranche...
A Cultured Southern Gentleman Never Tells...
As a wealthy sugar planter, Mr. LaBranche would have been away from New Orleans quite often, which gave him ample opportunity to meet with his lovely plaçage mistress, Melissa. Brazenly, she was kept only blocks away within the French Quarter itself, and yet his wife never suspected a thing.
When her patron died unexpectedly, Melissa knew better than to attend the funeral, staying away for propriety's sake. Unfortunately, some of the deceased friends were not so careful; in talking about what came next for the family, the widow overheard two guests talking about Melissa.
After some no doubt uncomfortable and delicate inquiries, Mrs. LaBranche located Melissa and invited her to tea, and to discuss future arrangements.
Thinking, perhaps, that this was extraordinarily civil, Melissa accepted the invitation.
A Southern Woman Isn't Always a "Lady"...
The Widow Labranche seated Melissa at the table, and although it was awkward, attempted to make small talk with the woman who'd shared her husband's bed...
In reality, she merely pretended to do so until the sleeping powders she'd put in Melissa's tea could take effect. Then Melissa was dragged to the third floor, far from the street where she'd be heard, and was chained to the wall. Melissa slowly starved to death,wailing piteously while the Widow lived on the second floor, where she continued to live until her death 15 years later, beneath the rotting corpse.
For many years the building was a restaurant, closing only a recently. Waitstaff reported two distinctly different ghosts, both of which were very active.
One, presumably Melissa, was felt on the second and third floors. She was always restless, moving things slightly (or not so slightly- glasses were reported as being thrown across the room), and gave off a feeling of agitation.
The Widow LaBranche was more of a visible presence- an elegant woman with flowing hair in a blue period gown who stays on the second floor. She makes people nervous and jumpy, exuding a judgemental superiority. She doesn't need to throw things across the room...she'll just get you upset enough to break it yourself.
As for Jean Baptiste LaBranche, no mention is made. It seems he's wisely opted to stay away from both of his ladies.
But is it true?
This is the standard haunted history version of the story,. but I did my own research. Is the tale true or not? Click here to find out!