The Ghosts of the LaLaurie House in New Orleans
New Orleans has such a vividly colorful past, full of interesting things and events...many of which are very tragic and sad. In the 1830's, many of city's most affluent people learned that old adage "You can't judge a book by its cover." So was the case of Madam LaLaurie and her house on Royal Street. It sent the people of New Orleans, rich, middle class and poor, into a violent outrage.
The house is actually a imposing mansion, three storied which is extremely rare in this city. It also contains an attic. It is made of brick and covered with stucco, with huge massive windows and an impressive courtyard. There is a wide long balcony that covers both sides of the house facing the street. It has a wide deep portal with ornamented iron work and Grecian urns. The rooms are large and spacious and filled with the splendor of days long gone by. It is a house made for a Creole queen; a very cruel queen, far more than the Queen of cards in Alice in Wonderland.
In the attic are remnants of what was once called "galleries" but are actually latticed balconies that hide from street view an area that was in Madam LaLaurie's time, the slave quarters of the house. In these places, Madam LaLaurie kept many of her slaves chained and confined, in fact, she starved three of them to death. She kept her cook, a woman of over seventy years of age, chained to a wall in the kitchen so she could not escape. Madam LaLaurie had ten remaining household slaves and when it was over, only six of the ten survived her cruelty but most of these were harmed physically and mentally beyond any chance of normal life!
Madam LaLaurie was married to a prominent physician in New Orleans, Dr. Louis LaLaurie. They were an extremely wealthy couple, owning two plantations as well as the Royal Street town house. The only servant that Madam LaLaurie seemed to favor was her coachman and butler. He was stout, healthy and seemed to be very happy. The LaLaurie's threw extravagant dinner parties and soirees. She was reputed to be the finest hostess in all of the city...that is.
Until her tremendous cruelty and strong sadistic streak was witnessed by another woman of influence from her neighboring home when she saw Madam LaLaurie chase an eight year old little girl across the largest courtyard with a bull whip and continued to chase the child through the house until the little slave girl fled to the roof and then jumped to her death from the three stories, landing on the hard brick and stone floor of the courtyard. This incident reported to the city's officers of justice as cruelty to one's slaves was not tolerated by the city council or so it was reputed to be.
This same witness watched them bury that poor unfortunate child in an unused well at the back of the extensive property. Madam LaLaurie was promptly brought before the council on these charges and her slaves taken from her or the ones they could find at the time (as the others were still stashed away in the hidden chambers of the attic). The slaves were sold, but Madam LaLaurie was not allowed to buy them back. Yet, she was a devious woman who arranged to have other members of her family buy them and then sell them back to her! She knew that none of them must ever be allowed to tell of the horrors they had endured and seen.
Remember the old cook in the kitchen? Well, she set the kitchen on fire and subsequently, it began to burn the house. Having no real fire department in those days, everyone rushed in to work together to save the house and to stop the chances of it burning the others near it. Madam LaLaurie tried to get them to save her beautiful furniture and precious valuables but several men were determined that human life was more important than material things. They had free roam of the house now and they found the victims of Madam LaLaurie's atrocities.
The house was saved, the slaves saved or at least, freed, and what of Madam LaLaurie? Well, she fled in the night to Lake Ponchatrain and taking passage on a waiting schooner, she sailed across the lake to Mandeville where she eventually escaped the country and lost herself into obscurity in Europe. There was a enraged mob that pursued her carriage through the streets as she fled but were unable to stop her. Yet, when her co-conspirator and well kept and pampered coachman returned to the city, the crowd fell upon the carriage in a maddened frenzy of hate. They killed him, the team of fine horses, and tore Madam LaLaurie's carriage to shreds.
The house is now a B&B, famous for its reputed haunting by the souls of those tortured there by this vicious and inhumane woman. It is featured on the Haunted History tour offered here every evening among the other said "haunted houses and buildings" of the French Quarter. Just one more legend from New Orleans' strange past.