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A Pimm's Cup with the Emperor- New Orleans' Napoleon House

Updated on June 20, 2013

Mayor Nicholas Girod Extends Napoleon an Invite

Although he was only mayor from 1812-1815, Nicholas Girod was the consummate politician. He built this lavish building- at the time one of the largest and finest in the city- while in office, and held court from within until his death in 1837.

He was one of the heros of the last battle of the war of 1812, fought outside the city in 1815. That war cemented American Independence by repelling the British once and for all. Girod, however, was a Frenchman to his core. He didn't fight so much for the Americans as he did against the hated Brits.

So in 1821, when Napoleon was sent into exile on St. Helena, he was outraged. At a lavish dinner party in the house, he boldly announced that he was going to mount a rescue. Ships would be sent to break the Emperor free, and upon his arrival in New Orleans, Girod would offer up his own house for Napoleon's comfort.

There was much good natured cheering, and from that moment on, the Girod house became known as the Napoleon house.

The Best Laid Plans of Mayors and Dictators...

Girod and several other city bigwigs paid for the ship "Serafina" to be built for the overseas voyage.

Thanks to their help in the war, Jean Lafitte and his brother Dominque You were again considered upstanding citizens, and You was tapped to captain the voyage.

Unfortunately, before the rescuers could arrive the Emperor died of either stomach cancer or arsenic poisoning- the symptoms were identical.

Regardless, New Orleans was still a very French city and the men were heroes just for the attempt.

Inside the Napoleon House
Inside the Napoleon House
A waiter sneaks a smoke on the balcony where the ghost of a Civil War soldier is seen.
A waiter sneaks a smoke on the balcony where the ghost of a Civil War soldier is seen.

The House in Decline

At some point, Mayor Girod moved around the corner to another property he owned, and the building started to decay. Cut into shops on the ground floor with apartments above, the quality of clientele declined along with the condition of the house.

In the late 1800s the Sicilian branch of the Mafia known as the Black Hand was very active in the city, and a large group operated out of the top floors, becoming involved in the killing of the police chief and the race riots that followed.

That infamy didn't help the house's reputation, and it was sold several times, the apartments being advertised as "negro housing."

In 1914 the Impastato bought it and began making changes, turning the ground floor into a bar that has become a classic in the city, known for its version of the Pimm's Cup cocktail and muffaletta.

A short tour

Ghostly tenants?

The Napoleon House is said to be occupied by four different spirits:

  1. Mayor Girod goes on hosting his lavish dinner parties
  2. Although Napoleon Bonaparte never stepped foot on Louisiana soil in life, he has apparently decided to hold a postmortem inspection, wandering the halls and looking closely at some of his memorabilia that decorates the building.
  3. A black woman, likely a slave, who supervises everything going on in the courtyard. She appears to be what was called a "Mammy," a sort of nanny/caretaker, and apparently still takes her job very seriously. She is the only ghost who interacts with the living.
  4. A uniformed Civil War soldier who paces the second floor balcony.

Source

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