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American Ghost Stories Part I: New Orlean's LaLaurie Mansion
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American Ghost Stories Part I: Madame LaLaurie
Several years ago I was in New Orleans and was lucky enough to enjoy one of their many ghost tours. My tour was led by a very gothic, vampire looking man, dressed in black with a white puffy shirt and black, red-lined cape. He was wearing a top hat and his eyes were deep-set and piercing against his craggy face. He made the perfect guide for one of the city’s most haunted tours. Our group was led on foot, past some of New Orlean’s creepiest places, those said to be haunted by the restless spirits of ages past. One place that stands out in my mind even today, is the strange and evil LaLaurie mansion.
The mistress of the mansion, Delphine LaLaurie, was the most beautiful, influential woman in New Orleans in the 1800’s. She was a white Creole woman whose mother was killed during a slave uprising while Delphine was very young. After being widowed twice, Delphine married a prominent physician, Dr. Louis LaLaurie. Together, the couple turned their Royal Street mansion into the most celebrated social venue in the city, throwing extravagant parties and dances. Their furnishings and fixtures were of the most expensive imported materials and, as was customary for the upper crust at that time, they owned several slaves.
It was the horrific treatment of these slaves that earned Madame LaLaurie her unspeakable reputation and ultimately led her and her family to abandon the mansion and flee the country.
The evil side of Madame LaLaurie was revealed one fateful night when a neighbor heard a scream coming from the mansion. Peering through a window, she saw the Madame chasing her personal servant, a young slave girl, through the house with a whip. The girl had reportedly been brushing the Madame’s hair when she hit a snarl, sending Madame into a rage. Fearing one of the Madame’s severe punishments, the girl ran out onto a balcony and leapt to her death. Shortly thereafter, the Madame had the slave girl buried outside in her private courtyard. Police were summoned by a neighbor to investigate. As a result of the investigation and litigation, the LaLauries were required to sell all their slaves at auction, but Madame convinced friends and family to purchase the slaves and sell them back to her.
American Ghost Stories II
Then, on April 10, 1834, during one of the LaLaurie’s lavish parties, a large fire broke out in the kitchen. The fire brigade was summoned and when they arrived, found two of the LaLaurie’s slaves chained to the stove. It was likely that the slaves themselves set the fire in an attempt to be rescued from the abusive Madame. Upon being discovered by the firemen, slaves told of private quarters in which other slaves were being kept chained to the floor. When slaves and firemen broke into the quarters they did indeed find men and women chained to the walls and floors. They were allegedly in such unimaginable conditions, that those who had survived the Madame’s torture actually cried out to be killed, as they could no longer endure their pain and misery. There was never evidence to support that Dr. LaLaurie participated in the abuse and torture of slaves, only that he was complicit in his wife’s actions.
These actions included allegations of unthinkable medical experiments such as cutting off arms and legs and sewing them on backwards, creating human crabs. Other allegations included the evisceration of slaves, whose intestines were then nailed to the floor, and those that had animal feces stuffed into their mouths and them had them sewn shut. It is likely that the allegations circulated as urban legend, and there is wide debate about the validity of these claims. What is not in dispute is the fact that Madame LaLaurie had become the most cruel and vilified woman in New Orlean’s history.
The morning after firemen discovered the gruesome scene in the mansion’s hidden rooms, a crowd gathered in the courtyard outside, calling for revenge. It was then that the LaLaurie family escaped by crashing through their gates and into the darkness in a horse drawn carriage. Rumor has it that they escaped to France, where Madame lived out her days, dying in December of 1842, yet many think that in fact, Madame never left the states and there is even a claim that a caretaker at a cemetery in New Orleans discovered her grave, complete with her name, date of birth and date of death.
The tours that stop in front of the LaLaurie mansion are not only told of the horrors that happened there under the LaLaurie’s ownership, but are also told about the hauntings that have occurred there since. The mansion has had several owners and served several purposes since that fateful fire in 1834, but restless spirits, inexplicable moans, screams and the clanking of invisible chains have driven subsequent owners out of the mansion or mad. One of the most common sightings is that of a young girl running across the roof of the mansion much like the slave girl that jumped to her death in 1832. Others report seeing the Madame chasing slaves through the mansion with her whip. Other owners claim to have found butchered animals in the home and one black manservant claims to have been strangled nearly to death by the ghost of Madame.
The actual truths of what happened in the mansion during the LaLaurie’s residence will never be known, but what is true is that this mansion is one of the most haunted places in America.
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© 2010 Jaynie2000