2. LaLaurie House
The following is excerpted in its entirety from Old New Orleans
THE HAUNTED HOUSE’ 1140 Royal Street
The three-story building at the southeast corner of Royal and Governor Nichols street, to some the most famous private residence in old New Orleans, gained its eerie title, ‘The Haunted House,’ from an oft-repeated tale in which spirits of tortured slaves clank their chains during the midnight hours in remembrance of awful punishment meted out to them by their mistress – a high-bred lady of old New Orleans who had been charged with finding an uncanny delight in dealing inhumanly with her slaves.
Like all such tales, the story has grown in ferocity through its countless retellings and the probabilities are that even the original story of over a century ago was a gross exaggeration. It now appears that the mistress of this home was the first victim of yellow journalism in this country and that she was far from being the ‘fiend’ tradition has labeled, or should we say, libeled her. The facts of this ‘strange true story’ are as follows:
The traditional tales of the Vieux Carre have it that this house was built in 1780 by two brothers, Jean and Henri de Remarie, and that such guests as Marshal Michel Ney, Napoleon’s famous commander; the duc d’Orleans, later, Louis Philippe, king of France; and the Marquis de Lafayette have slept in this mansion. But we are compelled to make the pertinent observations that Marshal Ney never came to Louisiana, that Louis Philippe was here in 1798, and that Lafayette visited New Orleans in 1825 – yet the ‘Haunted House’ was not built until 1832!
There are those who denounce historical accuracy when it destroys fallacious tradition … those who claim that a good story must never be sacrificed and crucified on the cross of truth. Much as one admires the colorful tradition of old New Orleans, our mission is to give a factual history of the landmarks of the Vieux Carre. So, to stick to fact, we must point out that the lots upon which the ‘Haunted House’ stands were purchased by Mme Louis Lalaurie, September 12, 1831, from Edmond Soniat du Fossat, and the house then built was not ready for occupancy until the spring of 1832. As it was part of the tract given the Ursuline nuns, this was the first, and only, house built on this particular site.
Mme Lalaurie was one of five children born to Louis Barthelemy Chevalier de Macarty and Marie Jeanne Lovable, two who stood high in the social life of old New Orleans. One of their daughters was christened Marie Delphine Macarty. She first married, on June 11, 1800, Don Ramon de Lopez y Angula, the ceremony being performed at the St. Louis Cathedral by Luis de Penalvery Cardenas, the first bishop of the diocese of Louisiana, and the marriage certificate was signed by the celebrated Fray Antonio de Sedella. The husband was described in this document as Caballero de la Royal de Carlos, Intendent of the Provinces, a native of the community of Regno,Galicia, Spain, and the legitimate son of his Lordship Don Jose Antonio de Lopez y Angula and Dona Ana Fernande de Angule, daughter of Dona Francisca Borja Endecis.
Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, on March 26, 1804, Delphine Macarty’s husband was recalled to the court of Spain, the letter carrying this royal command stating that the young Spanish officer was ‘to take his place at court as befitting his new position.’ At this time Don Ramon was consul general for Spain in this new American territory. While in Havana, en route to Madrid, Don Ramon suddenly died and a few days later his daughter was born in the Cuban city. This infant was baptized Marie Delphine Borja Lopez y Angula de Candelaria, but she became best known in later years as ‘Borquita,’ meaning ‘little Borja,’ from the fact that she was named after her father’s grandmother.
Left a widow, Delphine Macarty and her baby daughter returned to New Orleans. Four years later, in 1808, she again married, choosing for her husband a prominent banker, merchant, lawyer, and legislator named Jean Blanque, a native of Bearn who had come to Louisiana with Prefect Laussat in 1803. At the time of his marriage, June 16, 1808, Blanque purchased the residence at 409 Royal Street and in this home Delphine became the mother of four other children: Marie Louise Pauline, Louise Marie Laure, Marie Louise Jeanne, and Jean Pierre Paulin Blanque. In that stylish Royal Street home or in the ‘Villa Blanque,’ a charming country place fronting the Mississippi River just below the city limits, Delphine Macarty Blanque divided her time, both places frequented by the socially elect.
Jean Blanque died in 1816, and Delphine Macarty remained a widow until June 12, 1825, when she again married. Her third husband was Dr. Leonard Louis Nicolas Lalaurie, a native of Villeneuse-sur-Lot, France, who came to New Orleans to establish a practice. Borquita, the daughter by her mother’s first marriage, became the wife of Placide Forstall, member of a distinguished Louisiana family, and Jeanne Blanque married Charles Auguste de Lassus, only child of Don Carle de Lassus, former governor of Upper Louisiana, and later governor of the Baton Rouge post of West Florida when they were under Spanish rule.
The Lalaurie mansion was erected in 1832 and for the next two years was the scene of many fashionable affairs, for the Lalauries entertained on an elaborate plan. On the afternoon of April 10, 1834, an aged cook set fire to the house during the absence of her mistress. When neighbors rushed into the mansion to fight the fire and try to save the furniture and other valuables, slaves were found chained in their quarters. Although the fire was extinguished, the indignation of those who found the helpless slaves blazed high and a newspaper editor, Jerome Bayon of the Bee, published a heated account of the happening and quoted those who had investigated the Lalaurie slave quarters. This newspaper account roused public indignation to such a pitch that on April 15 a mob, led by irresponsibles, charged the house and began to wreck it. The rowdies were finally dispersed by a company of United States regulars who had been called out by a helpless sheriff.
During the excitement Madame Lalaurie and her husband took to their carriage and, with their faithful Creole black coachman Bastien on the box, swept through the howling, cursing rabble and, with the horses lashed to a the full gallop, made her way out of the city. It is supposed the carriage reached Bayou St. John where a lake craft was secured, for on April 21, 1834, the Lalauries were in Mandeville, across Lake Pontchartrain, at the home of Louis Coquillon. There Madame Lalaurie signed a power-of-attorney placing her son-in-law Placide Forstall in charge of her affairs, while her husband signed a similar document in favor of his wife’s other son-in-law, Auguste de Lassus. From Mandeville the Lalauries made their way to Mobile, where a ship took them to France.
Neither Delphine nor her husband ever returned to New Orleans. She remained in Paris, living there honored and respected in spite of the lurid tales that lived after her in New Orleans. Following her death on December 7, 1842, her body was secretly returned to New Orleans and buried in St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery.
The Lalaurie mansion was sold to various owners but the tale that it was ‘haunted’ and the midnight rendezvous for ghosts grew in the telling as only such stories can grow. The principal ‘ghost’ is, according to the most frequently quoted tale, that of a little girl slave who, to escape the whip of her mistress, climbed to the roof and jumped to her death into the courtyard below. Another tale, equally untrue, was that the mistress of the mansion buried all her victims in the courtyard well. The general impression that the place was haunted was sufficient to keep superstitious blacks from passing the house after nightfall.
In the days of Reconstruction following the Civil War, the old Lalaurie mansion became the Lower Girls’ School. During the government of the carpetbaggers, whites and blacks were taught in the same rooms until the formation of ‘The White League’ in 1874, when the white element marched on the house and expelled the black pupils. In the 1880’s the mansion became a conservatory of music. No matter who has lived in it since, or the manner of business that was carried on in the ground-floor stores, the name ‘haunted’ has clung to it in spite of the testimony of those inhabiting the place that ghosts have never disturbed their slumbers.
Tradition has it that the handsome entrance door ‘was hammered out of iron by the slaves Madame Lalaurie kept shackled to the anvil.’ This must be taken with several generous pinches of salt, for the doors is not of iron but wood and the decorations on it were not cared but put on by appliqué, a sort of plastic wood applied and formed as a sculptor would lay on modeling clay. These ornamentations show, in the lower oblong panel, Phoebus in his chariot, lashing his griffins. Scattered over the door are urns, flowers, trumpet-blowing angels, a beribboned lyre, an American eagle bearing on its breast the shield of the Union, leaves, scrolls, and whatnots – a marvelous example of some unknown craftsman’s art. To save the door from the knives of souvenir-hunters, one owner painted it a dingy brown-black.
George W. Cable’s Strange Stories of Louisiana, and Judge Henry C. Castellanos’ New Orleans As It Was, contain full accounts of the Lalaurie episode. My account, differing in many respects from those of these earlier writers, is based on recently found documents, notarial acts, and family documents.”
Delphine LaLaurie and her third husband, Leonard LaLaurie, took up residence in the house at 1140 Royal Street sometime in the 1830’s. The pair immediately became the darlings of the gay New Orleans social scene that at the time was experiencing the birth of ragtime, the slave dances and rituals of Congo Square, the reign of the Mighty Marie Laveau, and the advent of the bittersweet Creole Balls. Madame LaLaurie hosted fantastic events in her beautiful home that were talked about months afterward. She was described as sweet and endearing in her ways, and her husband was nothing if not highly respected within the community.
At the same time, it is said, Madame’s friendship with infamous Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, began to grow. Laveau lived not far from LaLaurie’s Royal Street home and the two women became acquainted when Laveau did Madame’s hair occasionally. It is said that under Laveau’s tutelage, Madame LaLaurie began to act upon her latent interest in the occult, learning the secrets of voodoo and witchcraft at the hands of a might mistress of the craft.
There are reported incidents of people seeing, feeling and hearing the ghosts of tormented slaves in the LaLaurie home, and there are even reports of the Madame herself being seen there. The docile house servants who entreated the assistance of outsiders when the house was about to burn to the ground are said to often return to their task – running and slamming doors and shouts are heard repeatedly. Nor are the spirits of the restless dead quiet: the reports of moans and weeping outnumber all others. Furniture moves about by itself, people feel the touch of unseen hands, and there are several who have seen the ghostly faces of the dead peering from the upper windows and the chamber of horrors that became the crucible of their miserable lives.
New Orleans is one of the oldest and most multi-faceted cities in the United States, and there are other tales, similar to those of the LaLaurie home that, sadly, have made their way into our history. But the gruesome horror of this particular event was so ghastly that it stains the city’s memory to this very day.