Today we’re celebrating sweet Miss Harper Lee’s 11th birthday. Seven years ago (with a little help from her human mommy/blogging assistant), Harper Lee posted her first ever birthday blog. More birthday blogs followed in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Life got busy, as it sometimes does, and Harper Lee’s blogging assistant failed to share our celebration of Miss Lee’s 10th birthday in 2019. Rest assured, we had a fabulous time . . . including a weekend in the New Orleans French Quarter complete with a stay at the Ritz Carlton, where Miss Lee was quite the sensation.
While most ladies of a certain age might choose to slow down a bit, Harper Lee hit the road to her 11th birthday with a busy Visiting Pet Program (VPP) assisted therapy dog schedule. As a member of the MSY K9 KREWE, she brought smiles to travelers, employees, and flight crews at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
Through VPP’s Reading to Rover program, Harper Lee helped children at a local library learn to love books and reading and Golden Retrievers.
And once a month she shared her love with residents and staff at an area nursing home and patients, families, and staff at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. In June 2019, Harper Lee earned her AKC Therapy Dog and Canine Good Citizen titles and officially became Denham’s Harper Lee THD CGC.
Miss Lee even made an appearance on the Smoothie King Center big screen (lower right) before a New Orleans Pelicans basketball game. It was a busy year for our girl, so on December 31, 2019, she officially retired from therapy dog life. She’s spent the last few months enjoying her Golden years with leisurely neighborhood strolls, long naps on the lovely bed that the airport gave her as a retirement gift, and basically doing what she wants to so when she wants to do it.
With all of the ups, Harper Lee’s road to her 11th birthday also came with a few bumps. She’s battled some skin allergies and, much to her disgust, has had to endure fairly routine baths. On the bright side, she now gets to eat alligator kibble. Miss Lee highly recommends alligator kibble. She’s also had some pretty challenging UTI and bladder issues, but a battery of tests at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine indicates that little Miss Harper Lee is, overall, in fairly tremendous shape.
So today we celebrate the past 11 years of life with Harper Lee and we set out on the road to her 12th birthday celebration. The events around the world over the last few months have reinforced one certainty: Nothing is ever certain. We’ll cherish each and every moment along the way, and we will be forever grateful to all of you for joining.
Miss Harper Lee’s Family
Happy Halloween! It’s time for the last–and most terrifying–stop on our tour of New Orleans haunted places. I don’t know about you, but my nerves are still rattled from the Sultan’s Palace . . . and frankly I could use a little liquid courage before heading to our final destination . . . so let’s take a slight detour to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is right behind me.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop was built between 1722 and 1732. The building, one of the oldest in New Orleans, served as a base of operations for the famous pirate Jean Lafitte in the early 1800s. Today it’s home to a popular Bourbon Street bar. It’s also home to its fair share of ghost stories. Although more than 200 years have passed since Jean Lafitte did business here, his presence is still felt and seen throughout the bar. Look closely at the fireplace in the main room and you just might see Lafitte’s menacing red eyes staring back at you through the grate. The faint scent of cigar smoke fills an area of the piano bar, and a ghostly figure resembling Lafitte with a drink in one hand occupies a corner table. And ladies, you might not be alone when you visit the powder room. The famous pirate, quite the womanizer in his time, has been spotted in the women’s restroom. Careful when you climb the stairs to the second floor of the bar. The face of a woman appears from time to time in a mirror hanging on one wall. It might be the ghost of famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Or it could be the evil spirit of the infamous Delphine Lalaurie, which brings us to our final frightening stop.
Madame Lalaurie has been called the Mistress of Death. She and her third husband (she was twice widowed) lived in this grand French Quarter mansion in the early 1800s. Those lucky enough to be invited to the couple’s lavish gatherings marveled at the home’s opulent interior and the gracious welcome they felt from the lady of the house. But there was another far less genteel side to the house and the hostess. That horrible reality was revealed in 1834 when a fire erupted in the kitchen of the Lalaurie house and quickly spread. No one could have imagined the atrocities that firemen found when they entered the home. Delphine Lalaurie had been gruesomely torturing her slaves. A seventy-year-old cook was found chained by the ankle to the oven. She confessed to starting the fire as a suicide attempt because she feared being taken to the third floor. She said anyone taken there never came back. That’s where the firemen found more than a dozen slaves, male and female, locked behind a barred door. Some were chained to the wall; some were strapped to makeshift hospital beds; some were confined to cages. All had been horrible tortured. Many were mutilated.
Word quickly spread of the evil that had occurred in the middle of the French Quarter and an angry mob assembled in front of the house. A carriage sped out the gates and through the crowd. The Lalaurie family was never seen again. Some say they fled to France. Others say they escaped to the woods north of New Orleans along Lake Pontchartrain. The Mistress of Death might have left her mansion, but the ghosts of her victims remained. The building went through a series of owners and tenants who were haunted by groans, cries, and screams of agony. The Lalaurie house and its mistress have recently experienced a bit of Hollywood-related hype. Actor Nicolas Cage purchased the Lalaurie house in 2007 and lost it in foreclosure on November 13, 2009. And the actress Kathy Bates played a character based on Delphine Lalaurie in the 2013 television series American Horror Story: Coven, which was filmed in New Orleans.
MISS HARPER LEE’S HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS TOUR
Thanks for joining me on my haunted New Orleans tour. If you missed any of our stops, you can click on the links below.
Stop 4: Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop & the Lalaurie House
On the previous stop of our New Orleans haunted places tour, we met a couple of friendly ghosts just keeping an eye on things at Arnaud’s Restaurant. Well today, friends, the tour gets spookier . . . a lot spookier. That building behind me is the Gardette-LaPrete House, also known as the Sultan’s Palace. Originally built in 1836 in the Greek Revival style, the structure was purchased in 1839 by John Baptiste LaPrete, a wealthy plantation owner who planned to use the French Quarter residence as a town home. LaPrete made the lacy wrought-iron additions to the building and sought a renter to occupy the home when he wasn’t using it. And that’s where our story takes a decidedly macabre turn.
A young man from Turkey, said to be a sultan’s brother, soon became LaPrete’s tenant. He was joined by an entourage of beautiful women and eunuch servants. Before long, the lavish parties started. Neighbors heard exotic music from within and smelled incense escaping from the doors and windows. Rumors began to circulate: Was the young Turk conducting opiate orgies inside of the home? Was he grabbing beautiful women from the French Quarter’s streets and torturing them into submission before adding them to his harem? One night the music stopped, and a neighbor passing by the next morning made a gruesome discovery. Blood was trickling out from beneath a door, down the steps, and onto the sidewalk. When the police entered the building, they were met with a horrible scene. Body parts littered the home. Blood was splattered everywhere. There were no survivors. But where was the Turk? Eventually the police discovered his badly injured body buried in the courtyard. They suspected that he had been buried alive.
The crime, certainly one of the most horrendous in the city’s history, remains unsolved. Some people at the time suspected that pirates had attacked the partiers. Others speculated that the Turk and his entourage had been murdered by emissaries of his Sultan brother, who was either angered that his brother had stolen his harem as he left for America or was intent on executing all of his male relatives in an attempt to secure the sultanate. We may never know . . . unless one of the ghosts that still haunts the Sultan’s Mansion decides to speak. To this day, passersby hear mysterious music drifting from the home. They smell the faint essence of incense. They hear blood curdling screams. And they see the figure of a man sitting in a window, perhaps trying to tell the people below what happened on that horrible night.
MISS HARPER LEE’S HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS TOUR
Stop 3: The Sultan’s Palace
more to some
Would you like to spend the month of April touring New Orleans from A to Z? As part of the A to Z Challenge, I’m going to take you from one end of my beautiful hometown to the other. We’ll see parks, shops, restaurants, and more. Ready to get started? Let’s go! Our A to Z tour of New Orleans begins with Armstrong Park, located in the city’s Treme neighborhood, just across Rampart Street from the famous French Quarter.
The 31-acre park is named for New Orleans musician Louis Armstrong and celebrates the city’s music and cultural heritage.
The site includes historic Congo Square, where slaves gathered during the 1700s and 1800s on Sunday–their day off–to sell goods, sing, dance, and play music.
There’s a statue of the late Allison “Big Chef Tootie” Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian tribe. The Mardi Gras Indians trace their roots back to the days when American Indians aided runaway slaves. They showcase their unique music and spectacular beaded and feathered costumes at events like Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and Super Sunday (the Sunday after Saint Joseph’s Day).
The park’s New Orleans Municipal Auditorium once hosted Mardi Gras balls, professional basketball teams, and gambling. Closed since sustaining damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the auditorium has seen the start of restoration efforts, but a date for reopening is still uncertain.
The Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts, named for New Orleans native and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, also sustained flood damage following Hurricane Katrina but reopened in 2009 after extensive repairs and upgrades. Today it is home to the New Orleans Ballet Association, the New Orleans Opera Association, and Broadway Across America.
Armstrong Park is a lovely spot to sit beneath the beautiful live oak trees . . .
. . . or watch the ducks glide across the pond. On your next trip to the Crescent City, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter and enjoy the history and peace and quiet of one of the city’s prettiest parks.
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Please click here for a link to the challenge homepage and a list of the bloggers who are participating.
A quick note from Harper Lee’s mommy/blogging assistant: The possibility of starting–let alone finishing–the A to Z Challenge looked a little bleak yesterday. But I am happy to report that the computer geniuses with the Geek Squad came through in a big way and repaired my computer in record time. So we are back on track and ready to take you through New Orleans from A to Z. By the way, that’s our city flag that you see behind Miss Harper Lee.