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.
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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.
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Stop 3: The Sultan’s Palace
more to some
It’s been a while since we started our tour of haunted New Orleans. I hope you weren’t afraid that the ghost of General Benjamin “The Beast” Butler grabbed me when we were outside of Gallier Hall. No worries. I’m perfectly safe and ready to show you more of my hometown’s spookiest spots. Today’s ghostly haunt is Arnaud’s Restaurant, one of the grande dames of New Orleans fine Creole dining. The French Quarter restaurant opened in 1918 under the leadership of Arnaud Cazenave, a French wine merchant. Cazenave earned the entirely ceremonial title of “Count Arnaud” thanks in part to his flamboyant reign over his restaurant’s dining room. After Count Arnaud died, his daughter Germaine Cazenave Wells headed the restaurant until 1978 when it was sold to its current owners, the Casbarian family.
While Count Arnaud and his daughter are long gone from this Earth, they seem a little reluctant to leave their beautiful restaurant. Staff throughout the years have reported seeing a dapper tuxedo-clad gentleman in the corner of the dining room. The apparition resembles Count Arnaud, supervising the comings and going of the restaurant he started almost 100 years ago. Fortunately, the ghostly man is always smiling . . . a clear indication that he approves of the kitchen’s precise preparation and the wait staff’s splendid service.
And it seems that Germaine likes to join her father at Arnaud’s. Patrons have seen a woman in a hat exiting the ladies’ room. She crosses the hall and disappears into a wall where a staircase once stood. Perhaps it’s Germaine Cazenave Wells ascending the stairs she remembers to visit the restaurant’s Mardi Gras museum, which was established in her honor in the 1980s. The misty figure of a woman appears from time to time among the museum’s gorgeous ball gowns, many of which were worn by Germaine during the carnival season. Could it be Count Arnaud’s daughter checking on her gowns and recalling her days of revelry? I’ll let you decide.
MISS HARPER LEE’S HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS TOUR
Stop 2: Arnaud’s Restaurant
more to come
Throughout October, I’m going to take you on a spooky tour of some of the most haunted spots in New Orleans. It’s fitting that we should begin our tour in front of a building that served as New Orleans’ city hall from the 1850s to the 1950s. Gallier Hall is named for its architect, James Gallier. The building’s construction began in 1846, but money ran out just after the basement was completed. A roof was placed over the basement and the police department occupied the unfinished building while additional funds were raised. The building was finally completed and dedicated in 1853. Today Gallier Hall opens its doors to special events like weddings, corporate meetings, and Mardi Gras festivities. It’s also said to host its share of ghosts.
During the Civil War occupation of New Orleans, Gallier Hall was used as a Federal headquarters. General Benjamin “The Beast” Butler, who commanded the force that captured New Orleans, served as the city’s administrator for the Union. He was one of the most disliked generals of the war, on both sides of the conflict. While commanding the city of New Orleans, he issued Order 28. The order, which drew criticism from the North and the South, stated that any New Orleans lady who showed contempt for a Union soldier would be treated as if she were a prostitute. Few women were arrested for violating the law (although one, accused of laughing when a Union soldier’s funeral procession passed her home, was confined to Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi for more than two months). Still, the law earned Butler the nickname “The Beast.” He was soon relieved of his New Orleans command, but some say that he still watches over the city from the front steps of Gallier Hall.
The ghost of “The Beast” isn’t alone at Gallier Hall. There are reports of another ghost who appears only during the annual Bacchus Mardi Gras parade. Parade goers in front of Gallier Hall have been known to run to police screaming that they have just witnessed a stabbing. When police investigate, they find no sign of a crime. Perhaps the frightened revelers have seen the ghost of a young man who was attacked and brutally stabbed in 1972 just steps from Gallier Hall. If you find yourself in front of Gallier Hall one day watching the Bacchus parade, remember . . . you’ve been warned.
And now for a little footnote on my human daddy’s company Pet Supermodel Contest. My sister and I finished fourth and sixth, just out of medal contention. I had a firm grip on third place going into the final hours, but out of nowhere a cute little black lab blew right past me. We didn’t even win for best bling. My little sister, Tallulah Bee, and I cannot begin to thank each and every one of you enough for your support throughout the contest. You voted (and voted and voted again and again and again) and shared the fun through tweets and Facebook posts. Most importantly, you gave us so many words of encouragement. We may not have won the contest, but Tallulah Bee and I have the best friends in the world . . . and that’s way better than being a supermodel.