Delphine LaLaurie Crucible of Horror on Royal
House, located at 1140 Royal Street. There
is, indeed, a long and grim history associated
with the house, and it is all traced back
to Madame Delphine LaLaurie. It has been called
the "Most Haunted House in New Orleans"
by many locals and tourist alike.
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.
Like all well-established members of society,
the LaLaurie's kept a brace of slaves to
help run their Royal Street home. Early
on, there was nothing unusual about Madame's
relationship with her slaves, although they
all seemed to hold her in nervous regard.
But eventually, whispers began to spread
through the lower Quarter of the Madame's
double life and of her growing abuse of
those indentured to working under her roof.
The whispers grew louder and louder, among
the Negroes and the Free People of Color
and were passed ear to ear throughout the
tight-knit domestic community of the Old
Quarter. But New Orleans socialites turned
a deaf ear to what they considered "nonsense"
and “superstition”-- until the
day Madame LaLaurie was seen chasing a young
slave girl through the house and to her
ultimate death on the cobblestone courtyard,
three stories below.
The death, deemed an accident, and Madame
deemed perfectly within her right to exact
discipline on her property, nonetheless
set off a chain of events that would assure
Madame LaLaurie an eternal place in infamy.
It is said that, angered at the needless
and awful death of the young slave girl,
one of the older kitchen women deliberately
set fire to the house. The flames had nearly
engulfed most of the lower stories of the
house by the time the fire brigade arrived
on the scene. The kitchen woman, it is said,
ran out to the fire brigade and, hollering
something about the "poor souls"
in the attic, led those who followed to
the top of the burning house.
There are actual accounts, with notarized
signatures of at least three witnesses of
high standing, of the gruesome and horrible
sights found in the dark and smoky attic
that day. Dead and half-dead slaves, men,
women, and children, were found in various
stages of torment and pain -- chained to
the walls by shackles on their hands and
feet, some lying prone, others forced to
stand in crudely constructed wooden stocks,
they had been subjected to unimaginable
acts of morbid atrocity. Eyes gouged out;
tongues hacked off and in some instances
crudely re-attached; mouths and eyes sewn
shut altogether; noses and ears sheared
off; bones broken and reset in horrible,
twisted manners; genitals mutilated -- these
were just some of the horrible sights that
met the eyes of the fire rescuers and witnessed
by ordinary citizens. Most of the slaves
thus confined were already dead from torment
or smoke inhalation; the others would not
last long beyond this day of liberation.
The City was in an uproar. There were cries
of vengeance against the Bitch LaLaurie;
they wanted her blood; they wanted her skin.
And Madame knew it.
So, with the mob forming hot upon her heels,
she escaped Royal Street and the French
Quarter in her carriage, the horses dragging
it madly away toward the swamps and Bayous
south and east of the Quarter itself.
It is said Madame LaLaurie stopped and
took refuge at the Pilot House (still standing)
located on the shores of Bayou St. John,
and that later she boarded a merchant schooner
and escaped under cover of darkness. Where
is still a matter of some debate. Though
many hold that she escaped altogether to
France (and a grave plaque found in St.
Louis Cemetery No. 1 only two years ago
seems to support this theory), others insist
she escaped to the North shore of Lake Pontchartrain,
and lived in secret for a time at Claiborne
Cottage in what is now Old Covington. Still
other accounts have her escaping to Lacombe,
Louisiana, also on the North shore, where
she is said to have reclaimed some of her
wealth and station -- and more than a little
of her old habits.
Dwelling deep in the verdant darkness of
the piney North shore woods, it is said
Madame’s anger at those who had stripped
her of her previous life festered and grew
along with her interest in the dark arts
learned at Marie Laveau’s hand. Soon
tales began to spread through the rural
community of the “witch woman,”
the “devil’s wife,” living
among them and whose strange rituals filled
the dark woods with fire and smoke and otherworldly
chanting. An atmosphere of dread pervaded
the little community and there were whispered
stories of animal sacrifices and torture,
of curses falling upon land and livestock,
of children falling sick and wasting away,
and soon the name of Madame Delphine LaLaurie
began to be uttered again with fear and
But those who are not fearful of the dark
craft often become enamored of it, and Madame
was said to have capitalized upon the superstitions
of the rural minds to build her following.
It is rumored that her dark legacy lives
on to this day and there are still numerous
reports of midnight ritual fires along the
shores of Lake Pontchartrain or in the deep
woods adjacent to the St. Tammany Trace.
When the subject is raised of a satanic
cult still thriving in the area, some modern
day residents of the now burgeoning town
of Lacombe will wag their heads in a resigned
“yes” - though few will talk
openly about it.
This is the legacy of Madame
Delphine LaLaurie, who dabbled in great mysteries
and got a taste for blood that was never sated,
as long as she lived. Some say, in fact, that
she has never died, having paid for eternal
life with generations of blood sacrifices.
As for the home on Royal Street, it was
restored and renovated many times over the
intervening years, passing through the hands
of many a land-loaded New Orleanian. But
an odd footnote is that no one and nothing
has ever thrived at that location for very
long. Since being abandoned by the LaLaurie’s
on that fateful day long ago, it has housed
single families, schools, clothing shops,
and even a government freedman’s bureau,
but none stayed established there for very
long. In the 20th century it was converted
to a collection of studios and small apartments
and as I write this, a new wave of interior
renovations is underway. But the tales keep
Madam Delphine Lalaurie
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,
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
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
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