1. The Lalaurie Ghosts
Royal Street, or Rue Royale as it was originally called, was one of the most elegant streets in the Quarter. In 1834 one house on Rue Royale belonged to Delphine Lalaurie, the highly cultured socialite wife of Dr. Louis Lalaurie. Delphine was by all accounts a gracious and beautiful hostess. Her stylish balls and sophisticated dinner parties were the talk of antebellum Nouvelle Orleans. Furthermore, she was known for her charity work for the poor and the sick.
However, Delphine had a dark side to her personality. She routinely starved and brutalized her slaves, whipping and torturing them. Furthermore, her staid physician husband committed ghoulish, experimental medical procedures on some slaves.
The Lalauries were able to conceal their evil side from the public, although once Delphine had been fined for the "accidental" death of a slave -- a girl who fell off the rooftop while running in terror from her mistress. And upon one occasion a neighbor would complain of strange sounds coming from the house including screams in the night.
However, one day the Lalauries' hidden chamber of horrors was permanently revealed. A kitchen fire broke out at Maison Lalaurie, perhaps started deliberately by a slave as a call for help; when the fire patrol and some neighbors came to the rescue, they discovered more than fire. They found a hidden room or secret laboratory on the third floor where several unfortunate slaves were misused for bizarre "medical" procedures. It was a true chamber of horrors. The authorities discovered some slaves dead. Other slaves had been badly mutilated and intentionally deformed. In some cases the victims had suffered the deliberate and totally unnecessary amputation of limbs. Body parts and human organs were in disarray about the room, while some slaves were found still chained to the wall. The scene was horrific, grotesque.
The firemen called the police who secured the area, taking the enslaved victims to the hospital.When the neighbors learned of the debauchery, they became enraged and demanded justice for these hideous crimes. The local newspapers reported the terrible facts to a disbelieving city. However, Dr. and Madam Lalaurie escaped from the angry mob of citizens which had formed around the house when news of the torture chamber spread. The Lalauries disappeared -- although some Madam Lalaurie sightings appeared on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain as well as in the city, and as far away as New York and even France. But the Lalauries were never brought to justice. And the once gracious Maison Lalaurie deteriorated, becoming a haunted house.
Then the ghosts began to appear. Neighbors heard shrieks at night coming from the run-down house and some claimed to see apparitions. Visions of tortured slaves appeared on the balconies; some people claimed to see a white woman, perhaps Madam Lalaurie herself, with a whip in hand. Others claimed to have seen the ghost of the girl slave who had died after running from Delphine.
Over the decades other horrible apparitions were reported -- butchered animals and visions of tormented slaves in chains. No one has been able to prove or disprove the validity of these sightings. Although one thing is certain: Evil did once dwell on the Rue Royale in the House of Lalaurie.
2. The Beauregard House and the Spirits of Shiloh
Pierre Gustave Toutant (P. G. T.) Beauregard was the most famous Civil War soldier from New Orleans. He had a residence in the city and a plantation outside of town. He very briefly had been the commandant of West Point before the war, and during the war served the Confederacy with great distinction. He fired the first shots at Fort Sumter. He helped win the great Southern victory at First Manassas (First Bull Run); and later in the war he conducted a brilliant defense at Petersburg in Virginia, supporting General Robert E. Lee.
But one particular battle always haunted General Beauregard. This was the terrible two day battle of Shiloh, the first major engagement in the West. Thousands of men on each side died in that struggle where some of the war's greatest commanders fought, in addition to Beauregard -- Albert Sidney Johnston (who was slain there), Nathan Bedford Forrest, William T. Sherman, and Ulysses S. Grant.
On the first day the Confederates under Albert Sidney Johnston surprised the Yankees driving them back to Pittsburgh landing on the Tennessee River. General Beauregard acted bravely, helping to bring the Rebels to the gates of victory. But then General Johnston fell to Union fire and died on the field. The command passed to Beauregard who saw the long first day of battle end and anticipated the coming morn when he hoped to finish the foe. But that was not to be. Another entire Union army appeared under General Buell and came to Grant's relief. Beauregard was now outnumbered and could only defend and eventually withdraw. On the field lay thousands dead -- 23,000 casualties in all. The severe loss of life on the blood-soaked field would, according to legend, make its way back to New Orleans.
Over the years there were those who claimed to have seen the ghosts of Confederate soldiers roaming the halls of the Beauregard house on Chartres Street. Apparitions of the battlefield also appeared. Among other things, some say they witnessed wounded men and horses and cannon and rifle fire. Most startling of all, some people claimed to have seen the very ghost of General P. G. T. Beauregard himself. He was seen dressed in Rebel grey, sadly whispering the haunting word -- Shiloh. Shiloh means "Place of Peace."
When I recently walked past the Beauregard-Keyes House, as it is now called, I was still impressed with the dignity and elegance of the old house on Chartres St., which is registered as a National Historical location. Directly across the street from the Beauregard House is another spiritual location, the Old Ursuline Convent, one of the oldest buildings in the Mississippi Valley. The building, the oldest left in the city, was the home of the French Ursuline nuns; and later it became the seat of the Archdiocese as well. St. Louis Cathedral is also on Chartres St. -- a spiritual street to be sure.
3. Mystical Father Dagobert
In 1768 the French residents of Nouvelle Orleans successfully rebelled against the new Spanish regime which had taken over under the Treaty of Fountainebleau. Many of the French rebels were among the city's elite and regularly attended mass at the old Church of Saint Louis, today called the Saint Louis Cathedral -- the oldest and most famous church in town.
The pastor at St. Louis church was a Capuchin, Pere Dagobert, a fun-loving yet pious man, well-loved by his parishioners. The priest loved good food, drink, church hymns, and life itself.
However, in 1769 the Spanish monarch sent in a new, ruthless governor, an Irish mercenary named Don Alejandro O'Reilly, or as he was later called "Bloody O'Reilly."
The new governor had many warships and Spanish soldiers; he quickly suppressed the pro-French revolt. O'Reilly ordered the execution of several of the French rebel leaders, and also disallowed their burial -- a serious violation of Catholic tradition.
One night, however, Father Dagobert, in defiance of the Spanish governor and with the aid of two other priests, performed a religious service for the dead patriots at the Church of St. Louis. Then the bodies were properly laid to rest in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. The funeral was held at night in a pounding New Orleans rain.
According to legend, the disembodied voice of Father Dagobert could be heard at night during a strong rain near the St. Louis Cemetery and the St. Louis Cathedral. It was also claimed that the priest's ghost appeared singing hymns down the aisles. Whatever the case the saintly priest lived on in spirit as a heroic religious leader who once protected the dignity of the dead.
I have visited the St. Louis Cathedral many times and can attest to the beauty and wonder of the spot. The entire area is majestic and mystical, especially at night, with Jackson Square (Place d'Armes), the Cabildo (the old seat of government, now a museum), the Presbytere (the sister building of the Cabildo on the other side of the Cathedral), and even the two alleys alongside the old church, Pere Antoine and Pirates' Alley, named for Jean Lafitte and his Baratarians. It is no accident that the ghost of this fun-loving holy man would be seen in this area now filled with sidewalk artists painting portraits and small, charming cafes. The Cathedral and Jackson Square are the very heart and soul of Old New Orleans.
4. The Spooky Sultan
A Turkish Sultan supposedly once stayed at a home on Rue Duaphine in the late 1800s; he was actually in flight from his homeland, fleeing from his disgruntled brother who was then the ruler of Turkey (also known as the Sultan). The visitor had fled throughout Europe, but finally felt he had found safety in New Orleans. Staying at this vacated home of a distinguished Creole businessman, the Sultan lived an opulent lifestyle complete with Oriental surroundings which he installed, servants, and his personal harem. Also at the house was his brother's wife, whom he had stolen, and some of his wealth, possibly in jewels or in other property. It was a lavish and decadent scene which was to last but a few months.
According to legend, one day a terrible storm arose; and on that day a strange ship appeared at the port of New Orleans. It stayed one day, then left. At this time, neighbors of the Sultan discovered the house to be unseemly quiet with the large gate to the courtyard opened. Some brave neighbors entered the house and discovered a scene of destruction.
They found dead servants and five harem girls with their heads chopped off. The Sultan too had been murdered, and his body was buried in the garden. Upon his grave was a sign proclaiming him to be a traitor.
No one knows who killed the people in the Sultan's house; most likely the killers were assassins sent by the ruler of Turkey for revenge.
Many years later the old house fell into disuse, and the the tales of ghosts surfaced. A subsequent resident there fell to her death from the balcony; many claimed she was pushed by a ghost. Superstitions grew as well. For example, it was believed that anybody who sat on the front steps of the house would have bad luck.
People claimed to hear strange, Asiatic music coming from the house, as well as screams and the sounds of footsteps -- all this when no one was present in the house. Some claimed to have seen the ghost of a man adorned in flowing Oriental robes; perhaps this was an apparition of the slain Sultan himself.
5. The Naked Ghost
From antebellum days, there is the story of an enslaved woman of mixed blood who wanted to be married to her master, a Creole aristocrat. He was opposed to this; but he said to her if should could spend a night naked on the rooftop of his home on Rue Royale on a cold December evening, he would marry her. Because it is usually cold and damp in the city in December, he felt this was an impossibility and that she would not even seriously attempt it.
One night the master had a friend over to play a game of chess. They passed the evening conversing and drinking absinthe (a popular and dangerous beverage of the period) and brandy; then they continued to play chess inside the warm house. But onto the roof top stepped the slave. There she stayed throughout the entire cold and windy night without any clothing.
By dawn the visiting friend had gone and the master went to find the slave whom he though would still be in bed asleep. But she was not to be found. Startled, he went to the roof. There he found her dead, killed by the cold.
Two ghosts are now said to be seen at this house. The nude ghost of the slave is said to appear on cold December's nights on the rooftop, and the vision of a morose man is seen seated in a chair near a window. There he plays chess, solitaire.
These old houses on the Rue Royale, which is just behind the Cathedral, are quaint and elegant works of architecture. I could see the Spanish lace nearby, the elaborate wrought iron on the balconies, and the myriad shops and sidewalk artists painting. But, despite the street's charms, spending a December night on the rooftop there would indeed be an ordeal.
6. The Haunted Spanish Barracks
This popular story is controversial, as the building did not yet exist during the Spanish regime when the event was claimed to have occurred, although popular belief has it that the house was built around 1760. One source even refers to this tale as a hoax. Nevertheless, here is the tale. Believe it if you dare.
Spain controlled New Orleans from 1762 to 1803. (France controlled it from 1718 to 1762, and then again just before the Louisiana Purchase.) In the late 1700s the gold for the city was kept at the barracks at Burgundy and Barracks Streets. The gold was hidden within the walls of the building. Some of the Spanish soldiers were sent on a mission to Florida, leaving behind a small garrison. Of these troops, some turned criminal and sought to steal the gold for themselves. However, a few men in the garrison refused to participate in the theft, so they were horribly tortured and killed by the criminal soldiers.
The victims were hung on a wall on meat hooks driven into their backs. Iron spikes nailed their feet to the wall. Furthermore, vicious river rats were tied to the suffering men and began to eat the victim soldiers alive. Added to this horror, the victims were sealed up with plaster and brick, except for their faces. There they hung barely breathing in plain view of the sadistic, criminal soldiers. After the victims died, the wall was then fully cemented. The criminals apparently were never brought to justice, but instead they became wealthy men.
It was said that the apparitions of the faces of the suffering men could be seen sometimes many years later. Ghosts of mutilated soldiers could be seen as well; some marched back and forth down the halls. And according to legend, horrible screams were also heard coming from the building. Grotesque, ghostly rats shuffle out of the wall to terrify even the bravest visitor. The head of a man was also seen counting gold coins near a winding staircase. Was he the murdered gold keeper, also a victim of the criminal soldiers? Only speculation remains.
7. Ghost of the French Opera House
The ghost of a witch once walked the streets of the Vieux Carre. Some people claimed they saw this female apparition on St. Ann Street. The ghost paraded through various parts of the Quarter going down Toulouse St. and the Rue Royale. To many she was known as the "Witch of the French Opera House" for it was from the opera building she first emerged, took her walk, then disappeared.
Shocking was her appearance. She had ghost white hair and a face as pale as death itself. Her eyes were blood red.
Reportedly she was the ghost of an aging woman whose younger lover had taken a mistress. The aging woman, distraught over her lover's betrayal, killed herself. But she later returned as a ghost and murdered her cheating lover and the mistress. The ghost walked the streets for many years from the French Opera House to a building, a boarding house where she had allegedly committed the murders.
8. Ghosts in the Old Carrollton Jail
Not far from where the old-time streetcars still run in Uptown New Orleans, stands the site of the old Carrollton jail. Now long gone, it once housed an alleged vicious criminal accused of murdering his wife. The police enraged at his crime, allegedly beat him to death in the jailhouse. Near a wall where the alleged wife-killer died, in his final words, the man promised to come back from the grave.
In 1899 there were several accounts that indicated that the beaten man had returned as a ghost. A woman in the station house who was near a wall (ostensibly the same wall where the above suspect died) was suddenly tossed from the wall by an unseen force. The surprised woman went back to where she was standing and leaned against the same wall three times, and three times she was mysteriously tossed off. Others in the room attempted to lean on the wall, and they too were tossed off.
Subsequent events suggested the wall contained some supernatural power. Later that week a police officer rested on a couch near the wall. Suddenly, both he and the couch were tossed away from the wall. This was confirmed the following evening, when another officer on the same couch was tossed away too.
The wall also affected other objects upon it. A portrait of Admiral Dewey was seen mysteriously spinning; and a painting of General P. G. T. Beauregard (of Shiloh's fame), without warning, dropped from the wall breaking on the floor. It was claimed that both these objects had been securely attached to the wall, and their falling by natural causes was highly improbable. After these events occurred, people began to believe that the wall was truly haunted.
In addition to the haunted wall, there were other paranormal occurrences in the jail. A policeman heard the sounds of ghostly footsteps; heavy paperweights flew from desks into the air. And a ghost attempted to kill a policeman by strangulation -- so it was claimed. A police officer who had been dead for many months was seen alive in the building, but then suddenly disappeared. Prisoners also complained of being beaten by ghosts in their cell.
Finally, the jailhouse was torn down in the 1930s, but the ghosts had the last say. Workmen at the scene reportedly saw ghosts laughing as the jailhouse was destroyed.
9. The Haunted Sausage Factory
A German immigrant and his wife once ran a sausage factory in town, but the husband became bored with his industrious wife. So he allegedly murdered her by throwing her into the the factory machinery. The meat grinder chopped up the poor wife into pieces. The husband was now free, so he thought, to pursue another woman.
But his wife, or her ghost, would not let that occur. While in the factory one evening, the husband saw his wife's spirit. Her appearance was horrific, bloody and mutilated. Panic hit the husband; he ran screaming in terror.
He tried to deceive his suspicious neighbors, making up excuses. Why was he frightened? A nightmare. Why did no one see his wife anymore? She was just away for a while. Soon, however, the public found more than just meat in the sausages he sold. Fragments of clothing and parts of bones appeared mysteriously. Then one customer discovered bits of gold in her sausage -- perhaps from the missing wife's gold wedding ring? That was enough for this customer, and she called the police.
The husband had lost his mind in the meantime. It was in the factory where they discovered him in a lunatic rage. He tried to convince everyone his wife was threatening him, escaping from the meat grinder.
His brutal murder now reaped its karma or reward. Confined to an asylum with a complete mental breakdown, the husband eventually took his own life. His wife's ghost, which had continued haunting the factory, ceased to appear after the suicide
10. The Haunted Seamen's Bethel
Many years ago there was this tale of a ghostly visitation at a seamen's bethel, a place of worship which also was a boarding house. This house on St. Thomas Street had once been supported by the Presbyterians.
Two youthful, grief-stricken sailors appeared as apparitions haunting the building. Many sailors had seen these visions and quickly became frightened. One sailor stepped forward finally to confront the spirits. He saw that they looked sad and asked the two ghosts what they wanted. The apparitions replied that they wanted their mother.
As the story goes, the ghosts were brothers died at sea many years before the hauntings. They had once lived in this building with their parents. Over the years they visited the house as apparitions attempting to speak with their living mother, but their ghostly appearance and mysterious voices just drove her away. She did not realize the ghosts were her sons. No contact was ever established between the mother and the children.
But, after the bold sailor had contacted the boys that one time, the ghosts never appeared again.
11. Advice From the Grave
In our century comes this tale of ghostly advice. There was a woman whose husband-to-be was killed in World War I. All alone in the world, she was pursued by a new man who wanted to marry her. Apprehensive and confused, she did not know what to do. She desperately needed advice, but who could give her counsel? The only place she could think of was the grave of her former lover. In desperation, she approached the cemetery.
In the graveyard, this "city of the dead," the sad woman remained all through the night, as the story goes. Then an owl suddenly appeared flying above her. It began to shower her with flowers, falling peacefully into her lap. They accumulated: fourteen red, and fifteen white -- roses all. She did not understand the significance at first. Then she realized this was a code. The number of flowers were code for the respective letters of the alphabet, spelling out the word, NO.
She left the grave with the understanding that there was something definitely negative about her relationship with the new man in her life. So, she refused to marry him.
It was some time before she learned the truth about her would-be husband; he was in fact a crook. This scoundrel had promised to marry several women. But really he did not love them; he was just after their money.
The owl (or perhaps the spirit of her former lover) had saved this woman, ruining the schemes of a low-life thief.
12. Who are the Dead?
Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 was the scene of an interesting tale with a moral. A woman whose husband had passed on to the spirit world was filled with sorrow. Life had become unbearably hard for her in his absence. She would go to the cemetery on a daily basis, but it would bring her little relief, and she mourned that her husband could no longer enjoy a life taken from him all too soon.
During one of her visits, her despair was so great that a great sleep overcame her. Upon waking she was frightened to find herself in the cemetery in the middle of the night. Suddenly, a ghost appeared coming from the tomb. She soon realized the apparition was the spirit of her husband. The widow was now both relieved and delighted to see this ghost, but soon she saw something else even more astonishing.
She looked around at all the tombs in her view, and she could see past the marble and concrete in the city of the dead. All of the spirits of the deceased were now visible to her. And to her amazement, all of the ghosts were smiling, happy and appeared almost lifelike.
There were old ghosts and young ghosts and ghosts of every description -- all were talking with one another and completely cheerful. The scene was that of a huge ghostly party or celebration.
She was puzzled. Then she looked around further into the distance. She could see with a type of x-ray vision past the cemetery walls to the world of the living beyond. There she saw a frightful sight. She saw mobs of vicious, selfish people who looked grotesque. They pushed, shoved, and knocked each other down. They were hateful to each other, and all were running someplace. Each one was trying to better the next to get to some unknown location. But in fact they were all going nowhere. This scene was macabre -- a cruel struggle of meaningless lunatics. The woman did not understand what this vision was supposed to mean. But it stood in sharp contrast to the earlier view of the carefree ghostly party.
Then the ghost of her husband, seeing his wife was upset, spoke to her. He smiled and said that this vision of the mad, hostile world beyond the graveyard is how the ghosts see the world of the so-called living, the world where his wife still dwelled. The husband's spirit told his wife not to be sad for him and the other ghosts for they were content. It was the "living" whom the ghosts felt sorry for, for they existed in a world of greed, stupidity and madness. The ghost told his wife that the ones who are not really alive, are not really happy, are the morbid beings in the world of "the living." The spirits of the dead who dwell in the graveyard, however, are quite happy.
It was said that the wife left the cemetery in a state of peace. Never again was she sad about her departed husband for she knew that his spirit was at rest and one day she would join him.
13. Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen on Bayou St. John
No one in the world of the paranormal in New Orleans is more famous (or infamous) than Marie Laveau. She was the most significant Voodoo Queen of all time. Born in the Vieux Carre in 1794 (although some say she was born in the Caribbean), she was believed to be the daughter of a wealthy planter and a slave; perhaps she was also part Native American. Much of her life remains a secret though it is known that she was a "freewoman of color" who was married to a "freeman of color" in a Catholic service.
Later she lived on St. Ann Street. As the story goes she was given a house by a grateful client whom Marie helped with her Voodoo charms called gris-gris (pronounced "gree-gree") -- a magical potion of various crushed herbs concealed in a small bag.
The Voodoo Queen was known for her involvement in Black Magic. But it is likely she mixed magic with spying and blackmail to get her way. The elite of the city would seek out Marie Laveau for advice. A very clever woman, she personally knew many of the servants of the city's most influential citizens; from them she would obtain her information to "work her magic." Marie, who had once been a hairdresser to the ruling class of the city, knew how servants could obtain information on their masters. However, it was most likely that her belief in Voodoo was real; and it was certain that many in the city of all races feared both Voodoo and the Voodoo Queen.
New Orleans Voodoo was based in animism (nature belief) from Africa and was modified in Haiti to include a belief in zombies and the spirit world, including demons and ghosts. Additionally, it contained elements of Roman Catholicism, to make it more acceptable to local authorities. As an example of the fear that some had for Voodoo, in 1782 during the Spanish regime, Governor Galvez forbade the import of slaves from Martinique in the Caribbean to New Orleans because the slaves' belief in Voodoo made them too dangerous.
Voodoo had been practiced in Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park) behind the Quarter, but Marie Laveau is recalled for her Voodoo meetings on the banks of Bayou St. John. Large numbers, perhaps hundreds, of all classes and races (even in antebellum days) would attend the sensual rituals at the so-called "Wishing Spot" on the bayou, where the blood of decapitated roosters was consumed. There the erotic snake dance was performed (the snake being the symbol of the Voodoo god), and a bizarre belief in zombies was quite real.
In later life the Voodoo Queen rejected her belief in evil magic and embraced Catholicism, and she was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in 1881.
The ghost of Marie Laveau lives on in the minds of her faithful worshipers. They come to her grave, even today, to make chalk marks on her tomb in the shape of a cross or an "X." They come to her grave to ask for her aid, and some believe the ghost of the Voodoo Queen rises from the dead.
But believers and non-believers would surely agree that the legend, if not the ghost, of Marie Laveau is immortal.