New Orleans visitors interested in macabre history are required to pass by the LaLaurie Mansion, located at 1140 Royal Street. Its genteel exterior masks its horrifying history, revealed 181 years ago today when a fateful fire broke out and the secrets within its walls were unleashed.

As the History Channel reports, the source of the French Quarter landmark's evil was one Delphine LaLaurie, a slave owner who made sport of torturing human beings. When rescue workers rushed into the house, they found an elderly woman chained in the kitchen. It only got worse from there; more slaves were found tied up in the attic, some cruelly mutilated, some even worse.

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Incredibly, Delphine's gruesome pursuits were already known to some, though eventually, even those who'd given her a pass realized enough was enough:

In 1833, Delphine chased a small slave girl with a whip until the girl fell off the roof of the house and died. LaLaurie tried to cover up the incident, but police found the body hidden in a well. Authorities decided to fine LaLaurie and force the sale of the other slaves on the estate.

LaLaurie foiled this plan by secretly arranging for her relatives and friends to buy the slaves. She then sneaked them back into the mansion, where she continued to torture them until the night of the fire in April 1834.

Apparently her Southern neighbors had some standards when it came to the treatment of slaves, because a mob gathered in protest after learning about LaLaurie’s torture chamber. She and her husband fled by boat, leaving the butler (who had also participated in the torture) to face the wrath of the crowd.

Although charges were never filed against LaLaurie, her reputation in upper-class society was destroyed. It is believed that she died in Paris in December 1842.

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With such a tragic history, there's no surprise the story of the LaLaurie Mansion (which was once owned by Nicolas Cage) continues to resonate; Kathy Bates played Madame LaLaurie on American Horror Story: Coven. And of course there are reports of hauntings galore. Prairie Ghosts notes that reports of unsettled spirits ("screams of agony" from vacant rooms, ghostly apparitions, etc.) began almost as soon as the LaLauries fled New Orleans:

The house had been placed on the market in 1837 and was purchased by a man who only kept it for three months. He was plagued by strange noises, cries and groans in the night and soon abandoned the place. He tried leasing the rooms for a short time, but the tenants only stayed for a few days at most. Finally, he gave up and the house was abandoned.

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Over the years, the mansion has been used as a school, a bar, and a furniture store, as well as divided into apartments. To get a peek at what the LaLaurie Mansion's lushly renovated interior looks like today, check out this interview with Katie Stassi-Scott, who was hired by its current owner, Michael Whalen, to decorate it. She doesn't cop to any ghostly encounters, though she does admit to feeling "spooked" in the room where the torture victims were said to have been found. And just in case, for good measure:

After the renovation and design work had wrapped up, Whalen and Stassi-Scott had the house blessed by a priest from Notre Dame Seminary.

"I prayed about this house," Stassi-Scott said. "And I felt maybe this is the time to let light into this place, honor and respect the history, not erase it, but bring peace to these souls."

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Photo by Jennifer Boyer