Nearly 200 Years Ago, Awful Crimes Were Committed In This Lovely House

Illustration for article titled Nearly 200 Years Ago, Awful Crimes Were Committed In This Lovely House

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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

DISCUSSION

You left out all these juicy (dubious) details, why?? And can I get out of the grey? I've been commenting forever. I'm not a misogynist.

This is what it took to rile up a mob on the side of blacks in those days:

After the blaze was put out, the fire fighters discovered a horrible sight behind a secret, barred door in the attic. They found more than a dozen slaves here, chained to the wall in a horrible state. They were both male and female.... some were strapped to makeshift operating tables... some were confined in cages made for dogs.... human body parts were scattered around and heads and human organs were placed haphazardly in buckets.... grisly souvenirs were stacked on shelves and next to them a collection of whips and paddles.

It was more horrible that anything created in man's imagination.

According to the newspaper, the New Orleans Bee, all of the victims were naked and the ones not on tables were chained to the wall. Some of the women had their stomachs sliced open and their insides wrapped about their waists. One woman had her mouth stuffed with animal excrement and then her lips were sewn shut.

The men were in even more horrible states. Fingernails had been ripped off, eyes poked out, and private parts sliced away. One man hung in shackles with a stick protruding from a hole that had been drilled in the top of his head. It had been used to "stir" his brains.

The tortures had been administered so as to not bring quick death. Mouths had been pinned shut and hands had been sewn to various parts of the body. Regardless, many of them had been dead for quite some time. Others were unconscious and some cried in pain, begging to be killed and put out of their misery.

The fire fighters fled the scene in disgust and doctors were summoned from a nearby hospital. It is uncertain just how many slaves were found in Madame Lalaurie's "torture chamber" but most of them were dead. There were a few who still clung to life.... like a woman whose arms and legs had been removed and another who had been forced into a tiny cage with all of her limbs broken than set again at odd angles.

Needless to say, the horrifying reports from the Lalaurie house were the most hideous things to ever occur in the city and word soon spread about the atrocities. It was believed that Madame Lalaurie alone was responsible for the horror and that her husband turned a blind, but knowing, eye to her activities.