In the French Quarter of New Orleans, at the corner of Governor Nicholls Street and Royal Street, sits an unassuming grey three-story building. It’s biggest claim to fame as of late is that it was owned by the actor Nicholas Cage as recently as last year. But those who know history know its darker history overshadows it’s previous owner’s fame. You see, within these walls occurred some of the most horrific pseudo-scientific experiments ever performed on human beings.
Our story of murder and justice denied begins in 1831 when Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his bride, Delphine, purchase a lot in the French Quarter from Edmond Soniat du Fossat. Within a year, their new house is ready for the couple to move in and for the next two years, it was the scene of lavish society parties, for the doctor and his wife enjoyed entertaining. It was during this time that rumours also spread about Mrs. LaLaurie’s cruelty toward her slaves.
One day in 1833, witnesses see her whipping a young slave girl who breaks free from Delphine’s grip and runs out onto the balcony. Naturally, the girl is pursued and falls to her death as a result. Delphine tries to cover up the incident by having the child buried at night, but she is too late. The witnesses report the girl’s death and Madame LaLaurie is fined and all of her slaves taken away and sold at auction. However, Delphine manages to convince relatives to buy the slaves and return them to her.
By the Spring of 1834, a fire breaks out in the house. It is supposedly started by a kitchen slave who could endure her torture no more. As the fire fighters move through the house once the flames are extinguished, they make a horrible discovery. Behind a barred attic door is a sight few of the men can mentally and emotionally handle; some even faint. Many slaves were found in various states of continued torture. Some were crudely strapped to “operation” tables, others confined to cages meant for dogs, one woman had her limbs broken and reset so that she resembled a human crab, yet another’s organs were outside of her body while she lived and breathed. Some were dead, others unconscious and those who were conscious begged to be killed to be put out of their misery. Body parts were cast about the room while organs were stored in little more than buckets with water.
Neighbours soon heard of the horrors within the house and a mob quickly formed, seeking revenge. Somehow, though, Delphine LaLaurie managed to escape, but to this day, no one knows for sure what happened to her or her husband. Some believe they fled to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Others believe family outside of the city sheltered them. Still others believe they fled to Paris. Whatever happened to them, one thing is for sure: they were not held responsible in any way for their crimes.
Stories of the house being haunted began almost immediately as the house is rebuilt between 1837 and 1865. Reports of ghostly sightings and strange noises abound. The next owner of the house manages to stay only three months. A furniture store occupies the basement for a short time and a barber shop fills the rest of the house. Neither business remains long and rumours claim the house is cursed.
During the Post-Civil War Reconstruction period, the house becomes a public school for girls, both black and white. In 1878 the New Orleans school system is segregated and the school becomes an all black girl’s school. It lasts only a year.
In 1882, the house becomes a music conservatory and dancing school. Wild rumours spread about the owner of the school and it is forced to close. It is said that the night the school closes, the spirits of the LaLaurie house have a wild carnival to celebrate their triumph.
Over the next several decades, the house takes on many different occupants. One man, believed to be a pauper, lives in the house for three years and when his body is found on the second floor, $10,000 in cash is discovered as well along with many valuable jewels. During its tenement period of the early part of the 20th Century, the house was unoccupied, but one neighbour reported seeing a light on in the third floor one night and the shadow of a man carrying his head. From 1923 to 1932, the house is a refuge for young delinquents. For ten years after that, The Grand Consistory of Louisiana (they are the organisation which confers the degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry) occupies the building. After the Masons moved out, the house became a bar, the owner of which knew the history of the residence and aptly named his place the Haunted Saloon. His knowledge of the building’s history prompted him to keep track of the experiences of his patrons.