The Sultan’s Palace is one filled with legend and lore — also known as the Gardette-LePretre House, its past tells of blood in the streets, limbs strewn about the property, and a brother buried alive in the garden.
Parties, intrigue and mass murder add to the ever-so-mysterious history of this French Quarter crown jewel. Almost two hundred years ago, the building at 716 Dauphine Street was constructed — no one could predict the mark it would leave on New Orleans. Join us as we dive into what makes the Sultan’s Palace one of the most haunted homes in The Big Easy!
History of the Gardette-LePretre House
The story starts with Philadelphia native, Joseph Coulon Gardette. He arrived in New Orleans with hopes of becoming the town’s most successful dentist. Within four years, his dental practice prospered and he became a very wealthy man. Wanting to enjoy the fruits of his labor, he hired a local architect named Frederick Roy to design him a home that matched the success he had found.
The three-and-a-half story mansion was born — and it even had a raised half-basement, a rarity for the wet states of the south.
A few years passed and Gardette decided he wanted to sell his first home — he was ready for bigger and better things. The home was purchased by Jean Baptiste LePretre, a wealthy bank merchant and plantation owner who purchased the property for just $20,049 in 1839 — a rather stunning figure at the time.
It came as no purpose, however — LePretre was immensely wealthy. By the 1850s he had hired a specialty builder to come in and add ornate wrought iron balconies that we see today. The LePretre family enjoyed their life of luxury in the home during half of the year while they stayed at their plantation home the other half of the year in Placquemines Parish.
When the Civil War erupted in the 1860s, the family could no longer maintain the upkeep on the LePretre home and were forced to rent it out.
The Sultan Comes Home
LePretre was approached by a man of middle eastern descent, he was looking to lease the grand mansion. He explained to LaPrete that his brother, who was a Sultan, was interested in the property. Contracts were signed and LaPrete breathed a sigh of relief knowing that his financial burden would soon be lifted from his shoulders.
A ship arrived to port soon after — the Sultan was here! Military men dressed in dark clothing, each carrying a bayonet, disembarked the ship — it was a sight to behold. The Sultan’s brother followed, and after him — the Sultan himself. All of his furniture and decor were brought out afterwards, with each piece more expensive and lavish than the one before it. This procession continues down to Jackson Square, finally leading up the steps of the Gardette-LePretre House.
Shortly after the Sultan’s arrival, the home garnered a mysterious reputation — each evening, the sounds of laughter and the smell of opium would waft from the open windows. Parties were occurring that no local was invited to. The home soon became known as ‘The Sultan’s Palace,’ as it was a truly provocative and private place.
A Dark and Stormy Night
One night, a freak storm bashed the city and everyone in the French Quarter hunkered down into their homes to wait out the storm. The scene was set — no sounds could be heard over the crashing of thunder, no witnesses… what happened next would change the home forever.
The next morning was blue and brisk, the sun was shining, and as a man walked down the street, he stopped dead in his tracks after what he saw coming out of the door of the Sultan’s Palace.
Trickling down the front steps of the mansion was a river of blood, pooling in the uneven stones leading up to the grand door. Police arrived shortly after, and as they realized this was too much blood for just one man, they held their breath as they opened the door.
Stunned by what they saw, these tenured officers could not put into words the horror that the Sultan had brought to the French Quarter. Corpses littered the floor of the home, some missing limbs. It’s as if a battle had taken place inside the palace that night — how could this have happened?
As they made their way throughout the home, no living person was to be found. As they made their way outside, a horrific sight awaited them — a single, muddy hand, sticking out of the wet ground — the Sultan had been buried alive.
While the person responsible was never discovered, police believe it was the Sultan’s own brother. His body was never found in the carnage. Could he have hired assassins to murder his brother and his constituents? Perhaps there was an inheritance he could no longer wait for…
The Truth Behind The Palace
Many stories have surfaced about the palace over the years. No historical records actually exist of the murder of the Sultan and his harem — but by 1922, the legend of the massacre stuck, and it became cemented as one of Louisana’s most horrific legends.
In the 1940s, the New Orleans Academy of Art had purchased the residence, but ended up closing its doors when much of its student body was drafted to serve overseas in WWII. The home became a halfway house after that, until 1966 when it was purchased and restored by Frank D’Amico and Anthony Vesich Jr. They converted the home into apartments which still exist today.
So, if a massacre didn’t occur and the home doesn’t have blood seeping through its foundation, then why is it haunted?
Spirits of Sultan’s Palace
In 1979, D’Amico’s wife came to bed, she lived in the penthouse of the palace, a beautiful apartment with great views of the area. As she described it, a huge dark figure appeared at the foot of her bed. It began to glide towards her, and as she scrambled to turn on the light, the figure vanished.
When a new owner purchased the property, the spirits just became more active. Nina Neivens thought very little of the murders that were said to have occurred in the home. She actually only reported missing items such as keys or wallets.
According to historians and ghost enthusiasts, there are two main entities that haunt the old palace. The first is that of a Confederate soldier, who haunts the home donning his military uniform. The second is the spirit of an unknown woman who is believed to have lived in the house at one point.
But why is there a Civil War soldier in the home? No battles were ever fought in the local area. Could one of the artifacts or old furniture have some sort of an attachment to it? That remains a mystery, but the hauntings are a sure thing. Residents today of 716 Dauphine experience a myriad of ghostly activity. One man had his dog shoved down the stairs by an unseen hand — a spirit that hurts dogs? How evil does evil get? Others encounter strange smells, tapping noises, footsteps in their apartments, and disembodied voices. Some have even seen shadow figures in the corners of their homes.
Today, the palace is private apartments, meaning that visiting is off-limits to anyone who doesn’t live there. Because of this, we suggest joining us for a New Orleans Ghost Tour. This way, you’ll learn all of the details about New Orlean’s most haunted locations without a trespassing charge. As for the Gardette-LaPrete House, its past remains a mystery.
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