The horrid tale of the LaLaurie Mansion begins quietly, with a whisper, and a woman named Delphine LaLaurie, also known as Madame Blanque.
Delphine was a New Orleans socialite born on March 19th, 1787, into the city’s prominent European-Creole community. Her uncle, Esteban Rodriguez Miro, was the governor of the Spanish American provinces of Louisiana and Florida from 1785-1791. Her cousin was also the mayor of New Orleans from 1815 to 1820 — needless to say; she had family in very high places.
Little Delphine was just four years old when the Haitian revolution erupted in the state in 1791 — this made slaveholders in the south and the Caribbean very worried about resistance and rebellion. Delphine’s uncle had been killed in 1771 by people he kept enslaved. The revolution inspired further uprisings that created a culture of harsher discipline for enslaved people out of fear of insurrection. Book a tour with New Orleans Ghosts and learn more about this haunting city!
Delphine’s Married Life
On June 25th, 1825, Delphine married a physician by the name of Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, who was much younger than she. In 1831, she purchased the property with Leonard at 1140 Royal Street, which she managed in her name. In 1832, she had a two-story mansion constructed on the property, complete with attached slave quarters. She lived there happily with Leonard and their two daughters.
All was not well in her paradise, however. Their marriage started to show signs of strain, and on November 16th, 1832, she petitioned the First Judicial District Court for divorce from Leonard. She claimed that he treated her in a way that rendered their living together ‘unsupportable.’ Her daughters confirmed the abuse — once we dig a bit deeper into Delphine’s doings, you may start to question whether or not she had her entire family manipulated under threats of punishment.
Leonard remained in the home, after all.
A Murder Mansion Is Born
It was customary at the time in New Orleans to keep slaves, and most homes had slave quarters attached. The people enslaved by the LaLaurie family were kept in truly horrendous conditions, even by the standards of slavery. They were found half-starved and beaten ruthlessly. Delphine’s treatment of them is mixed, but most told of the nightmares she bestowed upon the enslaved people she kept in her home.
Harriet Martineau, often seen as the first female sociologist, visited the LaLaurie Mansion. She recounted what she saw there and claimed that the LaLaurie slaves were particularly haggard and wretched, even though in the public eye, Delphine was always seen as polite to the city’s African-American population. She even stated that her concerns lie in the health of her slaves, always making sure they were taken care of — truly narcissistic and evil, two-faced, even.
Funeral registers between 1830 and 1834 document twelve deaths of enslaved people at home, although the causes of death are not mentioned. Twelve lives were lost in just four years under Delphine’s ‘care.’
The deaths include those of Bonne, a cook, laundress, and Bonne’s four children, Juliette, Florence, Jules, and Leotine. Court records also show that Delphine freed two enslaved people, Jean Louis and Devince, perhaps to quell the dark, swirling rumors around the town of her mistreatment of the enslaved folks on her property.
A local lawyer was even dispatched to the home to remind Delphine of the laws surrounding the care for enslaved people. During this short visit, the lawyer found no evidence of wrongdoing or mistreatment.
Harriet Martineau also recounted other stories of Delphine’s cruelty. She stated that right after the lawyer’s visit, one of LaLaurie’s neighbors saw a young enslaved girl fall to her death from the roof of the mansion while trying to avoid punishment from Delphine.
Her body was later buried right on the property. The case was later elaborated upon, and it was said that the young girl’s name was Lia, and she was just eight years old. She had been brushing Delphine’s hair when she hit a snag, causing her to rage and chase the girl with a whip.
This led to an investigation of the LaLaurie’s, and they were found guilty of illegal cruelty and were made to forfeit nine enslaved people from their household. These nine folks were later brought back to the home through a relative of the LaLaurie’s after Delphine had persuaded them to purchase the enslaved people and return them to her. The horrors they faced upon their return are not documented, but based on Delphine’s track record, it couldn’t have been anything less than a total nightmare.
Martineau also recounted stories that Delphine kept her cook chained to the oven and even beat her own daughters when they attempted to sneak food to the enslaved people at the home.
A Fire Occurs
In a karmic twist of fate, a raging fire broke out in the LaLaurie residence on April 10th, 1834. The fire started in the kitchen. When police and firemen arrived, they found the cook, a seventy-year-old woman, chained to the oven by her ankle — the rumors were true.
The cook later stated that she set the fire as a suicide attempt because of the life she lived in the hands of Delphine. She said enslaved people who were taken to the top floor of the LaLaurie home never returned.
Bystanders responding to the blaze attempted to enter the home’s slave quarters but were refused by the LaLaurie’s. They broke the door down and were met with something out of a nightmare:
‘Seven slaves, more of less horribly mutilated… suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other, imprisoned there for months.’
New Orleans Bee, April 11th, 1834
One of the local bystanders was Judge Jean-Francois Canonge, who also told of what he found inside the mansion. He stated that he saw a woman wearing an iron collar and an older woman who had received a very deep wound on her head, too weak even to talk.
Newspaper article from Baton-Rouge Gazette dated April 19th, 1934. Page 2. Source.
Other accounts told of emaciation, people bound in restrictive postures, and spiked collars which kept heads in one position, day and night.
Upon discovering the horrors in the home, a mob of locals descended upon the LaLaurie home, destroying everything they could get their hands on. A sheriff and a few officers were called to disperse the crowd, but by the time they arrived, the property had sustained significant damage and was left with nothing but the walls remaining.
After the fire, the enslaved folks from the mansion were taken to a local jail, and over 4,000 people came to see them. Several weeks passed, and two enslaved people died after their rescue. Two bodies were later found buried on the LaLaurie property, including little Lia.
A Coward’s Way Out
Delphine managed to escape justice for her crimes. She took a coach to Mobile, Alabama, and then later on to Parish, where she stayed until her death in 1849.
LaLaurie Mansion Rebuilt
The original home once stood atop a new home built in 1838 by Pierre Trastour and functioned as a high school, apartment building, refuge for young delinquents, bar, and furniture store. The faces of the LaLaurie mansion keep changing, but the ghosts of its past remain just the same.
Hauntings of the LaLaurie Mansion
Rumored to be one of the most haunted houses in the French Quarter, the LaLaurie mansion has been the subject of ghost investigations and media circuses since its horrors were unveiled. For nearly two hundred years, unexplained stories have come out of the home. Many of the hauntings are attributed to the slaves that Delphine kept here. There is a room in the LaLaurie mansion where slaves were often kept, and reports of moaning and groaning coming from where the room was are common.
Not all of the hauntings at the LaLaurie mansion can be traced back to human activity. In 1894, a tenant who lived at the mansion when they were converted into apartments was brutally murdered in his apartment. His belongings were found ransacked, but nothing was missing. An interesting account was told by one of his friends that the tenant had been having problems with ‘Sprites’ in the apartment.
His friend wrote it off, saying that it was just his imagination running wild, but he did say that his friend claimed a demon was harassing him inside the apartment. This demon told him it wouldn’t rest until he met his end. Could a demon have been responsible for the man’s murder?
The Girl’s School Years
The LaLaurie mansion was an all-girls school from the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Within a short amount of time, reports of physical assault started to come to light. These young girls would approach their teachers with bruises and scratches all over their arms. When asked who hurt them, all the girls said it was ‘that woman.’
It leads one to believe that this ‘woman’ could have been the phantom of Delphine, torturing the school girls, which just happened to be an all-African American population.
The LaLaurie Mansion These Days
Delphine LaLaurie was known as a sadistic and tortuous woman whose appetite never seemed to be appeased until she had inflicted some form of torture on every one of her slaves. Ghastly tales of torture have come from the house since it was built, and ghostly stories continue to come out of it today.
The mansion’s history tells of the nightmares that enslaved people of the past were faced with every day; LaLaurie’s torture surely wasn’t an isolated incident. Today, the home is a stark reminder of the dangers of ignorance and backward thinking. Many visitors flock to the home every year, hoping to catch a glimpse of a spirit and learn the history of the home and the entirety of the historic French Quarter.
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