Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie – New Orleans socialite caged, tortured, and maimed her slaves for fun

// October 21st, 2013 // Serial Killers

Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie haunted New Orleans mansion

Those who watched season 3 of American Horror Story may be surprised to learn that Kathy Bate’s character, Madame Delphine LaLaurie, is based on a real-life New Orleans tale of horror. In true-life, Mad Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie, a prominent New Orleans socialite, was discovered to have caged and savagely tortured her slaves in a small room at the top of her Royal Street mansion (now considered one of the most haunted places in New Orleans). When the bizarre atrocities were discovered after her mansion caught fire, she reportedly fled to Paris, France where she lived the remaining years of her life in hiding. But in 1924 the plot thickened further after an old cracked copper plate was found in Alley 4 of the St. Louis Cemetery #1. The inscription on the plate read: “Mrs. Marie LaLaurie, born Delphine Macarty, died in Paris on December 7, 1842 at the age of 67”. Had Madame LaLaurie returned to her old haunts, in physical or ghostly form, or did she secretly remain hidden in the city of New Orleans avoiding punishment for her crimes?

Who was Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie?

Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurieMarie Delphine nee Macarty (or Maccarthy, soon to become Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie after her 3rd marriage) was born around 1775 in New Orleans. Her parents, Barthelmy Louis Macarty and Marie Vevue Jeanne Lovable, were noted upper-class socialites in New Orleans earning their wealth through banking, sugar cane, cotton, pirating, and slave trading. It is believed that both parents were killed in an 1811 slave uprising when Delphine was just a young woman (which could explain why our story takes such a nasty turn).

Upon their death, her parent’s inheritance, and their well-earned social standing in the community, passed on to young Delphine. A prominent member of the New Orleans white Creole (i.e native) community, Delphine’s status as an untouchable was likely further elevated after her cousin became mayor of New Orleans in 1815.

Delphine’s first marriage (on June 11, 1800), to a high ranking Spanish officer, Don Ramon de Lopez y Angullo, ended when her husband died mysteriously on March 26, 1804 during a voyage to Cuba. At the time, Spain was in control of New Orleans and by 1804, Don Ramon (for some unknown reason) had fallen out of favor with the king of Spain who was threatening to bring him back to Spain to be recommissioned. While Don Ramon was on route to Cuba, Delphine travelled to Spain to plead her husband’s case. Her charming demeanor and captivating personality worked to her favor. The king agreed he would renew favor with Don Ramon but alas, it was too late. Don Ramon de Lopez y Angulo had already died on route to Cuba. Delphine immediately returned to New Orleans and during the voyage, gave birth to Marie “Borquita” Borgia Delphine Lopez y Angulla de la Candelaria (name given variously as Camille Blanque).

Some time after the death of Don Ramon, Delphine married Jean Blanque (on June of 1808), a prominent banker, merchant, lawyer, legislator, and well-known slave trader. During her time with Blanque, Delphine had four more children – Marie Louise Pauline, Louise Marie Laure, Marie Louise Jeanne, and Jeanne Pierre Paulin Blanque. But alas, after eight years of marriage, and once again under suspicious circumstances, her 2nd husband also died unexpectedly.

Madame Delphine LaLaurie marries and moves to Royal Street

The LaLaurie Mansion (New Orleans) - three story structure in  center of photographEight years after the death of Jean Blanque (husband #2), on June 25, 1825, Delphine married prosperous dentist Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, a man 10 years younger than her (that he was reportedly the only dentist in New Orleans at the time surely helped his financial status). After six years of marriage to Leonard, in 1831, she bought property at 1140 Royal Street in the French Quarters area of New Orleans. On the land, she built a lavish three-story mansion complete with slave quarters attached to the top floor of the building (some reports indicate the “new” home was preexisting, built earlier by another prominent member of New Orleans society, Edmond Soniat du Fossat, while still other reports indicate the home was built specifically for the LaLauries’ under Fossat’s guidance). The Royal Street mansion was furnished with the finest of adornments – expensive furniture, sparkling chandeliers, gold plated trim on windows and doors, and paintings by famous artists of the day hung on the walls.

Madame LaLaurie was well-known around New Orleans for her spectacular parties, private balls, and lavish galas, which she offered frequently at her home. The extravagant events were often attended by prominent citizens of New Orleans including Judge Caponage, a very dear friend of the LaLaurie’s. Her home on Royal Street was surrounded by other well-to-do citizens including renowned Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau who lived just a few blocks away from the LaLaurie mansion (the nature of their relationship is not well documented but given Laveau’s occupation, a hairdresser for the rich Creole ladies of New Orleans, undoubtedly the two women met and knew each other).

It was said that Madame LaLaurie’s manners were charming, flirtatious, sweet, gracious and captivating. Outwardly, she maintained her appearance within the social circles of New Orleans as a highly respected hostess, entertaining guests in the downstairs drawing room of her Royal Street mansion. Yet there were persistent rumors that there was a dark side to Madame LaLaurie. In reality, behind the refined pompous exterior, Delphine held a macabre secret that would go undiscovered until a fateful fire forced her hand.

Rumors of slave torture circulate through the city

Wax figures recreate Madame Delphine LaLaurie's torture of her slavesNeighbors noticed on more than one occasion that Delphine LaLaurie was prone to violent outbursts, especially if her servants (and occasionally her daughters) did not respond quickly to the snap of her fingers. Her outbursts sometimes resulted in the thrashing of her children but more often, she turned her anger towards her slaves. Public rumors about LaLaurie’s mistreatment of her slaves spread with rumors disseminating throughout the French Quarter that she beat, tortured, and possibly even murdered her servants. Eventually the rumors became sufficiently widespread that a local attorney was sent to her home to investigate. The attorney reminded LaLaurie of the laws relevant to the upkeep of slaves but on record, reported finding no evidence of wrongdoing or mistreatment of her slaves.  In fact, it was reported that he found Madame LaLaurie quite charming.

Regardless, the rumors of slave abuse continued to propagate. Stories circulated throughout the city that LaLaurie kept her elderly slave cook chained to the kitchen stove. Others told of Delphine going into a rage and beating her daughters when they were caught secretly feeding the starving slaves.

In one instance, a neighbor reported seeing one of LaLaurie’s slaves, twelve-year-old Lia (or Leah) fall to her death from the roof of the Royal Street mansion. According to the neighbor’s report, the young slave girl had been backing away from a whip-yielding Delphine when she tumbled off the three-story building. By several accounts, it was reported that the young girl had been combing Madame LaLaurie’s hair when she tugged on a snag causing Delphine to become hot with rage. Delphine grabbed a whip and chased the servant girl down the stairs and into the courtyard. The young girl turned and fled back up the stairs, Delphine in hot pursuit, to the roof above. As Delphine approached the frightened girl, the servant backed away until she slipped off the roof and plummeted to her death on the street below. Her body was quickly brought into the LaLaurie Mansion and according to neighbors, was buried on the mansion grounds (by some accounts, dumped into the well located behind the house).

The death of the young slave girl prompted another investigation into Delphine’s treatment of her slaves. This time enough evidence was found that the courts fined LaLaruie $300 and forced her to forfeit nine of her slaves. In an act of cunning, LaLaurie secretly bought back the nine slaves from the impound using a family relative as an intermediary in the purchase. The slaves were returned to the Royal Street residence the very next day.

The burning of the LaLaurie mansion – all doubts of abuse confirmed

The LaLaurie Mansion (New Orleans) - furthest building on the right (1930's)On April 10, 1834, starting in the kitchen (where the elderly slave cook was rumored to be chained), a fire broke out in the LaLaurie residence. Neighbors noticed smoke pouring from the building and summoned police and fire officials who quickly entered the burning mansion to search for any occupants who may be in danger. To their surprise, upon entering the kitchen they found a 70-year-old woman, Delphine’s cook, chained to the kitchen stove by her ankle. Fire officials broke the shackles and while ushering the woman out of the burning home, were told by the old woman that she started the fire because she was about to be “taken upstairs”, a place feared by all of LaLaurie’s servants. Knowing that slaves who were “taken upstairs” never returned, the old woman had purposely set the fire believing it would be better to burn to death than suffer the fate of Delphine’s feared upstairs torture room.

Inside Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionMeanwhile, bystanders began assisting with the fire. Some helped fire officials battle the blaze while others helped Madame LaLaurie shuffle valuables from inside the home to the street. Among the crowd who assisted with the battle against the fire were dozens of citizens of high standing, many of whom bore eyewitness to the scenes that followed. It is from these first-person accounts that we glean much of the information about what happened that day.

As the flames grew more fierce, the crowd began to murmur – a question circulated amongst themselves. “Where were Delphine LaLaurie’s slaves and why were they not assisting to put out the fire?” When one bystander posed the question to Madame LaLaurie she responded coldly, “Nevermind the servants, save my valuables. This way gentlemen, this way.”

Recognizing Delphine’s apparent disregard for the safety of her slaves, several men tried to rush to the upstairs slave quarters to rescue any potentially trapped slaves but Delphine stopped them and refused to turn over the keys to the room. Without a key, the men stormed to the top of the mansion, broke through the iron bars between the wing and the attic, and kicked down the doors to the slave quarters where they encountered the “smell of death mixed with the foul odors of infection, urine, feces, fear, and filthy, unwashed bodies”. The April 11, 1834 issue of New Orleans Bee described what they found:

“Upon entering the quarters, they found seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated … suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.  The floor was sticky with old blood and slick with puddles of fresh new gore.”

The slaves later told authorities that they had been isolated in the room for several months.

Harriet Martineau wrote in Retrospect of Western Travel (1836 – see complete text at the end of this article) that the slaves found in the upstairs quarters were “emaciated, showed signs of being flayed with a whip, were bound in restrictive postures, and wore spiked iron collars which kept their heads in static positions”. Some servants were found chained atop crudely constructed tables while others were confined in metal cages intended for dogs. Some had been doused with honey – ants, cockroaches, and rats gnawing away at their helpless flesh. The scene was so horrifying, hardened firemen retreated from the room in horror while others fainted at the sight.

After the fire, the slaves, many crippled from the constricted positions they had been bound in, were taken to a local jail where they were made available for public viewing (in prove that the atrocities had really occurred). The New Orleans Bee reported that by April 12 up to 4,000 people had attended to view the tortured slaves “to convince themselves of their sufferings.

Two of the slaves were in such bad condition, they died while in custody.

As for Dr. LaLaurie, Delphine’s husband of 8 years – his whereabouts remained a mystery and after that fateful day, he was never heard from again.

Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie haunted New Orleans mansion

Tales of more atrocities emerge

For several years, stories continued to appear in New Orleans newspapers including the New Orleans Bee and the Advertiser. Additional details, too gruesome for publication in the papers, continued to leak to the public and appeared in published memoirs. It was reported that many of the slaves imprisoned in the quarters were male, stripped naked, and chained to the wall with their eyes gouged out or penises removed. Their fingernails had been pulled off by the roots. Some had their joints skinned.

Eyewitnesses from the event indicated some slaves were found with the flesh on their bodies cut away. Some were found with their ears hanging by shreds. One was found with animal excrement stuffed into his mouth, his lips sewn together. Others were found with their hands sewed tight to their bodies (and one with body parts from another slave sewn to his body). One report told of a slave who was discovered with his intestines pulled out and wrapped around his waist while another in a similar state had her intestines nailed to the floor. Another was found, alive, with a hole drilled into his skull, a wooden stick dangling from the hole. It was believed the LaLaurie enjoyed applying pressure to the stick, forcing it through the slave’s skull, in order to “stir the brains”.

One rescuer at the scene of the fire told a friend that one victim had her arms amputated and her skin peeled off in a circular pattern giving her the appearance of a caterpillar. Another was found with her limbs broken and reset “at odd angles so she resembled a human crab”.  It was said that when approached by rescuers, she “let out a high-pitched, hissing scream” as she scurried into a darkened corner.

Delphine LaLaurie flees New Orleans (or does she?)

LaLaurie's Old cracked, copper plate found in Alley 4 of St. Louis Cemetery #1Needless to say, the horrifying events that took place at the LaLaurie Mansion were the most hideous things to ever occur in the city. When the discovery of the tortured slaves became widely known, a mob of local citizens descended upon the LaLaurie residence and according to news reports of the day, “demolished and destroyed everything upon which they could lay their hands”. It was said that scarcely anything remained of the residence except for the walls.

Alley 4 of St. Louis Cemetery #1

Exactly what happened to Madame LaLaurie after the fire remains somewhat of a mystery (although there is one possible account of Louis Lalaurie being mentioned in a census report in the 1850′s somewhere along the gulf coast of Mississippi). One account says that in fear for her life (and rightly so), LaLaurie dashed away on a coach, barrelling through a crowd of angry citizens, to the Bayou St. John on the waterfront and from there travelled by schooner from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama (other reports indicate New York City) where it was rumored that she hopped on a ship to Paris, France (it was believed that she died there in December 1842 from wounds sustained in a boar-hunting accident). Other rumors claimed that she lived hidden on Northshore, in or around Mandeville or Covington, Louisiana, until her death. Regardless, her home on Royal Street remained badly damaged and unoccupied for several years.

Decades after the gruesome events, a surprising piece of evidence surfaced which may answer the question of LaLauries’ final fate. In 1930, Eugene Backes, a caretaker for St. Louis Cemetery #1, discovered an old cracked, copper plate in Alley 4 of the cemetery. The inscription on the plate read: “Madame LaLaurie, née Marie Delphine Macarty, décédée à Paris, le 7 Décembre, 1842, à l’âge de 6–.” Translated to English, it read:

“Mrs. Marie LaLaurie, born Delphine Macarty LaLaurie, died in Paris on December 7, 1842 at age 67…”

Since the plate was not attached to any specific tomb, the exact location of Madame LaLaurie’s crypt is unknown but most believe that she was indeed buried in the cemetery. Many point out that this provides proof that she never left the country.

Royal mansion investigation

A subsequent investigation of the premises, spanning more than three weeks, revealed still more horrors. Authorities dug up the yard of the LaLaurie Mansion where they found many bodies buried in the ground. A water well on the property was also dug up.  At the bottom, authorities discovered more bodies including the broken body of a small child.

The history of the haunted LaLaurie mansion

Entrance to Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionThe New Orleans house occupied by Delphine LaLaurie at the time of the 1834 fires stands today at 1140 Royal Street, on the uptown river corner of Royal Street and Governor Nicholls Street (formerly known as Hospital Street) in an area known as Old Square or the Sixth Ward. At three stories high, the LaLaurie Mansion was restored in 1865 and over the following decades was occupied by several residents – none staying for over a few years. The first occupant of the home stayed only three months after complaining of hearing moans and groans throughout the house at night. Neighbors told of ghostly sightings of slaves in chains walking about the balconies and wandering aimlessly upstairs, unusual noises including screams and loud shouts, and flickering lights in the upstairs windows. Others claim to have seen Madame Lalaurie herself walking around the house.

The LaLaurie Mansion was once used as a public high school for black girls – opened in 1878, it closed its doors one year later. A furniture store occupied the basement for a short time and for three months the downstairs entryway was a barbershop. In 1882 the house became a music and dancing school. The owner closed the school shortly after it was opened. That night, stories say that the spirits of the LaLaurie mansion held a wild dance to celebrate their triumph.

Shortly thereafter, the home was passed on to Joseph Edouard Vigne, an eccentric member of an upper class New Orleans family. In 1892 a black crepe was seen hanging from the mansion’s door prompting local townspeople to enter the home to investigate. Inside, they found Vigne dead in the upstairs attic.

In 1893, according to the June 4, 1893 Times Democrat, the home was purchased and turned into a “haunted house”.  Flyers were distributed around New Orleans stating:

“The Haunted House – there is an end to everything, so there is with ghosts.  Come and be convinced.  Admissions ten cents.”

Inside Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionDuring the period between 1900 and 1920, the house changed owners five times.  During this period it was reported that more bodies had been discovered under the floor of the mansion.  Martineau wrote, “Workmen employed to repair the old cypress floors began digging up human skeletons from under the house…  So it all simmered down to one conclusion – they were bodies of Lalaurie slaves, buried thus in order that their manner of death should not become known.”

By the 1920’s the house had become a run-down tenement with many reports of ghosts and apparitions continuing to emerge from within its walls. In one reported incident, a man woke up in the middle of the night to find that he was being choked by what he described as “a servant dressed in clothes not appropriate to the current times”. The man said that he was quickly rescued by another servant wearing clothes similar to the assailant.  He watched in awe as they wrestled each other into the darkness before fading away.  Another resident reported, “There were no other families living here and one night, on the third floor, I saw a man walking carrying his head on his arm.”  Another resident reported seeing a large black man wrapped in chains on the main stairs.  The chained man disappeared on the last steps.

In 1923, the home was bought by William Warrington who established the Warrington House as a refuge for young delinquents (the home was listed in the 1930′s Soards New Orleans City Directory under Hospitals and Sanitariums). Many today continue to refer to the LaLaurie Mansion as the Warrington House (even though there are a total of five “Warrington Houses” scattered around New Orleans).  Warrington managed to keep the home open for eleven years before shuttering the doors.

In 1932 the house was sold to the Grand Consistory of Louisiana, an organizational branch of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.  The consistory sold the house in 1942 and for three years it again remained vacant.

Later in 1945, the home was converted into a bar called “Haunted Saloon”. The owner knew many of the building’s ghost stories and kept a record of strange things experienced by his patrons.

NOTE: Altered Dimensions is actively seeking those accounts for inclusion in this article.

Around 1950 the house again became a furniture store. Newspaper reports relate how the owner repeatedly found all of his merchandise damaged and covered with a foul liquid filth. Suspecting vandals, he waited one night with a shotgun, hoping to catch the vandals in the act. When dawn came, the owner was astounded to find the furniture was once again ruined, covered in muck. He closed the place down shortly thereafter.

By 1964, the house was once again vacant.  An article in the Times-Picayne dated April 17, 1964, reported that a local preservation group was trying to stop the “deterioration and vandalism” of the abandoned house.  The preservation group reported that “the building has been stripped of floor boards in the upper balcony”.  New rumors circulated that more bodies had been found under the floorboards of the home.

In 1969, artist Zelia Funck purchased the home.  In a newspaper interview Funck described seeing  a “romantic figure of a man.  I’ve watched him for several minute in a full-length mirror before he faded away.  He’s about 5’9″, about 170 lbs, has a reddish clipped beard, and wears a creamy beige felt hat turned up slightly, with a cord around it.”  She also told of doors opening and closing by themselves and said that “contact usually comes when I’m sitting by the window, where Madame’s husband is said to have had his desk.”

Sometime in the 1970′s, the home was turned into luxury apartments. Photographs from modern-day residents have surfaced showing glowing “orbs” in and around the property. Resident children have been reportedly beaten by invisible whips. Occupants have presented a long list of ghostly experiences including strange figures wrapped in white shrouds and of course the ever present sounds of screams, groans, and cries that reverberate through the house at night.

In April 2007, Nicolas Cage bought the LaLaurie House through Hancock Park Real Estate Company LLC for a sum of $3.45 million. The mortgage documents were arranged in such a way that Cage’s name did not appear on public record. On November 13, 2009, the property, then valued at $3.5 million, was listed for auction as a result of Cage’s financial difficulties and bank foreclosure (and thus carrying  the theme of the house bringing bad luck upon its owners).  It was subsequently purchased by Regions Financial Corporation for $2.3 million.

Finding the LaLaurie Mansion today

Madame LaLaurie's horror houseLocated on 1140 Royal Street, the entrance to the building bears iron grillwork, and the door is carved with an image of “Phoebus in his chariot, and with wreaths of flowers and depending garlands in bas-relief”. Inside, the vestibule is floored in black and white marble, and a curved mahogany-railed staircase runs the full three stories of the building. The second floor holds three large drawing-rooms connected by ornamented sliding doors, whose walls are decorated with plaster rosettes, carved woodwork, black marble mantelpieces and fluted pilasters.

It is estimated that the number of slaves who died at the hands of LaLaurie could be as many as one hundred.

Additional information

New Orleans Bee – April 11, 1834

Inside Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionThe following appeared in the New Orleans Bee on April 11, 1834, the day after the LaLaurie mansion fire.

The conflagration at the house occupied by the woman LaLaurie in Hospital … is like discovering one of those atrocities the details of which seem to be too incredible for human belief.

We would shrink from the task of detailing the painful circumstances connected herewith, were it not that a sense of duty and the necessity of exposing and holding to the public indignation such a wretch as the perpetrator, renders it indispensable for us to do so.

The flames having spread with an alarming rapidity, and the horrible suspicion being entertained among the spectators that some of the inmates of the premises where it originated, where incarcerated therein, the doors were forced open for the purpose of liberating them. Previous however, to taking this liberty, (if liberty it can be called), several gentlemen impelled by their feelings of humanity demanded the keys which were refused them in a gross and insulting manner. Upon entering one of the apartments, the most appalling spectacle met their eyes. Seven slaves more or less horribly mutilated were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other. Language is powerless and inadequate to give a proper conception of the horror which a scene like this must have inspired. We shall not attempt it, but leave it rather to the reader’s imagination to picture what it was.

These slaves were the property of the demon, in the shape of a woman whom we mentioned in the beginning of this article. They had been confined by her for several months in the situation from which they had thus providentially been rescued and had been merely kept in existence to prolong their suffering and to make them taste all that the most refined cruelty could inflict. But why dwell upon such aggravating and painful particulars! We feel confident that the community share with us our indignation, and that vengeance will fall heavily upon the guilty culprit. Without being superstitious, we cannot but regard the manner in which these atrocities have been brought to light as an especial interposition of heaven.

{Since the above was in type, the populace have repaired to the house of this woman and have demolished and destroyed everything upon which they could lay their hands. At the time of inditing this fury of the mob remained still unabated and threatens the total demolition of the entire edifice.}

New Orleans Bee – April 12, 1834

Entrance to Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionThe following appeared in the New Orleans Bee on April 12, 1834, two days after the LaLaurie mansion fire.

The popular fury which we briefly adverted to in our paper of yesterday as consequent upon the discovery of the barbarous and fiendish atrocities committed by the woman Lalaurie upon the persons of her slaves continued unabated the whole of the evening before last and part of yesterday morning.

It was found necessary for the purpose of restoring order for the sheriff and his officers to repair to the place of riot and to interpose the authority of the state, which we are pleased to notice proved effectual, without the occurrence of any of those acts of violence which are common upon similar occasions.

We regret, however, to state that previously some indignities had been shown to Judge Caponage who ventured to expostulate with the assailants upon the propriety of ceasing their operations and that during the same, deadly weapons were in the hands of many persons, a resort to which at one time was seriously apprehended. Nothing of the kind happily, however, transpired.

Nearly the whole of the edifice is demolished, and scarcely any thing remains but the walls, which the popular vengeance have ornamented with various writings expressive of their indignation and the justness of their punishment.

The loss of property sustained is estimated by some at $40,000, but others think this calculation is exaggerated. It must, however, been very great indeed, as the furniture alone was of the most costly kind, consisting of pianos, armoires, buffets, which were removed to the garret and thrown from thence into the street for the purpose of rendering them of no possible use whatever.

This is the first act of its kind that our populace have ever engaged in and although the provocation pleads much in favor of the excesses committed, yet we dread the precedent. To say the least of it, it may be excused, but can’t be justified. Summary punishments the results of the popular excitement in a government of laws can never admit of justification, let the circumstances be ever so aggravating. The whole of yesterday and the preceding day, the police jail was crowded by persons pressing forward to witness the unfortunate wretches who had escaped cruelties that would compare with those of a Domitian a Nero or a Caligula. Four thousand persons at least, it is computed have already visited these victims to convince themselves of their sufferings.

The Times-Picayune – January 28, 1941

Inside Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionThe following appeared in the Times-Picayune on January 28, 1941 and tells the story of the epitaph plate found in the cemetery.

Epitaph-Plate of ‘Haunted’ House Owner Found Here

Marble Cutter’s Discovery Starts New Talk of Madame LaLaurie

Legends of New Orleans’ famed “haunted house” at 1140 Royal Street, which since 1873 has served as a refuge for homeless men and boys, were revived Monday with the announcement of the “discovery” of an epitaph-plate of one of the former owners of the residence.

Corroded and cracked by time, the copper plate bore the inscription: “Madame Lalaurie, nee Marie Delphine Maccarthy, decedee a Paris, le’ 7 decembre, 1842, a l’age de 6 –. ”

The plate was discovered by Eugene Backes, 53-year-old marble cutter, four or five years ago in the No. 4 alley of St. Louis cemetery No. 1, where he served as sexton from March, 1923 to January, 1924.

Backes, who is engaged in polishing, grinding and cutting stones at his little shop at 807 St. Peter Street, decided to delve into the conflicting history of the “haunted house,” which is now known as the Warrington House, and of Madame Lalaurie, its early mistress.

Historians are in conflict over the story of Madame Lalaurie and her once-imposing residence at 1140 Royal Street, but, they are agreed that she fled the mansion on April 10, 1834, after a fire swept the building and led neighbors to discoveries in the slave quarters.

Inside Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionJealous Gossip

Newspapers of the day pictured, rightly or not, the Lalaurie slaves, chained in the cubby-holes as tortured and half-starved creatures and the mistress of the mansion. Newspapers reported that she and her husband went by carriage to Lake Pontchartrain, boarded a sloop at Bayou St. John, deposited gold with the captain, and sailed for ….

There is disagreement whether Madame Lalaurie sailed for France from Mobile or New York; and another school of thought maintains that Madame Lalaurie never left New Orleans, that she died and was buried here.

They are agreed, however, that she was born Marie Delphine, daughter of Louis Barthelemy Chevalier de Maccarthy, whose name was later simplified to Macarty, and then on June 11, 1800, she was married to Don Ramon de Lopez y Angulo.

Her first husband died on March 26, 1804, at Havana, Cuba, and she married in 1808 to Jean Blanque, who died in 1816. Madame Lopez-Blanque on June 12, 1825, became the wife of Dr. Leonard Louis Lalaurie.

Staunch Support

Stanley Arthur, president of the board of curators of the Louisiana State Museum, is staunch in his support of Madame Lalaurie.

“I have always thought,” he said, “that Madame Lalaurie was the first victim of yellow journalism. There is nothing in the record to indicate that she was the type of a woman pictured by them. One must remember that there was much social jealousy in those days, and that Madame Lalaurie occupied an enviable position socially.”

He revealed that he had found a record of Madame Lalaurie granting permission for the emancipation of a slave in the early 1830s, which contradicts the tales of her cruelty.

Mrs. L.R. DeBuys, 1417 Delachaise Street, whose husband is a fifth descendant of Madame Lalaurie, concurs with Mr. Arthur and believes that the mistress of the “haunted house” has been unjustly accused and mercilessly victimized; and Mrs. Debuys intends to prove it through exhaustive search of the records. The family had long known of Madame Lalaurie’s burial place here, she said.

But to passengers in the sight-seeing busses, the mansion will still be pointed out as the “haunted house,” where the ghost of tortured slaves walk the halls at night.

Snippet from Harriet Martineau’s Retrospect of Western Travel (1836)

Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurieIn 1836, Harriet Martineau published Retrospect of Western Travel in which she documented her travels throughout the United States.  Several pages of the book document the Madame LaLaurie case.  Those pages are presented below.

Madame Lalaurie escaped from the hands of her exasperated countrymen about five years ago. The remembrance or tradition of that day will always be fresh in New-Orleans. In England the story is little, if at all, known. I was requested on the spot not to publish it as exhibiting a fair specimen of slaveholding in New-Orleans, and no one could suppose it to be so ; but it is a revelation of what may happen in a slaveholding country, and can happen nowhere else. Even on the mildest sup position that the case admits of, that Madame Lalaurie was insane, there remains the fact that the insanity could have taken such a direction, and perpetrated such deeds nowhere but in a slave country. There is, as everyone knows, a mutual jealousy between the French and American creoles [natives] in Louisiana. Till lately, the French creoles have carried everything their own way, from their superior numbers. I believe that even yet no American expects to get a verdict, on any evidence, from a jury of French creoles. Madame Lalaurie enjoyed a long impunity from this circumstance. She was a French creole, and her third husband, M. Lalaurie, was, I believe, a French- man. He was many years younger than his lady, and had nothing to do with the management of her property, so that he has been in no degree mixed up with her affairs and disgraces. It had been long observed that Madame Lalaurie’s slaves looked singularly haggard and wretched, except the coachman, whose appearance was sleek and comfortable enough. Two daughters by a former marriage, who lived with her, were also thought to be spiritless and unhappy looking. But the lady was so graceful and accomplished, so charming in her manners and so hospitable, that no one ventured openly to question her perfect goodness. If a murmur of doubt began among the Americans, the French resented it. If the French had occasional suspicions, they concealed them for the credit of their faction. ” She was very pleasant to whites,” I was told, and sometimes to blacks, but so broadly so as to excite suspicions of hypocrisy.

When she had a dinner-party at home, she would hand the remains of her glass of wine to the emaciated negro behind her chair, with a smooth audible whisper, ” Here, my friend, take this ; it will do you good.” At length rumors spread which induced a friend of mine, an eminent lawyer, to send her a hint about the law which ordains that slaves who can be proved to have been cruelly treated shall be taken from the owner, and sold in the market for the benefit of the State. My friend, being of the American party, did not appear in the matter himself, but sent a young French creole, who was studying law with him. The young man returned full of indignation against all who could suspect this amiable woman of doing anything wrong. He was confident that she could not harm a fly, or give pain to any human being. Soon after this a lady, living in a house which joined the premises of Madame Lalaurie, was going up stairs, when she heard a piercing shriek from the next courtyard. She looked out, and saw a little negro girl, apparently about eight years old, flying across the yard towards the house, and Madame Lalaurie pursuing her, cowhide in hand. The lady saw the poor child run from story to story, her mistress following, till both came out upon the top of the house. Seeing the child about to spring over, the witness put her hands before her eyes ; but she heard the fall, and saw the child taken up, her body bending and limbs hanging as if every bone was broken. The lady watched for many hours, and at night she saw the body brought out, a shallow hole dug by torchlight in the corner of the yard, and the corpse covered over. No secret was made of what had been seen. Inquiry was instituted, and illegal cruelty proved in the case of nine slaves, who were forfeited according to law. It afterward came out that this woman induced some family connections of her own to purchase these slaves, and sell them again to her, conveying them back to her premises in the night. She must have desired to have them for purposes of torture, for she could not let them be seen in a neighborhood where they were known. During all this time she does not appear to have lost caste, though it appears that she beat her daughters as often as they attempted in her absence to convey food to her miserable victims. She always knew of such attempts by means of the sleek coachman, who was her spy. It was necessary to have a spy, to preserve her life from the vengeance of her household ; so she pampered this obsequious negro, and at length owed her escape to him.

Entrance to Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie's haunted LaLaurie mansionShe kept her cook chained within eight yards of the fire place, where sumptuous dinners were cooked in the most sultry season. It is a pity that some of the admiring guests whom she assembled round her hospitable table could not see through the floor, and be made aware at what a cost they were entertained. One morning the cook declared that they had better all be burned together than lead such a life, and she set the house on fire. The alarm spread over the city ; the gallant French Creoles all ran to the aid of their accomplished friend, and the fire was presently extinguished. Many, whose curiosity had been roused about the domestic proceedings of the lady, seized the opportunity of entering those parts of the premises from which the whole world had been hitherto carefully excluded. They perceived that, as often as they approached a particular outhouse, the lady became excessively uneasy lest some property in an opposite direction should be burned. When the fire was extinguished, they made bold to break open this outhouse. A horrible sight met their eyes. Of the nine slaves, the skeletons of two were afterward found poked into the ground ; the other seven could scarcely be recognized as human. Their faces had the wildness of famine, and their bones were coming through the skin. They were chained and tied in constrained postures, some on their knees, some with their hands above their heads. They had iron collars with spikes which kept their heads in one position. The cowhide, stiff with blood, hung against the wall ; and there was a stepladder on which this fiend stood while flogging her victims, in order to lay on the lashes with more effect. Every morning, it was her first employment after breakfast to lock herself in with her captives, and flog them till her strength failed. Amid shouts and groans, the sufferers were brought out into the air and light. Food was given them with too much haste, for two of them died in the course of the day. The rest, maimed and helpless, are pensioners of the city.

The rage of the crowd, especially of the French creoles, was excessive. The lady shut herself up in the house with her trembling daughters, while the street was filled from end to end with a yelling crowd of gentlemen. She consulted her coachman as to what she had best do. He advised that she should have her coach to the door after dinner, and appear to go forth for her afternoon drive, as usual, escaping or returning, according to the aspect of affairs. It is not told whether she ate her dinner that day, or prevailed on her remaining slaves to wait upon her. The carriage appeared at the door, she was ready, and stepped into it. Her assurance seems to have paralyzed the crowd. The moment the door was shut they appeared to repent having allowed her to enter, and they tried to upset the carriage, to hold the horses, to make a snatch at the lady. But the coachman laid about him with his whip, made the horses plunge, and drove off. He took the road to the lake, where he could not be intercepted, as it winds through the swamp. He outstripped the crowd, galloped to the lake, bribed the master of a schooner which was lying there to put off instantly with the lady to Mobile. She escaped to France, and took up her abode in Paris under a feigned name, but not for long. Late one evening a party of gentlemen called on her, and told her she was Madame Lalaurie, and that she had better be off. She fled that night, and is supposed to be now skulking about in some French province under a false name. The New Orleans mob met the carriage returning from the lake. What became of the coachman I do not know. The carriage was broken to pieces and thrown into the swamp, and the horses stabbed and left dead upon the road. The house was gutted, the two poor girls having just time to escape from a window. They are now living, in great poverty, in one of the faubourgs. The piano, tables, and chairs were burned before the house. The feather-beds were ripped up, and the feathers emptied into the street, where they afforded a delicate footing for some days. The house stands, and is meant to stand, in its ruined state. It was the strange sight of its gaping windows and empty walls, in the midst of a busy street, which excited my won der, and was the cause of my being told the story the first time. I gathered other particulars afterward from eyewitnesses.

Postcard of Warrington House, New Orleans taken around 1910

Front of postcard

Postcard of Warrington House, New Orleans taken around 1910 - Front

Back of postcard

Postcard of Warrington House, New Orleans taken around 1910 - Back

 

 

Sources: Wikipedia, Retrospect of Western Travel, Following Evil’s Footsteps, IB Times, True TV, American Horror Story, Prairie Ghosts, Huffington Post, Trip Advisor, Rolling Stone Magazine, IMDB, History Channel, Haunted New Orleans, French Quarter.com, LSU Libraries




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