It was a perfectly eerie, chilly, and drizzly New Orleans night in April, 2004. With the dense fog rolling in across the Mississippi River, we thought that it was great weather for a 90 minute evening walking tour through the French Quarter in a city with many, many skeletons and ghosts in numerous closets.
New Orleans was originally settled by criminals and prostitutes, so we had little knowledge of all these murderous details, even with our fascination with the history, people, and our numerous prior visits to the Crescent City.
Whether it was 1888 or 2003, New Orleans homicide statistics were essentially the same: in the unpleasantly low 400s. It's nearly claimed the title as the murder capital of the U.S. once again. So, it's nice to know that little has changed, right? Read on and you'll get a guaranteed chill up your spine reading these macabre tales.
Did you ever know of the horrific 1918 serial killer who only stalked and killed entire families of Italian immigrants? During his or her brutal reign, this person would use an axe to bash the skulls, and a sharp razor to mutilate a dozen entire families until the bloodbath ended one St. Joseph's day. The deranged mad slasher was never apprehended by N'awlins police and came and went like a hurricane blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. To stop, the revolting killer and proclaimed demon from hell wrote a letter that was published in the local newspaper and requested that jazz music be played on every March 19th in every French Quarter Italian household, or else the hideous stalking and killing would continue. Even now, the sweet sounds of jazz waft from the Italian residences within the Little Italy section of the French Quarter.
In 1833, a maelstrom of a gruesome epidemic of cholera wiped out more than 5,000 residents in the French Quarter. It was such a fast spreading epidemic that it resulted with the entire quarter being quarantined. Of course, politicians downplayed this grisly event where more than 500 people died every single day. In one example we learned of, at what is now known as the Via Contenta Hotel at 616 Ursulines Street, a wealthy family of nine who used to happily reside at this address. Since then, the hotel is haunted due to the entire family catching and spreading cholera to each other during a typical evening dinner gathering. They all quickly died from a horrible death at their dining room table as they all were paralyzed from the vile side affects of cholera. Sadly, they all watched each other painfully pass away helplessly since they couldn't even help themselves.
One year later, on April 10, 1834, an educated, wealthy, and beautiful Delphine LaLaurie abruptly ended her horrific reign of medical experiments, torture, and murder in a third floor bedroom of her family's residence on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls Streets. An intentionally set kitchen fire helped to unravel her evil secrets and expose her to all residents of the French Quarter who were so disgusted with her that she disappeared to Jamaica.
It turned out that every Saturday evening the wealthy LaLauries had a full orchestra play at their lavish high society balls held at their French Quarter residence. While the band played, Delphine would venture upstairs and continue her weekly torture sessions on her chained prisoners within a locked bedroom on the third story. Being a socialite and trained nurse, Delphine would change out of her now blood soaked ball gown, clean up, and continue on with her other party and guests downstairs. On this particular evening, as the party moved to and continued in the street as the fire was being dealt with, the authorities searched inside room by room. With the bedroom floor covered in blood and rats everywhere, the authorities found a limbless woman crawling around by her chin, two live people, the results of crude sex change operations, another couple crucified to the wall with their mouths sewn shut, and within a small wooden box, a woman with every joint broken and reset so she resembled a human crab. Additional torture victims, live and dead, were found throughout the house and were even more shocking than those described.
This gory, psychotic woman ultimately met her doom when her Jamaican slaves revolted against her continued torturing ways, and killed her. In the meantime, her former French Quarter house with its tortured moaning ghosts make furniture and objects levitate and throw pictures off the walls each night at the same time. This mansion remains one of the most haunted in the Vieux Carre.
At a local bar called the Mississippi River Bottom, we rested our tired dogs and got out of the misting rain as we enjoyed the back courtyard under a huge, old tree. Kathryn enthusiastically told us the history of this haunting piece of real estate that used to be a brothel. During the late 1880s, a poor immigrant prostitute named Marie finally met the man of her dreams, a sailor, who went off to sea for one final trip prior to their wedding, and unfortunately, came home in a coffin. Marie, who lived above the bar, in sheer desperation, hung herself from a tree out back in the courtyard. It is said that she can be heard weeping on certain evenings as she bemoans the death of her fiancé. Realizing that I was staring at the hanging tree being described in this story, it was time to polish off our Abita Beers and move on.
The group continued on throughout the French Quarter in the cool evening breeze as the rain finally stopped. With more frightening stories told in front of the locations where they occurred, we were soaking this up. To conclude, Kathryn wound up with a brief commercial break hawking a book and video of these and further gruesome tales and their resulting ghosts. Mental note to self and others looking to purchase French Quarter real estate: Better fully check out the history because you never know what intangible spirits come with the price of the house.
For more information on Haunted History Tours, logon www.hauntedhistorytours.com
Feature by Donald & Kimberly Tatera, Jetsetters Magazine Southern California Correspondents.