Monday, July 13, 2009

A haunted house in New Orleans

This is a truly gruesome story; be warned!

In 1832, Dr. Louis Lalaurie moved into a three-story mansion at 1140 Royal Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans with his wife, Delphine. Madame Lalaurie was a very popular hostess and diligent in attending to the needs of her guests. She was a woman of good business sense, handling the family's finances, and was admired for her beauty and elegance.

Below the gorgeous surface, however, the not-so-good Madame was a monster. These were the days of slavery, and the Lalauries had many. Madame Lalaurie chained the cook to the kitchen fireplace - and the cook was one of the luckier ones. All the servants in the house were slaves, and people began to notice a rather high turnover. It wasn't as if the slaves could just walk off the job; if they left - in other words, if they ran away - they were simply returned to their "owners" and treated that much worse for having attempted to escape. Yet the slaves just... vanished. And were replaced. Strange, since the cost of buying a slave was rather high.

One day, one of the neighbors heard a scream from the Lalaurie house. Madame was chasing her personal maid, who was just a child, with a whip. The girl ran to the roof of the house then jumped, dying on the ground below. The same neighbor saw the girl being buried in the yard later.

At that time, New Orleans law prevented cruelty to slaves; the authorities came to investigate Madame's actions, based on what the neighbor had seen, and took the slaves, later auctioning them. Madame Lalaurie then talked some of her relatives into buying them, and reselling them to her.

In April of 1834, the can of worms was finally opened when a fire broke out in the kitchen. Some said later that it was set by the cook. After it was extinguished, the fire fighters broke through a door in the attic and discovered what Madame had been doing in her spare time. There were more than a dozen slaves, male and female, chained to the wall. Some had been strapped to crude operating tables. Some locked in dog cages. Body parts were scattered everywhere. Torture instruments were piled on a shelf. The New Orleans Bee stated that all the victims were naked and were either strapped to the tables or chained to the wall. Some of the women's abdomens had been cut open and their intestines wrapped around their waists. One woman's mouth had been filled with animal excrement before her lips were sewn shut.
As for the men, some had had their fingernails torn off, some had had their eyes gouged out, and some had lost their genitals. One man, shackled, had had a hole drilled into his head, from which a stick protruded. The stick had been used to “stir” his brain. Mouths had been pinned shut; hands had been sewn to different areas of the body. Nobody knows how many slaves were discovered in the torture chamber, but most were dead. Some of those who still lived included a woman whose arms and legs had been amputated. Another was in a small cage, all of her limbs broken and then reset at odd angles.

When the news broke, most believed that it was Madame Lalaurie alone who had committed the crimes and that her husband, though knowing of her "activities", allowed them to continue. A mob gathered around the house, but the Madame had another trick up her sleeve. She simply got into her carriage, horses and coachman at the ready, and ordered him to drive. The crowd was so surprised, it split around her. None of the Lalauries was ever seen again.

After the mutilated slaves had been taken away, the house was vandalized by the enraged mob. For years, it stayed vacant, slowly decaying. There were many reports of agonized screams from the empty house at night, and apparitions appearing in various areas. There were even rumors that homeless people who attempted to stay in the house disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

In 1837, the house was put on the market. The man who bought it regretted his decision so much that he left three months later. He heard weird noises at night and soon left. Attempts at leasing the place were unsuccessful; the tenants stayed, at most, a few days.

Late in the 19th century, rumors abounded concerning the death of Jules Vignie, who belonged to a wealthy New Orleans family. He had lived secretly in the house from late in the 1880s until his death in 1892. His body was found in the mansion, lying on a cot, surrounded by filth, when other rooms contained antiques and other valuables. A bag with several hundred dollars was found near his body, and thousands of dollars were hidden in his mattress.

In the late 1890’s, a wave of immigration occurred. The house was purchased and converted into apartments to deal with the increasing population. Many strange events occured. One tenant was attacked by a naked black man in chains, who then vanished. Some had animals slaughtered in the house. Children were attacked by a whip-wielding ghost. Shrouded figures were seen. One mother was terrified to see a woman in evening dress bending over her sleeping baby. There were also the nightly concerts of screaming and moaning. Once the stories of the hauntings spread, no tenant would live there.

Now, the house is an apartment building, once again. Not long ago, the owners were remodeling when they found several graves under the floor in the back of the house. Officials, when called to investigate, believed that this was the infamous Madame Lalaurie’s private graveyard. This was the solution to the puzzle that had baffled her contemporaries: Where had the slaves gone? The Madame had simply pulled up floorboards and buried the bodies underneath.

No wonder the place was haunted.

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