The LaLaurie Mansion at Royal Street, New Orleans, belonged to Madame Delphine MacCarthy LaLaurie (1787-1849) and her third husband, Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, a physician.
The couple moved into the mansion in 1832.
A fire outbreak occurred at the mansion in 1834. While attempting to rescue people from the mansion’s slave quarters, rescuers discovered a torture chamber where Madame LaLaurie allegedly engaged in extreme sadistic torture of imprisoned slaves. The news sparked outrage, and a mob ransacked the building.
Local folklore claims that nearly two centuries after the dramatic incident, the spirits of the slaves who suffered untold hardships haunt the mansion.
Madame Delphine MacCarthy LaLaurie
Madame Delphine MacCarthy LaLaurie was a New Orleans socialite who hosted lavish parties attended by the city’s high society. She was the daughter of Louis Barthelemy de McCarty and Marie-Jeanne L’Érable, prominent members of the wealthier classes of New Orleans society.
Delphine was previously married to the Spanish colonial officer Don Ramón de Lopez y Angulo. They lived in New Orleans after marrying in 1800 but left for Spain in 1804.
Don Ramon died unexpectedly in Cuba en route to Spain. Delphine gave birth to her first child, a daughter, shortly afterward.
Having lost her Spanish husband, she returned to New Orleans, where he married another prominent citizen Jean Blanque, a local legislator and banker. The couple had four children, but Blanque died in 1816.
The LaLaurie Mansion
Delphine MacCarthy married her third husband, Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, in June 1825. Leonard LaLaurie was a physician much younger than his wife. The marriage produced two daughters.
Edmond Soniat Dufossat sold the mansion at 1140 Royal St. to Madame Delphine LaLaurie in 1831. Multiple sources claimed she purchased it in her name and appeared to have owned and managed it independently of her husband.
The couple moved into the mansion in 1832. The property came to be known as the LaLaurie Mansion. It was an imposing two-story structure with adjoining slave quarters.
In the 1830s, many of the wealthy members of New Orleans society kept slaves. Madame LaLaurie was not an exception. She was a wealthy citizen of New Orleans with a privileged family background.
Delphine and Leonard LaLaurie’s marriage soon ran into problems. She filed a court petition in November 1832, accusing her husband of treating her in a way that made it impossible for them to continue living together.
However, it appeared the couple later reconciled because they were living together at the 1140 Royal St. mansion when the events that would permanently change their lives unfolded in 1834.
Rumors of sadistic tortures at the LaLaurie Mansion
While the LaLauries lived in the mansion, rumors circulated about sinister goings-on. People reportedly noticed that many of Madame LaLaurie’s slaves looked miserable, haggard, and worn and that their appearances suggested ongoing poor treatment.
Following multiple incidents, rumors started swirling that she was a sadist who habitually brutalized and tortured the slaves who served her and her husband (Carolyn Marrow Long, 2012).
However, enslaved individuals had limited legal protections during the era of slavery. Thus, the police couldn’t always investigate wealthy and influential citizens over unconfirmed allegations that they were brutalizing their slaves.
Delphine also reportedly maintained a public appearance that belied the stories of sadism swirling around about her. She was always reportedly gracious to her slaves in the presence of other people and never spoke or acted harshly toward them.
Investigations at the LaLaurie Mansion
Rumors about dark goings-on in the mansion became so persistent that the city authorities could not ignore them.
Madame LaLaurie came under the scrutiny of the civil authorities in 1828 (Carolyn Marrow Long, 2012), but they found no evidence to support rumors that she was violating laws about the treatment of slaves.
But another incident in 1833 drew the attention of the authorities to the rumors of grisly activity in the mansion.
A slave girl named Lia
According to some accounts, trouble started when a 12-year-old slave girl named Lia (8 years old by some accounts) was brushing LaLaurie’s hair, and the brush got caught in a tangle.
Incensed, LaLaurie picked up a whip, and Lia took to her heels. She chased Lia around the house and to the top of the building, where the slave girl tripped and fell to her death.
Police officers came to the mansion to investigate and found that LaLaurie attempted to conceal the girl’s body in a well.
The city authorities responded by fining LaLaurie and requiring her to sell off her slaves. LaLaurie reportedly circumvented the forced sale by selling the slaves to acquaintances, who then sold them back to her after the authorities had closed the case.
Fire at the LaLaurie Mansion
A fire that broke out at the mansion on April 10, 1834, revealed the full extent of the suspected sadistic treatment of enslaved individuals at the mansion.
A crowd gathered to observe the fire while others joined firefighters to help. Some attempted to enter the slave quarters to rescue the occupants, but the LaLauries refused to let them in. They then forced their way in and allegedly found slaves in appalling conditions.
According to multiple accounts circulating in the late 1800s, many slaves looked severely emaciated and showed signs of horrendous physical abuse, such as whip-induced mutilations and scarifications.
The crowd allegedly found some suspended by the neck with their limbs stretched, others shackled and kept in contorted positions with spiked iron collars around their necks. There were also claims that the crowd discovered a torture chamber in the attic where the LaLauries kept several slaves in chains alongside mutilated corpses.
The New Orleans Bee reported that one witness, Judge Jean-Francois Canonge, who entered the mansion to help in the rescue effort, found a woman wearing an iron collar and another who had a deep gash on her head and needed help to walk.
Canonge said that when he confronted Leonard about the condition of his slaves, Leonard advised him to mind his business because he had no right to meddle in his family’s domestic affairs (The New Orleans Bee, April 11, 1834).
The rescuers released the slaves from confinement and took them to the Cabildo, the seat of the New Orleans city council.
[Note: The Cabildo was the seat of the New Orleans city council until the mid-1850s. It is now the Louisiana State Museum Cabildo on Jackson Square next to the St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans.]
An old slave helped uncover LaLaurie’s torture chamber
One of the slaves was a 70-year-old woman, a cook, whom Madame LaLaurie allegedly kept chained at the ankle to the kitchen stove. LaLaurie’s daughters reportedly attempted unsuccessfully to intervene on behalf of the slave.
During the fire outbreak in April 1834, the old cook could not escape from the burning building because LaLaurie had chained her to the kitchen stove. Rescuers unshackled the woman after the LaLauries refused to help because they were more concerned about saving their furniture from the fire.
After the rescuers released the woman, she led them upstairs to the torture chamber containing dead bodies and slaves in shackles.
At the Cabildo, the woman told interrogators that she caused the fire because she couldn’t bear the torture LaLaurie subjected her to. She alleged that slaves LaLaurie took to the torture chamber on the upper floor never returned.
Local newspapers covered the story
People trooped to the Cabildo to see the slaves, and within a few hours, an excited crowd of about 4,000 had gathered.
The local French-language newspaper, The New Orleans Bee, reported on the gruesome discoveries at the mansion, describing the atrocities LaLaurie inflicted on her slaves as barbarous and fiendish and “too incredible for human belief.”
A mob ransacked the LaLaurie mansion
The sight of the slaves’ mutilated condition shocked and enraged the local populace. An incensed mob descended on the fire-damaged building, broke into it, looted valuables left from the fire, and destroyed those they couldn’t move.
The building had been destroyed by the time police officers arrived at the scene to stop the mob.
The New Orleans Advertiser reported that police investigators found other dead bodies, including a child, buried on the mansion grounds (The Pittsfield Sun, Thursday, May 8, 1834).
Madame LaLaurie and her husband escaped to France
Madame LaLaurie and her husband escaped from the building before the mob came.
The couple reportedly fled by boat to a location around Lake Pontchartrain in southeastern Louisiana and then to Mobile, Alabama, from where friends smuggled them out of the country to France.
The authorities never filed charges against her and her husband. They reportedly restarted their lives in Paris, and according to some sources, Madame LaLaurie died in Paris in 1849 at 62.
However, some locals claimed she never left New Orleans but remained there secretly. Others said that relatives brought her remains from France to New Orleans for burial at the St. Louis Cemetry.
Actor Nicholas Cage purchased the building in 2007
The fire-gutted building stood in ruins until a private citizen, Charles Caffin, purchased and rebuilt it in 1838.
The building has changed hands multiple times since then. It has served as a high school, a music school, an apartment building, a remand home, and a store.
Actor Nichola Cage purchased it for $3.45 million in 2007, but a foreclosure led to an auction.
Many slaves died at the LaLaurie Mansion
Public records allegedly revealed that 12 slaves died at 1140 Royal Street during the years the LaLauries lived there.
Slaves who died from undocumented causes included two adults (a cook and a laundry slave) and four children (including Lia). However, she freed two slaves, Jean Louis in 1819 and Devince in 1832.
Ghost tourism at the LaLaurie Mansion
Today, the LaLaurie Mansion is a three-story building that has undergone multiple renovations. Thus, the structure isn’t the same as the 19th-century mansion in which the LaLauries lived.
The LaLaurie Mansion is a tourist attraction in New Orleans. However, it is private property. You may enter the building only if the owner invites you.
According to local folklore, the spirits of the tortured slaves who lived and died in the mansion haunt the building. Folklore alleging that the building is haunted dates back to the late 19th century.
Locals claimed that neighbors heard screams and wailings from inside the mansion in the dead of night. They claimed that the screams came from the spirits of the people LaLaurie tortured to death.
As early as 1885, about 50 years after the incident, newspapers and guidebooks were referring to the house as “haunted.”
The allegations of paranormal activity in the building became more elaborate as time passed. Tour guides alleged sightings of ghost-like figures in chains roaming the house and grounds at night. People also alleged poltergeist activity in the building.
Some people claimed to have seen the ghost of Madame LaLaurie at the St. Louis cemetery.
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Top image courtesy of Dropd used under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0.
|Address||LaLaurie Mansion, 1140 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116|
|Activity reported||Haunting, Poltergeist, Shadow Figures|
Where to find
In the media
Season 3 of the anthology series American Horror Story, titled Coven, featured Madame LaLaurie, played by actress Kathy Bates.
Bates appeared as Madame LaLaurie in multiple episodes of the season.
Madame Lalaurie: Mistress of the Haunted House by Carolyn Marrow Long, 2012.
Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era by Tiya Miles, 2015.
Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans by Jeanne DeLavigne, 1946.
https://web.archive.org/web/20200318080330/https://www.newspapers.com/clip/46886643/the-pittsfield-sun/, “The Pittsfield Sun,” Thursday, May 8, 1834, accessed on April 12, 2023.
https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-torture-chamber-is-uncovered-by-arson, “A torture chamber is uncovered by arson,” accessed on April 12, 2023.
https://www.legendsofamerica.com/lalaurie-mansion/, “Delphine LaLaurie and Her Haunted Mansion in New Orleans,” accessed on April 12, 2023.
https://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1492, “New Orleans Historical: The Lalaurie Mansion,” accessed on April 12, 2023.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12577/12577-h/12577-h.htm#pg192, “The ‘haunted house’ in Royal Street,” accessed on April 12, 2023.
https://web.archive.org/web/20120421221754/http://www.nola.com/lalaurie/trail/plate.html, “Epitaph-Plate of ‘Haunted’ House Owner Found Here,” accessed on April 12, 2023.