Crixeo: 'Haunted' Louisiana Mansions
Ghosts Along the Bayou: Three Haunted Louisiana Mansions
There’s always been something gothic about Louisiana, with its haunting beauty and alluring ghost stories. Natives are no stranger to tales of the swamps, odd paranormal activity and haunted places. They’re practically tradition! And when I was growing up, there were three homes in particular that captured my imagination, with backstories filled with blood and gore. Over the years, these stories have become a part of me, in a sense, still sticking to my bones and memory like a bowl of my mother’s gumbo or my great-grandmother’s rice and gravy. More than that, these tales have become a form of Southern mythology, with lessons folded into each haunting. So let me share these tales with you, and tell them as they were told to me:
The Myrtles, St. Francisville
There was a young, beautiful girl named Chloe who worked as a field slave for the Laurel Grove Plantation on Bayou Sara (now known as St. Francisville). She labored beneath the hot Louisiana sun most of her life, picking cotton and indigo petals, until one day the owner of the plantation — Judge Clark Woodruff — discovered the girl and decided to make her his mistress. Once Chloe began her work in the house, she realized her role was twofold: tend to the judge, as well as the children — all under the watchful eye of the judge’s wife, Sarah.
Sarah neither liked nor trusted Chloe and often complained to her husband about her, saying the girl should be sent back to work in the fields. Afraid of losing her position in the house, Chloe turned to eavesdropping, hoping to gather information that might give her an advantage over Sarah. The only problem? Chloe was terrible at eavesdropping, and she was often caught. Each time, the judge would warn her to stop or else he’d have to punish her — but still Chloe listened in. Sarah increased the pressure on her husband to do something, and soon he did.
On that fateful day, Chloe made the mistake of listening in on one of Judge Woodruff’s confidential conversations with a visitor and was caught when the visitor opened the door to leave, resulting in Chloe falling into the room on her knees. It was then that the judge dragged her out to the courtyard and sliced off her left ear, just before banishing her from the house to work in the kitchen.
Now, for Chloe, working in the kitchen was worse than working in the fields. The space made her feel claustrophobic, and the temperature was blistering hot. She soon felt the strongest urge to win her way back into the house — and the judge’s good graces. She took to wearing a green scarf around her head, tilted to the left to cover the scar. And one day, as she watched the young children playing without her, Chloe hatched a plan. She knew if the children were sick, they’d call for her, so she decided to put an extra ingredient into their birthday cake, just enough to have them cry her name.
The celebration was only a few days away, so Chloe acted quickly. She plucked leaves off an oleander plant growing very near the house; then she boiled the leaves in milk and butter, which she added to the cake batter. And yes, the children soon got sick, as did their mother, Sarah, but because the poison of oleander is so potent, Chloe was unable to nurse them back to health. Two of the three small children died, as did Sarah, all while the judge was out of town.
Fellow slaves, fearing they would be punished for such a crime, made Chloe stand trial for the deaths in the family, found her guilty and sentenced her to hang from an oak tree. To make sure she never returned, they weighed her body down with stones and threw her into the river. But some say Chloe is still in the house, playing with the children. Guests who have stayed overnight at the bed and breakfast swear they’ve heard them laugh in the night, as Chloe whistles and works.
1140 ROYAL STREET, NEW ORLEANS
Delphine Macarty was a woman of high birth and privilege in Creole society, with plenty of wealth, beauty and charm to secure her spot among the New Orleans elite. She’d been married twice, accumulating even greater wealth, before she walked down the aisle with Louis Lalaurie, a surgeon who specialized in human deformities. Louis was somewhat younger than her, and she came with children in tow; but things appeared to be normal when the couple purchased their three-story mansion on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter in 1832. There they threw fabulous parties, entertaining foreign dignitaries and business titans of the day. Delphine was at the height of her fame as a Creole queen of the New Orleans social scene. But rumors began to circulate among their neighbors, and people started to wonder what exactly was going on at 1140 Royal Street.
One night in 1833, a neighbor saw Delphine on the roof of the house, bullwhip in hand, chasing a small slave girl no older than eight. At one point, the girl lost her footing and fell to the stone courtyard below with a crunch. Older slaves were seen collecting the mangled body and burying the girl in the yard. The rumors grew more frightening, but no one knew anything for sure.
Then there was the fire. Witnesses said the cook started it. Police found her chained to the stove. Some say she was the grandmother of the child who’d fallen off the roof and that she’d decided to sacrifice her own life in the name of revenge against the Lalauries. And while the mansion burned, Delphine tried to save her artwork. Louis tried to make the rescuers leave, but a fireman found a lock on the attic door and decided to break through. There they found ghastly horrors unlike any New Orleans had seen before.
The room was dank with the smells of blood, feces and death. Slaves were shackled in heavy chains, starved and mutilated. One woman’s joints had been broken and reset to make her resemble a crab; a man’s head had suffered a major blow and maggots were crawling in and out of the injury. Another was covered in honey, with ants devouring his skin. And even more had random body parts sewn onto their flesh in awkward locations, or their intestines tied around their waists. A bucket of organs and chum was collecting flies in the center.
When the crowd saw these poor souls carried out on stretchers, the people formed an angry mob, demanding punishment for the wicked Madame Lalaurie, who they soon saw escape in her carriage. They chased the horses but failed to catch up, letting Madame Lalaurie get away. Some say she died in France; others, that she one day returned to New Orleans and lived out the rest of her days hiding from her crimes. But to this day, many visitors claim they hear muffled screams, knocking, scratching, and cries. And on certain nights, they say, you can still see that poor little girl falling from the roof, which is why they call the Lalaurie Mansion the most haunted house in New Orleans.
CHRETIEN POINT, SUNSET
Félicité Chretien was what you might call a “man’s woman.” As a child she worked with her father running his plantation and broke the mold of what a Louisiana woman in the 1800s might accomplish. She rode horses astride, like a man, smoked cigars, visited New Orleans unchaperoned and often played poker with the men, her dark eyes and husky laugh both equally memorable. And after her husband and youngest child had died from yellow fever, she took it upon herself to raise her four remaining children while managing her husband’s family plantation, just 14 miles north of Lafayette.
News quickly spread throughout the area about Félicité living alone in a 12-room redbrick mansion on 3,000 acres of cotton. There were even rumors that a former tenant of the home, a pirate by the name of Jean Lafitte, had buried treasure in the yard, which added to the appeal of robbing Chretien Point. And during the 1840s, a gang of men decided to do just that. In the dark of night, they traveled down Bayou Bourbeaux and snuck onto the property, creeping toward the house. Félicité heard strange noises from her bedroom and peeked through her window to discover the men advancing on her porch in the darkness. She grabbed her gun and a satchel of money, then headed toward the stairwell.
Félicité knew the children were sleeping, and the servants had already left for their homes across the field. There was only so much she could do, but she had to protect the house. Suddenly the front door opened, and she saw a man enter her foyer and begin to climb the stairs. “Stop,” she cried out, holding up the money.
But the man did not stop. Instead, he continued to approach her, unfazed by her 4’10” frame. And when he got just close enough that she could see the whites of his eyes, Félicité raised her gun and shot the man clean in the middle of his head. His body collapsed on the stairs and bled into the carpet.
Quickly, Félicité jumped over the corpse and raced to wake up the men of the property, who lived in the back fields. They grabbed their guns and followed her to the house, where the other men still lurked out front.
“What do you want?” she screamed out to them.
“Our friend,” they replied.
“He ran out back when he heard the gun. Your friend isn’t here, and we will shoot you if you do not leave.”
The men ran away from the plantation, leaving their friend behind.
The next day, Félicité had the intruder’s body removed from her home, but some say his spirit remains. Rumor has it that when the maids tried to remove the bloodstains from the stairwell, they would not budge. And when guests stay in the home today, they swear they can hear someone climbing the stairs, only for a gun to go off in the night.
NOW FOR THE TRUTH…
In the case of Chretien Point, there was indeed an intruder and Félicité famously protected her home that night. As for the ghost, no one can be sure if he actually exists, but at least we know the incident truly occurred, as it’s recorded in the St. Landry Parish Courthouse. As for The Myrtles, and the legend of Chloe, it’s very difficult to prove Chloe ever existed, and since the records say both Sarah and her two children — a daughter and a son — died of yellow fever, it’s hard to believe the birthday cake incident ever happened. Even more damning is the fact that tales of Chloe didn’t really begin until the 1950s, when an Oklahoma widow named Marjorie Munson purchased the house. And the only “proof” presented is a postcard with a blurry image of what appears to be an older woman, walking toward the kitchen in the breezeway; however, since this “proof” is presented as a product to be purchased, rather than as evidence, that makes me believe the entire story is completely false.
As for Madame LaLaurie, it appears the tale of 1140 Royal Street is a gross exaggeration of events. Yes, she and her husband appear to be guilty of abusing and starving their slaves — which is horrible — but as far as the medical experiments and grotesque mutilation of victims, the evidence leads one to believe those accusations are false. In addition, the small child who fell off the roof in the tale has never been identified. There are no records of a Nina, and no human remains were ever found buried in the courtyard. That particular story appears to have been created by a British travel writer and abolitionist named Harriet Martineau in the 1840s. As for the horror show in the attic? There are no police or historical records validating such a scene. Instead, this can be traced to a 1946 book by Jeanne DeLavigne titled Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans. Otherwise, there is no evidence to support this version of the tale. (For a deeper analysis, I highly recommend Mad Madame Lalaurie by Victoria Cosner Love and Lorelei Shannon.)
Of course, the truth isn’t nearly as exciting as a good tale or ghost story. Having visited all three of these reportedly haunted places at one point or another, I can say there is something exciting about being there. And whether or not ghosts actually exist, there is value in telling these tales. After all, would The Myrtles be such an attraction for tourists if Chloe’s tale had never existed? Would Haunted Louisiana tours be as much good fun without a stop at the “most haunted house in New Orleans”? Would it hurt to think Félicité Chretien was such a badass that she sent a burglar, who meant her family harm, into purgatory instead of hell? Isn’t it fun to look at these old so-called haunted places and wonder, “What if?”