The LaLaurie Mansion is a three-story mansion located in the French Quarter of New Orleans and while the outside of the mansion is rather plain, the history behind it is anything but. If you’re a fan of the show American Horror Story and saw the third season, you might be a bit familiar with the leading lady of this tale.
I do have to warn you: this story deals with explicit descriptions of torture and slavery.
The mansion gained its name from previous owners: Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife Delphine, who bought it and lived in it in the early 19th century. The couple were an influential presence in the city and hosted all sorts of highly sought after extravagant dinners and social engagements. The inside of the mansion was said to have been gorgeous; guests dined on the finest china; and those in high society New Orleans clamored over getting an invite to one of the LaLauries’ social events. People were enamored with Delphine especially, as she was said to be incredibly beautiful and even more intelligent.
Because this was Louisiana in the 1830s and they were rich and of European descent, the LaLauries of course had slaves. But rumors suggest that their slaves were even more mistreated than others – some say that when out in public, the couple’s slaves looked sickly and fatigued. Delphine often had excuses to explain the conditions she left her slaves in but at the same time, there were stories of slaves entering the LaLaurie household and never being seen again.
One story goes that a personal maid to Delphine was brushing her hair one morning when she caught a snag, causing Delphine to cry out in pain. In response, Delphine chased the young girl throughout the house and in the midst of running away, the girl eventually ended up on the third story balcony of the house and fell to her death.
History doesn’t remember the name of this girl but an investigation was opened on the LaLauries for gross mistreatment of their slaves. The result of that investigation is said to have cost the couple their slaves and made it impossible for them to buy them back. A relative, however, acted as an intermediary, bought the slaves for the couple, and smuggled them back into the house.
One night in either March or April of 1834, a fire broke out in the LaLaurie mansion and firefighters were called to the scene. The fire is said to have been started by the cook – a slave who had been beaten and chained to the stove and started the fire as a suicide attempt. While putting out the flames and talking with the cook, a secret and locked door in the attic had been discovered and what was found inside caused a few of the firefighters walk out and vomit.
Inside the room, there were more than a dozen slaves who had been chained up and tortured. Some were hanging from the ceiling from their limbs; others were tied to tables; even more were chained to the walls. Body parts were scattered across the room and there were buckets filled with heads and organs. Some of the slaves were said to have had their stomachs slashed open and intestines wrapped around them. Others had massive head wounds filled with maggots and many had their fingernails pulled off. Many have said that all this torture and all this cruelty came from Delphine herself, with Louis turning a blind eye to it all.
In United States history, slavery was cruel and unrelenting – that I do not want to deny. The way in which white folks treated the black slaves during that same time was also inhumane and awful but what was rumored to have happened in the LaLaurie Mansion goes above and beyond that time’s cruelty. Soon, word got out about what had been happening and eventually an angry mob showed up on the streets outside the mansion.
While the couple hadn’t been home during the fire and eventual discovery, the two had managed to sneak out of town and were never seen or heard from again. Some say that they disappeared into a small city outside of New Orleans; others claiming that they settled in the woods near a lake up north; the most plausible explanation is that the two ended up in Paris, France. Wherever they ended up, the two escaped having to answer for their crimes.
The mansion ended up being abandoned for many years but over time, has been home to many tenants and businesses. At one point or another, occupants including a furniture store, a bar, apartments, a dance studio, a high school, and Nic Cage. I’m not kidding about that last part – a couple years ago, Nic Cage owned the building but it was eventually foreclosed on. Now, the building is privately owned.
Odds are that what happened behind the closed doors of the LaLaurie Mansion when Delphine and Louis lived there were exaggerated through time. Stories like this regularly tend to grow and grow as it is told throughout history as they gain notoriety and horror. There’s no doubt, at least in my mind, that Delphine was particularly horrible to her slaves and went above and beyond the time’s usual cruelty. But I also have some doubt over how accurate all the stories might be.
Can you visit?
Technically, yes. You can go see the outside of the LaLaurie Mansion as it exists now and it is a stop in a few ghost tours of the town. But the outside is the only part of the mansion you’ll be able to see as the inside has been closed to the public for years. According to one ghost tour company, the current owner isn’t fond of the public interest in the house and even refused to let the crew of American Horror Story film the outside of it.
And that is the story behind Delphine LaLaurie and the LaLaurie Mansion.
Sources and to learn more:
- Lore podcast – Trick or Treat 2016: Set 1 (listen here)
- Haunted New Orleans – The Lalaurie House
- Ghost City Tours – The Lalaurie Mansion: New Orleans’ Most Infamous Haunted House
- Ghost City Tours – Can I Go Into the Lalaurie Mansion?