Delphine LaLaurie: New Orleans's Famously Sadistic Slave Owner
New Orleans is full of ghost stories, but the most haunting tale is that of Delphine LaLaurie, a mad slave owner who tortured the men and women in her employ. Stories of LaLaurie's depravity have inspired fear throughout Louisiana, and even long after she passed away, it’s believed that her spirit lingers around the mansion where she committed so many atrocities. According to legend, the mansion played host to disembowlings, human experimentation, and plain ol' murder.
Madame LaLaurie, the Savage Mistress
Marie Delphine LaLaurie wasn't always a horrible monster. Born in 1787 in New Orleans, then under Spanish rule, her early life was fairly normal for a wealthy person. She was brought up in high society, and those who knew her thought her to be a kind young woman. It's believed that the horrendous acts for which she's known were inspired by her third husband, Louis LaLaurie. They married in 1825 after an intense fling that resulted in the birth of a son, the sixth child for Delphine. Supposedly, once the two were wed, she started to act out against her slaves and even her own children when they tried to feed them. Initially, it all happened behind closed doors, but it wasn't long before her devious behavior made itself known to the public.
She may have chased a girl off her roof
LaLaurie's punishment weren't just violent; they were psychotic. According to one story about her legendary fury, she chased a young girl across her yard with "cowhide in hand," pursuing her all the way up to (and off) the roof of her mansion. British social theorist Harriet Martineau claims that a neighbor saw the whole thing. Martineau wrote:
She heard the fall and saw the child taken up, her body bending and limbs hanging as if every bone were broken ... At night, she saw the body brought out, a shallow hole dug by torchlight, and the body covered over.
After the death was reported, the police investigated LaLaurie and took nine slaves from her home, but she leveraged her family connections to get them back.
A fire at LaLaurie Mansion exposed her secret life
The horrors of LaLaurie Mansion were thrust into the public eye after a fire broke out in the home in 1834. According to authorities, the family's cook, a 70-year-old black woman who worked while chained to the stove, started the blaze. She explained that although she was expected to cook for the family, she was starved and beaten for the most minor of slights, so she hoped the fire would end her suffering.
As the blaze was extinguished, neighbors broke down the doors to the slave quarters and the attic to save as many people as they could. Upon entering the home, they found a mass of bodies. Some were dead, but others were (barely) alive. They were chained to the walls, mutilated and starving. The day after the fire, The New Orleans Bee wrote:
Upon entering one of the apartments, the most appalling spectacle met their eyes. Seven slaves more or less horribly mutilated were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other ... These slaves were the property of the demon, in the shape of a woman ... They had been confined by her for several months in the situation from which they had thus providentially been rescued and had been merely kept in existence to prolong their suffering and to make them taste all that the most refined cruelty could inflict.
Some historians doubt the extent of LaLaurie's depravity, but she was still pretty awful
While some stories of LaLaurie's abuse are legit, many modern researchers believe that some of the most upsetting stories about her have been exaggerated over time. At the time of the fire, however, several papers noted the mutilated slaves found chained up in the attic. Many of the men and women were covered in welts and wearing collars with spikes on the inside. As horrific as that sounds, it was a normal method of restraint in the 19th century. Daniel Rasmussen, the author of American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt, explains:
They would tie your hands to four stakes, then whip you with a cat-o'-nine-tails. And that would leave you bleeding and barely able to move. They also had iron masks to put around your head so you couldn't eat. And they had collars with spikes facing inwards so the slaves couldn't sleep without getting spikes stuck in their necks. Those were common forms of punishment in Louisiana during this period. They believed that without the threat of tremendous violence, slaves wouldn't stay slaves.
There may have been human experiments in her attic
One of the most harrowing discoveries in LaLaurie's attic are the alleged human experiments that may put her on the same serial killer wavelength of 20th-century psychos like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein. According to multiple accounts, many of the women who were chained up in the attic had been transformed in some way. One woman's skin had been peeled away into spirals that made her look like a caterpillar. A second woman's bones had been broken and reset so she looked like a crab, and another victim's intestines were ripped out of their body and wrapped around them.
Locals believe she escaped to Paris
No one really knows what happened to LeLaurie after the horrific discovery of her attic. The only people who kept tabs on her were her children. It's believed that she spent the rest of her life in Paris, where she could keep to herself and quietly fade into obscurity, passing away on December 7, 1849. However, there's a placard on a tomb in the St. Louis Cemetery 1 in New Orleans for "Madame Lalaurie, Nee Marie Delphine Maccarthy" that says she passed away in December 1842. Just like her life, her death is a mystery.
Nicolas Cage bought her haunted house
After LeLaurie passed away, her beloved mansion fell into disrepair, eventually becoming a tourist attraction. Over the years, visitors have reported feeling lightheaded and experiencing full-body apparitions while capturing orbs in their photos. One man, however, was undeterred by the spooky atmosphere around the home: In 2007, actor Nicolas Cage bought the mansion for $3.45 million with plans for writing a novel in the space. He ended up selling the property for $3.5 million in 2009, explaining that he "didn't get too far with the novel." Delphine LaLaurie might have done a lot of terrible things in her life, but at least she protected us from that.
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