July 16, 2014
No way was I going to New Orleans for the first time ever without reading up on it first. Especially since one of the characters in my book grew up there. I had to get the scoop. Conduct reconnaissance. Make my list.
And, yes, that is how I wound up looking for the house on Amelia Street that no longer exists.
It’s also how I dragged T to see the haunted house.
I read about it in Christopher Benfey’s Degas in New Orleans, of all things. Ironically, I never did make it to the Degas house. Next time.
The story goes like this: back in the 1830’s, beautiful Creole socialite Mme. Lalaurie threw hella-fun parties in this beautiful house on Royal street. The only odd thing about the place was that the door to the slaves’ apartment was secured by a huge lock, and the windows were barred with iron shutters.
One night a fire broke out in the house. Neighbors rushed over to help and asked where the slaves were. They soon found out. Upon breaking down the padlocked door to the slaves’ apartment, they entered a chamber of horrors.
Shackled men and women languished from severe abuse and neglect. The editor for a New Orleans newspaper couldn’t recount the story without shuddering at the recollection. It turned out that the fire had been started by the cook, who’d been chained to the fireplace at the time, and who had apparently felt so desperate that setting the house on fire had seemed like a viable option.
An angry mob ran Mme. Lalaurie out of town. The fire-gutted house stood in disrepair for decades. Then came the tales of blue light in the blackened windows and screams in the night, the haunting of the house by the ghosts of the slaves who had been tortured and killed there.
After reading about all this in Benfey’s book, I had to go see this house. How could I not?
We parked in the French Quarter and walked towards our destination, following the red dot on my iPhone GPS.
“Is there a sign? What’s this place called?” T asked.
T should have known better by now.
We paraded up and down the block in front of the three story house on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls, because according to my GPS we were at our destination, 1140 Royal Street. But no sign indicated that the place was the historic haunted house. The building wasn’t even marked by a number.
“This has to be it,” I said.
The skepticism rolled off T in waves.
“Now, look,” I said, shrugging off my backpack. “This place is listed in Fodor’s. I’m not making it up.”
I leaned against the gate that barricaded the front entrance, trying to read the mailboxes that were obscured from the sunlight. A couple approached.
“This has to be 1140,” the woman said.
“Are you looking for the haunted house?” I said.
Now certain that we were at the right house, I crossed the street to take pictures.
Two different horse-drawn guided tours passed by while I stood on the street corner gawking. I listened to the drivers’ spiels, hoping to catch some shivery-delicious details about the haunted house.
“Nicholas Cage bought this house several years ago, but then got in trouble with the IRS over back taxes.”
Huh. I didn’t care about Nicholas Cage. I wanted to hear about the ghosts.
The next tour guide said, “American Horror Story wasn’t allowed to film here. They ended up filming a few houses down.”
Still, nothing about the ghosts.
T and I joked that the story of the tortured slaves was too disturbing for the horse-drawn carriage circuit and was thus left out of the tour yarns.
Back home in Albuquerque, I was poking around the internet when I found a link to an article about American Horror Story: Coven, a show I have avoided watching because it looks too disturbing. Then I read that Kathy Bates’ character is based on Mme. Lalaurie—the woman who threw the fancy parties while her abused slaves suffered.
Guess I’m going to have to watch Coven now. Damn it.