Most people love a good haunted house story and it seems that the more lurid it can possibly be, the better. Everyone has probably been exposed to the typical ghost story involving a haunted house with a terrifying specter that sends residents running out screaming, but, alas, these are just stories…unlike many others. Putting urban legends and pure speculation aside, there are known occurrences – a plethora of them actually – that involve the paranormal, many of which have been reported for years and have been documented by paranormal investigators. Stereotypical ghost stories have the tendency to produce a feeling of the far-fetched whenever the word “paranormal” is brought up, but what you’re about to read are not your typical legends and fables.
All throughout the country there are houses of all different styles and time periods, which have been home to people from all walks of life, from the most ordinary farmers to the wealthiest businessmen and high society families. They may all share quite a few differences, but they all share one common trait: they’re haunted. Now, don’t necessarily start producing visions of terror at the thought of haunted house, as not all hauntings are malevolent. In fact, most haunted houses don’t come with any type of negative activity, even though the word “haunted” has definitely acquired a negative connotation. Many haunted houses are simply the eternal homes of former owners/residents, all of whom are either friendly or oblivious towards the living.
Of course, the negative imagery of a haunted house exists for a reason, and some of the houses provided in this SPY’S Real Haunts For Halloween list of 38 homes offer up the kind of hauntings you most likely would never want to encounter in your own home. Sometimes, especially when traumatic deaths occur (think murder and suicide here), spirits tend to hold a deep hostility to anything and anyone around them. This hostility can manifest itself in some disturbing ways, such as outright violence towards the occupants or visitors of a house. Experienced by guests of houses that are now hotels, by staff members of those turned into museums or business spaces, and by paranormal investigators out to discover the truth, the houses listed here exhibit enough of a diverse range of hauntings to make you sit up and rethink your views on the topic.
The Myrtles, St. Francisville, Louisiana
Built in 1796 by General David Bradford, this stately old home on Myrtles Plantation is said to be haunted be several restless ghosts. Some researchers say as many as ten murders have been committed there, but others, such as Troy Taylor and David Wisehart, have only been able to confirm one murder at Myrtles. (Those two authors provide a very good history of the house in their article, The Legends, Lore & Lies of The Myrtles Plantation).
Even they agree, however, that the place is seriously haunted and easily qualifies as one of the “most haunted.” These are some of the ghosts that allegedly haunt the house:
Chloe – a former slave who was allegedly hung on the premises for killing two little girls. (Those murders and even the existence of Chloe are in question.)
- The ghosts of the two murdered children have been seen playing on the veranda.
- William Drew Winter – an attorney who lived at Myrtles from 1860 to 1871. He was shot on the side porch of the house by a stranger. With his life’s blood pouring from his body, Winter staggered into the house and began to climb the stairs to the second floor… but didn’t make it. He collapsed and died on the 17th step. It is his last dying footsteps that can still be heard on the staircase to this day. (Winter’s murder is the only one that has been verified.)
- The ghosts of other slaves allegedly occasionally show up to ask if they can do any chores.
- The grand piano has often been heard to play by itself, repeating one haunting chord.
Now a bed and breakfast, The Myrtles Plantation has opened its doors to guests who often report disturbances in the night. My colleague, Stacey Jones, founder of Central New York Ghost Hunters, reports on her stay there:
“It was a spectacular place to stay, if you keep an open mind. While taking the guided tour, I saw what looked like a heavyset African-American woman wearing an apron walk by the door, on the porch. Thinking it was a worker in period dress, I peeked out and no one was there. We stayed in the children’s bedroom, and my best-friend (who was a non-believer at the time) experienced quite a bit of paranormal phenomena. She was held down in the bed and constantly poked all night. She was unable to move or cry out for help. She didn’t think the stay was as great as I did. They let you ghost hunt on the grounds whenever you like, but you can’t ghost hunt in the main house without an escort. I suggest setting up a video camera in your room and bring a tape recorder to obtain EVP.”
The Tower of London, London, England
The Tower of London, one of the most famous and well-preserved historical buildings in the world, may also be one of the most haunted. This is due, no doubt, to the scores of executions, murders and tortures that have taken place within its walls over the last 1,000 years. Dozens upon dozens of ghost sightings have been reported in and around the Tower. On one winter day in 1957 at 3 a.m., a guard was disturbed by something striking the top of his guardhouse. When he stepped outside to investigate, he saw a shapeless white figure on top of the tower. It was then realized that on that very same date, February 12, Lady Jane Grey was beheaded in 1554.
Perhaps the most well-known ghostly resident of the Tower is the spirit of Ann Boleyn, one of the wives of Henry VIII, who was also beheaded in the Tower in 1536. Her ghost has been spotted on many occasions, sometimes carrying her head, on Tower Green and in the Tower Chapel Royal.
Other ghosts of the Tower include those of Henry VI, Thomas a Becket and Sir Walter Raleigh. One of the most gruesome ghost stories connected with the Tower of London describes death of the Countess of Salisbury. According to one account, “the Countess was sentenced to death in 1541 following her alleged involvement in criminal activities (although it is now widely believed that she was probably innocent). After being sent struggling to the scaffold, she ran from the block and was pursued until she was hacked to death by the axe man.” Her execution ceremony has been seen re-enacted by spirits on Tower Green.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Eastern State Penitentiary has become a favorite destination for ghost hunters as well as the public at large since it has been opened to tours.Built in 1829, the imposing Gothic structure was originally designed to hold 250 inmates in solitary confinement. At the height of its use, however, as many as 1,700 prisoners were crammed into the cells. Like many such places of high emotional stress, misery and death, the prison has become haunted.One of its most famous inmates was none other than Al Capone, was was incarcerated there on illegal weapons possession in 1929. During his stay, it is said that Capone was tormented by the ghost of James Clark, one of the men Capone had murdered in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre.Other reported haunting activity includes:
- A shadow-like figure that scoots quickly away when approached.
- A figure that stands in the guard tower.
- An evil cackling reportedly comes from cellblock 12.
- In cellblock 6, another shadowy figure has been seen sliding down the wall.
- Mysterious, ghostly faces are said to appear in cellblock 4.
Unfortunately, not all of these cells are open to the public, even on the tours.
The Queen Mary,Long Beach, California
This grand old ship is quite haunted, according to the many people who have worked on and visited the craft. Once a celebrated luxury ocean liner, when it ended its sailing days the Queen Mary was purchased by the city of Long Beach, California in 1967 and transformed into a hotel.
The most haunted area of the ship is the engine room where a 17-year-old sailor was crushed to death trying to escape a fire. Knocking and banging on the pipes around the door has been heard and recorded by numerous people. In what is now the front desk area of the hotel, visitors have seen the ghost of a “lady in white.”
Ghosts of children are said to haunt the ship’s pool. The spirit of a young girl, who allegedly broke her neck in an accident at the pool, has been heard asking for her mother or her doll. In the hallway of the pool’s changing rooms is an area of unexplained activity. Furniture moves about by itself, people feel the touch of unseen hands and unknown spirits appear. In the front hull of the ship, a specter can sometimes be heard screaming – the pained voice, some believe, of a sailor who was killed when the Queen Mary collided with a smaller ship.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville, Kentucky
The original Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a two-story wooden structure, was opened in 1910, but the larger brick and concrete structure as it stand today was completed in 1926. The hospital was always dedicated to the treatment of tuberculosis patients, a disease that was fairly common in the early 20th Century.
It is estimated that as many as 63,000 people died as the sanatorium. Those deaths coupled with the reports of severe mistreatment of patients and highly questionable experiments and procedures are ingredients for a haunted location.
Ghost investigators who have ventured into Waverly have reported a host of strange paranormal phenomena, including voices of unknown origin, isolated cold spots and unexplained shadows. Screams have been heard echoing in its now abandoned hallways, and fleeting apparitions have been encountered.
In the article, Those That Linger, by Keith Age, Jay Gravatte and Troy Taylor, you can read more about these investigators’ experiences.
The Whaley House,San Diego, California
Located in San Diego, California, the Whaley House has earned the title of “the most haunted house in the U.S.” Built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley on land that was partially once a cemetery, the house has since been the locus of dozens of ghost sightings.
Author deTraci Regula relates her experiences with the house: “Over the years, while dining across the street at the Old Town Mexican Cafe, I became accustomed to noticing that the shutters of the second-story windows of the Whaley House would sometimes open while we ate dinner, long after the house was closed for the day. On a recent visit, I could feel the energy in several spots in the house, particularly in the courtroom, where I also smelled the faint scent of a cigar, supposedly Whaley’s calling-card. In the hallway, I smelled perfume, initially attributing that to the young woman acting as docent, but some later surreptitious sniffing in her direction as I talked to her about the house revealed her to be scent-free.”
Some of the other ghostly encounters include:
- The spirit of a young girl who was accidentally hanged on the property.
- The ghost of Yankee Jim Robinson, a thief who was clubbed to death and who can be heard on the house’s stairway where he died, and has sometimes been seen during tours of the old house.
- The red-haired daughter of the Whaley’s sometimes appears in such a realistic form; she is sometimes mistaken for a live child.
Famed psychic Sybil Leek claimed to have sensed several spirits there, and renowned ghost hunter Hanz Holzer considered the Whaley to be one of the most reliably haunted structures in the United States.
See an eerie photo from a reader taken inside the Whaley House:
Raynham Hall,Norfolk, England
Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England, is most famous for the ghost of “the Brown Lady,” which was captured on film in 1936 in what is considered one of the most authentic ghost pictures ever taken.
The Unexplained Site describes one of the first encounters with the spirit: “The first known sighting happened during the 1835 Christmas season. Colonel Loftus, who happened to be visiting for the holidays, was walking to his room late one night when he saw a strange figure ahead of him. As he tried to gain a better look, the figure promptly disappeared. The next week, the Colonel was again came upon the woman. He described her as a noble woman who wore a brown satin dress. Her face seemed to glow, which highlighted her empty eye sockets.”
The White House,Washington, D.C.
That’s right, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. is not only home to the current President of the United States, it also is home of several former presidents who occasionally decide to make their presences known there, despite the fact that they are dead.
President Harrison is said to be heard rummaging around in the attic of the White House, looking for who knows what. President Andrew Jackson is thought to haunt his White House bedroom. And the ghost of First Lady Abigail Adams was seen floating through one of the White House hallways, as if carrying something.
The most frequently sighted presidential ghost has been that of Abraham Lincoln. Eleanor Roosevelt once stated she believed she felt the presence of Lincoln watching her as she worked in the Lincoln bedroom. Also during the Roosevelt administration, a young clerk claimed to have actually seen the ghost of Lincoln sitting on a bed pulling off his boots. On another occasion, while spending a night at the White House during the Roosevelt presidency, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was awakened by a knock on the bedroom door. Answering it, she was confronted with the ghost of Abe Lincoln staring at her from the hallway. Calvin Coolidge’s wife reported seeing on several occasions the ghost of Lincoln standing with his hands clasped behind his back, at a window in the Oval Office, staring out in deep contemplation toward the bloody battlefields across the Potomac.
Rolling Hills Asylum,E. Bethany, New York
Located between Buffalo and Rochester, Rolling Hills Asylum’s enormous 53,000+ sq. ft. brick building sits on a knoll in the hamlet of E. Bethany, N.Y. and has been a popular destination for ghost hunters for many years. Opened on January 1, 1827 and originally named The Genesee County Poor Farm, it was created by Genesee County to house those eligible for assistance including paupers, habitual drunkards, lunatics, the blind, lame or otherwise handicapped, orphans, widows, vagrants, and even a murderer or two. In the 1950s it became the Old County Home & Infirmary, and then in the 1990s was transformed into a set of shops and later an antiques mall. When the property owners, vendors and shoppers began to notice strange occurrences, a paranormal group was called into investigate and Rolling Hills’ spooky reputation was born. Reports include disembodied voices, doors mysteriously held shut, screams in the night, shadow people and more.
Rolling Hills Case Manager, Suzie Yencer relates one chilling experience: “It was September 2007. While working a public hunt, we had a gentleman with us that was filming a documentary about the building. He wanted to try an experiment in one of the rooms. The room he chose was in the basement, popularly known as The Christmas Room. The experiment he wanted to try was to sit in the room with no lights or equipment on. The only light we would use was a pink glow stick in the middle of a circle of people. We also placed a small ball and a toddler size rocking horse in the circle. The gentleman conducting the experiment requested that only I talk and try to make contact with the spirits. The more I talked, the more strange occurrences began to happen. The glow stick started to move back and forth, and the rocking horse began to slowly rock. A few of the guests in the room including myself saw a hand and arm come out of nowhere and reach for the ball in the circle and then just vanish….”
The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
Brief history: Completed in 1909 by Freelan Oscar Stanley (inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile), this 138-guest room hotel in the Colorado Rockies is probably best known as the inspiration for Stephen King’s book The Shining, which he wrote after staying at The Stanley, in room 217. King did not write the novel there, nor was the 1980 Stanley Kubrick movie filmed there, but the TV movie version of The Shining was used as the location. Today, the elegant hotel is a popular resort and destination for ghost hunters; a ghost tour is even offered to visitors.
Ghosts: Several apparitions and other phenomena have been reported throughout the hotel:
- The ghosts of Freelan Stanley and his wife Flora have been seen dressed in formal attire on the main staircase and in other public areas, such as the lobby and the billiard room.
- Mr. Stanley has also been spotted in the administration offices, perhaps to keep an eye on the hotel’s books. The Flora’s piano playing occasionally echos in the ballroom.
- Disembodied voices and phantom footsteps have been heard in the hallways and rooms.
- Staff and visitors have reported unseen hands yanking at their clothing.
- More than one guest has said they have awakened to find their blankets taken from their beds and neatly folded.
- The Earl of Dunraven, who owned the land prior to the Stanleys, is said to haunt room 407, where the aroma of his cherry pipe tobacco still can be smelled. A ghostly face has also been reported peering out of the room’s window when it was not occupied.
- Room 217, where Stephen King stayed, was the site of a tragic accident in 1911: housekeeper Elizabeth Wilson was nearly killed by a gas leak explosion. Since her death in the 1950s, strange, unexplained activity is said to take place in that room, including doors opening and closing, and lights switching on and off by themselves.
- Room 418 is the most haunted room, according to hotel staff, apparently by the ghosts of children. Guests who stay there say phantom children can be heard playing in the hallways at night. One couple complained that the noisy children kept them up all night, although there were no children staying at the hotel at the time. Impressions of bodies have been found on the bed when the room as been unoccupied.
- The ghost of a small child who calls out to his nanny has been spotted on several occasions on the second floor — including by Stephen King.
General Wayne Inn, Merion Station, Pennsylvania
Brief history: Numerous ghosts have been experienced and apparitions seen in this inn that had been in continuous operation since 1704. Originally called The Wayside Inn, it was renamed in 1797 after the Revolutionary War, and it has been visited by such notables of the time as George Washington and LaFayette. Many other famous guest have stayed there, including Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote part of his famous poem The Raven there. In 1996 owner Guy Sileo murdered co-owner James Webb on the third floor of the building on the day after Christmas in a dispute over finances. But it might have been Silio’s mistress, Felicia, who killed Webb because he disapproved of the affair. Felicia later committed suicide.Unfortunately, the inn closed around 2004 and and since been converted into the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, although “General Wayne Inn” is still displayed on the building’s side.Ghosts: The haunting activity reported in this building has been substantial over the years:
- Women seated in a row at the bar would, in succession, feel someone blow on the backs of their necks.
- The ghost of a German Hessian soldier was seen by a staff member standing on the steps leading upstairs before fading away. She reported that he seemed just as startled to see her as she was to see him.
- Another Hessian soldier has been seen in the basement, said to be searching for his uniform, of which he had been stripped.
- The crying of a little boy ghost has been heard.
- Ghosts of an unknown Native American and African American men have been spotted.
- Psychic Mike Benio claimed that he made contact with a Hessian soldier named Ludwig, who made several appearances to Benio and said he had been killed during the Revolutionary War.
- In 1986, an owner named Johnson and a friend were seated in the dining room when they saw a woman in period dress rush past them.
- Kitchen appliances and towels have been thrown about; doors that were securely locked at night were found unlocked in the morning.
- A luncheon hostess at the inn claimed to have seen soldiers in several places: the dining room, the bar, in the upstairs and in the private dining rooms.
Now that the building is no longer an inn, we wonder if the new owners will experience the same haunting activity.
Gettysburg Battlefield,Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Few would argue that Gettysburg Battlefield is one of the most haunted places in the U.S. As the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, nearly 8,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed and tens of thousands more were injured there on July 3, 1863. There have been numerous sightings of ghost soldiers, sounds of battle, recorded EVP and even video.
- Visitors to the park have reported seeing and even talking to these phantoms from the past only to have them mysteriously vanish.
- Screams and moans, the sounds of gun and cannon fire — all echoes from the horrific battle are occasionally heard and even recorded.
- One of the most compelling ghost videos ever recorded was shot at Triangular Field by Tom Underwood in 2001.
Ghost encounters are also common in the period buildings surrounding the battlefield, including the Farnsworth House Inn and at Gettysburg College. The experiences continue up to the present day, and the area is well worth a visit, not only for its haunted reputation but also for its historical significance.
Moss Beach Distillery,Moss Beach, California
Brief history: During Prohibition in the 1920s, the Moss Beach Distillery in Moss Beach, California became one of the most popular speakeasies on the West Coast when it was known as “Frank’s Place,” frequented by silent film stars drinking its illegal booze. After Prohibition, the place continued as a successful restaurant, which it remains today.
Ghosts: The Blue Lady is the Distillery’s most famous ghost and has been investigated by such prominent ghost hunters as Loyd Auerbach as well as the Unsolved Mysteries TV show. According to legend, in the 1930s a beautiful young woman, possibly named Cayte, fell for a piano player of questionable character and they began an affair, even though she was already married. She was killed by an unknown assailant on the nearby beach, and it is thought that her spirit — dressed in blue — still searches for her lover.
Ghostly activity reported by guests and restaurant staff includes:
- Sightings of the Blue Lady herself
- A levitating checkbook
- Doors that impossibly lock from the inside
- Mysterious phone calls
- Disappearing earrings that later show up in one place
- Glassware moving
- During his 1999 investigation, Loyd Auerbach reports that he experienced the ghost “walking through” him several times
- Anomalous magnetic field and temperature changes.
Note: The Distillery has various haunting “effects” set up throughout the restaurant, and these were “discovered” in the Ghost Hunters episode about Moss Beach. But as Loyd Auerbach points out in his article, “A Visit Does Not an Investigation Make,” he (and others) have written about these effects well before the Ghost Hunters visit, and the genuine haunting activity has been reported and investigated before these effects were installed — since the 1930s.
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles, California
Brief history: Located on Hollywood Boulevard and opened for business in 1927, the Roosevelt Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in Los Angeles and one of the most haunted places in the world. It has long been a hangout for Hollywood’s biggest stars, and the popularity of its trendy Teddy’s nightclub still attracts the glitterati.
Ghosts: The Roosevelt is nearly as famous for its big-name ghosts, including Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Haunting activity includes:
- Marilyn Monroe’s ghost has been seen reflected in a mirror in room 229 and dancing in the hotel’s ballroom.
- Montgomery Clift’s ghost is thought to haunt room 928, where he stayed whilte filming From Here to Eternity, and can still be heard playing his trumpet. His spirit has also been spotted on the eighth floor.
- One guest who stayed in room 928 felt patting on her shoulder by an unseen hand as she lay in bed reading.
- There is an eerie cold spot in the Blossom Ballroom that is about 10 degrees colder than the rest of the room.
- The ghost of a man dressed in white has been seen standing near a piano in the Blossom Ballroom. When guests approached the man, after hearing piano music, he vanished before their eyes.
- The ghost of glamorous movie star Carole Lombard, wife of Clark Gable, has been spotted on the 12th floor, where she and Gable often stayed.
- Former Saturday Night Live cast member Ana Gasteyer, while staying one of the hotels’s suites, encountered a piano that played by itself and the full-body apparition of a maid in a hall closet.
- Security guards have seen a ghost at the hotel’s pool. It could be seen on security cameras, but when a guard went to check it, he could see no one — although it still appeared on the security monitor.
- The ghost of a pony-tailed little girl named Caroline has been seen skipping and singing around the fountain in the lobby.
- Guests returned to their rooms only to find them locked from the inside.
Sallie House, Atchison, Kansas
The Sallie House in Atchison, Kansas quickly earned a national reputation as one of the most haunted places in the U.S. — almost certainly the most haunted in the state of Kansas. The rather simple-looking painted brick house at 508 N. Second Street, built between 1867 and 1871, gives no indication from the street of its spooky reputation, but the many experiences of those who lived there are have subsequently investigated the place testify as to its ghostly vibes — mostly of the negative kind.
The house was brought to national attention when Debra and Tony Pickman lived there from 1992 to 1994 and had many distrubing encounters, including physical attacks on Tony, which were documented by the Sightings television show. It’s called the Sallie house because the daughter of some previous tenents had an imaginary friend named Sallie, and she is beleived to be one of the spirits haunting the house. When Tony Pickman drew a picture of the ghost Sallie he had seen, the daughter identified it as her friend, Sallie. (Coincidentally — or not — people who owned the house in the 1940s had a daughter named Sallie, although she did not die in the house or at a young age.)
The Pickmans experience much phenomena, including:
- Wall-hung pictures turned upside-down
- Strangely melted candles and burnt finger marks
- Multiple photo anomalies
- Tony had an actual sighting of Sallie on Halloween morning, 1993
- While napping, Tony heard of woman’s voice say, “Here’s your remote,” as the TV remote control was placed on his chest by unseen hands
- During the first Sightings taping, Tony received three bloody scratches on his arm
- One night Tony dreamed that he was being pulled out of bed by his wrist by a little girl. Upon waking he found burn marks on his wrist that were much like the fingerprints of a small child.
The Kansas Parnaormal Group has extensively researched and investigated the Sallie House over the years and may be primarily responsible for labeling the haunting as “probably demonic” because of the many violent incidents.
The house continues to be a focal point for investigations by ghost hunting groups from all over the country, who report strange activity, EVP, and other phenomena.
Highgate Cemetery, North London, England – opened in 1839
Besides having such famous people buried there as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, and the parents of Charles Dickens, Highgate Cemetery has long been known for its ghosts, sinister activities, and other strangeness, including:
- The most famous spook in this cemetery is The Highgate Vampire, who is not really a vampire in the classic sense, but a phantom that is described as a 7-foot-tall, dark male figure with piercing, hypnotic eyes and wearing a long black coat and high top hat; he seems to vanish into thin air. There have been several dozen sightings and encounters since the late 1960s.
- A man whose car broke down near the cemetery came face to face with a ghoul with glowing red eyes that peered at him through the graveyard’s iron gates.
- The ghost of an insane old woman has been seen racing among the gravestones, her gray hair flowing behind her as she searches for her children, whom she allegedly murdered.
- A dark shrouded figure has been see standing stock still and staring into space. When it is approached, it vanishes then reappears a short distance away, still staring into the void.
- A businessman was terrified by a phantom that jumped over the fence and landed right in front of him. He described it as having pointed ears, glowing eyes, and large nose. This might have been the infamous Spring-Heeled Jack.
- The floating ghost of a nun has been seen passing over the graves.
Royal Street, New Orleans Lousiana
The haunted history of the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans is perhaps one of the best known stories of haunted houses in the city. It tragically recounts the brutal excess of slavery in a horrifying and gruesome manner because for more than 150 years, and through several generations, the Lalaurie house has been considered the most haunted location in the French Quarter.
Let’s just say this story is not for the faint of heart…. and not for the weak of stomach either.
The origin of the ghostly tale dates back to 1832 when Dr. Louis Lalaurie and his wife, Delphine, moved into their Creole mansion in the French Quarter. They became renowned for their social affairs and were respected for their wealth and prominence. Madame Lalaurie became known as the most influential French-Creole woman in the city, handling the family’s business affairs and carrying herself with great style. Her daughters were among the finest dressed girls in New Orleans.
For those lucky enough to attend social functions at 1140 Royal Street, they were amazed by what they found there. The three-story mansion, although rather plain on the exterior, was graced with delicate iron work but the interior was lavish by anyone’s standards. The house had been made for grand events and occasions. Mahogany doors that were hand-carved with flowers and human faces opened into a bright parlors, illuminated by the glow of hundreds of candles in gigantic chandeliers. Guests dined from European china and danced and rested on Oriental fabrics which had been imported at great expense.
Madame Lalaurie was considered one of the most intelligent and beautiful women in the city. Those who received her attentions at the wonderful gatherings could not stop talking about her. Guests in her home were pampered as their hostess bustled about the house, seeing to their every need.
But this was the side of Madame Lalaurie the friends and admirers were allowed to see. There was another side. Beneath the delicate and refined exterior was a cruel, cold-blooded and possibly insane woman that some only suspected…. but others knew as fact.
The finery of the Lalaurie house was attended to by dozens of slaves and Madame Lalaurie was brutally cruel to them. She kept her cook chained to the fireplace in the kitchen where the sumptuous dinners were prepared and many of the others were treated much worse. We have to remember that, in those days, the slaves were not even regarded as being human. They were simply property and many slave owners thought of them as being lower than animals. Of course, this does not excuse the treatment of the slaves, or the institution of slavery itself, but merely serves as a reminder of just how insane Madame Lalaurie may have been…. because her mistreatment of the slaves went far beyond cruelty.
It was the neighbors on Royal Street who first began to suspect something was not quite right in the Lalaurie house. There were whispered conversations about how the Lalaurie slaves seemed to come and go quite often. Parlor maids would be replaced with no explanation or the stable boy was suddenly just disappear… never to be seen again.
Then, one day a neighbor was climbing her own stairs when she heard a scream and saw Madame Lalaurie chasing a little girl, the Madame’s personal servant, with a whip. She pursued the girl onto the roof of the house, where the child jumped to her death. The neighbor later saw the small slave girl buried in a shallow grave beneath the cypress trees in the yard.
A law that prohibited the cruel treatment of slaves was in effect in New Orleans and the authorities who investigated the neighbor’s claims impounded the Lalaurie slaves and sold them at auction. Unfortunately for them, Madame Lalaurie coaxed some relatives into buying them and then selling them back to her in secret.
The stories continued about the mistreatment of the Lalaurie slaves and uneasy whispering spread among her former friends. A few party invitations were declined, dinner invitations were ignored and the family was soon politely avoided by other members of the Creole society.
Finally, in April of 1834, all of the doubts about Madame Lalaurie were realized…..
A terrible fire broke out in the Lalaurie kitchen. Legend has it that it was set by the cook, who could endure no more of the Madame’s tortures. Regardless of how it started, the fire swept through the house.
After the blaze was put out, the fire fighters discovered a horrible sight behind a secret, barred door in the attic. They found more than a dozen slaves here, chained to the wall in a horrible state. They were both male and female…. some were strapped to makeshift operating tables… some were confined in cages made for dogs…. human body parts were scattered around and heads and human organs were placed haphazardly in buckets…. grisly souvenirs were stacked on shelves and next to them a collection of whips and paddles.
It was more horrible that anything created in man’s imagination.
According to the newspaper, the New Orleans Bee, all of the victims were naked and the ones not on tables were chained to the wall. Some of the women had their stomachs sliced open and their insides wrapped about their waists. One woman had her mouth stuffed with animal excrement and then her lips were sewn shut.
The men were in even more horrible states. Fingernails had been ripped off, eyes poked out, and private parts sliced away. One man hung in shackles with a stick protruding from a hole that had been drilled in the top of his head. It had been used to “stir” his brains.
The tortures had been administered so as to not bring quick death. Mouths had been pinned shut and hands had been sewn to various parts of the body. Regardless, many of them had been dead for quite some time. Others were unconscious and some cried in pain, begging to be killed and put out of their misery.
The fire fighters fled the scene in disgust and doctors were summoned from a nearby hospital. It is uncertain just how many slaves were found in Madame Lalaurie’s “torture chamber” but most of them were dead. There were a few who still clung to life…. like a woman whose arms and legs had been removed and another who had been forced into a tiny cage with all of her limbs broken than set again at odd angles.
Needless to say, the horrifying reports from the Lalaurie house were the most hideous things to ever occur in the city and word soon spread about the atrocities. It was believed that Madame Lalaurie alone was responsible for the horror and that her husband turned a blind, but knowing, eye to her activities.
Passionate words swept through New Orleans and a mob gathered outside the house, calling for vengeance and carrying hanging ropes. Suddenly, a carriage roared out of the gates and into the milling crowd. It soon disappeared out of sight.
Madame Lalaurie and her family were never seen again. Rumors circulated as to what became of them…. some said they ran away to France and others claimed they lived in the forest along the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain. Still other rumors claimed the family vanished into one of the small towns near New Orleans, where friends and relatives sheltered them from harm. Could this be true? And if so, could the terrible actions of Madame LaLaurie have “infected” another house in addition to the mansion in the French Quarter?
Whatever became of the Lalaurie family, there is no record that any legal action was ever taken against her and no mention that she was ever seen in New Orleans, or her fine home, again.
Of course, the same thing cannot be said for her victims…..
The stories of ghosts and a haunting at 1140 Royal Street began almost as soon as the Lalaurie carriage fled the house in the darkness.
After the mutilated slaves were removed from the house, it was sacked and vandalized by the mob. After a brief occupancy, the house remained vacant for many years after, falling into a state of ruin and decay. Many people claimed to hear screams of agony coming from the empty house at night and saw the apparitions of slaves walking about on the balconies and in the yards. Some stories even claimed that vagrants who had gone into the house seeking shelter were never heard from again.
The house had been placed on the market in 1837 and was purchased by a man who only kept it for three months. He was plagued by strange noises, cries and groans in the night and soon abandoned the place. He tried leasing the rooms for a short time, but the tenants only stayed for a few days at most. Finally, he gave up and the house was abandoned.
Following the Civil War, Reconstruction turned the empty Lalaurie mansion into an integrated high school for “girls of the Lower District” but in 1874, the White League forced the black children to leave the school. A short time later though, a segregationist school board changed things completely and made the school for black children only. This lasted for one year.
In 1882, the mansion once again became a center for New Orleans society when an English teacher turned it into a “conservatory of music and a fashionable dancing school”. All went well for some time as the teacher was well-known and attracted students from the finest of the local families…. but then things came to a terrible conclusion.
A local newspaper apparently printed an accusation against the teacher, claiming some improprieties with female students, just before a grand social event was to take place at the school. Students and guests shunned the place and the school closed the following day.
A few years later, more strange events plagued the house and it became the center for rumors regarding the death of Jules Vignie, the eccentric member of a wealthy New Orleans family. Vignie lived secretly in the house from the later 1880’s until his death in 1892. He was found dead on a tattered cot in the mansion, apparently living in filth, while hidden away in the surrounding rooms was a collection of antiques and treasure. A bag containing several hundred dollars was found near his body and another search found several thousand dollars hidden in his mattress.
For some time after, rumors of a lost treasure circulated about the mansion…. but few dared to go in search of it.
The house was abandoned again until the late 1890’s. In this time of great immigration to America, many Italians came to live in New Orleans. Landlords quickly bought up old and abandoned buildings to convert into cheap housing for this new wave of renters. The Lalaurie mansion became just such a house…. and for many of the tenants even the low rent was not enough to keep them there.
During the time when the mansion was an apartment house, a number of strange events were recorded. Among them was an encounter between a occupant and a naked black man in chains who attacked him. The black man abruptly vanished. Others claimed to have animals butchered in the house; children were attacked by a phantom with a whip; strange figures appeared wrapped in shrouds; a young mother was terrified to find a woman in elegant evening clothes bending over her sleeping infant; and of course, the ever-present sounds of screams, groans and cries that would reverberate through the house at night.
It was never easy to keep tenants in the house and finally, after word spread of the strange goings-on there, the mansion was deserted once again.
The house would later become a bar and then a furniture store. The saloon, taking advantage of the building’s ghastly history was called the “Haunted Saloon”. The owner knew many of the building’s ghost stories and kept a record of the strange things experienced by patrons.
The furniture store did not fare as well in the former Lalaurie house. The owner first suspected vandals when all of his merchandise was found ruined on several occasions, covered in some sort of dark, stinking liquid. He finally waited one night with a shotgun, hoping the vandals would return. When dawn came, the furniture was all ruined again even though no one, human anyway, had entered the building. The owner closed the place down.
Today, the house has been renovated and restored and serves as luxury apartments for those who can afford them. Apparently, tenants are a little easier to keep today than they were one hundred years ago.
Is the Lalaurie house still haunted? I really don’t know for sure, but one has to wonder if the spirits born from this type of tragedy can ever really rest?
A few years ago, the owners of the house were in the midst of remodeling when they found a hasty graveyard hidden in the back of the house beneath the wooden floor. The skeletal remains had been dumped unceremoniously into the ground and when officials investigated, they found the remains to be of fairly recent origins.
They believed that it was Madame Lalaurie’s own private graveyard. She had removed sections of the floor in the house and had hastily buried them to avoid being seen and detected. The discovery of the remains answered one question and unfortunately created another. The mystery of why some of the Lalaurie slaves seemed to just simply disappear was solved at last….. but it does make you wonder just how many victims Madame Lalaurie may have claimed?
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