Voodoo, Hoodoo, voodoo dolls, and gris-gris. Just a few things that immediately come to mind when you think of historic New Orleans. And while I could take this time to outlay the specifics regarding early voodoo practice and how it came to be an integral part of everyday culture in Louisiana, I am not going to. My intentions for this entry have a deeper purpose. Telling the story of the grizzly events which transpired long ago, that even to this day still horrifies the people of New Orleans. Blanketed by a dark past, overcast by wealth, slavery and morbid curiosities, the sickness that once destroyed the innocent souls of this lively Creole town, still dismally lingers here today.
Let me take you back in time, all the way back to 1832... Tucked deep in the French Quarter a seemingly well to do couple by the names of Delphine and third husband Dr. Louis LaLaurie built one of the most beautiful mansions the area had ever seen. They were some of the richest people living in the French Quarter at the time. In fact they were so rich, that they thought they were untouchable. A beaten 12 year old child slave by the name of Lia fell to her death from the roof of the mansion while attempting to avoid being further whipped by Madame LaLaurie. The incident was immediately reported to the authorities by a neighbor, whom had already become suspicious of abuse when attending one of the LaLaurie's lavish parties. Even though the girl's death brought about awareness that slaves where receiving mistreatment under her care, Delphine LaLaurie was only handed a minor violation. A small fine and the removal of 9 slaves, which had swiftly been reclaimed by family members and later returned to her...
In April of 1834, the authorities where once again dispatched to the LaLaurie Mansion. This time however, it was due to a massive fire that had already engulfed the majority of the house. Once inside they quickly found a slave women chained to the stove by her ankle. She confessed that she had started the fire in an attempt to commit suicide. She feared that she would be sentenced to a horrible punishment in the uppermost room of the mansion. A room, she insisted, where the slaves never returned from. The investigators hurriedly continued their search only to find a sealed door in the uppermost corridor of the mansion. Fearing for those that may be in danger, they had no choice but to break down the door. What they found in that room had completely shocked not only the men their to rescue them but also the entire state of Louisiana.
There in that room they found the remains of seven slaves, though they had not perished in the fire. Their horribly mutilated bodies strewn about the room. They were found suspended by the neck, and their limbs had been stretched from one extremity to the next. When the discovery of the tortured slaves became wide spread, the citizens formed a mob and destroyed whatever still remained standing of the mansion from the fire. The sheriff was dispatched to settle the mob, but by the time he had arrived the building had already been demolished, leaving very little to identify the once beautiful home. The remaining slaves had been transferred to the local jail for public viewing, however two slaves passed away from their injuries after their rescue from the slaves quarters. As plots were being dug for them on the property of the LaLaurie mansion, two slave bodies where uncovered. One of the bodies was that of a child.
Madame LaLaurie escaped prosecution, and what happened to her after the fire was not well documented. There were rumors that she fled to France after a short while in Mobile, Alabama. Clearly she changed her name, and with her fortune, continued to elude authorities as to her exact location. The incident surrounding Delphine's death was also just as mysterious. A story circulated that LaLaurie died in France during a boar hunting accident. Though this was a popular story at the time, it was never substantiated. There is a headstone in the St. Louis Cemetery #1 with a cracked copper marker indicating that Delphine was laid to rest in 1842, however the public records for her passing indicate that she died in Paris in 1849. The horrific abuse demonstrated by Madame LaLaurie in the house on Royal Street now stains the pavement for which this mansion once stood. Had she strayed from her punishing nature for fear of being caught, or had she carried on with more heinous acts after her disappearance? Her absence left many without closure and even more unsolved questions that will forever go unanswered.