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Real Ghosts of New Orleans

THE SULTAN'S HOUSE
THE GARDETTE-LAPRETE HOUSE

1240 BURGUNDY STREET

Gardette-LePrete House at 716 Dauphine. This impressive domicile was home in the 1870s to a mysterious middle easterner who was rumored to maintain a harem. He and his companions were all found hacked to pieces one morning, some say at the request of the angry sultan to whom the harem actually belonged.

Le Pretre Mansion

In 1839 Jean Baptiste Le Pretre bought this 1836 Greek Revival house at 716 Dauphine St. and added the romantic cast-iron galleries. The house is the subject of a real-life horror story: Sometime in the 19th century, a Turk, supposedly the brother of a sultan, arrived in New Orleans and rented the Le Pretre house. He was conspicuously wealthy, and his entourage included many servants and more than a few beautiful young girls -- all thought to have been stolen from the sultan.

Rumors quickly spread about the situation, even as the home became the scene of lavish entertainment with guest lists that included the cream of society. One night, shrieks came from inside the house; the next morning, neighbors entered and found the tenant's body lying in a pool of blood surrounded by the bodies of the young beauties. The mystery remains unsolved to this very day. Local ghost experts say you can hear exotic music and shrieks on the right night.

 

The Sultans Ghost-This ghost is one of New Orleans most famous ghosts. He is said to roam the halls of the four story house located at 716 Dauphine Street. The house is situated on the corner of Dauphine and Orleans Avenue. The Sultan was from Turkey. He rented the house from the owners, the La Prete family, for his large family and harem. It is said that he was a dangerous and cruel man who was not above kidnapping women off the streets of New Orleans and torturing them into submission and then adding them to his harem. One afternoon the Sultan met his fate in a cruel and hideous manner and so did everyone in his household. It has been recounted through the years what took place that afternoon as seen by a neighbor. The neighbor was strolling down the sidewalk beside the house when she noticed blood draining from the building. She immediately contacted the authorities who in turn broke down the door.

Upon entering they discovered a gruesome scene. Body parts and blood were everywhere. Every member of the household had been murdered but the Sultan was no where to be found. Only later did they discover his body in a shallow grave behind the house. He had apparently been buried alive. No one was ever charged with these murders. Several different stories circulated for months after the murders but nothing was proved. It remains one of the city’s most intriguing mysteries. To this day it has never been solved.
Mansion of prominent Creole Jean Baptist Le Prete, built in 1836. Taken over by wealthy Turkish prince in latter half of the 1800s along with the Sultan's large harem and group of eunuch servants. All were found slaughtered and butchered by the police; the Sultan's body was found buried in his garden. No arrests were made. Now ghosts roam the halls and screams can be heard.

Life with an 'Exotic Ghost'
By: Lorena Dureau
Feb. 11, 1979
The Times-Picayune

The imposing pink building with black iron-lace "frills" on the corner of Orleans and Dauphine streets has dominated the French quarter for more than 150 years not only in height, but in legend and mystery as well. Although a plaque by the entrance calls it "Le Prete House," (spelled Le Pretre by some) it is more commonly referred to as "The Sultan's House" by native New Orleanians in honor of the exotic ghost believed to inhabit it.

Over the many generations the building has stood there, it has run the full circle from riches to rags and back again - from a luxurious town mansion of the 1800s to a dilapidated tenement of the mid-2oth century and now to a proximity of its former glory, as one of the most charming buildings in the present Quarter. But in all those years of ups and downs, it has never ceased to catch the eyes of passers-by, whether it is because of its architectural merits or its reputation for a ghostly past.

In between the extremes of its kaleidoscopic history, a large and varied number of people have either inhabited or visited that fascinating old mansion. During the period in which Jean Baptiste Le Prete used it as his town home, from 1839-1878, some of the most prominent men and women of the last century met there. The famous Citizens Bank of New Orleans, which played an important role in the financial development of this city, was officially organized at a meeting held in one of its spacious parlors. (By an ironic twist of fate, it was to this very same bank that Le Prete later lost the house!)

Unfortunately, once the property passed on to new owners, it did not fare as well as it had in its earlier days. When William Nott chose it as the subject of his "In La Rue Orleans" in 1922 for the May 21 Sunday edition of The Times-Picayune, he called attention to the neglected building and lamented its sorry state, writing "…time has left its scars on those high flung walls and though the interior has lost much of its plaster and every vestige of paint, the building as a whole is in fairly well-preserved condition but gives only the slightest hint of its former glory."

Despite its humbled state, however, the aging yet still sturdy house went on to nurture aspiring artists in the 1940s when it became the New Orleans Academy of Art, until the school was forced to close because so many of it s students were being drafted into the armed services.

By the 1960s, the ancient manor, time-weary and weather-beaten, had drawn more and more unto itself seeming to dissolve gradually into its own shadows. Many a vagrant, daring enough to brave its legend in return for a comfortable spot to loiter for a few hours, paused at that lonely, dimly lit corner.

But of all its countless inhabitants, the most remarkable was the strange Turk who took up residence there while it was still in its heyday, supposedly during the middle of the 19th century. According to the legend, he still resides there - that is, his ghost does.

The story that has persisted down through the years is that a wealthy Turkish merchant, recently arrived in New Orleans, sought out Le Prete and asked him for the use of the house on behalf of the brother of a sultan. Since Le Prete spent most of his time on his plantation in Plaquemines and only used the French Quarter house as a place for entertaining during the social season (usually when the French opera was in town), he was perhaps only too glad to lease the place for the off-season. What no one suspected, was that the brother had fled to America with large quantities of gold and jewels as well as at least half a dozen wives that he had stolen from his elder brother, the sultan.

So it was that the brother, self-proclaimed as a sultan, moved in with his fabulous treasure and his bevy of sensuous maidens and set up house in Oriental splendor where he was known to entertain quite lavishly on occasions.

One fateful night, however, goes the story, the gay laughter suddenly turned to frenzied shrieks and the merrymaking to noisy confusion, when a band of assassins, believed to have been sent by the rightful sultan to avenge the wrongs done him, burst in on the party and, with merciless swords, cut down the upstart and the harem girls he had "defiled."

Of course, as in the case of so many legends, there are come conflicting details. There are those who say all this really happened in 792, but the place referred to as the Sultan's House was not even built until 1836. Also, although city maps show that there was a house on that corner as far back as 1780 or earlier, it was only a small dwelling of brick and wood, owned by a free black woman, Victoire Dutillet (or Durrilet), who sold it in 1811 to a woman by the name of Francois Darby. The latter lived there until her death in 1816. However, by the time the present edifice was built in 1836, the earlier dwelling seems to have disappeared since the building plans make no mention of having to tear anything down on that lot before beginning construction.

There is also some question as to the whys and wherefores of that horrendous crime. Although the majority of people accept the version that the foul deed was done by the sultan's hired henchmen who had tracked down the younger brother from Turkey to New Orleans in a sworn vendetta, others argue that the real culprits were closer to home, mainly the very crew of the ship which had brought the wayward Turk and his stolen cargo to port.

Whatever the motives of the assassins, robbery was certainly one of them. After the unfortunate victims were buried in the patio, the assassins looted the house and carried off not only the gold and jewels, but everything else of value. leaving only the ransacked rooms and telltale bloodstains along the length of the great staircase to bear mute testimony to the violence that had transpired there.

For a long time afterward, people insisted that an occasional tinkle of Oriental music or the faint odor of heavy incense would come floating out of the house, and some declared that they heard shrill, unexplained screams coming from different parts of the huge four-story mansion. Over the years, the "sultan" himself has been glimpse walking around the rooms, appearing and disappearing without a word, as if still bewildered by all that happened there.

Although they have never met and their experiences while living in the so-called Sultan's House are almost 30 years apart under entirely different conditions, Virgie "Gypsy" Posten, former tenant, and Jean Damico, one of the present owners of the house, have come to the conclusion that they have probably both seen the same ghost.

Today, with its rosy exterior and shiny black iron-grilled balconies spanning the full circumference of its upper floors, the place hardly looks "spooky," yet when Virgie Posten rented the downstairs front apartment back in the end of the 1950s, it was rundown and resembled the typical haunted house. "I didn't know about the legend, or even that the place was supposed to be haunted, " recalled Virgie Posten, who is now a successful dancer, choreographer and dance therapist with countless appearances all over the United States and abroad to her credit. "I was just starting out in my career and the cheap rent appealed to me, as well as the fact that it was close to Prima's 500 Club, where I was doing an Afro-Cuban act at the time.

"I have never said anything much about this before since I was afraid people would think I was some kind of kook or just looking for publicity," she confessed, "yet the truth is I moved out of that place a few months afterwards because I saw a man in my apartment on two different occasions and could never really explain how he could have gotten in or out of there so quickly without a sound.

"My two-room apartment had only one door, which opened into the main hall only a few yards from the foot of the enormous central staircase that wound its way up to the floors above. I always kept it locked, and even if whoever it was had had a key, I think I would have at least heard it turning in the lock. Yet there was nothing. Only silence. One minute he was there…the next he was gone! He didn't seem hostile. He'd just stand there and look at me, but it was terribly eerie and nerve-wracking!

"After that second time, when I woke up in the middle of the night and saw him standing at the foot of the bed staring at me, I made up my mind to get out of there," continued the still-attractive brunette. "There was no sign of him when I turned on the lights and got up to check, but I abandoned everything there the next day and went to stay temporarily with a girlfriend until I could find another place to live. Of course, I still wasn't thinking about ghosts," she added.

"It wasn't until a few days afterward that I happened by chance to see an article in the newspaper about the house and its legend. Then I realized where I was living. The description that the paper gave of the "sultan" - how he was supposed to have been 'to the blond side,' despite his Turkish origin - seemed to fit the person I'd seen and set me thinking.

"My third and last experience, however, was the most frightening of all," she went on. "That was the night my girlfriend and I stopped by the house to get a few of my things, which I'd left there until I could move them out. We were standing in the dimly lit hallway in the empty house, as I locked the door, when we suddenly heard a blood-curdling scream come out of the inky blackness somewhere at the top of the staircase just a few feet from us! It was petrifying - a long shrill scream that ended in a horrible gurgle! We ran as if the devil himself were after us to the street door. For a moment we even got wedged in the doorway, as both of us tried to get out at the same time! We laugh about it today but it was pretty frightening at that moment!

"The very next day I got my things out of there."

The present owners of the house, who are gradually trying to restore it to its former glory, say that, as far as they known, none of the tenants in their eight apartments has ever moved out because of the ghost.

"The place really looked like a haunted house, with dead vines running up and down its sides and sadly in need of repairs, when my husband Frank and his partner Anthony Vesich Jr. bought it in 1966," pretty blond Jean Damico recalled. "People would look a little curiously at us whenever they knew we were the owners. Some even told me how they used to cross the street and pass it on the other side."

Mrs. Damico, who lives in the penthouse apartment of the building, went on to confide that she, too, has had a weird experience since she has been living there, which she has never been able to explain. "One night less than a year ago, I woke up with a feeling that something was different in my room," she recalls. "There at the foot of my bed, I thought I saw the figure of a man. Thinking my eyes were playing tricks on my, I closed them for a moment and then opened them again to refocus, but the figure was still there. When the form suddenly seemed to move toward my side of the bed, I panicked and turned on the light on my night table. Imagine my surprise when there was no one there! My husband laughed at me when I told him, but I know I saw somebody! Come to think of it, I had the impression that he was light haired. I hadn't thought of that detail until just now, as I look back on it!"

From her lofty iron-grilled balcony, Mrs. Damico pointed down to a strange tree growing horizontally out of an inner wall flanking the patio."They say the 'sultan' was buried there, and it's possible, since the original plans of the house show that the room you see on that spot now was a later addition to the house. It looks as if the tree is trying to crawl out from under the bricks and reach the street wall, doesn't it?"

The home was constructed in 1836 by a wealthy Creole man named Jean Baptist La Prete and it was a luxurious mansion that was rivaled by few other houses in the French Quarter. It was the center of Creole culture in the French Quarter of the middle 1800's, but unfortunately, the wealth and power of many of these families started to decline in the second half of the century. La Prete was one of these who lost much of their fortune and found that he was forced to rent out his wonderful home.

His tenant was a mysterious Turk who claimed to be a deposed Sultan of some distant land. The Turk brought with him a fortune in gold and established a line of credit at all of the banks. He used his wealth to transform the Creole house into an eastern pleasure palace. The doors and windows were covered and blocked, heavy incense filled the air and men patrolled the grounds with curved daggers in their belts. The iron gates around the property were chained and locked and the house became a virtual fortress.
A harem was moved into the house, consisting of women of all ages and sizes and even young Arab boys were used to fulfill the Turk's less seemly desires. But one night everything was destroyed....

One morning, neighbors passing by the house noticed that trickles of blood were running out from under the iron gates. The authorities were summoned but could raise no one, so they forced open the doors and went inside. At some point in the night, a massacre had taken place. Blood splattered the floors and walls... headless bodies and amputated limbs were scattered about... and all of them had been butchered by sword or axe. The bodies and limbs were scattered about in such a way that no one could learn which bodies belonged to what person.
And the horror didn't stop with murder... the beautiful harem girls, the Arab boys, and even the guards, were raped and subjected to vile sexual assaults. The scandal was so horrendous that the details of that night have still not been chronicled completely to this day!

The Turk's mutilated body was found in the garden, where he had been buried alive.

The identity of the murderers and rapists has never been discovered. Some say they were the members of some pirate's crew who had business with the mysterious sultan and some say the crimes were the work of the Turk's own family, seeking revenge for the theft of the family wealth.
But I don't imagine we will ever really know.....

What we do know is that the La Prete house is a very haunted one... and remains so until this day.


Residents of the house have seen figures wearing strange oriental clothing and have heard the sound of footsteps in the hallways and screams echoing inside of the rooms.... as if the terrible events of yesterday are still taking place there!

 

 

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