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St. Louis Cathedral Hauntings, And A Touch Of Ghostly History

New Orleans has many a haunted tale to tell, when it comes to actual ghost stories, history and hauntings.

Here in the City That Care Forgot, we sometimes treat these Haunted New Orleans Ghost stories too casually, because ghosts and their stories are so much a part of our culture.

Some New Orleans ghost stories are widely known and accessible to curiosity seekers; others are merely whispered tales, kept discreetly and only among the locals.

Visitors come from all over the world to view the splendor that is the great, triple-spired St. Louis Cathedral with its view of Jackson Square and the New Orleans riverfront. But what most do not realize is that, like a great old dame of New Orleans, St. Louis Cathedral knows how to keep its secrets. More than this, it knows when to reveal more than a glimpse of history and mystery, for St. Louis Cathedral is among the most haunted destinations in Haunted New Orleans...



The Saint Louis Cathedral
Cathedral of Saint Louis King of France, A Minor Basilica established
as a Parish in 1720 in New Orleans, Louisiana


Saint Louis Cathedral is one of New Orleans' most notable Haunted landmarks. This revered building with its soaring triple spires towering high above the old New Orleans French Quarter is the oldest church in Louisiana and one of the oldest established churches in America.

The building standing here today is the third erected on this spot--the first was destroyed by a hurricane in 1722, the second by fire in 1788. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1794, the central tower was later designed by Henry S. Boneval Latrobe, and the building was remodeled and enlarged between 1845 and 1851.

Framed by the Cabildo on one side and the Presbytere on the other and situated across from Jackson Square, the famous Place d'Armes where General Andrew Jackson is forever astride his bronze horse, St. Louis Cathedral has stood a witness to most of the famous and infamous events that have shaped the Crescent City in the years since its founding. Many feel that St. Louis Cathedrual is truly the heart of this most haunted city of the Deep South.

The History of St. Louis Cathedral

New Orleanians have continuously worshipped in churches on the site of what is now St. Louis Cathedral since 1727. The site was originally designated for a place of worship a half-dozen years earlier when, in 1721, French engineer Adrien De Pauger identified the site in conformity with the plan of Louisiana's Engineer In Chief, LeBlond de la Tour.

The new parish church, dedicated to Louis IX, sainted King of France, was thus perhaps the first building in New Orleans of "brick between posts" (bnquete entre poteaux) construction, an effective method of building that continued to be used in Louisiana until at least the middle of the nineteenth century. De Pauger, unfortunately, died on June 21, 1726, before his church was completed. In his will he requested that he be buried within the unfinished building, a request presumably granted.

During the succeeding six decades those who worshipped within its walls included the likes of French Governors Perrier, Bienville, Vaudreuil and Kerlerec and Spanish Governors Onzaga, Galvez and Miro. In this first little church were baptized the children of the colonists and the children of slaves. Here were married the lowly and the highborn, and through its doors were borne the mortal remains of the faithful for the burial rites of Holy Mother Church on the last journey to the little cemetery on St. Peter Street.

This little cemetery, the first burial ground of record in the City was located at St. Peter and Burgundy Streets in the French Quarter. Burials in St. Peter began in 1721 and continued until 1800. Burials were below ground and space was reserved for the clergy and the wealthy and distinguished of the city. The cemetery remained a prime burial spot for many years, until finally it was simply filled to capacity and has long since been built over. Occasional street repairs and architectural renovations in the area of the old cemetery have turned up bones and other artifacts that have fascinated local archaeologists and historians. A collection of items including remnants of clothing, jewelry and grave ornaments from the defunct cemetery is maintained by a local university. One thing is certain, however: all of those interred in St. Peter passed through the doors and under the arches of the church now known as the St. Louis Cathedral.

On March 21, 1788 the event known as the "Good Friday Fire" broke out when a candle ignited the lace draperies of an altar in the home of the military treasurer of the colony, Vincente Jose Nunez, on Chartres Street. Among the buildings burned to the ground were the Church of St. Louis, the priests' residence, and the Casa Principal, which housed the Cabildo. The fire destroyed other homes, buildings and businesses and many perished or were injured in the great blaze. A few months later, a hurricane wiped out yet another huge portion of the city and hundreds more lives were taken.

Prior to its destruction in the great fire of 1788, St. Louis itself was often the final resting place of many New Orleanians, most of them wealthy or in some way connected with the founding of the City of New Orleans. A short excerpt from a list of the dead interred within the great cathedral reads like a who's-who of prominent families of the era, among them:

1721.- M. Alias (Helias), Director of the Law Concessions.
1723.- M. Sauvoy, Royal Commissary.
1726.- M. Pauger, Knight of St. Louis, Chief Engineer.
1730.- M. de Ia Chaise, Commissary Royal and Director of the Company.
1734.- Rev. F. Raphael, Superior of the Capuchins.
1737.- Rev. F. Phillippe, his Successor.

1745.- Madame Noyant, and in 1751, her husband, Lieutenant of the King.

1750.- Rev. F. Charles, Superior of the Capuchins.

1751.- Rev. F. Matthias, parish priest.

1752.- M. Chauvin, Trustee in Active Service.
1752.- M. Michel, Commissary of the Navy and Acting Intendant.

With so many burials, it really is no wonder that such a wide array of ghosts have been reported haunting the marble aisles and alcoves of St. Louis Cathedral over the years.

Nearly a year elapsed before the charred remains of the church were cleared away and construction of a new church began in early 1789. More than five years were to pass before the new church was completed in December, 1794.

This second Church of St. Louis was the gift of the wealthy Don Andres Almonester y Roxas, a native of Andalusia, Spain who had acquired numerous properties since his arrival in New Orleans in the wake of Governor Alejandro O'Reilly.

As Louisiana and the Florida Parishes had been created a diocese in 1793, and Luis Pefialver y Cardenas appointed first Bishop with New Orleans as his See city, the new church was dedicated as a Cathedral and put into service on Christmas Eve, 1794.

The Ghost of Pere Antoine
Like the architecture of the French Quarter of New Orleans, Pere Antoine (known to the Spanish as Antonio de Sedella) was an inheritance from the Spanish regime. His death, on January 18, 1829 was looked upon in Louisiana, by “Catholic and Protestant alike, as a calamity. All New Orleans went into mourning. The funeral rites were observed with a pomp hitherto unknown to the city.” The old friar was laid to rest in St. Louis Cathedral among the people he had served to selflessly. It was widely believed that Pere Antoine had been a living saint.

But many of the older Creoles remembered Pere Antoine differently: as the Spanish bigot he had been during his early years in the New World. They recalled how in the late 1780’s he had fought in vain to set up in Louisiana the Holy Office of the Inquisition. They also remembered that fifteen years later, after the purchase of the territory by the United States, he again fought in vain to keep New Orleans in the diocese of the Bishop of Havana. Still, the younger generation recalled only that Pere Antoine was a man of God, dedicated body and soul to fulfilling the vows he took upon becoming a Capuchin.

He lived on the Rue Dauphine, in a wooden hut which he had built with his own hands. On the stretch of turf in front of the kennel-like structure he had planted a date palm. By 1828 the tree was big enough to provide shade for the 80 year old friar as he sat on a stool in his doorway listening to the accounts of distress poured into his ears by this suppliant and that.

Every day he made his tour of visits to the sick. No man was more frequently seen walking the streets of New Orleans than tall, thin Pere Antoine, cowled and sandaled, no matter what the weather, his brown eyes shining and white beard flying. Often on a mission of mercy he crossed Canal Street and entered a Protestant home in the American faubourg. To Pere Antoine the sick were the sick, whatever their religion might be. Marvelous tales were told of the physical endurance he manifested when one of the ever-recurring epidemics of yellow fever struck New Orleans. It was said that he went without sleep for weeks at a stretch, spending every hour of the twenty-four in comforting the stricken, administering last rites, and burying the dead. No one, it was declared, ever saw him take food from the beginning of an epidemic to the end. It was said that so long as Yellow Jack loitered Pere Antoine’s strength was sustained by a flow of manna that entered his body with the air he breathed.

In his lifetime of service to St. Louis Cathedral, he is said to have baptized Marie Laveau and many of her children, performed her wedding ceremony and, together with her, did much to advance the state of the poor, the imprisoned, and the slave population in New Orleans. Pere Antoine officiated at the baptism and the wedding of Marie Aimee Brusle, the mother of child prodigy and America’s first great composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and another of the many ghosts that haunt the darkened alcoves of St. Louis Cathedral.

As news of his death spread through the City of New Orleans, throngs of the faithful, convinced in their hearts that Pere Antoine was a saint, demolished the hut on the Rue Dauphine. Even the slightest splinter of wood was carried away to be preserved as a holy relic. No two in New Orleans appear to have agreed on what happened to the date palm. In the many legends which tell of its miraculous powers its actual history was lost.

Yet, if many reports that come to us today are to be believed, Pere Antoine is still busily serving his beloved church and city, even from the afterlife.

Many people have seen Pere Antoine’s ghostly figure, clad in Capuchin black and sandals, just as in life, walking slowly down the small alleyway that runs alongside the Cathedral and bears his name. Visitors and locals alike report seeing the apparition in Pere Antoine’s Alley in the early morning hours when the French Quarter is most quiet; on misty winter afternoons his ghostly form has been seen treading through the Cathedral garden on Royal Street. Eyewitnesses say that he is almost always reading his breviary, or book of prayers, and seems oblivious to anyone nearby. But others have encountered the ghostly priest rushing through the streets surrounding the Cathedral, perhaps on some urgent mission from beyond the grave.

French Quarter residents and regulars are, in fact, accustomed to seeing Pere Antoine’s ghost at all hours of the day and night, and in unexpected places. One recent account tells of a local woman who was rushing through Pere Antoine’s Alley on a rainy afternoon. Tottering on high heels, she tripped on one of the uneven alley flagstones and fell straight into the arms of a black-robed man with a white beard and surprised expression. He said nothing as he helped her gain her balance; when the woman turned to thank him, the man was gone. The woman further claimed that a sense of overwhelming peace came over her that afternoon and she fully believes she encountered not a ghost, but a saint.

Another local who works for a nearby cigar shop claims to have presented Pere Antoine with a free sample of the shop’s wares when, one evening as he was about to end his shift, he was approached by a priest wearing a black frock and looking sternly at him. The local smiled and said, “Take one, they’re free!” Pere Antoine’s ghost then took the cigar from the man and walked away. Again, when the cigar shop worker turned back around, the ghostly priest was nowhere to be seen.

Worshippers at St. Louis Cathedral’s Christmas Vigil Midnight Mass have reported witnessing the ghostly form of Pere Antoine, easily recognized from the 1822 portrait of him that hangs in the church vestibule, walking near the left side of the main altar carrying a single, white taper. Others have reported the ghost’s appearance in the choir loft – a sighting that, though a regular occurrence during the holidays, is always alarming. Others say that Pere Antoine particularly loves to show up for the practices and performances of the St. Louis Cathedral Children’s Choir. He has been seen sitting quietly in an otherwise empty pew, facing the altar, but swaying to the strains of the children’s voices; he is always smiling when he appears listening to the children and the music seems to give his spirit great pleasure.

Many people have speculated on why such a saintly man might still be haunting the familiar surroundings of his earthly life. Though some have suggested that, despite all his good works, Pere Antoine continues to haunt the great Cathedral because of the harm and trouble caused by his wayward youth, most feel that the old friar is simply still intimately connected with his parishioners and the church that was his personal charge for so many, many years.

The Ghost of Pere Dagobert
Pere Dagobert was a Capuchin monk who became pastor of St. Louis Church in 1745. Another great champion of the poor and disenfranchised, Pere Dagobert was far from being the image of a quiet, prayerful friar. He is described as a man with an immensely charismatic personality, a great sense of humor, and a heart full of charity.

When the City of New Orleans was ceded to Spain in 1764 there was instant fear and rebellion among the French. When the French monarchy refused a petition on behalf of their Louisiana colonists to preserve New Orleans for France, a revolt was quickly organized. Six men – respected locally and never before associated with such an act – organized a rebellion against the new Spanish regime. These men – Lafreniere, Noyan, Caresse, Marquis, Milhet and Villere – were all heads of families well known to Pere Dagobert, families whose religious life he had guided for many years.

In March of 1766, the first Spanish governor, Don Antonio de Ulloa, a man hated and reviled among the citizenry, fled in the face of the rebellion and took refuge in Havana.

In response, Spain sent a fleet of 24 ships to New Orleans under the command of Don Alejandro O'Reilly, an Irish expatriate, now fighting for Spain: The rebellion was crushed and the leaders were all arrested. On October 24, 1769, after a long imprisonment and the rejection of all appeals from prominent citizens and leaders of the church (including Pere Dagobert), five of the original conspirators were executed by firing squad near what is now Jackson Barracks; the sixth, Villere, had died from a bayonet wound in prison.

As an example against further rebellion, O’Reilly refused to allow the men to be buried and the corpses were left to rot where they fell. New Orleanians, Spanish and French alike, were appalled by this and the by the fact that O’Reilly, a Catholic, would deprive the men a decent Christian burial. Despite the outcry, O’Reilly would not relent and placed the swiftly decomposing bodies under the watchful eye of a Spanish garrison.

One night, however, something happened that has never yet been explained.

Pere Dagobert appeared at the home of the slain men and summoned their grieving families to the St. Louis Cathedral. When they arrived, they found that the bodies of their dead had somehow been brought to the Cathedral and had been laid out with the utmost care; Pere Dagobert stood by to perform the funeral mass. Then, under the cover of a heavy mist, the bodies of the men were taken to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 where they were secretly buried in unmarked graves out of fear the Spanish would seek to desecrate the final resting place and remove the bodies.

When word reached O’Reilly that the bodies of the five conspirators had somehow vanished from the Spanish garrison, he went himself to inspect the scene and questioned every guard who had been on watch the night the bodies disappeared. To a man, they all stated that they had been standing watch on an otherwise clear night when suddenly a thick fog began to roll in through the barracks gates. Soon, they said, there came the sound of muffled prayers and then the black-clad figure of Pere Dagobert appeared at the gate, apparently to pray for the pathetic corpses. At one point, when the fog was thickest, completely obscuring the bodies, the voice of Pere Dagobert singing the “Kyrie” wafted through the heavy silence of the night. When the black friar had completed his litany, he turned away and left the gate. Some time later, when the fog receded, to the amazement and dismay of the guards, the bodies of the rebel leaders had simply vanished…

According to old New Orleans legends Pere Dagobert still sings the Kyrie in a heavenly voice before the high altar of St. Louis Cathedral when the church is empty and closed for the night. Many have reported seeing a light moving from window to window as the phantom voice drifts out into the night. On rainy afternoons, in the quiet solitude of the old Cathedral, many say they have seen Pere Dagobert kneeling in fervent prayer on the altar steps.

And most agree that Pere Dagobert never haunts alone. Whenever he appears, it is said, the shadowy figures of six long dead men can just barely be discerned, keeping to the shadows but never completely out of sight. These are the ghosts of the dead men on whose behalf Pere Dagobert performed a miracle that long ago night: It is said they will never leave the church unguarded nor the spirit of their great patron unattended so long as St. Louis Cathedral endures.

The Haunted Bell Tower

The imposing central tower of St. Louis Cathedral was designed by Englishman Benjamin Henry Latrobe and he received a commission from the Diocese to begin building the tower in 1819, during the vicarage of Pere Antoine.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe was born in 1764 at Fulneck in Yorkshire. He was the Second son of the Reverend Benjamin Latrobe (1728 - 86), a minister of the Moravian church, and Anna Margaretta (Antes) Latrobe (1728 - 94), a third generation Pennsylvanian of Moravian Parentage.

The original Latrobes had been French Huguenots who had settled in Ireland at the end of the 17th Century. Whilst he is most noted for his work on The White House and the Capitol in Washington, he introduced the Greek Revival as the style of American National architecture. He built Baltimore cathedral, not only the first Roman Catholic Cathedral in America but also the first vaulted church and is, perhaps, Latrobes finest monument.

Hammerwood Park achieves importance as his first complete work, the first of only two in this country and one of only five remaining domestic buildings by Latrobe in existence. It was built as a temple to Apollo, dedicated as a hunting lodge to celebrate the arts and incorporating elements related to Demeter, mother Earth, in relation to the contemporary agricultural revolution.

Latrobe was a master exponent of symbolism. Hammerwood's composition displays all of Latrobe's latent genius which he took to the States, designing both the house and the park as an essay in perspective as well as the picturesque. In this, Latrobe's work at Hammerwood achieves perfection.

During the construction of the tower, the City Council commissioned a New Orleans clockmaker named Jean Delachaux to obtain a suitable clock to be placed in the façade of the new tower. On behalf of the City of New Orleans, Delachaux traveled to Paris, France where he purchased a beautiful bronze bell from a French foundry that had supplied the bells of famous Notre Dame.

Delachaux returned to New Orleans from Paris bearing with him the bell and a Swiss clock, and all was made ready to place the works into the bell tower. Latrobe wrote in his journal of the incident:

"When the new bell was ready to be put into the tower, I wrote him (Pere Antoine) a letter in Latin to apprise him of the circumstance, in order that, if the rites of the Church required any notice of it, he might avail himself of the occasion and do what he thought necessary. He thanked me, and I had the bell brought within the Church. After High Mass, he arranged a procession to the bell and regularly baptized her by the name of Victoire, the name embossed upon her by the founder."

It was to be Latrobe’s last project; he died in New Orleans of yellow fever on September 3, 1820, before the final completion of the bell tower and his was one of the first funerals for which beautiful “Victoire” was to toll a mournful dirge.

Almost immediately following Latrobe’s death there were reports of ghostly sounds and sightings in the bell tower. Workers putting the finishing touches on the construction of the project so close to Latrobe’s heart would only work in the tower in pairs, refusing to be alone there for any length of time. Many reported that even on still, windless days, the bell resonated faintly and sadly, as if still mourning the passing of the man who had so little time to enjoy her music. The movement of objects – paint buckets moving from one place to another, ladders being moved when no one was looking – and strange sounds, frightened other workers.

Even the clockmaker, Delachaux, whose job it was to set the workings and the chimes of the Cathedral clock, reported what he described as a “strange atmosphere” in the bell tower following the death of Latrobe. He had no doubt that the ghost of the dead designer was responsible for the activity in the tower.

Though Delchaux himself was to die peacefully many years later, many have reported seeing the ghostly figure of a man clad in early 19th century clothing, who appears at random hours, and always when the clock is chiming. He has been seen standing directly in the nave of the Cathedral, holding a pocket watch in his hand as if checking that it is keeping time with the bell tower clock. As the chimes subside, the ghost puts his watch away and simply vanishes into thin air.


The Organ Loft and the Weeping Ghost
The Cathedral’s organ was imported and installed in 1829, the year of Pere Dagobert’s death. Its workings are Italian and at the time it ranked among the finest examples of church organs in America, if not the world.

Though there have been many reports of various apparitions sighted in the Cathedral over the years, one of the most compelling and disturbing is the spectre haunting the organ loft.

Several witnesses report seeing the figure of a woman, dressed in a dark, flowing dress of the beautiful Empire style of the mid-1800’s, who stares down balefully from the organ loft. At times the figure is said to appear angry, or frustrated, as if she wants to communicate; at other times, she is said to be “holding back tears.” Sometimes there is no apparition and only the sound of soft weeping can be heard, echoing mournfully in the Cathedral vaults.

New Orleans legend has it that the weeping woman is the ghost of one of Pere Antoine’s dearest parishioners, one whom he had baptized and tutored in Catholic teachings, and who, later in life and against his better judgment, he had joined in matrimony to a man of the Jewish faith. This legend maintains that the weeping woman is none other than Aimee Brusle Gottschalk.

Aimee Brusle was the daughter of a prominent New Orleanian, Camille Brusle, who had come to this city after escaping with his life from the Haiti slave uprisings of the 1790’s, and after distinguishing himself in the service of the English King George III in Jamaica. There he had wedded another French refugee from Haiti, Josephine Alix Deynaud, and the couple settled in New Orleans about the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

Brusle immediately opened a bakery, for many years the only one on the river side of the French Quarter, supplying rich and poor alike with their share of daily bread. In time the Brusle family rose to local prominence and Camille was able to provide his family such luxuries as seats in the Theatre d’Orleans during the opera seasons. Pere Antoine respected the baker of Rue Chartres as a man of sobriety and honesty, and took a special interest in each of Brusle’s children.

Aimee, the most aspiring of the baker’s children and the special favorite of Pere Antoine, was born in 1808. She was described as extremely beautiful and highly serious, although sometimes her desire for position and success blinded her to reality. Pere Antoine had prepared young Aimee for life as a Catholic at baptism, then at confirmation; he had been a frequent guest in the Brusle household; he had heard the secrets of her heart in the confessional. He was the molder of her faith.

To say that he was blindsided by Aimee’s ultimate choice of a husband might be an understatement, and whether or not he voiced his concerns openly to Aimee or her parents is not recorded. Edward Gottschalk was a Northerner – born in London in 1795, one of several sons of Rabbi Lazarus and Jane Harris Gottschalk – and was thirteen years older than the friar’s beloved Aimee. Pere Antoine, and everyone else in New Orleans, took Gottschalk to be an Israelite; originally from Eisenstadt, Hungary, the Gottschalk family name suggested Jewish origin.

Yet Gottschalk had established himself as a successful businessman since arriving in New Orleans with three of his brothers in the early 1800’s. He and two of his brothers were well-known merchants; the third brother, Joseph, was a popular French Quarter physician. At the very least, Gottschalk had the aged friar’s respect.

Where in the St. Louis Cathedral Pere Antoine pronounced Edward Gottschalk and Aimee Brusle man and wife has not been determined. There appears to be no record that the groom was ever received into the Catholic faith, although all of his children and their descendants were raised strict Catholics. It is likely that the ceremony was held in the sacristy, and this would have been the first of many blows to Aimee Brusle’s pride.

Within a year, Pere Antoine was dead and Aimee Brusle was the young mother of a new son, named Louis Moreau Gottschalk in honor of Aimee’s French godfather. Other sons and daughters were to follow as the Gottschalk family thrived according to the fortunes of the times and struggled to survive the numerous yellow fever outbreaks of the mid-1800’s. Aimee herself was confronted with not only marriage and motherhood, but almost instantly with the fact that she would have to share her husband with a quadroon mistress whom Edward Gottschalk maintained in a house just blocks from his family home.

There is no doubt that disillusionment plagued the once beautiful Belle of New Orleans. All her life she had demonstrated a love and talent for music; Aimee is probably the source of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s prodigious talent. She certainly encouraged it. In her youth, she had passed hours at the grand piano of the Theatre d’Orleans, singing to her own piano accompaniment pieces from the great operas and popular songs of the times.

Perhaps it was respect for Pere Antoine, perhaps it was pity for the sadly disillusioned young woman. No one knows. But soon after the organ was installed, Aimee, who would come daily to St. Louis Cathedral to receive the sacrament and to pray, was allowed to mount the stairs to the organ loft and find solace at the keyboard of the great pipe organ. Though she was never a master of it, and never played publicly, it is said Aimee would spend hours in the organ loft, until, when the shades of evening were long over the Place d’Arms, Sally, little Moreau’s faithful servant would come to the Cathedral to collect her mistress.

Aimee’s sadness became overwhelming when Louis Moreau, still only eight years old, was sent away to Paris by his father and his instructors to study under the tutelage of several of the great pianists of Europe. This, coupled with the loss of a child, the infant Therese, to yellow fever, plunged Aimee into despondency. She became a fixture in St. Louis Cathedral for many lonely years, while her husband and children were occupied elsewhere.

It is little wonder that this woman, who knew such little genuine happiness in a life that had been so full of promise, would retreat to the solace of her church. Many believe that Aimee is still haunting St. Louis Cathedral, the one place in the old city of New Orleans that provided some kind of sanctuary to her tormented soul.

The Ghost of Madame LaLaurie
If Aimee Brusle Gottschalk is haunting the organ loft of St. Louis Cathedral, she is not the lone female haunting the grand old church.

One of the most infamous women in the history of New Orleans is said to be keeping Aimee company.

Delphine Macarty LaLaurie, the daughter of an aristocratic Irish officer in the French service, was a contemporary of Aimee Brusle Gottschalk. In 1832, Delphine and her third husband, Dr. Louis LaLaurie, built the house that stands at 1140 Royal Street on land purchased from Edmond Soniat duFossat. The three storey mansion had a plain, “Northern” façade; but he interior was exquisite and soon became the site of many aristocratic parties and social events.

Delphine LaLaurie was the ultimate “Doyenne” of New Orleans society. She had wealth, she had pedigree, she had social standing, and she was regarded as one of the elite of New Orleans society.

As with anyone in her position, Delphine soon became the target of jealous and envious gossip. Many Creole ladies who envied Delphine her happy and prosperous life missed no opportunity to slander the LaLauries, and in particular Delphine, in any way possible.

Stories began to circulate that Madame LaLaurie, although by all appearances a scion of the finest tree, was truly a willful and savage woman, and that she exacted her horrible temper against the most helpless in her service, her slaves.

In 1833 a neighbor swore to allegedly seeing Madame LaLaurie chase a house slave girl with a leather whip, forcing her onto an upper balcony of the Royal Street home and ultimately to her death. Rumors circulated that Madame LaLaurie kept her cook chained to the fireplace in the kitchen, that many of the house slaves and stable boys disappeared without explanations, and that other horrible things were going on behind the beautiful façade of the fancy home.

The negative rumors and half-truths came to fruition on an April day in 1834 when the house caught fire (a fire allegedly started by the cook, although, remember she was chained to the stove) and the fire brigade was called. A huge crowd formed outside the mansion, including journalists from the local New Orleans dailies.

Many in the crowd later swore to have witnessed first hand the horrific conditions of some of the slaves that were discovered in the smoldering ruins of the once-beautiful home. There were fantastic and almost unbelievable reports of all kinds of atrocities and mutilations – noses and ears cut off, tongues and eyes gouged out, sadist beatings and surgeries – and each of these was attributed to none other than Madame LaLaurie.

Whether or not the tales were true or were the product of the first campaign of yellow journalism in American newspaper history, the social standing of Dr. and Madame LaLaurie lay in ruins. They were forced to flee from the scene of the fire, barely escaping with their lives. It is known that they made their way to the shores of Bayou St. John, taking refuge in what is now the Pitot House. It is said that they then took a barge across Lake Pontchartrain where they stayed for a time with the Coqueville family in Mandeville, the little resort town founded by Bernard de Marigny several years before. Ultimately, the LaLauries escaped to Paris where they lived out their lives. On her death, Madame LaLaurie’s remains were returned to New Orleans and were interred by her descendants not far from those of another famous woman – Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau – in St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery.

In her lifetime Delphine LaLaurie worshipped at St. Louis Cathedral like other good parishioners of New Orleans. Whether or not Madame LaLaurie actually fled to Europe, as most believe, or whether she remained in the area and founded a Satanic cult in the deep forests of the Lake Pontchartrain north shore, as others maintain, one thing is certain: Her ghost has been seen again and again among the darkened pews of St. Louis Cathedral.

Several people have reported seeing Madame LaLaurie, whom they recognize from the famous portrait of her circulated widely in tour books and on the Internet, pale and ghostly, kneeling and praying, face-upturned, in a third row pew before the great altar of the old church. Others have reported seeing her apparition pacing sadly near one of the old confessionals, waiting, it is said, for a priest who is willing to absolve her of her horrible sins.


Madame Delphine LaLaurie



Madame Delphine LaLaurie and the Crucible of Horror. A Very Haunted House on Royal Street

The Ghost of Marie Laveau
Most people don’t readily associate the infamous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans with one of the great bastions of the Catholic faith, St. Louis Cathedral. But the truth is, in her lifetime, Marie Laveau was one of the most devout Catholics this old city ever knew.

Although many visitors crowd into St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 hoping to glimpse the ghost of the Voodoo Queen at her shrine-like gravesite and others hope to meet her in one of the many French Quarter locations associated with her in life, few know that one of the best places to encounter Marie’s spirit is St. Louis Cathedral.

It is widely agreed that Marie Laveau was born in 1794 in New Orleans. Her father, Charles Laveau, is said to have been a wealthy white planter and her mother, Darcantel Marguerite, a beautiful free woman of color. Marie married Jacques Paris, a free man of color, on August 4, 1819. Because the ceremony was performed in St. Louis Cathedral, her contract of marriage can still be found in the files there.

At the time of her marriage, there is no evidence that either she or Jacques were practicing Voodoo. Marie and Jacques had both been raised in the Roman Catholic faith and she still practiced it devoutly, attending daily worship at St. Louis Cathedral.

Only a short while after the wedding, Jacques disappeared, probably lost at Sea, and Marie began calling herself the Widow Paris, entering a common law marriage with Charles Glapion and embarking on her infamous career as the Witch Queen of New Orleans.

Among the legends of haunted St. Louis Cathedral none is perhaps more intriguing than the sightings of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, a beautiful mulatto woman in the prime of her life, clad in white, her head wrapped in the bright quadroon turban of the times, kneeling and praying quietly at the Cathedral’s high altar. She is reportedly seen in the early morning hours, just after the church has opened for the day, although other reports have her appearing at sundown: it is possible that Marie is keeping the old Catholic tradition of offering both morning and evening devotions.

One local woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that she observed the ghost of Marie Laveau praying in the first row to the left of the altar. She watched as the ghost made the sign of the cross, rose to her feet, and disappeared into the shadows of the vestibule – lost from sight in a flare of sunlight as the main door opened. The woman immediately went to the pew where, she said, she felt a chill where the ghost had been. To her astonishment and never-ending pleasure, the woman discovered a worn rosary in the crux of the pew. Looking every bit like it came from another century – nothing modern about it – the woman immediately grabbed it, even though it felt to her as if she had just taken it from a freezer. Could this local witness have in her possession the rosary beads of Marie Laveau?

Though many who have met her or been slapped by her at her overcrowded tomb, or encountered her ghost at recreations of her great “bamboulas,” the voodoo dances of Congo Square, everyone expects her entrance to be grand. That is why the appearance of this most famous of New Orleans Voodoo icons in the quiet solemnity of an old Catholic church is so disconcerting to those who have encountered her.

When they understand that Marie Laveau did as much to evangelize the Catholic faith among slaves and the poor as she did to maintain her links to their Voodoo heritage, it is not surprising at all to believe that she can be encountered in the great old haunted Cathedral as well as anywhere in this Haunted City of New Orleans!

Marie Laveau


In recent days a controversy has arisen regarding the legend and practice of marking the alleged final resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau with X’s in the infamous “wish spell” ritual popularized throughout the past several decades by certain companies, groups and individuals working in the New Orleans tourism industry.

(click Here for more)


Editor's Note: Information on the lives of Pere Antoine and Aimee Brusle Gottschalk taken in part from the book

Where the Word Ends: The Life of Louis Moreau Gottschalk by Vernon Loggins, Copyright 1958, Louisiana State University Press

and from Gottschalk family members' recollections.


The Saint Louis Cathedral

Historic New Orleans Collection
533 Royal Street
New Orleans LA 70130

Historic New Orleans Collection has galleries with permanent exhibitions, such as "Louisiana: Its Sites and Citizens" and guided tours of the collections. The Collection also has exhibits on Royal Street that change every few months and an 1889 townhouse that was owned by the family that founded the collection.
Tel: 1 504 523-4662


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