Mme. Marie Delphine LaLaurie of
Marie Delphine Lalaurie and her third husband, a doctor, Leonard Louis Lalaurie, purchased the grand home at 1140 Royal Street in the early 1830s. Upon moving in, she began to outfit the home with the finest of appointments — costly furniture, silver and gold plates and paintings by noted artists. She would entertain and dispense hospitality from the downstairs drawing room.
She was born Marie Delphine, daughter of Louis Barthelemy Chevalier de Maccarthy. She was first married on June 11, 1800 to Don Ramon de Lopez y Angulo. When he died on March 26, 1804 in Havana, Cuba, she married Jean Blanque in 1808, who died in 1816. From there she married Dr. Lalaurie on June 12, 1825.
The circumstances of the deaths of her first two husbands are unknown and the whereabouts of Dr. Lalaurie at the time of the fire and subsequent to his wife’s flight from town remains a mystery.
Mme. Lalaurie was well-known for her spectacular parties and galas which she gave frequently at her home. She was one of the most well-known women in New Orleans society of the time. Renowned Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau lived in New Orleans at the same time, just a few blocks from the Lalaurie House. Although the nature of their relationship is unknown, undoubtedly these two women met and knew each other.
It was said that Mme. Lalaurie’s manners were sweet, gracious and captivating. She was born in the society’s upper circles. She was accustomed to and acculturated to the good life. Yet there were persistent rumors that she treated her servants with disdain and in a cruel, abusive manner.
And still, those who visited her said that she was kind to her servants. If one of them tremble in her presence or startled at the sound of her voice, she would soothe and endeavor to reassure her. Nevertheless, the stories of barbarity increased. The smothered indignation on Royal Street grew.
One day the street was filled with the wild rumor that Mme. Lalaurie was seen by the neighbors cowhiding a little girl in the courtyard. The terrified young thing fled across the yard, into the house and up the winding stairway from gallery to gallery followed by her infuriated mistress. She rushed out onto the belvedere and darted up to roof, with Mme Lalaurie hot on her heels.
In another instant the child reached the edge of the roof — falling with a dull thud to the courtyard below. She was lifted up and borne into the house a silent, crushed, lifeless mass of humanity. In the old yard there was a shallow well that is now a mere pit and neighbors assert that the night the young girl fell to her death, she was buried by torchlight in the well.
The legend goes that on April 11, 1834, a slave goaded by the cruelties heaped upon her, set fire to Mme. Lalaurie’s kitchen. Some say the old woman had a dream the night before that she was fleeing the house in flames.
As the flames grew larger and hotter, word of the fire spread through the streets and soon the house was thronged with people over to assist Mme. Lalaurie in saving her valuables. There were among the crowd citizens of high standing, many of whom bore eyewitness to the scenes that followed. The fire was gaining rapidly, the kitchen was in flames and the upper stories were filled with smoke. Mme. Lalaurie seemed only interested in retrieving her plates, jewels and robes before they were burnt to a crisp.
The questions about the whereabouts of the servants began to filter through the crowd of assistants. “Where are all Mme. Lalaurie’s servants that they do not help in the efforts to save?” Mme. Lalaurie met the questions with evasive answers. “Nevermind the servants, save my valuables. This way gentlemen, this way.”
Someone began whispering that the servants were chained and locked up behind barred doors in the slave quarter and were sure to perish in the flames. The whisper became a loud voice — vengeful and threatening. “The servants! The servants?” rose from a hundred different voices. “There are human beings locked in those rooms who will be roasted alive in the flames.”
“The keys! The keys!” said a Creole gentleman; two or three men rushed forward clamoring for the keys, but they could not be found. “Who will follow me through the smoke and flames?” cried a brave Creole. A dozen or more men volunteered. The iron bars between the wing and attic were broken away, the doors were burst open and two old women with heavy iron collars upon their necks and irons upon their feet were brought out. By this time the fire was subdued.
The crowd continued to search the house. The garret was explored and more victims were brought out – gaunt and wild-eyed, loaded down with chains and crippled from the attitudes in which they had been chained to the floor.
The local press of the time said the story was like “covering one of those atrocities the details of which seem to be too incredible for human belief.” They hesitated to report the atrocities at the house because of their graphic nature, but found it necessary to hold Mme. Lalaurie accountable and up for public ridicule, calling her a wretch.
A silence fell upon the neighborhood — an ominous silence that proceeds the outburst of the smoldering wrath of an outraged public. In the morning an idle crowd began to form in front of the Lalaurie mansion. The numbers increased towards midday and by evening the throng was so dense that standing room was almost impossible upon the pavement of the street in front.
They hissed and hooted and some cried out for the owner’s scalp. Mme. Lalaurie did not mistake the meaning and conceived and executed a plan to flee for her life. At the time of her daily ride in her carriage it drove up before the door and Mme. Lalaurie, dressed in her usual elegant style, stepped out on the sidewalk and entered the vehicle.
In a split-second the horses took off at full speed away from her house — the last time she would be there. Mme. Lalaurie was taking her last drive in the fashionable quarter and it was a drive for her very life. It took but an instant for the crowd to recover from her quick thinking and in another moment they were at her back, yelling, hooting and screaming: “Stop that carriage!” “She is running away!” “Drag her out.” “Shoot her.” “Shoot the horses!”
But the mob’s efforts were in vain. The coachman drove furiously at break neck speed. The horses had borne their mistress before and would not fail her now. Fashionable New Orleans stopped its carriages and watched in blank amazement the flying vehicle and the uproarious, uncontrollable mob. No human speed could keep up with those horses; the crowd breathless and panting, was left in the distance.
The carriage reached Bayou St. John and a schooner that was moored near the bank. She paid the captain a handful of gold and the vessel set sail for Mandeville. Mme. Lalaurie, it is said, took refuge for 10 days near the Claiborne Cottages in Covington. Some say she then made her way to Mobile or New York and then to Paris. However, there have been persistent stories that she never left the Northshore. Alas, what really happened remains a mystery as here, the trail goes cold…