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Delphine LaLaurie
Born Marie Delphine Macarty
Circa 1775
Louisiana
Died Unknown but widely accepted as December 7, 1842
Paris
File:Lalaurie.gif

The LaLaurie Mansion. From a postcard 1906

Delphine LaLaurie (née Marie Delphine Macarty, sometimes anglicised as Maccarty, McCarthy or Maccarthy), also known as Madame LaLaurie, was an American socialite. She is known in fiction and folklore as an alleged serial killer, involved in the torture, mutilation and death of as many as 100 black slaves.

In history

Delphine Macarty was born circa 1775, one of five children to her parents. Her father was Barthelmy Louis Macarty, the son of Barthelmy Macarty, the elder Barthelmy having brought the family to New Orleans from Ireland circa 1730.[1] Her mother was Marie Jeanne Lovable,[2] also described as the widow Lecomte, whose marriage to Barthelmy Louis Macarty was her second.[1] Both were prominent members of the New Orleans white Créole community.[2] Delphine's cousin, Augustin de Macarty, was mayor of New Orleans from 1815-1820.[3]

On June 11, 1800, Delphine Macarty married Don Ramon de Lopez y Angullo, a Caballero de la Royal de Carlos (an officer holding high rank in the service of Spain).[2][4] The marriage took place at the Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.[2] By 1804, Don Ramon had risen to the position of consul general for Spain in Louisiana.[2]

In 1804, Delphine and Don Ramon undertook a trip to Spain.[2] Accounts of this trip differ. Grace King, writing in 1921, describes the trip as resulting from Don Ramon receiving "a military punishment", and believes that Delphine reached Spain and met there with the Queen, who was impressed by Delphine's beauty.[5] Stanley Arthur, writing in 1936, instead reports that on March 26, 1804 Don Ramon was recalled to the court of Spain "to take his place at court as befitting his new position", but that Ramon never arrived in Spain, instead meeting his death in Havana en route to Madrid.[2]

In any case, during the voyage, Delphine gave birth to a daughter, named Marie Borgia Delphine Lopez y Angulla de la Candelaria, nicknamed "Borquita",[5][2] and thereafter returned to New Orleans.

In June 1808, Delphine married Jean Blanque, a prominent banker, merchant, lawyer and legislator.[2] At the time of the marriage, Blanque purchased a house at 409 Royal Street in New Orleans for the family, which became known later as the Villa Blanque.[2] Delphine had a further four children by Blanque, named Marie Louise Pauline, Louise Marie Laure, Marie Louise Jeanne, and Jeanne Pierre Paulin Blanque.[2]

Blanque died in 1816.[6] Twice widowed, Delphine married physician Dr. Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie on June 25, 1825.[6] The couple bought property at 1140 Royal Street in 1831, and by 1832 had built a three-storey mansion there,[6] where Delphine LaLaurie maintained a central position in the social circles of New Orleans. Although she would throw lavish parties with guest lists consisting of some of the most prominent people in the city, the manner in which Delphine LaLaurie treated her slaves is probably the most widely known of the French Quarter’s macabre tales, which date to an incident in 1834.

LaLaurie continued to reside in New Orleans at least until 1844 (as shown by court records of the time)[7] and probably died there. The circumstances of Delphine LaLaurie's death are unclear. However, in the late 1930s, Eugene Backes, who served as sexton to St. Louis Cemetery #1 until 1924, discovered an old cracked, copper plate in Alley 4 of the cemetery. The inscription on the plate read: "Madame LaLaurie, née Marie Delphine Macarty, décédée à Paris, le 7 Décembre, 1842, à l'âge de 6--."[8]

In folklore

Delphine LaLaurie has attained a reputation in folklore as a torturess and serial killer of black slaves. According to tradition, in 1833, after several neighbors allegedly saw her "cowhiding" (viciously whipping) a young servant girl in the mansion's courtyard, rumors began to spread around town that LaLaurie treated her servants viciously. According to one tale, a young slave girl was brushing LaLaurie's hair in the upstairs bedroom when the comb hit a snag in her mistress's hair, enraging LaLaurie. LaLaurie whipped the 8-year-old slave girl, who tried to escape but fell to her death from a balcony overlooking the courtyard. The girl was quickly brought into the LaLaurie Mansion, but not before being observed by neighbors, who filed a complaint. The neighbors later asserted that the young girl was buried under a tree in the yard.

The legalities of the situation were handled by Judge Jean Francois Canonge, a friend of the LaLauries, who had visited the house on a previous occasion concerning the welfare of the LaLaurie servants. The LaLaurie slaves were confiscated and put up for auction, and the LaLauries were fined $300. Some of the LaLaurie relatives arranged to buy the slaves back and quickly returned them to her.

On April 10, 1834, during another party, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the mansion. The kitchen — as was the norm in Spanish mansions — was separate from the home and located over the carriageway building across the courtyard. The firemen entered the building through the courtyard. To their surprise, there were two slaves chained to the stove in the kitchen. It appeared as though the slaves had set the fire themselves in order to attract attention. The fire itself was soon subdued.

LaLaurie escaped by horse and carriage to Bayou St. John, where she allegedly paid the captain of a schooner to carry her across to Mandeville or Covington. Many claimed they escaped to Paris. Others say they remained on the outskirts of New Orleans. Investigation of the property purportedly uncovered several corpses of uncertain provenance. The Pittsfield Sun, citing the New-Orleans Advertiser and writing some time after the evacuation of Lalaurie's slave quarters, confirmed that two of the slaves found in the LaLaurie mansion had died since their rescue, and added: "We understand... that in digging the yard, bodies have been disinterred, and the condemned well [in the grounds of the mansion] having been uncovered, others, particularly that of a child, were found."[9] This discovery, if real, was, however, never referenced by later writers on the case.

Accounts of LaLaurie's poor treatment of her slaves were commonly told in Louisiana during the nineteenth century,[10][11] and after 1945 they became considerably more explicit. Jeanne deLavigne, writing in Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans (1946), alleged that LaLaurie had a "sadistic appetite [that] seemed never appeased until she had inflicted on one or more of her black servitors some hideous form of torture", and suggested that

"the man who smashed the garret door saw powerful male slaves, stark naked, chained to the wall, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewn together... Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains."[12]

Accounts of this sort became gradually more lurid, and by 1998 it was alleged that the rescuers who entered the LaLaurie mansion had discovered one "victim [who] obviously had her arms amputated and her skin peeled off in a circular pattern, making her look like a human caterpillar." Another, it was said, had had her limbs broken and reset "at odd angles so she resembled a human crab."[13] Neither of these versions of the LaLaurie story, however, was based on known contemporary accounts, or offered any source citations.

Historical accuracy

The most explicit accounts relating to the discovery of grand guignol horror in the Lalaurie mansion cannot be traced back further than Journey Into Darkness: Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans, a book self-published in 1998 by the proprietress of a New Orleans ghost tour business. The author, Kalila Katherina Smith — whose qualifications include her work as a practitioner of eclectic magic and a certificate in Oriental Natural Healing and Integrated Body Mind Therapy — claims to have sourced her information from a contemporary newspaper, the New Orleans Bee.[13] A review of the files of this newspaper shows this claim to be false. Contemporary sources mention the death of the young slave girl who hurled herself from the roof and confirm the discovery of seven chained and maltreated slaves in quarters near Lalaurie's kitchen, but confirm none of the more lurid allegations regarding buckets of genitalia, makeshift sex-change operations, brains stirred with sticks, women nailed to floors by their intestines, tongues sewn together, mouths stuffed with excrement and stitched up, females flayed to resemble caterpillars, suits of human skin, sliced penises, "human crabs" (in which a slave had had their limbs cut off and placed back on in reversed positions), bottles of blood or "grand gore chambers"; nor do they detail scores of victims, no evidence for which can be traced in accounts published at the time. [14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21] Secondary sources written in the 19th and early 20th centuries, several by New Orleans natives who knew the case, who had spoken to residents living in the city at the time of Lalaurie's flight, and which had in one instance involved extensive archival research, likewise fail to mention anything other than accounts of emaciated live slaves displaying wounds consistent with periods of incarceration.[10][11][22]

The LaLaurie house (1140 Royal Street, New Orleans)

File:1140 Royal Street.jpg

The LaLaurie Mansion at 1140 Royal Street, photographed in September 2009.

The New Orleans house famously occupied by Delphine LaLaurie stands today at 1140 Royal Street, on the corner of Royal Street and Hospital Street. At three storeys high, it was described in 1988 as "the highest building for squares around", with the result that "from the cupola on the roof one may look out over the Vieux Carre and see the Mississippi in its crescent before Jackson Square".[23] The entrance to the building bears iron grillwork, and the door is carved with an image of "Phoebus in his chariot, and with wreaths of flowers and depending garlands in bas-relief".[23] Inside, the vestibule is floored in black and white marble, and a curved mahogany-railed staircase runs the full three storeys of the building. The second floor holds three large drawing-rooms connected by ornamented sliding doors, whose walls are decorated with plaster rosettes, carved woodwork, black marble mantlepieces and fluted pilasters.[23]

Subsequent to LaLaurie's departure from America, the house was used as a public high school, a conservatory of music, a tenement, a refuge for young delinquents, a bar, a furniture store, and a luxury apartment building.[24]

In April 2007, actor Nicolas Cage bought the LaLaurie House through Hancock Park Real Estate Company LLC for a sum of $3.45 million.[24] The mortgage documents were arranged in such a way that Cage's name did not appear on them.[25]

On November 13, 2009 the property, then valued at $3.5 million, was listed for auction as a result of bank foreclosure and purchased by Regions Financial Corporation for $2.3 million.[25]

References

Books

Periodicals

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 King (1921), pp.368-373.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Arthur (1936), p.148.
  3. King (1921), p.373.
  4. King (1921), p.359.
  5. 5.0 5.1 King (1921), p.359-360.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Arthur (1936), p.149.
  7. Burkett v Layton, Supreme Court of Louisiana, Volume 7, April 1844
  8. The Times-Picayune, January 28, 1941.
  9. Pittsfield Sun, 8 May 1834.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Castellanos (1895), pp.52-62.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Cable (1888), pp.200-219.
  12. DeLavigne (1946), pp.256-257.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Smith (1998), p.19
  14. New Orleans Bee (April 11, 1834), New Orleans Bee (April 12, 1834).
  15. New Orleans Bee, 16 April 1834.
  16. National Intelligencer, 29 April 1834.
  17. New Bedford Mercury, 2 May 1834.
  18. Salem Gazette, 2 May 1834.
  19. Le Courrier des Etats-Unis, 8 December 1838.
  20. Retrospective of Western Travel, (London, 1838) vol.II pp.136-42.
  21. Louisiana History, vol.23 (1982) pp.383-99.
  22. Arthur (1936), pp.147-151.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Fabulous New Orleans, Saxon, Lyle (1988)
  24. 24.0 24.1 Goldsborough, Bob (April 24, 2007). "Nicolas Cage buys house in New Orleans' French quarter for $3,450,000". Big Time Listings. Celebrity Real Estate Homes Big Time Listings. http://www.bergproperties.com/blog/nicolas-cage-buys-house-in-new-orleans-french-quarter-for-3450000/. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Yousuf, Hibah (November 16, 2009). "Nicolas Cage loses 2 homes in foreclosure auction". CNNMoney.com. Cable News Network. http://money.cnn.com/2009/11/13/real_estate/Nicolas_Cage/. Retrieved November 25, 2010.

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