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In the seven-hundred block of rue Royale stands an old mansion built more than a century ago. It rears its solid bulk on the uptown river corner of Royal and Saint-Ann streets, and in the long ago was the domicile of a wealthy widower.

 

But along with its heavy ancient bolts and its fan windows, its old-work archways and its vine hung courtyard, it has a ghost. Only in December, when the winds whistle bitter about the square old chimneys of the Quarter, does this ghost walk- she is naked, they say.

 

On December nights, when it is very very cold, this phantom rises from the narrow old staircase which leads from the attic to the roof. Around and around the edge of the roof she walks, swaying and bending against the icy wind, struggling and stumbling, hour after hour, night after night, in the name of a forbidden love… a marriage dare.

 

That night, there was a terrible ice storm.

But there are many ghosts among us; within these walls and the surrounding courtyard.  

As many as 40 ghosts wander Le Petit Theatre; for a structure built on the original land designated as Nouvelle Orleans, now the French Quarter, has been roamed by many.

 

There’s the Union soldier who stares at that wall, where there used to be a mirror, the love struck phantom known as, The Captain, who sits in the Balcony Row B, awaiting to applaud his favorite actress. Catherine, who commit suicide in that Juliet special; a disgruntled carpenter named Sigmund who likes to play tricks…and then there’s Caroline, the most notorious ghost of Le Petit Theater, and she has truth to tell us.  

In 1727, Ursuline Nun, Marie Madeleine Hachard wrote of the new French colony in a letter: "The Devil has a great empire here…not only do debauchery, bad faith and all the other vices reign here more than in any other place, but they do so in abundance.”

Le triste embarquement des filles de joie de Paris… It was a sad day when all of the prostitutes left Paris…The Sieur de Bienville, or, Governor Bienville, summoned young French women to populate the new French colony, Nouvelle Orleans.. The girls were taken, sometimes against their will, out of orphanages, poorhouses, whorehouses, and prisons to become potential brides. They were promised prosperity but they arrived in a lawless swamp filled with insects and men seeking women.

The Ursuline Nuns also endured an arduous journey at sea with a noble mission to provide structure to the new colony, and educate and care for the women, to prepare them for marriage, of course. In exchange, they would receive The Ursuline Convent, which remains to be the oldest living structure of the Mississippi valley. Wave by wave, and ship by ship, prospective brides were shipped to Nouvelle Orleans to await selection; But that next ship delivered other worldly women who had arrived pale and gaunt, with bloodshot eyes, maybe from tortuous months at sea... but they also carried curious, casket sized trunks, and would become known as La Filles a La Casette, or as New Orleans Legend would call them, the casket girls, unraveling a tantalizing mystery that remains today… 

Legend has it, Nun Marie Madeline discovered caskets that were not filled with belongings, but were empty. Could it be that French vampire girls were on the loose? Had they smuggled vampires on ship and succumbed to the deadly bite at sea?

The windows of the convent were to be sealed shut, with nails blessed by the pope, for all eternity. Then, the mortality suddenly rose…

Sieur Bienville said of the women who traveled by boat in 1720, “Whatever vigilance exercised upon them, they could not be restrained.” Indeed, they had other plans, for they had to, to survive. Embracing “the oldest profession”, women populated houses of ill repute, and vice flourished.

Ten cents! Ten cents for the men who didn’t mind a bit of public exhibition.

 

But you had to beware of the women of the White Elephant. Those women could be dangerous, picking men from the street, taking them back to their shoddy cribs, robbing them of their belongings and sometimes their soul…and that den mother Eliza Riddle? Heard she was arrested 24 times in the span of 16 years… Her weapon of choice? A lamp…

Yes, Eilza Riddle was a legend. Multiple newspaper clippings report her robbing and attacking men (and women), but leave much of the circumstance to the imagination. She spent 10 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary but convinced a male friend to help her escape. She did what she had to to survive, and owed loyalty to no one but herself. 

They call her the creature of dauphine street, and it is said that she still haunts the area today.

Across the way, was the esteemed May Baily’s…where men would pay up to $50 to stay the night with one of May’s girls.  It became the first legalized brothel under the Ordinance Concerning Lewd and Abandoned Women, issued by city license in 1957. May ensured that her fine establishment adorned with Victorian wallpaper and gold accents was the place to be. Now a part of the Dauphine Orleans Hotel, its walls are very haunted. Sailors and soldiers paid visits, trained women sang and danced, and now, the Lost Bride still waits…

May Baily and her younger sister, Millie Bailey emigrated as children from Ireland in the early 19th century, but became yellow fever orphans shortly thereafter when their parents fell victim to the deadly plague.

In a time of scarce opportunity, May engaged in business with her father’s friend and stepped up to operate a brothel. But young Millie yearned for true love and a family. Left with no other choice, she obliged to help her sister run the bordello but yearned for an escape from this lewd life.

Police cracked down, so men infiltrated the legalized May Baily’s to get their vice fix. A young Civil War Soldier, Eldrige, known as “the worried general”, was a gambling man. He would come to May Baileys to cut loose and delight in the irresistible women of May Baily’s, waiting for one to finally tame him.

But before May Baily paved the way, there was Gallatin Street- A port town along the Mississippi River lined with Ramshackle buildings held together by rotting wooden planks– it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This centralized area is where they say yellow fever was born in New Orleans. Never devoid of sailors, criminals, and strangers, seedy bars and dance halls filled nightly with little police regulation. They were allegedly too scared to stick around at night. That was Mary Jane Bricktop’s turf. 

Known as the “scourge of Gallatin Street, she was a robust woman who could beat any man in a brawl. She had murdered 4 men and stabbed many others, including 7 feet tall Long Charlie, with her made to order specialty knife. 5 inch blades on each side and a center crip mounted in German silver, kept tightly woven in her flaming red hair, naturally. After finally serving time in prison for one of her murders, she met her love, John Miller. He was a former boxer whose arm had been amputated, and naturally he enhanced it with an iron..ball and chain. One evening, he made the unfortunate mistake to thrash Bricktop with a cowhide whip. That would be his last evening alive.

Bricktop was sent to prison for the murder of John Miller and was never heard from again, in human form, that is. Gallatin Street was renamed the French Market in 1935….

Shine the lights on Storyville, New Orleans’ infamous red light district, which legalized prostitution within its bounds and became the real “birthplace of jazz”. 38 blocks were designated as The District was bound by the streets of North Robertson, Iberville, Basin, and St. Louis, to keep the civilized societies safe, of course. Seedy flophouses become jeweled palaces, and self made Madams become some of the richest and most powerful women in New Orleans in a flourishing industry where profitable sin and vice ran rampant.

 

Lulu White was known as the queen of diamonds, she had a reputation for wearing a fortune in precious stones, nightly. Her Mahogany Hall Mansion was situated on Basin Street and Bienville, four story and built of marble with handsome furnishments, and immortalized in song by Spencer Williams’ Mahogany Hall Stomp. 

 

If Lulu White was the queen of diamonds, Josie Arlington was the Queen of the Demimonde. Rather than advertising the beauty of her women, She advertised her establishments furnishings and elite sophistication.  An ad for the Arlington reads ”No pen can describe the beauty and magnificence that reign supreme within the walls of Miss Arlington’s Mansion...a visit will teach more than a man can tell” 

 

Palatial, rich in opulence, and with only the best jazz and finest offerings to choose from, will you enter Mahogany Hall, or L’Arlington?  

On special occasion, mayor of Storyville Tom Anderson hosted the Two Well Known Gentleman's Club ball, a whimsical Mardi Gras masquerade offering big spenders an evening of lustful entertainment. Dressed in jewels and fancy dresses, the prostitutes were transported to a fairytale evening away from home.

That night, Millie met Eldridge.

Three nights after Mardi Gras, a woman had a dream that evil was about to descend… Victims across Nouvelle Orleans succumbed to the axe man’s deadly trail, one by one, two by two: a door’s missing front panel and the victim’s bloodied axe left behind at the scene. Joseph Maggio was attacked first and then Katherine. 

Madam Marguerite Sauve stood behind her glistening counter of delectable French pastries. Her shop was on Bourbon Street, a square or two away from the Old French Opera House, where Madame had been a chorus girl for more years than she ever acknowledged. 

Everyone who went to the French Opera House flocked to Les Camelias. “Oui Madam, the pastries are delicious! Les Camelias is enchanting! We shall come again tomorrow of course.” 

This morning she had received a reply from one Carlos Alfaro, now in Tampa. He was twenty years old, he wrote, had been in this country un año, understood la Ingles sufficiently, and was a master hand at making fine pastries. He knew something about the making of fine pastries, but if he had not been so beautiful, she would have sent him packing!

Julie was the most beautiful woman in town: long hair down below her waist, skin the color of café au lait, and eyes of hazel. She wanted nothing more than to marry Zachary. She was his placeé, a form of legal mistress but still a forbidden love, all for that one eight strain of blood noir that defined her as an Octoroon woman. Julie desperately wanted to marry the Frenchman, but he repeatedly denied her request for marriage because of her social status.

 

As many women did, she went to see The Voodoo Queen to procure a love ritual. She asked Marie Laveau to make their love last for an eternity. When Zachary climbed the stairs to their hidden apartment night, they shared a passionate kiss that might seal their fate for eternity…

He told her that he was going to play a card game downstairs with some of his friends and while he was entertaining his guests he wanted her to strip off her clothing and wait on the rooftop for him until he was done. It was a dare, one he didn’t think she would take seriously.

 

She waited until near midnight, when the storm bellowed and crashed. She removed her clothing and crept up the stairs to the roof, shivering miserably before she stepped out on the streaming slates, recalling his dare. Somehow she would endure it…somehow she would prove her love. She shook with cold, she thought of the man who promised to marry her tomorrow.

Julie still walks on the rooftop, lingering and listening, for love’s small tap tap tap upon her window. Another ghost is seen: a man, formally dressed in period attire, wandering, and once in a blue moon, two shadow lovers embrace; for Zachary too died, not long after Julie, they say, of a broken heart…

Voodoo is believed to have been the official religion of Storyville, for they would often engage practitioners to create potions, ritual charms, and amulets for self protection, and of course, love. Marie Laveau, had been laid to rest in 1881 in St Louis Cemetery Number 1, her spirit eternally presiding over Basin Street.

Marguerite was a trifle at a loss. She was conscious that her first waking thought was of Carlos. That her heart leaped when she saw him entering the door at Les Camelias. She was hungry for kisses, starving for caresses, and dying for love. Carlos gave her all three in generous measure.

“I think you should pay me more salary, Marguerite. I have the feeling of poverty, and that is discouraging to my art.”

“I shall double your salary from tomorrow! Come here and live with me, Carlos!

 “I will call you ‘Spring’ –La Primavera, Dear Madame.”

 

She nestled closer to him. He called her Spring! He did not know of the wrinkles behind her ears then,! She would be careful to smear the poudre blanche on especially thick..perhaps a touch of rouge on her lips…Her weary lids closed over her aching eyes. Carlos laughed and sneered when he saw her old face lying on the pillow at dawn… 

On the night of March 10, seven months after the last attack, screams were heard coming from the Cortimiglia home. Across the street, neighbor and fellow grocer, Orlando Jordana rushed across the street to discover that Joseph, Rosie and Mary had all been attacked by a man wielding an axe. Three days later, a strange letter was delivered to the Times Picayune...

Esteemed Mortal of New Orleans:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it out on that specific Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

--The Axeman

Don’t fall in love with a sailor…says Mona. Mona was the daughter of a wealthy family that lived in the Mcfadden Mansion in City Park, now Christian Brother’s School. Mona fell in love with a sailor, and they would take strolls beneath the oaks and along the lagoons near her home, until one day, when Mona drowned. Was she murdered by that sailor scoundrel, or did she take her own life when her father forbade their love?  

Supernatural sounds now fill the evening air on Mona Lisa Drive, that winding City Park road lined by trees of Spanish moss that bare secrets of love and betrayal.  A venus statue was erected in Mona’s honor, where couples once flocked, until one evening when an angry apparition in white rose from the lagoon, clawing at a foggy windowed car. The statue was destroyed by that speeding car. Take a stroll down lover’s lane and find the lagoon where she wails, she weeps, she waits… 

INTERMISSION

On the evening of March 13, jazz music filled the city, in every dance hall and every house party, as the music poured through open windows, and terrified people of New Orleans danced for their life.

Caroline?

Caroline, we want to hear your story….the truth…

Caroline was a beautiful actress who booked a role as a young bride at Le Petit Theatre in the 1930’s…She found herself entangled in a love triangle with another man, another actor, or a maintenance man. They were both married and engaged in clandestine meetings on the catwalk, right there above there... One night they were making love, and she suddenly fell to her death. She was found with a broken neck. Decades of people working at Le Petit Theatre have seen Caroline on the back stairs of the theater, walking across the stage, in the balcony. She is here, very present, mostly in a benevolent way, often helping people find missing items and props, but sometimes, props mysteriously fall from tables, and static screeches through speakers. There is unfinished business. 

A ghost intervention was performed here. Caroline communicated through a ghost box, with a few words between the static….”on stage”...”acting”..”affair…” “married”

 

Caroline, how did it happen, how did you die? …”MURDER” ….“GOT AWAY”...”HE HAD POWER”. The investigator was suddenly PUSHED forward.

 

Sweet, sweet Caroline…

During the days which followed, Marguerite learned that the girl’s name was Lisette Leboef, a common street walker who lived on Saint Ann, near Royal. That was the meaning of the lingerie and other perplexing articles listed on her last  bill from the department store…twelve pairs of silk hose, a silk lounging robe, a fur shag…It was a degrading picture….

Carlos does not love me- he never did love me! I was a good thing- how he must have laughed! There is no use of living, if one must be a fool! She sat down at length, and wrote a letter to the police. She was committing suicide she told them, and no one was to blame. But, she added, she would be coming back. She had work to do, and her ghost would be coming back- and they couldn’t stop her. 

At about midnight, some late wayfarer saw a white shape coming out of the Old French Opera House. The theater had been in rehearsal for their upcoming premiere of Carmen, about a love triangle. The shape moved down Bourbon to Toulouse, then to Royal, and turned the corner of St. Anne. It glided silently along the banquette with its snow white hair wreathing a dead white face. The eyes were like flaming torches, and the mouth was tight-set.

The shape glided into the room where Lisette Lebouef and Carlos Alfaro were sleeping. The ghostly fingers fumbled at the gas plate and turned on the gas. The white shape closed the windows tightly, and went out the locked door. Then it trailed wearily down the stairs and out on the banquette…and back to the French Opera House, setting it on fire. Yes, they call her the WITCH of the French Opera. It was her best performance yet.

Today was the day! Millie would soon marry Eldridge, and get away from this place. She waited, and waited, but he never came. He was her ticket.  She slowly loses her mind.  In the courtyard, he paces and paces. And so she waits, and waits, for her true love to meet her on May Baily’s steps and marry, get away from this prison. 

After the Fire at L’Arlington, Josie was never the same. She developed dementia and fell into depression and health decay.

67 summers of yellow fever ravaged New Orleans, turning it into the City of the Dead. Headaches led to fevers, chills, delirium, jaundice, kidney failure, and the black vomit. Eventually 50,000 would succumb to the saffron scourge, sending an endless array of restless spirits to roam. Cannons shot in the air as the confuddled attempted to ward off the evil spirits that caused it, the so-called “bad air”. They did not yet know that the disease was passed by mosquitos, and that fountains in lush courtyards were a deadly culprit. The morgue and surrounding cemeteries filled to capacity. Bodies were stacked in these streets one by one into mass graves, with a single candle laid on top to help families put loved ones to rest. But some of them were still alive. 1 year and a day after they had been laid to rest, when their remains were to be shifted, Scratch marks were found inside the tombs. So they brought the bells in, and spiritual healer Marie Laveau and Ursuline nuns to help care for the dying. 

On the steps at May Baily’s, an apparition is often seen, a woman in a wedding dress, waiting. A soldier paces the courtyard. Two star crossed lovers stuck in the afterlife.

The lights on Storyville dimmed in 1917 by Federal order of the US Navy. That train that once ran down Basin Street, giving curious travelers a peek at lewd women hanging out of windows in luxe mansions is no more, just as the novelty of Storyville will never be again. Lulu White’s Mahogany Hall was the last of the pleasure palaces to be torn down, and her Saloon next door at 237 Basin St is the only standing Storyville structure that exists today.

Lulu White was born Lulu Henley in Selma, Alabama, though she claimed to be from the West Indies, and sometimes Cuba. Coming from humble beginnings, and being of mixed race, it didn’t take her long to understand what the opposite sex was in search of, and how she was to navigate her future. Lulu’s Mahogany Hall was the only brothel that was not segregated, and in fact only welcomed women of mixed race. She cleverly tapped into the aura of exoticism that the antebellum Octoroon figure created to her advantage, catering to the pleasures and fantasies of rich white men. She made a statement against laws that confined and segregated people of color, and became one of the only self made Black millionaires at the turn of the century, all in a man’s world. Though she died in poverty, our Diamond Queen shines on. Travel to Lulu White’s room at the Creole Cottage Inn today, and you just might wake up to your bed shaking in the night…

“You can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular”...

Josie Arlingon was born Mary Anna Duebler. She died on Valentine’s Day, laid to rest in an elaborate, custom designed tomb of red marble and granite. Josie left everything to her niece, Anna. Anna married Josie’s partner Tom, and together they spent Josie's fortunes, then selling her tomb to the Morales family, sending Josie’s remains to an unmarked grave. The tomb’s pair of stone flames are said to flicker flaming red on each Valentine’s Day, as a woman carrying an armload of flowers wanders through Metairie Cemetery, pounding on the door, fighting for her rightful place to rest.  

 

After her passing, Anna wrote her this letter.

Dear Josie,

 

I come from a long line of whores. Call them prostitutes, call them women of ill repute, call them madams. It’s of little consequence now to try and soften how they earned their way. But they did earn their way, and in a time when even women of means and good breeding held little hope of achieving anything professionally. Everything I have, everything I am, I owe to her.

Not a silver dollar to her name, her family tree was a stump. And yet, the riches she bestowed upon me…this fierce old Victorian. How I hated that it once lived as a bordello-hot jazz, voodoo magic, and unspeakable sin oozing from every crevice.

My Aunt built this house, but I saved this house. The ghosts would come to me at night, whispering that I couldn't let it go. While New Orleans raced to obliterate any evidence of the red light district’s existence, I guarded this door.

But it did exist. Storyville was real. And so were the madams. Flesh and blood, through and through, with  feelings and smarts even- they were more savvy in business than businessmen in this town. And  yet, they were still just women, devoid of equal rights, and treated as vulnerable, useless creatures. These women may have laughed and drunk and frolicked more than most women, but they still ached and loved, cried and prayed, and in their darkest hours, repented.

Now this house, my house, is all that remains as a testament to an era.

 

My dearest Aunt Josie, by the grace of God, please forgive me.

Blessed steel nails sunk into Convent sacred wood

Light slivers gleam in where the vampires brood

Impetuous vampire’s concentration fixed

Nails push out one by one…

Many questions remain unanswered about the legend of the casket girls and what may be beyond those tightly sealed shutters in the third floor attic of 1100 Chartres St., where the French women’s casket shaped trosseaus had once been stored, and the Ursuline nuns allegedly attempted to trap them, shielding all of New Orleans from their immortal bite. Today, apparitions of Ursuline nuns are seen at the original staircase, which brings you to the empty attic. Coffin length sections of the floor are missing. Chains with heavy links remain, supposedly once used for the nun’s safety to care for the insane, or the extra sneaky. The women would try to escape of course, and some would succeed. Allegedly, on an evening in 1978, paranormal experts snuck into the Ursuline convent’s courtyard. In the morning, they were found lifeless with their blood drained. 

 

Interwoven legends endure indeed, as the ghosts of yellow fever linger down Charters street meeting the spirit of the axe man at The Haunted Hotel, where a bloodied axe was found in the wall and now is proudly on display. They say a woman named Esther Pepitone took him down, with 8 bullets. The Hotel Convento, rumored to be the original House of the Rising Sun, was originally built on land designated to the Ursuline Nuns, and only became a House of Ill Repute years later. Stay here, and you’ll experience doors suddenly slamming shut, disembodied voices, books falling, a shaking bed..as you roll over to find a dozen apparitions staring at you. The madam and her ladies still reign here, and they only haunt men. 

 

Some say the spirits of the red light district are trapped, or maybe they choose not to let go…

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