Why would archivist Author Carolyn Long take on the task of documenting New Orleans darkest ghost, Delphine Lalaurie with no personal supernatural tendencies? This was my main surprise when hearing that my conservative friend and colleague was about ready to embark upone this daunting task!
Madame Lalaurie is the most infamous Ghost in the South; others even call her the most perfect villain of her day. I refer to her as a femme faltale and a vampire too! Her hey day was pre-civil war New Orleans. The ghost of her deeds and her flesh still stir up the controversial gumbo pot. Hers was one of the first ghost stories I heard growing up in New Orleans, meaning she has long since been a source of curiosity in my book.
So again i mention my surprise when author, archivist and colleague Carolyn Long revealed that she was taking the biographical task of Delphine to hand. I had delved deep into Lalaurie, her spirit and her story for over thirty years but Carolyn was going to embark upon a detached version of her own bloodied paper trail – or so she thought. Her book is out for you to get the nitty gritty details and my book will fill in Carolyn’s historic sketch with some more mystical and supernatural components.
Carolyn Long’s book is Madame Lalaurie: Mistress of the Haunted House. I was her confidante while she researched and rescued the documents and details she needed for the creation of the biography.
I had a few questions to ask her that I shall now share with you:
As a archival researcher you dig up details and record facts. How much credence to you take from neighbors and family members oral histories? This information, true or false, is very important to include in storytelling and folklore studies for it sheds light on the backdrop of the tale. The importance of reporting evolving belief systems through the ages about a person can tell you a lot about society as a whole as well as the character in question. How much credence is given to that in academic research?
For the Lalaurie book I used facts found in the various archival repositories, and I also used family letters (from the DeLassus Collection at Missouri History Museum, especially from Madame’s son Paulin Blanque) and accounts from several New Orleanians who were Madame’s contemporaries— especially Jean Boze. I also relied heavily on the newspaper accounts of the fire.
To keep a personal detachment, like a reporter is supposed to do is the norm. Lalaurie was different for you: how? Why?
Not really different. I started my research with an open mind. Did she really do it or not? But the more I found, the more convinced I was that she DID do it. And unfortunately, I found another key piece of information AFTER the book was published. Remember the talk I gave at the Broadmoor Library, on the discovery that the very slaves who I already suspected had been her targets where at various times picked up and sent to the “slave jail”?
[I can send you the excerpt from that if you need it.]
The horror genre was not really your thing prior to this book, but it exists in real life. So when meeting a real life horror like Lalaurie, this close and personal, did it change anything in you or how you researched?
No. I was just looking for information and trying to tell the story. While I was working on it, I’d tell friends about it and they’d say “Ew, I don’t want to read about THAT.” So I tried to be very neutral when describing what really happened with the slaves and the fire. What I found was awful, but not as awful as the sensationalistic clap-trap first published in 1946 by Jeanne Delavigne and now made even more gruesome by the creators of websites. There was no “crab girl,” no “caterpillar girl,” no man with his intestines wrapped around his neck, no woman with her mouth sewed shut, no buckets of blood and guts sitting around the attic.
Do you anger when TV shows and media go crazy with their fictionalize versions of Lalauire?
What is the main question you want to ask Madame Lalaurie when you come face to face with here on the othersde ( or this one)?
What the hell were you thinking? [If my “movie guys” ever actually produce anything, I hope they’ll explore her insane mental state and how she was able to convince herself that this was okay to do. And maybe every time she did it, she felt horrible and disgusted after. I’d love to collaborate on that script.]
Little bit more info on the book:
Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House
Carolyn Morrow Long
The legend of Madame Delphine Lalaurie, a wealthy society matron, has haunted the city of New Orleans for nearly two hundred years. When fire destroyed part of her home in 1834, the public was outraged to learn that behind closed doors Lalaurie routinely bound, starved, and tortured her slaves. Forced to flee the city, her guilt was unquestioned, and tales of her actions have become increasingly fanciful and grotesque over the decades. Even today, the Laulaurie house is described as the city ‘s “most haunted” during ghost tours.
Carolyn Long, a meticulous researcher of New Orleans history, disentangles the threads of fact and legend that have intertwined over the decades. Was Madame Lalaurie a sadistic abuser? Mentally ill? Or merely the victim of an unfair and sensationalist press? Using carefully documented eyewitness testimony, archival documents, and family letters, Long recounts Lalaurie’s life from legal troubles before the fire and scandal through her exile to France and death in Paris in 1849.
Themes of mental illness, wealth, power, and questions of morality in a society that condoned the purchase and ownership of other human beings pervade the book, lending it an appeal to anyone interested in antebellum history. Long‘s ability to tease the truth from the knots of sensationalism is uncanny as she draws the facts from the legend of Madame Lalaurie’s haunted house. (University Press of Florida website)