Madame Delphine LaLaurie

I’m absolutely in love with this season of American Horror Story. I wasn’t impressed with last season; I didn’t even finish it.

This season, however, I absolutely adore and I can’t wait to see what they do with season 4. Mid seems to think it’ll be about faeries. I don’t know what that’s about.

One of the things that I love about the show this season is that people are getting into American cultural history again. I love that I have an opening to talk about someone like Madame LaLaurie; I’m actually not all that interested in American criminal history except where it intersects with some of my other research interests, but I want people to be interested in their history, period.

LaLaurie is one of America’s few famous female serial killers. Rumors of her behavior were circulating as early as 1831 when it was suggested that she was killing her slaves out of sheer cruelty. Her behaviors became so well known in New Orleans that the courts ordered a search of her property. Her slaves were found to be in good health however.

Her relationship with her slaves was actually almost a contradiction. LaLaurie was known to emancipate several slaves while living in New Orleans. At the same time, stories were circulating of children whipped to death for very minor infractions and buried on the property at 1140 Royal Street.

A fire on site in 1834 led to a terrible discovery; a slave was chained to the floor in the kitchen. She claimed to have started the fire as a suicide attempt. In a room on the property multiple slaves were found in various stages of abuse. Oddly, the slaves’ mistreatment didn’t end with that discovery-the New Orleans police force put them on display for the general public. The display was apparently well received.

The findings on the property led to rioting in the city with a large part of the grounds being damaged. Later investigations found two bodies buried on the property including that of the child rumored to have been whipped to death. After the fire, it is believed that LaLaurie fled to France where she died in 1849 but very, very little is known about that era of her life.

Understandably the horrors of the mansion on Royal Street entered into the American imagination but it wouldn’t be until close a century later for the crimes to reach ‘horror’ level. By 1945 the level of violence ascribed to LaLaurie had increased dramatically with her crimes jumping from severe neglect and abuse to flat-out sadism and torture.

Remember: a terrible event is terrible by itself, but it often gets exaggerated in the retelling.

Madame Delphine LaLaurie

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