One of the most popular (and most historically questionable stops) on a haunted tour of the French Quarter is the infamous Sultan’s Palace. Rather than pulling the story apart, trying to determine fact from fiction, I am going to recap it here as I’ve generally heard it (certain details will change depending on the account you’re reading or the tour guide you’re listening to) and give you the warning that it probably isn’t true. That said, it’s not like the French Quarter to let truth get in the way of a good haunting or a good story, so here we go…
The home at the corner of Dauphine Street and Orleans Avenue was built by Jean Baptise LaPrete in 1836. It is sometimes referred to as the Gardette-LaPrete House, but is more commonly known as the Sultan’s Palace. Initially, nothing of much excitement happened here, it was just the summer home to your standard plantation tycoon. However that all changed after LaPrete suffered some major financial losses and decided that the home was no longer viable and that he needed to off load it for some cash (in some versions he sells the home, in other he rents it). For many years the property was considered too costly for a buyer or renter to afford. Mr LaPrete is becoming very disheartened about his situation, when one misty evening an Arab gentleman approaches him and says he has a renter lined up for the property and that he can pay two years rent up front in cash. Mr LaPrete can’t argue with that, so he immediately agrees to the contract. With all the financials sorted, the mysterious fellow begins to move in. As his first order of business, several changes are made to the façade of the home, including the installation of gates and the fences, to keep people out and his servants in. A harem of women and boys arrive, along with eunuch bodyguards and assorted other servants that make up a large and strange entourage. No one really leaves the home once they’re inside, but there are ongoing deliveries of food and supplied, along with rumours of drug use (the smell of hashish and opium wafts through the entire block apparently) and wild parties which run all day and night. For two years the residence claims there’s not a quiet moment.
Then, one night there is a dreadful storm off the coast, which hits New Orleans with such force that everyone retreats into their homes. During this gale, a strange ship arrives in the harbour. No one is around to see the crew or to question their business, much like ghosts themselves, they arrive silently and with a very clear destination in mind. All night the storm is so violent that no one hears a sound of the thunder and rain…
The next morning a young girl is walking to work, past the home of the Sultan when she hears something strange – silence. For the first time in recent memory, all is silent, almost scarily so. Approaching the front entrance of the home, the girl notices that the gate is also ajar and there is something odd dripping down the front stairs. Upon closer inspection she realises what it is. Blood. She runs to the police station to summon the police.
Upon arriving at the eerily quiet mansion, even the heartiest officers are reduced to vomiting and tears, so horrendous is the carnage. There’s not a living creature left in the home and, worse still, the inhabitants haven’t just been murdered, they’ve been cut up, total dismembered so that they’re unidentifiable. Apparently, there’s not an area of floor space not littered with body parts or covered in blood. Men, women and children, no one has been left alive to tell the tale of the events that have gone on, or give a clue as to who could possibly be responsible. After attempting a body count (to their best of their abilities) the police determine that there is one man missing – the mysterious Sultan.
Conducting a further search of the grounds, they find him in the garden, buried under a tree in the corner of the courtyard. Only his hand is protruding up through the ground, as if he had been trying to dig himself out of his impromptu grave. Further examinations find a sizeable amount of earth in his mouth, throat and lungs, further suggesting that he was still very much alive when he was buried.
To this day no one can say with certainty who the Sultan was or who killed him, or why (maybe because he never existed in the first place). Rumours abound about the events at the LaPrete home, including that the mystery man was a runaway royal aide or the brother of a man in line for the kingdom and thus he had to be murdered to prevent the hierarchy being contested. In some accounts he has kidnapped a princess and forced her into his harem, in others he has stolen the identity of someone wealthy and powerful and has relocated to New Orleans under the (false) impression that he will never be discovered there.
It’s said the the house, which had long since been subdivided into units, has been haunted since the day after the infamous event. Disembodied screams and strange apparitions are often seen and heard by unsuspecting tenants, with several vacating the property almost immediately after moving in. Sometimes ghosts will even interact with the residents. It’s also believed that the spirit of the Sultan in particular appears, to appraise all the new female guests when they move in, perhaps in the hope of adding to his harem.
In any case, there is something odd about this house. Walking by it on your own, regardless of the time of day, there is an unmistakable foreboding in the air… but maybe that’s just the colour scheme, who am I to say?