(Madame John’s, from the opposite side of the street)
The first time I remember seeing Madame John’s Legacy was in the film Interview with the Vampire, in which it features only briefly in a scene where Lestat and Claudia are entertaining a Creole family before (presumably) killing them and drinking their blood. I was about 9 at the time and the film soon became something of an obsession and, in many ways, was probably responsible for the beginning of my love affair with New Orleans and a love/hate relationship with Anne Rice. The character of Lestat himself is said to be based on another mysterious New Orleans figure, the Count St. Germain, but more on him another time…
As soon as I saw the French Quarter and Madame John’s Legacy, I just knew I had to go there. It wasn’t until many years later that I actually made the journey, but every time I see Madame John’s now I am reminded of that time in my life, of being mysteriously summoned to a place which I knew nothing about. From the exterior, the house is not as impressive as some of the other mansions in the area. That said, it does possess a subtle charm, something about it seems to stand out amid the other homes, not a haunted presence necessarily, but something sombre, something enticing.
The name Madame John’s Legacy is believed to have come from a fictional story by George Washington Cable, in which a Quadroon* woman inherits the home from her wealthy benefactor, only to squander it, along with her fortune, after his death. Although this story is largely discussed as a truth on historical walking tours which visit the area, there is no evidence to suggest that Cable was inspired by any real life events. I’ve never heard of any genuine or specific hauntings of the property either, despite its age.
My last visit to the French Quarter was the first time I have had the opportunity to tour the interior of the main house, which is now opened for self guided tours from Tuesday – Sunday (10am – 4.30pm) thanks to Louisiana State Museum . While the slave quarters at the rear are still closed to the public, the interior offers a sneak peak into one of the last remaining homes still built in the original French Design. For those not well versed in French Quarter history, the majority of the buildings are actually Spanish in architecture, as it was the Spanish who were in control of the city and responsible for rebuilding after both the 1788 and 1794 fires, which respectively caused catastrophic damage the the majority of the city. Madame John’s, along with the Lafitte Blacksmith Tavern and the Ursuline Convent are the three remaining buildings which feature the original French Architecture (more to come on each of them later).
(The carriage way, the doors on the right open into the street)
The disappointing thing about the tour inside Madame John’s is the lack of information that relates to the house itself but possibly this is due to a lack of information or possibly the history is just not very interesting (it’s almost certainly not as interesting as George Washington Cable imagines it to be). The majority of the information and displays contained within relate to a local pottery artist who once lived at the residence. None-the-less, it is worth the time to take a quick trip around the home (it’s not going to cost you anything except your time), which illustrates some maddeningly unexplainable design choices, such as a tiny room in the far right corner, which does not seem big enough to serve any specific function. The buildings at the rear of the main house, along with the courtyard also speak to a yet to be discovered history.
I have once heard Madame John’s Legacy called ‘ugly’, I’m talking to YOU, tour guide from Haunted History Tours, which I thought was a bit harsh. To me, Madame John’s will always be a thing of mystery and beauty.
**For those with a soft spot for Interview with the Vampire, a bulk of the plantation scenes where shot at Destrehan Plantation – which sadly, I didn’t make it to. Seems that no matter how many times I visit New Orleans there is always something else I have yet to see.
*Quardoon – A term to describe a person with one quarter black ancestry (an Octroon is similarly used to describe a person with one eighth black ancestry), the terms are commonly used when discussing the placage system and the balls which were held so that Creole men could meet young ladies who would later become their mistresses.