Friday, 29 November 2013

Madame LaLaurie

Image attribution: author unknown [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

In 1834, a New Orleans fire crew were putting out a fire at the mansion of Madame LaLaurie (c.1775 - c.1842), a well known socialite who often threw lavish cocktail parties. At first, it seemed just like another day's work for the firefighters. But then someone noticed the smell of  burning flesh coming from inside the building. A team was sent to investigate. What they discovered would send shock waves through the entire community.

One 70-year-old female slave was found chained up in the kitchen (it later emerged that she had started the fire as a suicide attempt, in order to escape the constant abuse she suffered at the hands of Madame LaLaurie). In another part of the house, more slaves were found chained up, some of them in deeply unnatural and uncomfortable positions. Some were alive; others were not. All showed signs of prolonged torture.

News of Madame LaLaurie's ghastly torture chamber spread throughout the local community, and a mob of angry citizens descended on the mansion. The police were called, but by the time they arrived the mob had destroyed everything of value that they could lay their hands on, and Madame LaLaurie had escaped. The story goes that she made her way to Paris, where she died in 1842. She was never brought to justice for her crimes.

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