If you’re ever in New Orleans, it’s easy to spot Gardette-LePrete. As one of the most photographed buildings in the French Quarter, the mansion is a masterful example of classical Creole architecture. It possesses the grandeur of a villa yet manages to fit seamlessly into the surrounding streetscape of local townhouses.
The bones of this multi-story building are lovely enough—but the flowing balconies that ring Gardette-LePrete are another level of craftsmanship. An elegant cloud of wrought iron work blankets the top two floors, evoking the feel of muscled security and delicate elegance all at once.
The famed estate is located at 716 Dauphine Street; a quiet block that’s steps away from some of the most boisterous bars on Bourbon Street.
Yet if you passed the Gardette-LePrete Mansion in 1836, your senses would have been stimulated not by sight or hearing—but by the pungent scent of blood.
So goes the tale: a man strolling past the mansion, then owned by the planter Jean Baptiste LePrete, was struck by the iron-rust odor of blood. He looked down and spotted crimson trickling from the doorway. When he pressed his way inside, he discovered a sight of pure horror.
Strewn across the courtyard were dozens of hacked-apart bodies: men, women, young boys. The victims were so badly mutilated that not only was it impossible to tell who owned what body part—the parts themselves were lost in a sea of red.
As the unlucky passer-by moved through Gardette-LePrete, he uncovered additional scenes of gore. Blood stained the walls and slicked the floors of the home like a sticky application of wax. Each room of the mansion was thick with torn flesh, spatters of red and dissected bodies. In the center of it all was the courtyard. And there, amid the viscera, a hand stuck out from the ground. A man had been buried alive, and died clawing his way out of the wet New Orleans soil.
The man at the center of the courtyard was, it was said, a brother to an Ottoman sultan. He was some kind of minor prince who had fled to the Americas, rented the mansion from LePrete, and within days of moving in, ushered in an entourage that would make the wildest party organizer on Bourbon Street blush. To whit: gorgeous dancers, muscled eunuchs, and young men all took residence in the mansion.
Heavy curtains blocked the windows, and music poured out of the house day and night. Rumors swirled about wild parties, orgies, and worse. The neighbors complained about the noise and questioned the presence of so many individuals in one home.
Some New Orleanians suspected pirates or street criminals were behind the murder spree at Gardette-LePrete. Another popular theory held that the perpetrator had come at the behest of the victim’s royal brother. Engaged over the loss of much of his harem, the Sultan put together a bounty team that sought out his wayward brother—the man who would eventually be found buried alive in the mansion courtyard.
…And with all of this said, I’m sorry. I may need to be a buzzkill. Did some of the above happen? Perhaps. But no historical documents mention Ottoman royalty moving into the French Quarter. No Turkish records mention a sultan moving to the Americas.
There are no early-19th century records of noise complaints or worries about out of control orgies at 716 Dauphine Street. The descriptions of the ‘Turk’ smack of Orientalist caricature from the era—the harem, the eunuchs, the implied homosexual pedophilia. Perhaps most tellingly, there’s no source that mentions the alleged murders, which would have been one of the most gruesome mass slayings in American history.
Rather, the tale of Gardette-LePrete and its harem of blood seems like an irresistible fiction from the Big Easy that hits all of the high points of New Orleans Noir: A beautiful old mansion, aristocracy, sex, drugs, and murder.
Oh, and ghosts, of course. Present-day residents report unexplained creaks and squeaks throughout the mansion. Gardette-LePrete, and its accompanying legend, is a fixture of New Orleans ghost tours.
All photos: Wikimedia Commons