Friday, May 31, 2013

25 Before 25

As my twenty-first birthday looms close, bringing with it clouds of graduation and lightning strikes of possible unemployment, I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately.  This of course is terrifying, but also kind of exhilarating, a little like turning off the power to my riding mower while it’s going downhill.  (Why yes, I am a country girl at heart, why do you ask?)  A few years ago I ran across the idea of doing 20 things before you hit 20, or 19 before 19.  I tried that, but I had a hard time setting things that were achievable.  So instead I’ve created a list of 25 things to do over the next four years before I turn 25.  That way it’s a smaller number per year, and some of them are very simple.  This list is part to-do list, part goals list, and part bucket list.  I know that sounds a little morbid, but it’s not really.  I’m not planning on dying any time soon.  In fact, that’s the last thing I intend to do.  

I started this list with something I think I’ll have done by eighteen months from now, knock wood.  Moving to a new place by myself.  This, hopefully, will happen relatively quickly after graduation.  There are also things like “Get a driver’s license” which are definitely more life to-do than goals, but will (hopefully) be easily accomplished.  Then there are the bigger things, like “Publish a book” which is a lofty goal.  

(click through for a high-res version perfectly sized for ipods/iphones)

I haven’t finished the list yet.  Currently it’s only 23 items long, but I have four and change years for it, so that’s okay.  

1. Move to a new place by myself.
2. Get a tattoo.
3. Run a 5k.
4. Birthday & holiday cards.
5. Visit a city by myself.
6. Visit Europe.
7. Publish a book.
8. Buy a subscription to Evernote prime.
9. Buy a subscription to Spotify premium.
10. Get my blog off the ground.
11. Adopt an animal.
12. Become an active alumna of Phi Sigma Pi.
13. Attend a Phi Sigma Pi conference.
14. Surprise someone with something special each month.
15. Try out a notebook planner.
16. Buy a pair of quality nude pumps.
17. Get my master’s degree.
18. Visit Canada.
19. Learn a language well.
20. Buy stock.
21. Learn how to code well enough to make my own website.
22. Get a driver’s license.
23. Go vegan for a week.
24. ?
25. ?

Have you ever run across this idea before?  (If you have, please share the link! I still need two more.)  Would you consider making a similar list?  Have you made a list of tasks to accomplish before a birthday?  Have suggestions for my last two? Please share. Tell me more, tell me more!

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Weekly Dose of Weird: Carl Tanzler

This week on Weekly Dose of Weird, we’re following a love story.  This love story isn’t exactly rom com fodder, though.  In 1930 Carl Tanzler was working in a hospital in Key West when he met the twenty-one year old Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, called Helen or Elena.  She was sick with tuberculosis, which killed most of her family, and eventually killed her as well.  But her story didn’t stop when she died.

Carl Tanzler was raised in Germany, but moved to the United States in 1926.  While he was living in Europe, he claimed to have had visions of an ancestor, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel, who showed him a beautiful dark-haired young woman who would be his one true love.  Despite these visions, he got married in 1920 to a woman named Doris, they then had two daughters Ayesha and Crystal.  The whole family emigrated to the US together, to the same town in Florida where Tanzler’s sister lived.  
Tanzler had few friends or acquaintances outside of the hospital where he worked, and many of those acquaintances were patients, who died from tuberculosis.  Losing so many of his friends must have taken quite a toll on Tanzler’s emotional state, given what would happen with Elena de Hoyos.  

When Tanzler met de Hoyos she was already ill, but he became infatuated with her.  According to Tanzler, de Hoyos was the dark-haired woman that his ancestor had shown him years before.  She was a lovely woman, and though Tanzler treated her to the best of his ability - often using unorthodox and experimental treatments - she died young in 1931.  Her family gave Tanzler permission to build an above-ground mausoleum for her body when he brought them concerns about groundwater contamination.  He then visited her regularly.  Her family never found this suspicious, since he had tried so hard to keep her alive.  What they perhaps did not know was how far he had gone.  Tanzler preserved de Hoyos’ body with formaldehyde and spent most nights by her side, talking all night long.  For the nights when he couldn’t be there in person he had a telephone installed in her mausoleum.  He claimed that her ghost visited him all the time, and that she begged him to take her body from the mausoleum.  
In 1933, he did.  Tanzler took her body to his home, and lived as if they were in a relationship.  Sometimes he would even play her songs on his organ.  Of course, by this time Elena de Hoyos had been dead for two years.  Though Tanzler had tried to preserve her body with formaldehyde when she first died, the preservative just wasn’t working anymore.  He used buckets and buckets of preservatives to stop her from decomposing any more than she already had, and poured bottle after bottle of perfume on her to try to keep her from smelling like a corpse.  But to no avail.  

After all of the time that Elena de Hoyos had been dead, there wasn’t much that could be done about her condition.  That didn’t stop Carl Tanzler from trying though.  As she decayed he began replacing parts of her body.  When her skin began to peel away, Tanzler replaced it with silk soaked in wax and plaster - a false skin of his own design.  As the tendons and ligaments holding her together fell apart, he used piano wire to hold her bones in place.   When her eyes decayed and became slush, he replaced them with the type of glass eyes used in blind patients at the time.  Elena’s hair fell out, and Tanzler made it into a wig.  When her organs decayed, he filled her body with rags to keep her shape.  Some later accounts also say that he installed a false vagina, but these did not begin to surface until the 1970s and no earlier evidence exists of this.  Over time, Tanzler’s obsession transformed the remains of a lovely young woman into a morbid caricature of her living self.  

Nine years after Elena de Hoyos died, in 1940, there were rumors about Tanzler and her body.  Elena’s remaining sister confronted him about it, and found the body.  Tanzler was arrested and psychologically evaluated; he was found fit to stand trial.  Unfortunately, the statute of limitations on grave-robbing was long expired, so he couldn’t be convicted.  
Media attention following the trial was enormous, but oddly much of it seemed to be favorable to Tanzler.  Many articles referred to him as an eccentric romantic.  That may have been racially motivated, as Tanzler was white and Elena de Hoyos was hispanic.  
After the trial and media circus, Elena de Hoyos was reburied in a private unmarked grave so as not to tempt Tanzler again.  He also wrote an autobiography which, oddly enough, appeared in a fantasy and science fiction magazine.  Unfortunately, Tanzler’s obsession didn’t end with Elena’s corpse being reburied.  He had a death mask of her, and used it to create a new replica, which he dressed in her clothes and kept with him until he died in 1952.  

Two museums in Key West have exhibits highlighting this story, including the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, which has a replica of Elena’s body.  


Stay Tuned.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Skimm

I’ll admit, I’ve always enjoyed it when I feel like the smartest girl in the room.  I’ve always tried to be that, to be the most educated, the one who knew the most.  Of course, I then went to AU and joined an honors fraternity so I don’t feel that way too often anymore.  

I’ve also always been terrible at being informed of current events.  I usually got my info from Vlogbrothers videos on Youtube, from various tumblr blogs, or from Associated Press tweets.  Until very recently.  

I came across The Skimm from an article on the Sweet Lemon Magazine website.  Every morning I get an email with the top news stories with the most important information laid out at the end.  The Skimm comes early in the morning so I integrated it into my morning routine very easily.  

Getting up in the morning, brushing my teeth, and reading the Skimm while I fully wake up has quickly become part of my normal routine.  I’ll pull it up on my cell phone or my ipod and read while I’m brushing my hair or getting dressed or stretching after my runs.  

The Skimm makes me feel like one of the smartest girls in the room because I'm informed and I know what's happening out in the world beyond my campus.

I cannot recommend the Skimm enough to all of my readers.  They’re a great source, especially for girls like me who aren’t terribly good at being informed.  Subscribe!

(The Skimm is not in any way affiliated with this post.  They didn’t sponsor it, they won’t know about it until I tweet at them.  Ditto Sweet Lemon Magazine.  Everything I wrote is my own opinion).

Stay Tuned.

Friday, May 24, 2013


This post is something I’ve been mulling over since I was a brand new freshman at American.  It’s only appropriate that, as a rising senior, I write it and finally post it now.  Partly, this is motivated by my life experience at AU.  Partly, it’s motivated by living in a house with three entirely different generations.  Partly, it’s motivated by my own life happenings.  

Identity is as fluid as gender or sex.  Your identity will change.  As a brand new freshman I was dealing with no longer having my high school-related identities to cling to.  I was no longer a Murrow student, a yearbook editor, a Research kid.  I didn’t live in New York anymore, so while I am always a native New Yorker, I could no longer call myself a New Yorker on a daily basis.  Yes, many things have stayed the same about my identity since I was born, like my name, and my sex and gender, those for me have not changed.  But name and sex do not an identity make.  They’re distinguishers, not really identifiers.  

As I mentioned, I also recently ended a very long term relationship.  That was a big part of my identity for over four years, and negotiating not being a girlfriend is very different from my previous identity.  I haven’t been single since I was sixteen.  So I’m negotiating who I am all over again.  

My identifiers are many, and they’re vast.  I always start with Jeanni, because it’s the part of my name that I decided.  My parents named me Jean, and they nicknamed me Jeannie when I was a baby, but when I was twelve I decided that Jeanni just felt more me.  And I still think it does.  It’s adapted with me though, from a sarcastic, angry twelve-year-old, to a sassy, type-A young woman.  

I realized a while ago that I no longer knew who I was, and that as I was about to leave college I needed to figure that out.  I know a lot of people say you don’t figure that out until your thirties, but as previously mentioned many times on here I really hate being on time; I always have to be early.  So last night I started making a “Personal Map” which is sort of like the graphic organizers you used back in elementary school.  I started with my name in the center and just wrote things I like, things I want, things I love, ways I identify myself.  Everything from “Purple” and “Zebras” to “Leo” and “Monograms” to “Museums” and “Stær” is on there.  (Stær means both story and history in Old English).  

My identity is complicated and full of contradictions and juxtapositions.  I’m Jeanni; I’m a blogger; I’m a Phi Sig Pi; I’m a historian; I’m a friend; I’m a writer; I’m a country music fan; I’m a shoe aficionado (though frequently barefoot).  I’m many things, and I’ll be more throughout
my life.  So are you, and so will you.

I’m not really “done” with the Me Map, but I think I’m as done as I can be for now.  Will I ever be done figuring out who I am?  I doubt it.  But I should have a solid idea of who I am right now, and I’m working on that. I encourage you all, especially those of you who, like me, have been in very long term relationships, to really think about the person that you are and the person that you want to become.  After all, we become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become.  

(in case you didn't know, gray and yellow is one of my favorite color pallets)
(click through for a full-sized, high resolution version for your own desktop!)

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Weekly Dose of Weird: Doc Benton

For this week we’ll be flipping back the pages of the calendar to the 18th and 19th centuries in the chill of the New Hampshire mountains.  The town of Coventry, NH needed a doctor, and they had a brilliant young man named Thomas Benton.  Together the townsfolk raised enough money to send young Thomas to the best medical school in the world in Heidelberg, Germany.  While there he connected with a professor, Dr. Stockmeyer, who willed everything to Benton when he died.  After finishing his education, Benton practiced abroad for a few years before returning home to Coventry to repay his debts to the people of his home town.  
At first, everything went well.  Doc Benton loved medicine, he was a brilliant doctor, and he truly cared for the townspeople who had financed his education.  For quite a few years Benton and the people of Coventry had a great relationship.  Then, in 1816, tragedy struck.  Different versions of the story have different tragedies at their core, but generally the consensus is on one of two: either Benton’s wife died, or he was jilted by a fiancee.  Whatever the tragedy, Benton spiraled into a deep depression and became a hermit.  He stopped working on patients in Coventry, he withdrew from his fine house in town to a small shack on a nearby mountain, and he opened the trunk left to him by Professor Stockmeyer.  
Before his death, Professor Stockmeyer was ridiculed by his colleagues for his main interest: immortality.  Legend has it that Stockmeyer had experimented in Germany, trying to find the secret to eternal life.  When Doc Benton’s own life had descended into despair, he turned to the research of his mentor to find a new purpose.  And he found it.  
Doc Benton had no more contact with the town of Coventry, except to come down and buy food supplies, for years.  If anyone fought their way through the snow and the forest to his ramshackle home on the mountain, in dire need of medical care, they were turned away.  Then animals started turning up dead, supposedly with a red swelling behind their left ear and a white pinprick in the center of it.  At first it was just a cow, horse, or sheep every now and then.  People whispered that perhaps the good doctor was experimenting.  Next a pair of corpses turned up the same way - at least one had disappeared from an undertaker’s wagon.  After that people began to disappear alive, and turn up dead - with that strange swollen pinprick behind their left ears.  
A few years earlier some young pranksters had decided that it would be a good idea to try to spook the good doctor.  When they peeked in his window, they saw a madman.  His long white hair was wild, he was thin, barely more than skin and bones, and he was working away at a laboratory set up in his house.  The sight was enough to scare the kids into running away.  
When people turned up dead with the strange swelling behind their ears, someone realized that Doc Benton hadn’t been into town for supplies in a while, so they went to check his cabin.  When they arrived, the door was open, and there was no one inside.  Doc Benton’s lab was gone, and his belongings were all packed away.  He had disappeared.  Some thought he had been a victim of the same person who was killing others, but the more cynical assumed Doc Benton had been killing their neighbors.  

Everything was quiet for a while after that, until one day in 1825 a little girl was taken from her home.  The child’s scream split the quiet New Hampshire night.  Her father and several neighbors ran after her and the black-cloaked figure that had snatched her.  They followed the figure through the woods until they reached a cliff.  To the horror of those watching, the cloaked figure tossed the young girl off the cliff, and she hurtled to her death, screaming.  Her small body cracked against the ground, and the screams stopped.  The cloaked figure turned to where the would-be rescuers were, and they all drew back in horror.  It was Doc Benton, the man who had cared for so many of the townsfolk.  
After the death of the young girl, Doc Benton once again disappeared into the mountains.  In the years since, he’s been sighted many times.  In 1860 two men working on a new building on the mountain disappeared.  One vanished completely, the other was found with the telltale red swelling and white pinprick behind his left ear.  Forty years later a rail conductor was found beside the track bearing the same odd wound and no other marks.  Sightings in the twentieth century were mostly limited to quick glimpses of a wrinkled hand or pant leg darting away, until the 1970s.  
A Dartmouth student had gone rock climbing alone in Doc Benton’s woods.  Friends noticed he’d been gone longer than usual, and went out searching.  They found him crumpled on the ground in Jobidunk Ravine, unconscious.  Later, he said that he hadn’t fallen by accident, that he had been pushed from the rocks by a cloaked figure - perhaps Doc Benton.  
In 2003 Dartmouth student Evan Skow was hiking in the mountains, when he crossed his own trail.  An area near where he had passed a mere quarter hour earlier, and had been unblemished snow, was now marred by bootprints.  The prints were of an old-fashioned men’s boot.  Skow says they were Benton’s bootprints.  

Since the 1901 death of the rail conductor, I haven’t found any reports of deaths associated with Doc Benton or his woods.  
Did Dr. Thomas Benton live at all?  Probably, every legend has its grain of truth.  Did he really withdraw from his neighbors and try to find the key to eternal life?  Maybe, people do strange things every day; if they didn’t what would I write about?  But did he find the secret to eternal life and become immortal himself?  Did he have to kill in order to continue his own life?  If he did, did he eventually come to regret his decisions?  Is that why the Dartmouth student wasn’t killed and no one else has apparently been targeted since?  Perhaps Doc Benton’s conscience got to him in the end, perhaps it was that first line of the physician's’ oath: first do no harm.  Everyone he’s ever known and loved is long since dead.  Children he delivered, whom he cared for in their childhood, whose children he delivered, have long since withered away and faded into history, as have their children and their children’s children.  Maybe, just maybe, he’s flitting through the New England mountains now, searching for a way to end his lonely life.  Just do me a favor, don’t go looking for him up there.


Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I don't know what to say about Oklahoma right now any more than I knew what to say about Boston.  It's all over the news, and now that I'm back home the news is on all the time.  I feel sick when I think about how much loss of life has happened.  I tear up, and I cry.  My state gets tornadoes, but rarely where I live.  My family has been through them before, and we've always been lucky enough to survive.  Two years ago, when a tornado hit Joplin several of my cousins were without homes, but they're all okay now.  All this to say, I want to help the people of Oklahoma the best I can.  My family and I will be donating clothes, toiletries, and personal care items to local churches collecting for them.  Please, please donate or help in whatever way you can.  

Another article with good resources is here:

Stay Tuned.

Friday, May 17, 2013


So, the school year is finally over.  I'm back in the midwest.  I've had about a week to recover from the hell that is finals week.  I've started driving school, and am okay at it.  Hopefully, posting will increase.  As will, hopefully, creative writing.  I hope.  
For now, I'm mostly spending my time running, drafting new Weekly Dose of Weird posts, (seriously, there is some weird shit in the world), watching Netflix (go watch Bachelorette, take note of Regan, and you'll see my future flash before your eyes), and doing a few DIY projects.  Still running my life from to-do lists, which are still really long.  Still tightly wound.  Still Jeanni.  
This summer I'm looking forward to pancake breakfasts with my family, turning 21, getting a driver's license, taking my dog hiking at Mastodon Park, studying for the GRE (yes, I'm serious), getting a NEW PHONE (I went 36 hours without service because my phone is a pansy city piece of shit that can't stand up to the midwestern woods where I live), doing the 30 Day Shred in June, and getting away from the hot mess of crazy that is DC.
My dog is still adorable, my Grandma's still the proud queen of Cardinal Nation (so I'm constantly watching the games), my parents are still themselves, and my woods are still beautiful, albeit full of ticks right now.  
I'm also trying to learn basic French this summer, teach myself how to code with Java, gain an understanding of game theory, and adjusting to life newly single.  Well, about a month single.  But I don't want to talk about that on here.  

I'll probably be on twitter and instagram a lot more than I'm on here, although not tumblr because I'm still wildly behind on Doctor Who.  So if you want to say hi, those are better places.

Here's to Summer 2013, make it a good one.

Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Weekly Dose of Weird: Elizabeth Bathory

Elizabeth Bathory was a strange woman.  She lived in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, in Hungary, in a castle called Csejte, with her husband.  Elizabeth, or Erzsébet in Hungarian, was nobility, the cousin of the King of Poland, which will come into play later in her life.  Erzsébet was married at the tender age of 14 to Ferenc Nádasdy, who was only two years older than her, and her father-in-law gave the castle Erzsébet later died in to the couple as a wedding present.  It has also been widely rumored that Erzsébet had a child out of wedlock by a local peasant in her childhood home village of Nyírbátor.

The weirdness began after she was married and living in Csejte.  Erzsébet had many, many servants, and many of those were adolescent girls.  As the lady of the house it was Erzsébet’s job to discipline her servants, and it’s been theorized that this is where her fascination with torture and all things bloody began, with disciplining one servant.  The story goes that one young woman was brushing her hair and pulled too hard, causing Erzsébet pain.  As the noblewoman that she was Erzsébet would not tolerate this, and she struck the girl.  The blow was hard enough to draw blood, and when Erzsébet wiped the blood from her hand, the skin appeared more youthful.  

She became convinced that this was clear evidence of a cure for aging - blood.  The first servant whose blood had instigated the obsession was killed and bled out.  Erzsébet began bathing in the blood of young women, especially young virgins, in order to maintain a youthful appearance. Many of her victims were peasant women lured with the promise of employment in the castle’s household, some women were abducted as well, so that their families couldn’t follow them directly.  

After a while Erzsébet also began torturing these women.  These tortures included severe beatings, burning, starvation, freezing by throwing cold water on the victims outside in the cold Hungarian winter, biting and tearing of flesh, mutilation, shoving needles beneath their fingernails, amputating fingers, and amateur surgery.  
Aside from the peasant women lured to the castle, or in some cases abducted, there were other victims.  Erzsébet Bathory was an extremely well educated, well mannered, woman.  Lower class nobles, gentry, sent their daughters to Erzsébet to be educated in proper courtly etiquette.  She could also speak, read, and write in Hungarian, as well as Latin, German, Slovak, and Greek, so nobles of her own status sent their daughters to her as well.  Many of these daughters never returned home to their families.  
The total number of her kills hovers around 650.  

The tortures began around 1602, and seem to have escalated after her husband died in 1604.  Erzsébet was likely even more scared of aging after her husband’s death.  Between 1602 and 1604 a Lutheran minister told stories of atrocities happening near Csejte to authorities in Vienna.  However, it took until 1610 for any investigations to begin, likely due to Erzsébet’s noble status.  

Erzsébet also had at least four accomplices, some sources cite five accomplices.  The four include three women: Ilona Jó, Dorotya Semtész, and Katarína Benická, and a young man named János Újváry who may have been disfigured.  The fifth accomplice was likely Anna Darvulia, a long time servant who had died before the investigation.

When investigators finally came to Csejte they found at least one dead body, one injured enough to be considered dying, another wounded, and others locked up awaiting torture.  The accomplices stood trial in 1610; three of them were sentenced to death, while one, Katarína Benická, was sentenced to life imprisonment.  Testimony indicated that Benická was bullied and forced by the other women to participate.  The other two women however were sentenced to be burned alive, but before they were burned their fingers were ripped off with hot pokers.  János Újváry was beheaded before being thrown into the flames, because he was deemed less culpable, perhaps due to young age or disfigurement.  

Erzsébet herself, being of noble blood, was not legally able to stand trial.  However, her crimes were such that the law was repealed.  Her trial was postponed indefinitely due to the fact that her family was very powerful, and in fact her relatives ruled Transylvania in its entirety.  The potential for shame to that family, not to mention creating political enemies of them, kept the king from making Erzsébet stand trial.  Instead, she was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of her life.  

Erzsébet was forced into a very small, bricked off, room in a tower of Csejte castle.  She was never allowed to leave that room, and there were only a few small openings for air, and one slightly larger one for food and water.  

Parliament decreed that her name would never again be said in polite society, and all records of her were sealed for at least a century.  

Four years later, in 1614, Erzsébet died in the night, at the age of 54.  She was supposedly buried near Csejte, then reburied in 1617 near her family estate.  However, in the centuries since her interment both crypts have been opened.  Neither contained her remains.  Bram Stoker, in creating the character of Dracula, was partially inspired by Vlad Tepes, but also by Erzsébet Bathory.  Erzsébet Bathory’s bloodline can also be loosely traced to Vlad Tepes.

Erzsébet Bathory was a strange woman, but she was also an unusual figure in history.  She was a well-educated woman, far more educated than her husband Ferenc.  Ferenc could barely read and write in his own native Hungarian, while his wife was fluent in five languages, including Latin and Greek.  Even the ruling prince of Transylvania, a relative, was nearly illiterate.  She was well-mannered and charismatic enough that other nobles sent their daughters to her to be educated in courtly etiquette rather than hiring a tutor.  There was a lot of violence and possible mental illness in her family as well: Erzsébet’s aunt Klara is said to have killed her first two husbands, one uncle claimed to have been possessed by the devil, another committed incest and was assassinated, her father and brothers tortured political enemies and traitors.  Many members of her family were quite eccentric, and Erzsébet herself suffered from seizures and migraine headaches.  She was also reputedly an extremely beautiful woman.  You be the judge.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Weekly Dose of Weird: Lalaurie Mansion

This week’s dose of weird takes us to the humid streets of New Orleans in the nineteenth century.  Picture the mix of English, French, and Creole spoken in the streets, people of all races and in between bustling off to some pressing duty or another, women in long wide skirts, men in buttoned shirts and suspenders.  Some of these people would be free, some of them would be enslaved, one day up on the selling block.  If they were lucky, they would be able to buy their freedom.  If they were unlucky, terribly unlucky, they would be bought by Delphine LaLaurie.  

In the late eighteenth century Marie Delphine Macarty was born in New Orleans.  As a young woman she married a Spanish officer and traveled with him to Spain.  At some point during this trip, her husband died.  She remarried, then her second husband died.  Delphine married a third time, to a man much younger than she, but with enough money to buy a large property.  

(Delphine LaLaurie)

By her first husband she had one daughter, by her second four daughters, and by her third apparently none.  Delphine and her third husband, the physician Leonard LaLaurie, purchased a large piece of property and had a large mansion built, complete with attached slave quarters.  Leonard LaLaurie had little involvement with this property, almost everything about it was handled by his wife.  The family was well-connected within New Orleans society due both to money and to Delphine’s family connections: her cousin Augustin Macarty served as mayor of New Orleans from 1815-1820.  

Parties at the LaLaurie home were frequent and lavish, the delight of the New Orleans social calendar.  All those that were fortunate enough to attend loved the parties, and apparently Delphine LaLaurie.  Accounts of her paint her as a kind, polite, compassionate woman.  The house itself was impressive, three stories tall and filled with carved mahogany.  The hostess was the perfect image of New Orleans society, at least as long as guests were present.

Delphine LaLaurie’s treatment of her slaves before 1834 is somewhat unclear.  In public she was observed to be polite to other enslaved people, and she freed two of her slaves, apparently without coercion or purchase of freedom.  Visitors often commented that Delphine would comfort any slave who feared punishment.  Yet, rumors swirled that something more sinister was going on in the LaLaurie house.  

Neighbors whispered about how quickly slaves were replaced in the big house on Royal Street.  Maids would show up and never be seen again after only a week with the family.  One night a neighbor heard a shattering scream.  A young girl was running through the house, trying to escape Delphine, who was chasing her wielding a whip.  The neighbor watched as the young girl, followed by Delphine, fled from one window to the next, eventually reaching the roof.  From there she jumped.  Her small body hit the ground three stories below and she did not survive.  According to the neighbor Delphine LaLaurie had the young girl buried in a shallow grave in the courtyard.  After this, LaLaurie was reported for cruelty, and an investigation found her guilty.  The law at the time in Louisiana forbade unnecessary cruelty by owners against enslaved people.  The family's slaves were confiscated, but somehow by 1834 Delphine LaLaurie once again owned dozens of people.  

In April 1834 a fire broke out in the LaLaurie house, started by an elderly slave who could no longer endure the indignities inflicted by Delphine LaLaurie.  Neighbors and fire crews came to help put out the flames and retrieve the family’s valuables.  Soon though neighbors began to wonder where the family’s slaves were since they were not helping with the efforts.  When asked for the keys to the attached slave quarters, Delphine refused to hand them over.  A dozen men broke down the doors and rushed inside.  They had expected to find scared people trying to hide from the flames, instead they found a museum of horrors.  

The New Orleans Bee newspaper reported that at least seven enslaved people had been found in iron shackles, hung by their necks, limbs wrenched from their sockets.  One of the men who entered the slave quarters, a judge, later reported that he had seen a woman wearing an iron collar, and another with head injuries who was entirely unable to walk.  Another account published two years later stated that some of those found within wore spiked collars, had been bound in unnatural positions, and had evidence of being flayed.  The mob of citizens outside, upon hearing of this, tore the slave quarters apart in outrage.  Within two days thousands of people had come to see the house and to learn about all of the tortures wrought on those enslaved by Delphine LaLaurie.  Her husband’s involvement is unclear, though he did tell the judge that had entered the slave quarters to stay out of their family’s business.  The New Orleans Bee also described Delphine LaLaurie as a “demon in the shape of a woman.”

Seven slaves were rescued from Delphine LaLaurie’s torture chamber, most of them crippled for life from the positions in which they were chained, one of them with a hole in his head, covered in scars, and full of worms.  

Later reports from the early twentieth century include far worse tortures, including one man whose head been drilled into, a stick inserted, and used to “stir his brains” and several people whose lips had been sewn shut.  These later reports are not clear about where their details come from, though one website claims the New Orleans Bee as a source without citing a specific article or date.  

Delphine LaLaurie and her family disappeared soon after the discovery of Delphine’s torture chamber.  Some believe that she and her family fled to France, others that they lived like animals in nearby woods.  Still others believe that the LaLaurie family simply moved into another nearby town, and that Delphine’s reign of torture may have continued well beyond the destruction of her torture chamber on Royal Street.  

Stay Tuned.