Whilst numerous decisions go into buying a house, one would imagine that houses famous for being haunted would go unsold. Not so, it appears; there are numerous websites dedicated to helping potential buyers find haunted houses across the country. Whilst the infamous supernatural activities reported within the movie-inspiring house in Amityville, NY have been mostly discredited, there are a number of properties that have far more grisly back stories. Here are the stories of three houses with bizarre, gruesome and haunted histories.
New Orleans, LA is a city of legend, voodoo and a number of haunted houses. It is, perhaps, most famous for its French Quarter, which is both a mecca for tourists seeking the New Orleans experience of Cajun food, music and all-night drinking and a center for the iconic Creole architecture for which the Crescent City is known. Not far from the center of the French Quarter, on Royal Street, one can find the LaLaurie Mansion – owned, until recently, by actor Nicholas Cage.
Considered one of the most haunted houses in a city know for its ghosts, the mansion’s gruesome past dates back to 1832 when Delphine Lalaurie – who was known for her beauty and became one of the city’s most prominent socialites – moved into the house with her husband, Louis, a doctor, and their daughters. The Lalauries had a number of slaves and as rumor spread of their brutal treatment, the couple’s famous dinner parties were less and less well attended.
The slaves who worked in the house seemed to regularly disappear without explanation.
In 1834, a fire – believed to have been deliberately set – broke out in the kitchen and swept through the house, requiring the fire department to battle the flames. What the firefighters discovered behind a barred attic door may be the most horrific scene of torture, mutilation and butchery ever encountered within a domestic dwelling.
According to newspaper reports at the time, slaves were found suspended naked from the walls, strapped to tables and confined in small cages. A number of these slaves had been subjected to terrifying mutilations, such as having had their stomachs sliced open and their entrails wrapped around their bodies or having had their mouths packed full of animal excrement and sewn shut. Bodies parts were found in buckets or strewn across the floor. One female slave – still living – had had her limbs broken and reset at strange angles; another had had her arms and legs amputated.
The Lalaurie family escaped the house as a vengeful mob gathered outside; what became of them is not clear. Since that time , the house has changed hands numerous times and has served many different purposes. One thing that has remained consistent, however, is that each business venture or other project that has been operated from the house has quickly failed and many of the various owners and tenants have reported strange phenomena and disturbing occurrences.
The Borden House
Andrew Borden, a well-to-do businessman, lived in a fame house in Fall River, MA, with his second wife, Abby, and his two daughters, who were conceived by his first wife. On August 4, 1892, Borden and his wife were killed with an axe inside the house – Andrew’s head was severed as he sat on a leather couch in a downstairs room. Abby had been killed whilst making a bed in an upstairs room. The mystery of this double murder has never been solved. The property still stands and is, perhaps, one of America’s most famous haunted houses.
A number of rumors surrounded the family and their relationships; there were stories of tensions – even animosity – between the daughters and their step-mother. Other rumors had it that the daughters, Lizzie and Emma, were afraid that their father was planning to leave his estate to his second wife and her family. Andrew Borden was portrayed, after his killing, as an evil and mean man who neglected his daughters. Later research has revealed, however, that Borden was somewhat generous with Emma and Lizzie and that the latter – who became the prime suspect in the murders but was eventually acquitted – cared deeply for her father.
At the time of the murders, Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan, the housekeeper, were both at home, although Lizzie said that she had been outside the house at the exact time of the murders; having gone to the barn at the back of the house to fetch something. Emma was out of town, visiting friends, but the girls’ uncle, John Vinnicum, was staying with the family. It appears that Vinnicum was not in the house at the time the crimes were committed.
Lizzie was arrested and spent some 10 months in jail, awaiting trial. She was acquitted and continued to live in Fall River. She died in 1927.
The house is now known as the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum. Through the years, several visitors to the house have reported strange and disturbing experience or apparitions.
The Ridge Avenue Mansion
Pennsylvania is home to numerous haunted house stories and probably the most famous – a house once known, indeed, as the most haunted in America – was located at 1129 Ridge Avenue in the city of Pittsburgh. Also known as the Congelier House, the house was built by a wealthy Texan in the 1860s. Allegedly, Charles Wright Congelier lived there with his wife, Lyda. Also living with them was their maid, Essie. In the winter of 1871, Lyda found out that her husband was having a relationship with young Essie and it is said that she stabbed him 30 times before cutting off Essie’s head with a meat cleaver.
Sometime after the brutal slayings, a neighbor found Lyda sitting in a rocking chair, muttering to herself. She refused to respond to the neighbor’s inquiries and, as the story goes, the neighbor, approaching Lyda, noticed that she was cradling something wrapped in a pink blanket. When the neighbor reached out to touch the blanket, it unraveled and Essie’s head fell out and rolled across the floor.
Although it is not clear what became of Lyda, the mansion on Ridge Avenue would terrify locals for many years to come. It stood empty until 1892, when it began to be used to house railroad employees. It was not long before this idea was abandoned after a number of the tenants fled the house, claiming to have heard a woman screaming.
The house once again stood vacant for some time until a Dr. Adolph C. Brunrichter purchased it in 1900. After moving in, the doctor lived a seemingly quiet life and neighbors saw very little of him – although there were rumors of him conducting grizzly experiments on young women. In 1901, neighbors were startled by a piercing scream from inside the mansion, followed by what seemed to be an explosion or flash of light which swept through the interior, shattering every window. Brunrichter fled the house and disappeared before police arrived. During a search of the property, police found a decomposing body strapped to a table and five headless women buried in shallow graves in the basement.
Rumor had it that the doctor had been experimenting with attempts to keep the heads of the women alive after decapitation; it was even said that he had succeeded in doing this for very brief periods of time.
In the 1920s, the house was visited by Thomas Edison, who was apparently deeply affected by the place. He was constructing a machine that was designed to allow communication with spirits of the dead, but he died before completing it. In 1927, local police arrested a drunk who claimed to be Dr. Brunrichter. The man told police a strange tale of demons, sex orgies and torture – all of which, he claimed, had taken place in the house while he had lived there. Despite his confession, Police could find no reason to detain him and he was released, never to be seen again.
As strange and gruesome as this tale is, further research eventually concluded that there was probably little – if any – truth to it. Even though this location enjoyed its place among the most famous haunted houses in the country, there appears to be little evidence that Charles, Lyda and Essie ever existed. Shortly after the alleged second disappearance of Brunrichter, a huge gas explosion was said to have destroyed the house completely. In reality, a Marie Congolier a member of the real family that constructed the house, was killed in the explosion but the house itself remained undamaged. It was eventually torn down.
Some would tout the purchase of a haunted house – particularly a famous one – to be a novelty or even an investment. There are many such properties across America; some of their histories are urban legend, some real – and some a bizarre combination of the two.
By Graham J Noble