Haunted NOLA: When the Devil Lived on St. Charles Avenue

At sunset, he could be seen peering down on the street, horns and all.

by Michael DeMocker
September 9, 2020

So the Devil once lived in New Orleans…

The legend goes that the Devil just decided sometime in the 1820s to live in New Orleans, probably because he was used to its infrastructure and weather. Around 1840, Old Scratch took one Madeleine Frenau as his wife and built a mansion for her at 1319 St. Charles Avenue. While some say the mansion appeared overnight, others said it was built in just seven days. The house itself was oddly constructed, with each room on a different floor, connected by Escher-esque stairways. It was said the Devil didn’t use the front door but passed into the house high through the front gable. At sunset, he could be seen peering down on the street, horns and all.

A devilish figures holds a severed head on the side of a Jackson Avenue building not far from the original site of the Devil’s Mansion. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

An affair doomed to Hell

The Devil’s pale, dark-haired mistress (think a French Elvira) loved the new house, which was reportedly staffed by little red demon cooks, housekeepers and servants, like an eternally damned Downton Abbey. The demons dressed her in lavish fancy clothes and adorned her with priceless baubles. All was swell at Chez Satan until Madeleine started to get bored. When the Devil went out of town on business, like traveling up to Georgia to tempt Johnny with a golden fiddle, Madeleine began an affair with a local Creole gentleman named Alcide Cancienne. The two carried on for some time; one can imagine the demon servants placing bets on whether the tryst would turn out badly.

The Devil staffed his mansion with small demon servants who dressed Madeleine in jewels and finery. (G. Cruikshank / Captain F. Marryat. Iconographic Collections, Wikimedia Commons)

It turned out badly.

One evening, Madeleine’s lover was approached in the street by a fiery-eyed, sharp-toothed stranger who asked if he knew Ms. Frenau. When Alcide confessed they were lovers, the stranger (spoiler alert: he’s the Devil) offered Alcide somewhere between $1,000 and “a million pounds of gold” to leave town on the condition the couple change their names to Monsieur and Madame L.

When Alcide told Madeleine of the strange offer, she knew the Devil was on to her. Alcide, however, had grown tired of the affair and told Madeleine at dinner that night he was ready to leave town. His paramour was under the mistaken impression that he’d taken the Devil’s deal and she would be going with him. When he set her straight, she flew into a rage and strangled him with a dinner napkin. The enraged assault severed a blood vessel in Alcide’s neck, drenching the table and his murderess in blood. In one story, she is said to have exclaimed “You are gone, Alcide! And I am glad—glad! You had to go—I am glad I killed you!” She then tried to wipe the blood off on the curtains, table cloth, and napkins, but to no avail.

Alcide and Madeleine were among the couples the Devil took an unfortunate interest in during the 19th century. (Political cartoon: Napoleon and Josephine, in a cart driven by demons, are pulled down to Hell, Wikimedia Commons)

“Fava beans and a nice chianti…”

The Devil chose this moment to return home and take in the scene of the Alcide-icide. Having already grown tired of his mistress, the Devil gathered up Madeleine and her fatally napkin-ed lover and had a late dinner on an upstairs balcony, the main course being the former couple. When he was finished devouring them, he threw their empty skin into an alleyway behind the mansion to be eaten by critters.

A 19th century dinner party where the guests likely were not gruesomely killed with napkins. (Wikimedia Commons)

 Having swallowed his bride, the Devil left town, abandoning the mansion to time and the elements. A new owner finally took on renovations, new people moved in and then the hauntings began; residents reported that at sunset, a giant table would appear in the dining room and the bloody murder of Alcide would be re-enacted by spirits, followed by the ghost of Madeline going from room to room with blood dripping from her hands. Ghosts were seen going up and down the stairs as unseen hands jiggled door handles. The smell of smoke wafted through the house even when the fireplaces were cold. The horrible scene that played out nightly drove away residents, some quickly, some eventually, but always inevitably.

 For many years, the mansion was again forsaken and left vacant until 1878 when Laure Beauregard, the daughter of General P.G.T. Beauregard, moved in with her new husband Charles Larendon of Atlanta (General Beauregard is said to haunt the Beauregard-Keyes House in the French Quarter, but that’s another story).

In modern times…

A hotel sits on the site of the former Devil’s Mansion where the Devil reportedly ate his wife and her lover on the mansion’s balcony, throwing their skins into a back alley. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

 When Charles and his new bride Laure moved into the mansion, they too experienced the macabre tableau in the dining room, the ghostly arguments and otherworldly screams, the bloody figure of Madeleine wiping her hands on the linens. But they weren’t driven away like previous tenants, accepting the ghosts as ghoulish but quaint housemates. For the next two decades, Charles documented the nightly events, continuing to do so even after Laure died in childbirth on Independence Day, 1884 at the age of 34. Around 1909, he left the Devil’s mansion. In the ensuing years, passersby reported seeing the leering, bloody face of the Devil imprinted high up on the mansion’s façade. The Devil’s mansion was finally torn down in the summer of 1930.

A painting of Devil’s mansion resident Laure Beauregard Larendon, daughter of General P.G.T. Beauregard, inside the reputedly haunted Beaurgard-Keyes house (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

Today, a hotel stands at 1319 St. Charles Avenue. Whatever curse was afflicting the Devil’s mansion appears to have disappeared with the building itself as there haven’t been reports of any hauntings by the hotel’s staff.

 The Devil never moved back to New Orleans as far as we know, although he is suspected to have briefly visited during the NFC championship game in January of 2019.

A hotel now sits at the reputed site of the Devil’s mansion at 1319 St. Charles Avenue. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

Works Consulted

 Bischoff, Burke. “The City of the Dead: Famous Ghosts of New Orleans.” Where Y’at Magazine, October 30, 2018.

 deLavigne, Jeanne. Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans. Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

 Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2016

 Stuart, Bonnye. Haunted New Orleans. Morris Book Publishing: Guilford, CT, 2012

 Taylor, Troy. Haunted New Orleans: History & Hauntings of the Crescent City (Haunted America). Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.

Michael DeMocker has been a photojournalist in New Orleans for over twenty years. He’s been the National Press Photographer Association’s Regional Photographer of the Year three times and loves photographing all things New Orleans. He lives Uptown with his wife, son, and two dogs of varying intelligence.

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