Did you watch the premiere of “American Horror Story: Coven” last night? What did you think? While I thought this first episode was more brutal than scary (um, that gang rape scene was so upsetting), I am excited about this season’s potential, given that it’s based on real life events and people. In fact, Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie, played by the incredible Kathy Bates (clip above), is a real person who actually existed and did many of the vile, deranged and cruel things we can expect to see more of as the season progresses. After the jump, let’s get to know the 1830′s socialite turned serial killing slave torturer!
Born in 1775, Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie was fixture on the New Orleans social scene in the early- to mid-1800s. She was married three times and had five children over the course of her life. While her treatment of slaves and Black people was observed to be fairly “polite” in public, it’s LaLaurie’s treatment of her slaves in private that is the subject of so much lore. In 1834, a fire broke out at LaLaurie’s New Orleans residence. When the fire department arrived, the discovered that the fire was set by a 70-something-year-old female slave, who was chained to the stove in LaLaurie’s kitchen; she reportedly set the fire in a bid to commit suicide, as she was terrified that LaLaurie was planning on punishing her by sending her to the uppermost room in the home, which no one ever returned from. According to the New Orleans Bee, which reported on the fire at the time, rescuers asked LaLaurie for the keys to the slave quarters so they could be sure everyone had been evacuated. When LaLaurie refused, they broke down the door and discovered “seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated … suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.” They claimed to have been imprisoned there for months.
When it became public knowledge that LaLaurie had been torturing slaves, a mob of local citizens attacked the LaLaurie residence and “demolished and destroyed everything upon which they could lay their hands.” LaLaurie eventually fled to her birthplace of Paris, where she is believed to have eventually died. Months after the fire, bodies of dead slaves were allegedly dug up on LaLaurie’s property, though there are mixed reports on how many slaves died at her hands. As LaLaurie became the subject of local folklore and ghost stories, descriptions of her already unconscionable acts became more detailed and brutal, though the validity of those details is up for debate. According to Wikipedia:
Jeanne deLavigne, writing in Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans (1946), alleged that LaLaurie had a “sadistic appetite [that] seemed never appeased until she had inflicted on one or more of her black servitors some hideous form of torture” and claimed that those who responded to the 1834 fire had found “male slaves, stark naked, chained to the wall, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewn together … Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains.”
DeLavigne did not have supporting sources for those details however. It’s safe to say that, regardless of any embellished details, Madame LaLaurie was a sick, twisted psychopath — the perfect villain for “American Horror Story: Coven.”