What is the Mysterious Connection Between New Orleans, Vampires, and the Ursuline Nuns? by K. M. McFarland (Updated - first published 05/29/2017)
The Old Ursuline Convent
In my latest novel, Sex, Blood, Rock 'N' Roll, and Vampyr, all hell breaks loose when vampire Nadia goes on a vampire tour in New Orleans. In chapter seven, titled Myths, Legends, and Real Vampires, she is offended that vampires are portrayed as evil by the tour guide and calls him out on it.
People often ask me if it's true that New Orleans has vampire tours. The answer is yes. Why would vampire and paranormal tours be unusual in a city that has so much haunted history? If you visit our magical city, you should plan one. They are walking tours that begin after dark and take you to various landmarks giving you the history of each one. They are entertaining and fun, but are they factual? Well. I'll let you decide.
One of the most famous tales is of the Compte St. Germain; an alchemist of great wealth, knowledge, and charm. He arrived in Paris in the 1700s and was known for throwing lavish dinner parties although he never touched a bite of food. Guests told tales of him sipping wine and telling stories of things that happened hundreds of years ago as if he were there. Records show he was born in 1710 and died in 1745, but the one record of his death was written under king's orders and is not believed to be true.
Two hundred years after his alleged death, a strange gentleman from France named Jacques St. Germain arrived in New Orleans and moved into a home on Royal Street. He threw lavish dinner parties, never touched a bite of food, drank wine, and told stories of long ago as if he were there. One night, Jacques threw a party with many elites in New Orleans. Later that night, he asked a lady to accompany him up to the balcony. Legend has it, when he attempted to bite her, she flung herself over the balcony and landed in the street with blood trickling from her neck. People surrounded her and notified the police. When the police investigated St. Germain's home, they found clothes from different periods in time and numerous bottles of wine, which upon further investigation turned out to be human blood. Jacques mysteriously disappeared before the police could question him. Legend has it Jacques is the real Compte St. Germain and has been seen since then in New Orleans and in different parts of the world.
Among the macabre tales, you are sure to hear the story of the notorious Carter Brothers. In the 1930s, John and Wayne Carter worked as longshoremen on the Mississippi River. One evening, before the brothers returned home from work, a young girl escaped from their French Quarter apartment and ran to the police. Her wrists were cut but not severely enough for her to bleed to death. She claimed she had been locked up for weeks and the brothers had been feeding on her blood. The police immediately investigated and found four other young women tied to chairs with their wrists cut. Over a dozen dead bodies turned up in the apartment drained of their blood. The brothers were arrested, tried, and executed for their crimes with their remains interred in the family tomb. Later, when another Carter family member passed away, the tomb was opened to make room for his remains, but there were no remnants of John or Wayne in the grave to clear. To this day, there have been reports of sightings of the brothers wandering the French Quarter.
One of the most talked about stories is the legend of the casket girls and the Ursuline convent. The old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street is the oldest building still standing in the Mississippi River Valley. The building no longer functions as a convent. The first floor is a museum; the second floor is the home of the Archdiocesan archives dating back to 1718. But what's on the third floor behind those mysterious shutters that are always tightly secured? Nobody seems to know the answer to that question, but there are speculations.
The Ursuline nuns were sent to New Orleans from France in 1725 to establish a hospital and educate the young girls. Most of the early settlers were pirates, scoundrels, murderers, and thieves; prisoners who had been exiled from France and promised if they reformed in Louisiana, they could return to France. The men outnumbered the women five to one, so, in 1727 the city's founder, Jean Baptiste LeMoyne Bienville, sent two nuns back to France to ask the king to send over marriageable young women. In 1728, a group of orphans arrived to marry the colonists and populate the swamp called La Nouvelle Orléans.
When the girls arrived, they each brought with them one wooden chest shaped like a coffin which held their trousseau consisting of clothes, linens, and sometimes a bridal gown. Since their eccentric luggage looked like caskets, they became known as the casket girls. The girls were brought to the Ursuline convent to live among the nuns until they were married.
After the arrival of the fille à la cassette, nobody could explain why the mortality rate, especially the infant mortality rate, drastically increased. Suspicion mounted when the girls later opened their chests, and they were found empty. Fear of what the girls may have smuggled into La Nouvelle Orléans prompted the nuns to contact the Archdiocese. After an investigation, the caskets were transferred by day to the convent attic. The convent attic was sealed off; the doors nailed shut, and the attic shutters sealed with eight hundred nails; each one blessed by the pope.
Legend has it the caskets were used to smuggle vampires into La Nouvelle Orléans. They remain sealed in the attic to this day, and that is the reason why the attic shutters are always tightly closed. No one can explain why occasionally, late at night, someone will see them suddenly fly open followed by a mist that surrounds the convent.
In 1978, two curious paranormal investigators set up a video camera in front of the convent and waited through the night for paranormal activity. Sometime during the night, the camera stopped filming. The next day, they were both found dead on the steps of St. Mary's Catholic Church next to the convent with their throats torn open and their bodies drained of eighty percent of their blood.
Now let's take a closer look at this murder. Legends have been passed down by word of mouth, but this alleged crime that supposedly occurred forty years ago is something we should be able to find proof of, so it leads to the question. Is it fact or fiction? It may be challenging to verify something reported to have happened almost three hundred years ago, but it seems if this murder occurred in 1978, it should have been a major news story.
I was curious to see if there were any news reports to corroborate this tale, so I started digging for information, but my investigation turned up nothing. The only stories I could find about it were related to the vampire legend. It seems if this murder happened, there would be something about it in the news archives, but so far nothing has surfaced. There doesn't seem to be anything to validate it so unless there's a special paranormal division of the New Orleans police department we don't know about, I have to assume it's either false or an exaggeration of another murder that happened around the same time, but what do I know?
Another reason for doubt is there are many variations of the tale of the casket girls, including stories that the girls themselves were vampires. If you tour the Ursuline Convent museum, the story they tell is when the girls arrived, they were pale and gaunt after spending six months at sea, mostly below deck, and some of them had tuberculosis that caused them to cough up blood, explaining the vampire connection. That could be, but, on the other hand, why are those shutters always tightly closed? Shutters on attic windows are also extremely rare in the French Quarter. Why isn't anyone allowed on the third floor? Is it possible that something evil lurks in that attic? Is it possible they are keeping something locked in; or out?
More recently, in 1984, nine people were found in and around the French Quarter with their throats ripped open, drained of their blood. The police had no suspects in this case at the time, and the murders ended as quickly as they began. Rumor has it; a rogue vampire was responsible, and he was destroyed by the city's elder vampires for bringing attention to the vampire community. Again, no evidence can be found to corroborate this story, and it is believed to be a variation of the 1978 murders.
So that brings us to the question; are the vampire legends fact or fabricated? Could they be based on some truth? Legends are legends so let's just say nobody knows. Whether there is any truth to them or not, I still recommend going on a vampire tour in New Orleans. Real or made up, they're always fun, but don't be surprised if a real vampire shows up and protests.