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Cold Spots: The Gardette-LePrete House (The Sultan’s Palace)

New Orleans, Louisiana – There are places in the world that defy description. The horrors of what happened within their walls seem far-fetched or even impossible outside the confines of a horror movie. And yet, for many places, fiction could not even hope to capture the terrors of real life. Strangers from far away, riches and murder most foul may begin the story, but where does it end? If it had ended, some might say, the house would not be haunted.

The Sultan's Palace

New Orleans is an incredible place. Entire books are written about the haunted history of this relatively small town, and around every corner there’s something new and macabre to discover. With a history so rich, it’s little wonder that there are places where the dead just can’t rest. And in some places, the cause of that haunting is just so bizarre that it can’t possibly be true. Could it?

History
The innocuous-looking house in the French Quarter is well over 170 years old. It was built in 1836 by a dentist from Philadelphia named Joseph Coulton Gardette. In 1839, he sold the house to a wealthy Creole businessman named Jean Baptist LaPrete, who used the house as not only a home, but as a showplace for his considerable wealth. Toward the end of the Civil War, LaPrete’s fortunes dried up, leaving him with little choice but to rent the house out. The renter came from a most unexpected source.

The Sultan's PalaceExactly who he was is a matter of conjecture, as his name has never really been revealed. But what is known are his claims and what happened with his arrival. According to the mysterious stranger from Turkey, he was the deposed ruler of a distant eastern land, and brother to a Sultan who remained in Turkey. When he arrived at the New Orleans docks, he was followed by a huge entourage that included men, eunuchs, scores of trunks and suitcases, tapestries, and Women. Lots of women. When he moved into the house, he immediately had the balconies closed and locked. Throughout the day and night, men with scimitars walked the balconies. It was his plan, he said, to use his considerable riches to turn the house into a palace where his pleasures could be sated.

Rumors abounded, not only about the size of his harem, but about just who was in it. While the women were of all ages and builds, there were also reputed to be young boys. He also had the reputation of kidnapping young women that he found attractive off the streets of New Orleans and “indoctrinating” them into his hedonistic way of life.

One evening, the sounds of laughter and moans of pleasure gave way to terrified screams. While they were used to things getting rowdy in home now called the “Sultan’s Palace,” the neighbors found the quiet in the morning chilling. As they approached the house, the found blood streaming from under the front door and pooling on the street. Horrified, the neighbors called the police. When they broke down the front door, they were shocked and aghast by what they found.

The Sultan's PalaceEveryone was dead. Every man, woman and child in the house had been hacked into so many pieces that counting them proved futile, and it became impossible to distinguish whose arm belonged to whom. The women and boys of the harem were raped and mutilated, as were the guards, before they were killed. As for the Turk himself, he was found in the building’s courtyard garden, quite dead as well. He’d had his throat cut, but was buried while still alive. Though the police searched diligently for the murderers, they never found out who committed the crime. They did, however, have two theories: First that pirates and thieves had managed to sneak inside the house, past the armed guards, without raising an alarm, then murdered everyone and stole the riches. The second theory made more sense, that the Turk’s brother, who was the real Sultan, discovered where the Turk was hiding and sent assassins to reclaim the family fortune and to “deal with” the Turk. Whichever the case, no one really knows for sure.

Ghosts
There are several events that still occur in the “palace,” all of them directly related to the brutal massacre. Often, tenants hear the faint sound of music from the Orient in the air, even when there’s no one to play it. There have also been numerous reports of phantom footsteps and the sounds of parties, as well as sightings of many of the Sultan’s entourage moving from room to room. All that would be enough, but there are two other things that still happen that earn the old building the dubious distinction of being one of the more frightening places in the world.

The first is the apparition of the Sultan himself, the fair-haired Turk who has been known to zip in and out of lodger’s rooms unannounced. He disappears just as quickly, and have given many the impression that he’s watching them, possibly to add to his harem. The other phenomenon is also the most terrifying. The sounds of screams have pierced the night and darkness, as if the slaughter were still happening.

Present Day
After so brutal a crime, the house stood understandably empty for a while before being sold. Now decrepit and ignored the house became, in 1940, the New Orleans Academy of Art. When war took so many of the school’s students, it became a boarding house, then a hiding place for vagrants. It was eventually rescued, and the building was sectioned into luxury apartments, in much the same way as the infamous LaLaurie House.

Best Times
The “Sultan’s Palace” is a private residence, and the owners deserve to be treated with respect. However, the house is on a public street (Dauphine), and can be photographed at any time. Also, most of the many New Orleans ghost tours walk right past the building while retelling the history. So the best time, it seems, would be in the evening, after a few New Orleans Hurricanes (the drink, not the weather condition).

The Sultan's Palace

See you in two weeks!

Scott A. Johnson

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