We're talkin' PIRATES! Today we tell the story of the most infamous pirate of New Orleans, John Lafitte and his instrumental role in The Battle of New Orleans.
We're talkin' PIRATES! Today we tell the story of the most infamous pirate of New Orleans, John Lafitte and his role instrumental role in The Battle of New Orleans.
Follow us on social:
In the early 1800's, New Orleans was a tough place. Business at the popular pirate party cove, Grand Terre, was shabbily conducted, with every man for himself, and it soon became clear that a leader was needed to take matters into hand and bring order out of the chaos. The man who stepped into that role was Jean Lafitte, the infamous pirate to ever call New Orleans "home."
For a free month of Stitcher Premium, visit www.StitcherPremium.com and use promo code: HAUNTINGS
Leave us a review in iTunes by clicking this link or on RateThisPodcast.
Check out our NEW PATREON TIERS, our NEW CLOTHING STORE, and learn how YOUR BUSINESS CAN REACH OUR AUDIENCE.
Sign up for our newsletter at AmericanHauntingsPodcast.com
Want to read ahead for this season? Check out the book Haunted New Orleans by Troy Taylor.
This episode was written by Troy Taylor. Produced and edited by Cody Beck.
Theme music by Charlie Brockus and Alan T Fagan. Monologue music by Mattia Cupelli.
Welcome to the new episode of American Hauntings, the podcast dedicated to the history, hauntings, legends, and lore of America’s past. The show is hosted by Cody Beck and Troy Taylor and we are now deep into our fourth season, “Haunted New Orleans.”
If you are tuning into the podcast for the first time, we suggest you start listening to the “Haunted New Orleans” season with episode 53, which is where this season begins and where we set the stage for the many dark tales ahead. In each episode of the season, we’ll be revealing the history, mystery, spirits, scandals, and sins of New Orleans – a city that we believe is the most haunted in America.
So, hoist the mainsail, pass out the weapons, and raise the black flag for the next episode of Haunted New Orleans.
In January 1815, the final battle of the War of 1812 was fought in New Orleans, what was then a backwater, disease-ridden den of iniquity that had only been the property of the United States for a handful of years. New Orleans had been run by the French, then the Spanish, French again, and then became part of an American territory, thanks to President Thomas Jefferson. It was a city born in sin – most of the initial settlers had been convicts and prostitutes flushed from the Paris jails and sent to the steamy, mosquito-ridden swamps of Louisiana – and it maintained that reputation with bordellos, saloons, and a reputation as the wickedest city in the New World. It was a haven for lawbreakers, outlaws, gamblers, ner’ do wells, and whores and respectable citizens seemed few and far between.
When the War of 1812 broke out against the British – the same people we had just won our freedom from a couple of decades before – it looked as though this was one we were sure to lose. America was outmanned, outgunned, and the British had rallied Native American forces against settlers in the western regions, resulting in bloody massacres. Our struggling Navy was nearly broken by superior British commanders, fresh from battles with French forces, and even the White House in Washington was burned to the ground. American commanders feared for the safety of New Orleans, which had become a major port for the country.
New Orleans was a melting pot city of different cultures, most of whom did not get along with one another. But if there was one thing that could bring together these opposing forces – the Catholic Creoles, Free People of Color, and Protestant Americans – it was a threat from the British. The people of New Orleans, who still considered themselves mostly Spanish or French, had always been governed by enemies of Britain. As for the Americans, the bitterness from hard-won independence they had achieved from England still lingered in recent memory. The last thing they wanted was to fall under the thumb of the British once again. With this in mind, the Creoles and the Americans began to rally together. The coming battle would be a heroic event in the city’s history – if they managed to survive it.
No one could have guessed that one of the greatest heroes in the fight to save New Orleans would be a pirate.
What most of us think of as piracy – practiced during its golden age by characters like Blackbeard – came to an end in the Gulf of Mexico in the middle 1700s. The seas had been swept clean of bloodthirsty buccaneers by the combined might of England, France, and Spain. However, the commerce of the Gulf continued to be plundered, under flimsy legal conditions, by what were called privateers. These were armed ships whose captains carried letters issued by nations at war, giving them the authority to capture vessels that flew the enemy flag. Under maritime law, privateers could keep both a captured ship and its cargo, provided he brought the prize into a port of the country to which he claimed allegiance and presented it to an admiralty court. He could then sell the loot however he pleased.
Really, no matter what they called themselves, they were still pirates.
In the early 1800s, the Gulf of Mexico swarmed with pirate – er, I mean privateer -- ships, most of which operated safely within international law by flying the flag of the Republic of Cartagena. This is now one of the principal seaports of Columbia but in those days, it had revolted against the rule of Spain. The privateers that flew the republic’s flag were supposed to prey only on Spanish ships, but most attacked every ship they came upon, regardless of nationality. With the crew of the captured ship murdered, its stores looted, and the ship itself scuttled – well, dead men told no tales.
After the United States took over New Orleans, the city a principal market for pirates and privateers. Instead of making the long voyage to Cartagena for an admiralty hearing, they could bring their prizes directly to New Orleans. Of course, since they couldn’t clear their illegal goods though the Customs House, they had to smuggle them to shore.
Smuggling was dangerous and required quite a bit of planning and organization, so the privateers realized the need for a base that was close to New Orleans and yet inaccessible enough that it would be safe from the nuisance of warships. They found such a place about 60 miles south of the city in the Bay of Barataria, a largely unknown spot that was separated from the Gulf by the islands Grand Terre and Grand Isle. A passage that was deep enough for seagoing vessels flowed between the islands -- as long as the pilots knew the channel.
On Grand Terre, the privateers established a headquarters and soon began supplying the merchants of New Orleans with contraband goods of every kind. The makeshift settlement became a rendezvous point for not only pirates and smugglers but criminals and adventurers of every kind. Fights, robberies, and fatal skirmishes over the division of spoils became commonplace and it wasn’t long before the New Orleans merchants began to fear visiting the island and having any sort of dealings with the privateers. Business at Grand Terre was shabbily conducted, with every man for himself, and it soon became clear that a leader was needed to take matters into hand and bring order out of the chaos.
The man who stepped into that role was Jean Lafitte.
Little is known about Lafitte’s past. According to numerous sources, he appears to have been born in a dozen different places in France and to have died in as many places in the West Indies. Most likely, he was born in Bordeaux, France in 1780 and first established himself with his brother, Pierre, in New Orleans around 1806. They established a blacksmith shop on St. Phillip Street and a store on Royal Street. Using both of these places as a front, they operated for two years as smuggler’s agents.
During this time, the brothers prospered and entertained lavishly at their mansion at Bourbon and St. Phillip Streets. Jean Lafitte became well-known among the businessmen and merchants of the city. He was a man of great personal charm and spoke English, French, Spanish, and Italian fluently. Although his profits were great and life in New Orleans was pleasant, Lafitte became dissatisfied with the way the smugglers and privateers conducted their affairs. He saw the need for a guiding hand in their business—which, in turn, would bring even greater profits to the brothers Lafitte.
Lafitte’s unhappiness with the situation increased on January 1, 1808, when a new element was added to the smuggler’s operations. On that date, a law went into effect that banned the further importation of slaves into the United States. Throughout the South, the price of slaves rose immediately and plantation owners were soon glad to pay from $800 to $1,000 for an able-bodied man who could be bought for $20 on the African coast, or for $300 in Cuba, which was now the headquarters of the legal slave trade. Slaves had suddenly become very important pieces of merchandise and smuggling them into Louisiana had become immensely profitable.
Lafitte’s decision about what to do with the smugglers was made for him when he learned that a highly profitable slave ship had been seized by pirates and was on its way to Grand Terre. Laffite left his business in New Orleans in the hands of his brother and went out to Barataria Bay, a two-day journey by boat through the swamps. He met with all the various leaders of the cutthroats on the island over the course of the next week and, slowly, he won them over. His arguments were so persuasive that they appointed him the leader of the newly organized band.
Lafitte ruled Grand Terre and Barataria Bay for almost a decade and only once was his captaincy questioned. When one of his captains rebelled at the idea of only attacking Spanish ships during a certain period, he tried to start a revolt against Lafitte’s leadership. It turned out to be a short-lived rebellion. Lafitte approached the man and, without a word, drew a pistol and shit him dead.
Lafitte was a pirate, smuggler, and a thief but he was also a genius at organization. Within an amazingly short time, he had united the warring factions of Grand Terre and made their business a sound one. They sailed where and when he directed, coolly walked away with stolen plunder, and placed it into his hands for disposal. More and more pirates joined up with Lafitte and a year after coming to Grand Terre, he had 1,000 men at his disposal. Fifty of his ships, all flying the flag of Cartagena, swept the shipping lanes of the Gulf and came directly to Barataria Bay with their prizes.
Meanwhile, Lafitte improved the conditions at Grand Terre, building thatched cottages for the pirates and their women and establishing gambling houses, cafes, and brothels. Enormous warehouses for the stolen plunder were erected. In the center of the colony, Lafitte built himself a mansion of brick and stone, filled with the finest furniture, linens, and carpets – all stolen by his band of pirates. There, he entertained merchants and businessmen from New Orleans, plantation owners and slave traders, all of whom were delighted by the luxury in which he lived.
Lafitte’s business was so efficient that by 1813, practically all the stores in New Orleans were being stocked with his smuggled merchandise and the legitimate commerce of the city began to suffer. It was clear that within a few years, Lafitte would have a monopoly on most of Louisiana’s trade. Government officials made a few half-hearted attempts to damage the Barataria Bay operations with a few inconsequential seizures, but this only served to increase Lafitte’s prestige. When Governor W.C.C. Claiborne issued a proclamation in early 1813 denouncing the Barataria Bay men as pirates and warning the people of New Orleans to have no further dealings with them, Lafitte made a point of returning to the city.
He and Pierre began a season of entertainment, securing the attendance of the most prominent merchants at their dinners and parties. They appeared in local restaurants, surrounded by influential friends, and boldly announced in the newspapers the dates of upcoming sales of merchandise. A few months later, Governor Claiborne issued another proclamation, which was posted in prominent places in New Orleans, offering a reward of $500 for the arrest of Jean Lafitte.
Lafitte responded by issuing a proclamation of his own, also posted in prominent locations in the city, that offered a $1,500 reward for the arrest of Governor Claiborne and his delivery to Grand Terre.
Outraged, Claiborne filed charges against Lafitte and convinced a grand jury to return indictments against him and the other men of Barataria Bay, charging them with piracy. Pierre Lafitte, indicted with aiding and abetting his brother, was arrested and jailed. Jean immediately retained two of New Orleans’ most distinguished attorneys, John R. Grymes and Edward Livingston, and offered them $20,000 each to defend his brother. Grymes was the District Attorney of Orleans Parish at the time and he resigned from office in order to collect the fee. When his successor stated in open court that Grymes had been “seduced by the bloodstained gold of pirates”, Grymes challenged him to a duel. During the altercation, Grymes shot him through the hip and the man was crippled for life.
Unfortunately, the combined skills of the two attorneys failed to get the indictment against Pierre dismissed and he languished in jail for several months. He was eventually freed during a mysterious jail break. Nevertheless, Jean Lafitte agreed to pay the attorneys the large fee that he had promised. He invited them to Grand Terre so that he could pay them in person and while Grymes readily accepted, Livingston declined, authorizing Grymes to collect his portion of the fee at a commission of ten percent. Grymes received his money on the day that he arrived at the pirate stronghold, but he lingered on the island, seduced by Lafitte’s hospitality – and by the gambling and women that were offered him. By the end of three days, he had gambled away all the money that he had earned, as well as the ten percent commission that he had been given by Livingston.
Lafitte may have been at the height of his power during this period, but his popularity was beginning to wane. Even those merchants who bought goods from him began to fear that his monopoly on trade in the region would eventually hurt them. In addition, the national government, worrying over the successes of the British during the War of 1812, at last listened to Governor Claiborne and sent a military force against the pirates at Barataria Bay. This expedition, consisting of six gunboats and several small but heavily armed vessels, sailed from New Orleans in September 1814. The pirates were taken by surprise and after a brief battle, the settlement at Grand Terre was destroyed and the U.S. Navy captured nine ships and nearly 100 prisoners. Jean and Pierre Lafitte, along with several hundred of the other men, escaped into the bayous.
But fate was in favor of Lafitte’s fortunes. A few days before the U.S. Navy attacked Grand Terre, an English ship appeared in Barataria Bay. After a long conversation with Lafitte, the British commander offered the pirate $30,000 in gold and a captaincy in the British Navy if he would enlist his men on the side of the English during an attack on New Orleans. Lafitte asked for time to consider the offer and learned what he could of the British plans. After they sailed, Lafitte sent a full account of what had occurred to Governor Claiborne. He offered to join with the American Navy and aid in repelling the invasion. In return, he asked for he and his brother’s crimes to be pardoned.
Claiborne called a meeting with military officials. Putting aside his previous feelings about the pirate, he told them that he believed Lafitte’s story was true and he urged them to accept the offer and recall the next expedition against Barataria Bay. But the military refused to go along with it and a less successful second attack followed.
Lafitte, however, fled to New Orleans where, surprisingly, he renewed his offer to the governor. This time, the military was not so quick to dismiss the idea.
The city had been in chaos when General Andrew Jackson had arrived a short time earlier. He arrived in New Orleans just before the holidays, only to be confined to his bed with dysentery and a high fever. From his sickbed, he still managed to organize the defense of the city. He imposed martial law on New Orleans and enlisted the aid of every breathing human being who could fire a gun. He accepted the assistance of regiments of Free Men of Color, Kentuckians who came downriver on flatboats, Choctaw Indians, and, finally help from the pirate brigades led by Jean Lafitte.
The city was virtually defenseless against the British. Word reached New Orleans that the Capitol and the White House in Washington had been burned and that President James Madison was unable to raise an army to assist New Orleans because the United States Treasury was empty. All that Jackson had to repel the invasion was a rabble army – but it turned out to be more than enough.
The British forces attacked on December 23, 1841, and although fresh from defeating Napoleon, they were no match for the ragtag American troops. The fighting raged back and forth for several bitterly cold days between Christmas and New Year’s. The British continued to be reinforced with fresh troops until they greatly outnumbered the American forces in New Orleans. On New Year’s Day, the British attacked the city’s hastily-erected defenses, only to be driven back again.
The fighting stalled out for a week and then, on January 8, the final battle took place on the muddy and mist-covered grounds of Chalmette Plantation. The Americans huddles behind bales of straw and cotton and son began to hear the sounds of bagpipes and drums in the fog. The colors of the Duchess of York’s Light Dragoons and the tartans of the 93rd Highlanders appeared across the field. The British troops began what seemed an endless march toward the American line, moving in tight, efficient lines.
But the experiences British soldiers were no match for the men of New Orleans. The militia troops and pirates savaged the British lines without mercy. By later that day, Jackson’s army had prevailed, with only 15 men dead and 40 wounded. The British were not so lucky. The carnage of their side consisted of 858 dead and about 2,500 men wounded or missing. The invaders had been beaten and withdrew from American soil.
Ironically, soon after the battle, news finally reached the city that the British had signed a peace treaty at Ghent on Christmas Eve --- two weeks before the Battle of New Orleans. The war had ended before the final battle had even been fought.
The Battle of New Orleans turned two men into heroes – one would become president and the other, well, would go back to being a pirate.
Lafitte and his men received the pardons they were promised. Governor Claiborne and General Jackson had sent letters to President Madison to notify him of the brave conduct of the pirates during the fighting. On February 6, 1815, the president signed a free and full pardon to any of the pirates who could produce a statement from Governor Claiborne that he took part in the battle. The brothers Lafitte, along with scores of smugglers and pirates, soon became free citizens of the United States.
There are many who believe that, in the wake of the battle, Lafitte planned to go straight and become a legitimate businessman of New Orleans. But an incident occurred at the great Victory Ball that was held to celebrate the battle that changes his mind. During the battle, Lafitte approached a group that included Governor Claiborne, Andrew Jackson, and several other military men. Claiborne and Jackson greeted him warmly, but the other men ignored him. In fact, when the governor introduced him to one of the generals, the man hesitated before shaking his hand.
Lafitte understood the situation immediately. He introduced himself to the military man as “Lafitte, the pirate.” And he knew that was what he would always be. He would never be welcomed in New Orleans business and society.
So, he and Pierre went back to what they did best – piracy. For the next three years, the brothers roamed the Gulf of Mexico, searching for a new home and occasionally seizing a Spanish ship and smuggling the plunder into New Orleans. Eventually, in 1816, they founded a small colony off the coast of Texas that came to be known as Galvez-Town (later Galveston).
There he prospered for several years, building himself a grand home and a new brigade of pirates. Lafitte attempted to gain respect and protection from the governments of Mexico, Texas, and even Washington, D.C. but his schemes never succeeded. Galvez-Town never managed to develop into the orderly community that he had founded on Grand Terre. It became not only a refuge for pirates and privateers but for criminals and fugitives from all over the region. Instead of preying on vessels that were specified in the letters from Cartagena, they resorted to outright piracy and attacked any vessel they found, regardless of what flag it was flying.
Early in September 1819, Lafitte purchased a schooner in New Orleans that he dubbed Bravo. He instructed his men to sail the ship to Galvez-Town. Although the vessel carried no privateer’s commission, she attacked a Spanish merchant vessel in the Gulf. The pirates were still looting the ship when an American cutter – Alabama -- appeared and captured them after a short fight. The ship and the pirates were taken back to New Orleans. All the men were tried, found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Lafitte tried to find legal aid for his men. Then, joined by old friends and many planters who feared the loss of profitable business in slaves and other contraband, he caused such a stir that the authorities ordered out the militia to prevent a possible attack on the prison. In the end, though, all the legal maneuvering and threats of violence accomplished nothing. The men were hung as pirates.
The beginning of the end of the Lafitte’s headquarters in Galvez-Town came in late 1820, when a pirate named Brown plundered an American vessel in Matagorda Bay. Brown’s trail led straight back to Lafitte’s colony. Although Lafitte tried Brown and hanged him on an island in the harbor, the government decided that Galvez-Town had to be destroyed. Early in 1821, an American warship anchored off the coast and Lafitte was given three months to abandon his settlement. The warship returned in May and found Lafitte supervising the destruction of the colony. The settlement was burned, and Lafitte sailed away in three ships, two of which abandoned him a few days later when he refused to attack a convoy of Spanish merchant ships.
What became of Lafitte after that is officially unknown.
Some believe that he died of fever in the Yucatan in 1826. Other say he was wounded in a battle in the Gulf of Honduras and was buried at sea.
In the 1940s, a journal surfaced that allegedly belonged to Lafitte. It was printed on the right age of paper, mentioned all the right people, and had the right signature, but no one knows if it was authentic. According to the journal, Laffite left Galveston and changed his name to John Lafflin. He settled in – get this – Alton, Illinois, and lived there until his death in 1854.
There are some who believe that Lafitte is buried on a piece of land along Hop Hollow Road, where there was once an old Catholic Cemetery whose stones are all gone.
But who knows if that’s true? Jean Lafitte’s death remains today just as mysterious as his life.
The name Jean Lafitte remains one of legend in New Orleans, even now, more than 200 years later. His name can be found in many places but his ghost – legend has it – can be found in two. One of them was allegedly once owned by Jean and his brother, Pierre, and has a reputation today as one of America’s oldest bars.
The building was allegedly opened by the brothers Lafitte in 1809, when they needed a place from which to sell their plundered goods. They purchased land at the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter and started a blacksmith shop, although no horse was ever shod there. Instead, liquor, smuggled slaves, and ill-gotten goods were in great supply. The law overlooked this operation for several years until the Lafitte’s got onto the governor’s bad side – a relationship that was repaired when the pirates were needed to defend the city in 1814.
Even without the ghosts and what may be its dubious history – and by that I mean there is no authentic evidence that Lafitte ever owned but why let the truth get in the way of a good story? -- the blacksmith shop is a unique building in the city. It is one of the only remaining French-style survivors from before the fires of 1788 and 1794. The French Quarter itself, as we learned in an earlier episode, is actually of Spanish design.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a must-visit location today for anyone with an interest in history and hauntings. The only electric lights in the building are behind the bar and the rest of the place is illuminated by candles. The rickety wooden tables, candles, firelight, and the exposed brick and beam, give the place its charm and make it easy to believe that there may be a ghost or two lingering there.
Who are the spirits? One is believed to be the ghost of a woman who committed suicide on the upper floor many years ago. No documentation of this ghost exists but she has often been encountered by people who say that she approached them and quietly whispers into their ears.
Or perhaps the ghost is that of previous owner Tom Kaplinger, who gave away countless numbers of free drinks in the 1950s. He had a generous pour with all his friends, like playwright Tennessee Williams, and Tom left a legacy of extensive debt after his death.
And then, of course, there is Jean Lafitte himself, who doesn’t let his death keep him from returning to his old blacksmith shop. Staff and guests have sighted what they believe to be Lafitte’s ghost on numerous occasions. Usually, a full-bodied apparition of a man in period clothing is reported around the fireplace. The figure tends to make eye contact before disappearing into thin air.
Is it Lafitte? If so, then he certainly enjoys Bourbon Street as much as tourists to the city do today because this is not the only bar in which his specter can be found.
On the corner of Bourbon and Bienville in the French Quarter stands a historic building that has played host to the likes of Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, William Thackery, Aleister Crowley, and others. And while these historic personages may not be lingering at the Old Absinthe House, the ghost of Jean Lafitte reportedly is.
Truth or legend? That’s an interesting question for the Old Absinthe House does have a lot of connections to New Orleans’ history and sometimes, in this city, it’s hard to tell where truth ends, and legend begins.
Built in 1806 by Pedro Font and Francisco Juncadella (JUNKA-DELLA), it began as a warehouse for imported foods, wine and cheeses from Europe. They also operated a retail store, a tavern, and a restaurant. Legend has it that the building also played a role in the Lafitte brothers’ smuggling operations. There are rumors of tunnels that have been found under the structure, which may have played a role in the arrival of some of the fine goods that were sold by Font and Juncadella. Jean Lafitte was said to be so comfortable here, knowing that he was among friends, that this was the place where he met with General Andrew Jackson to plan the defense of the city just prior to the Battle of New Orleans.
This may be, some say, why his ghost still lingers here.
After Juncadella’s death, his widow and Pedro Font returned to Spain and left the operation to be run by relatives. By the 1830s, the import business was gone, and the building had been turned into a shoe store. It later became a grocery store, a coffee house, and then a tavern.
In 1870, Cayetano Ferrerr (CI-YA-TANNO FA-RARE), a Spaniard from Barcelona, came to work there as a bartender. Four years later, he took over the lease and changed the name to the Absinthe Room. It’s believed that he began producing the first absinthe in America, distilling the green concoction in a way that it could not be duplicated by other bars in the city. He gained national notoriety and began attracting writers, artists, and famous people to his doors.
Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic drink that is so strong it’s commonly diluted with water when consumed. It is anise-flavored – like black licorice -- and derived from the flowers and leaves of the wormwood plant. Traditionally, it has a light green color and was commonly referred to in literature as “la fée verte” (the Green Fairy). It achieved great popularity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century France, particularly among the Parisian artists and writers. Due in part to its association with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists and portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and all of the notorious “bad men” of the day, including Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley, were connected to the drink. By 1915, it was banned in the United States and throughout most of Europe. It would not begin to be produced again (legally) until the late 1990s.
However, it is not – and never has been – a hallucinogenic. That propaganda was concocted up by French wine makers who feared the popularity of absinthe would cut into their business. That was what led to it being banned in the United States and people still believe it today, even though it’s not true.
It can, however, get you very drunk. Trust me.
The precise origin of absinthe is unclear. The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt but it first began to be produced as an elixir by a group of nuns in France, in the late 1700s. A French doctor obtained the formula from the sisters and began to distill it as an alcoholic beverage. Absinthe’s popularity grew steadily through the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria treatment. When the soldiers returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them. It became so popular in bars, bistros, cafés, and cabarets that, by the 1860s, the hour of 5:00 p.m. became known as “the green hour”.
Eventually, it made its way to New Orleans and to what became the Old Absinthe House of Cayetano Ferrerr (CI-YA-TANNO FA-RARE). After Ferrer’s death, his family continued operating the saloon and it remained open until the doors were finally nailed shut by the U.S. marshal during Prohibition. It reopened after Prohibition came to an end but while it was shut down, a man named Pierre Casebonne bought the cash register, the paintings on the wall, the water dripper, and the marble-topped bar and moved them to what is now known as “Old Absinthe House Bar” at Bourbon and Conti Streets. So, the Old Absinthe House is the original location but the original contents can be found just up street.
My advice? Just have a drink at both of them.
The Old Absinthe House boasts a variety of supernatural phenomena and resident spirits, including a phantom woman, a lost child, and spirit party-goers. Staff members have experienced strange power outages, icy breezes, plates and glasses moving about, chairs and tables moved by unseen hands, and people being touched, pushed, pinched, and having their clothing and hair tugged on.
But, of course, the most frequently reported spirit is a man that is believed to be pirate Jean Lafitte.
Lafitte has been frequently sighted in the building, usually making his rounds on the upper floors, and scaring the employees by vanishing in front of them. One of the staff members, who lived in an apartment on the third floor, had gone to change his clothes one afternoon. While he was standing in front of his mirror, he saw a man standing behind him wearing a hat, an open shirt, and a red sash tied about his waist.
So, pretty much – a pirate costume.
The figure was standing there, staring at him. When the employee spun around to confront the man, he was gone. He quickly searched the apartment, along with the hallway outside, but there was no one there.
On another occasion, Lafitte was spotted by the stairs in the bar area. A staff member was closing the bar one night and happened to see a man standing a short distance away. When the figure realized that he was being watched, he actually smiled and walked toward the employee. She saw him distinctly and later described the man as having tanned skin, a long, curved mustache, an open shirt, and a royal blue pants that looked old-fashioned. The man walked toward her, passed through the bar, and then suddenly vanished.
In addition to the staff members, I’m sure there are plenty of sightings of Jean Lafitte by the customers, too, but I have never bothered to collect them. If you drink enough absinthe, you’re bound to see anything – including the ghost of New Orleans’ most famous pirate.