Haunted New Orleans

HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS BY TROY TAYLOR
BOOK EXCERPT

BROTHERS IN ARMS
Spirits of the Civil War at the old Griffon House

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Outside of the French Quarter, stands a house at 1447 Constance Street that has been haunted for as long as anyone in the neighborhood can remember. Whether it is still haunted or not, remains a question, but the stories that have been told about the place over the years can still manage to chill your blood.

The house on Constance Street was built in 1852 by Adam Griffon, who lived there for only a few years, abandoning the house when the Civil War came to New Orleans.

 It had been built as an elegant place with high ceilings and spacious rooms that were perfect for dress balls and fancy parties, but there was little in the way of festivity going on here in 1862 when the Federal Army took over New Orleans. When General Benjamin Butler's Union troops occupied the city in the early years of the war, they began selecting homes and buildings in which to house men and supplies. The house on Constance Street was one of the buildings selected for occupation.

However, the first soldiers who entered the house heard a chilling sound... that of rattling chains and groaning coming from upstairs. In the third floor attic, they found several slaves shackled to the wall and in a state of advanced starvation. Some of them even had untreated, maggot-infested wounds. They were removed to a field hospital where they could be better taken care of and the house was turned into a barracks for soldiers and prisoners.

When Butler occupied New Orleans, he passed an order stating that anyone caught looting would be shot and this included his own Federal troops. Two Union officers were arrested for this offense and were confined to the house on Constance Street. They spent much of their time drinking whiskey that was given to them by sympathetic guards and singing over and over again the song "John Brown's Body".

This repetitive singing of a popular northern song was really a ruse to hide the fact that the men were actually Confederate deserters who had stolen the Union uniforms. They were wearing them when they were caught. They knew if they were discovered to be southerners, they would be killed, so they attempted to hide this fact by singing "John Brown's Body" over and over again.

When they learned that even Union soldiers caught looting would be shot, they bribed a guard to bring them a pair of pistols. They lay down beside each other on the bed, pointed the guns to one another's hearts and pulled the triggers at the same time. Their bodies were found the following morning, sprawled on a mattress so stained that the blood had actually seeped through the floorboards to the rooms below.

After the war, the building was used for commercial purposes as a lamp factory, a mattress factory and a perfume bottling plant. In the 1920's, it was a union hiring hall and one previous owner of the house was an old man who rebuilt air conditioners... until he disappeared one day without a trace. The old man always claimed that he had "seen things" in the house, but when pressured to elaborate, he always refused.

Over the years, there have been many reports of a haunting in the house. All through the various owners, the ghosts remained a constant force. Occupants spoke of hearing heavy boots coming from the third floor, the rattling of chains and screams from the dark attic. Neighbors and passersby also claimed to see two white-faced soldiers in blue uniforms standing at the third-floor window. Both of them were said to be holding a bottle in their hand and singing the words to "John Brown’s Body".

Several incidents took place in 1936, during the period when the house was used a lamp factory. One night, a maintenance man was working there alone. It was just shortly before midnight and he was working on the second floor. To his surprise, a nearby door opened up on its own. As he stood there in shock, the sound of a pair of marching boots stomped into the room with him. Then, a second pair of boots joined the first and the pounding footsteps became almost deafening. Terrified, he scrambled for the staircase as the sound of the boots began to fade away. The footsteps were immediately followed by the spectral sound of drunken laughter and then the refrain of "John Brown’s Body". The maintenance worker claimed to still be able to hear the horrifying voices as he ran down the street. Nothing, including the promise of increased wages, could convince him to return to the house again.

Shortly after taking possession of the house, the owner, Isadore Seelig, arrived at the factory one morning and was nearly killed. He and his brother were standing in the front hall talking when a huge concrete block was hurled at them from the head of the stairs.

"It didn’t fall," Seelig later reported. "It was thrown. It never struck a stair as it came and it landed just where we had been standing. My brother saw it coming and pushed me out of the way. It probably would have killed us if it had hit us."

The two men charged upstairs to find out who was there and discovered the place to be empty. In one area, where the floors had been freshly painted the day before, they found not a single footprint.

"The upper windows and doors were all locked," added Seelig, "and when we went upstairs no one was there, and no one had been there. No such blocks had been used in any of the repairing around here either."

A few years later, when it seemed impossible to keep tenants in the place, the structure was turned into a boarding house for a brief time. A widow rented out one of the second floor rooms and settled in quite comfortably. Everything seemed very quiet for some time until one afternoon when she was sitting by the window with her sewing. She happened to look down and noticed that there was blood on her arm. Thinking that she must have accidentally scratched herself, she wiped the blood away but in an instant, it was back! Before she could wipe it off, another drop of blood appeared on her arm, then another, and another. She quickly looked up and saw the blood was oozing through a crack in the ceiling directly above where she was sitting. As she tried to understand what was happening, she heard an eerie sound coming from the third floor... the faint strains of "John Brown’s Body" being sung by two drunken men!

The widow began to scream and she ran shrieking from the house, never to return. Her relatives later came back and packed up her household for her. They encountered no dripping blood in the house but as they were locking the front door, they claimed to see two soldiers in blue uniforms looking down at them from the attic window.

In the late 1970's, Kathleen and Anthony Jones bought the house with the intention of restoring it. In an interview with authors Richard Winer and Nancy Osborn, they said they had experienced nothing strange at the old place.... but for some reason, they never occupied the house.

Residents of the decaying neighborhood weren't speaking much after the 1970's, but one anonymous witness told an interesting story. He said that the rundown area (near a housing project) had deteriorated to the point that any abandoned house in the neighborhood had become fair game for drug addicts. The house at 1447 became one of these, but within a month, even the addicts had deserted it. They claimed they saw two white men there in "police uniforms" that walked through walls and sang "old timey songs"!

In more recent times, the house was sold to a local sculptor and his family and while they were aware of the haunted history of the house, they never witnessed anything supernatural.

Perhaps the two soldiers have finally found rest....

And then again, perhaps not.

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Copyright 2000 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.