Thursday, July 4, 2013

The "Ghost" of Muriel's Restaurant

There is so much crap out there being passed off as “accurate” and “authentic” that it is positively galling!  It doesn’t really matter to many tourists who only see New Orleans as a giant theme park and ghost tours are to be enjoyed with Mardi Gras beads (in July), a t-shirt that reads “I Put Ketchup On My Ketchup” (whatever that means!) and a Huge-Ass Beer in hand.  But it does matter to those who are interested in learning about and preserving the amazing history of this amazing city.  Take Muriel’s Restaurant, for example.  Muriel’s has a “Ghost Table” set up at the end of their carriageway which is reserved for the ghost Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan.  Ghost tour guides stand at the doorway, encouraging tourists to peer in while they tell, ad nauseum, how Pierre inherited that building from his father and promptly lost it in a card game leaving his mother homeless for which he committed suicide by  (depending on the tour guide telling the tale) gun shot, hanging, jumping out a window...whatever.  Most of them are telling the tale as they heard it 3rd and 4th hand without even checking Muriel’s version of the story.  Let's have a look at it from their website:

“In 1718 New Orleans was founded and a young French Canadian named Claude Trepagnier was awarded this piece of land for his assistance in the expedition. Trepagnier built a small cottage, which later became a prime piece of property, due to the fact of its proximity of the area that soon became known as Jackson Square during the layout of the Quarter in 1721. Some locals believe that this structure used to hold slaves when they came off the boats, before going up for auction. Although Muriel's carriageway dates back to the late 1700's, and some clairvoyants say that many troubled spirits reside here, this area was said to be where servants were housed in the evening.

“Around 1745 Jean Baptiste Destrehan, a man of great power and wealth considered to be the Royal Treasurer of French Louisiana Colonies, acquired the property. He immediately tore down the humble little cottage and built an elaborate home of grandeur for his family. After his death in 1765 the house was passed down to his son and then sold at an auction when the family money ran out. In 1776 Pierre Phillipe de Marigny purchased the grand residence and used it as one of his "city homes" when he came into town from his plantation on the outskirts of the town, known as the Fauberg Marigny area today.

“On March 21, 1788, the Great New Orleans Fire started on Good Friday and burned 856 of the 1,100 structures in the French Quarter, including the city’s main church, original Cabildo, the municipal building, the army barracks, armory, and jail. During the tragedy, a portion of Pierre Phillipe de Marigny’s mansion was burnt.

“During the next decade, the city of New Orleans was in a rebuilding process, trying to recover from the fire that swept the French Quarter. The Spanish replaced what was left of the wooden buildings with thick brick walled structures that included courtyards, arcades, and wrought iron balconies. Among the new buildings in Jackson Square were the St. Louis Cathedral, The Cabildo, The Presbytere and a piece of property Mr. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan purchased from Marigny. 

“Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan built his dream home restoring it to the original grandeur, for his family and himself. Although Jourdan dearly adored his beautiful home, he was a man that could never quench his thirst for the thrill and excitement of gambling. In 1814 he wagered his beloved home in a poker game and crushingly lost the one thing he treasured most in life. The shock of the loss was so intense, before having to vacate the premises and hand over his beloved treasure, he tragically committed suicide on the second floor in the area that served as the slave quarters-the same area where Muriel’s Seance Lounges are situated today.

“Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan is still with us today in spiritual form on the same piece of property that is now Muriel’s. His ghost doesn't appear in human form, but instead as a glimmer of sparkly light wandering around the lounge. Our Seance Lounges on the second floor are named as such because it is believed that this is where Jourdan spends the majority of his time. Patrons and employees of Muriel’s have also witnessed objects being moved around throughout the restaurant. We believe Mr. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan never left his true love and home in New Orleans, he continues to reside here to this day.”

Let’s rip this one to shreds, shall we?
            Slaves were not housed in the building when they came off the ships; slave ships docked across the river in Algiers at an encampment for slaves where they recovered from the hellish voyage and learned the trades necessary to begin servitude.  Furthermore they were not auctioned at that time - they were the property of the king and simply purchased from the Company of the Indies which had control of the colony. The earliest known house on the lot was, indeed, a small house built circa 1735 and described as “a house roofed with bark shingles, having a brick chimney, front gallery and bricked between posts, sheathed in ship-lap siding twenty-seven or twenty-eight feet in length."  The description is very similar to the house we know as “Madame John’s Legacy,” (only smaller - 1/4 the length of Madame John's) and very typical of French colonial architecture.   Destrehan did acquire the property but not necessarily in 1745.  We don't know exactly when he became the owner due to missing records. It can be assumed (without certainty) that he acquired it around that time period but we do know that he owned it at the time of his death in 1765 when he passed it to his son.  There is no description of the property and no way of knowing if the house was the small one built by Trepagnier or if Destrehan built "an elaborate home of grandeur for his family."
           In 1776 Pierre de Marigny did, indeed, purchase the property from Jean Baptiste Destrehan, who sold it at auction.  By 1785 Marigny has replaced it with a larger house described as "The said house is separated into or divided into a drawing room, five bedrooms, three cabinets, a kitchen downstairs, and a coach-house with a kitchen."  Muriel’s history is correct in the 1788 fire, but not only did Pierre Jourdan not  purchase the house from Marigny, it was no longer Marigny’s to sell.  He sold it in 1785 (before the fire) to Antonio Ramos.  Ramos, you will notice, is not even mentioned in Muriel’s history and it was he, not Marigny, who sold it to Pierre Jourdan a year after the 1788 fire.
            However, the Pierre Jourdan who purchased the home was not the Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan named in the history of Muriel’s.  It was his father, Pierre Jourdan, pere. (Senior.)
            Between 1789 and 1824 the house described above was replaced with “a house of brick with a ground floor and other buildings.”  So now, the building on the corner is a single story and remained so until it was razed sometime between 1890 - 1900 to construct the building which now houses Muriel’s.  Their history claims that their carriageway dates back to the 1700’s; a claim that has absolutely no basis in fact.
            But the Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan story gets more interesting and a bit murkier.  (And VERY confusing!  Try to keep up.)  In 1824 Pierre Jourdan, pere, died and left the house to his daughter, Rosalie, and his two sons Pierre, fils, (junior) and Barthelemy.  When Junior, sis and brother, Barthelemy, inherited the house from their father, Junior and Rosalie were already deceased!  And it gets even better.  The widower of the late Rosalie Jourdan was Manuel de Hoa who claimed power of attorney for his wife, the daughter of Pierre Jourdan, pere.  Actually, the house was left to Pierre, fils, Barthelemy and Manuel de Hoa (as Power of Attorney for Rosalie Jourdan de Hoa).  However, Manuel de Hoa was completely unauthorized to claim Power of Attorney for his wife.  (It’s a long and complicated Napoleonic Code situation - don’t ask.)   Therefore much of Rosalie’s estate was thrown into a confusing situation of who owned what and when and where and how and why.
            In the end, though, it didn’t really matter because Manuel de Hoa was also dead by the time the inheritance went down.
            So.....whaaaaaaat?
            Ok, let me clear it up - here’s what we have - Pierre Jourdan, Sr., purchases the property from Antoinio Ramos and does NOT lose the house as a gambling debt.  Pierre Jourdan, Sr., dies (not from suicide) and leaves the property to Pierre Jourdan, Jr., deceased; Manuel de Hoa, deceased (as illegal Power of Attorney for his wife, Rosalie Jourdan de Hoa, deceased) and Barthelemy Jourdan who was the only Jourdan left alive in this huge cast of characters.  So, how can a dead person leave an inheritance to dead people?  Well, when people die and a will isn’t changed then one estate inherits another estate and it’s up to the executors to piece it all together and deal with it.  And deal with it they did - the property was sold to the über-rich philanthropist, Julien Poydras who owned it for about a year and sold it to the next link in a very long chain which has nothing to do with gambling, suicides or scandals.
            And the building, itself?  Well, by the 1880’s or ‘90’s the single-story building on the lot (pictured below) was an annex of the Absinthe House on Bourbon street.  (Which is, by the way, the oldest bar in the city - the Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop story will have to wait until another time.)  That building was razed and the present structure was built circa 1900 and by 1916 it was a pasta factory well into the 1960’s owned by the Taomina family.  As people rolled, cut and dried spaghetti, there was no talk of ghosts.  I know people who were employed there and they never felt ghostly presences or experienced the supernatural or paranormal.  Later (1974) it became the Chart House Steakhouse which operated until 2000.  I have spoken with employees of the Chart House and at no time did anyone ever feel a sensation of being in a haunted property.  By 2000 the "ghosts" of New Orleans made for big business. It was then that the building was remodeled into a quasi-goth appearance with a goth logo, a room designated “The Séance Lounge” and a ghost table for a man who had nothing to do with the property placed in a carriageway for all ghost tourists to see.  What better way to draw attention to your restaurant than to trump up a ghost and have hoards of tourists standing right there, peering in and a tour guide giving free advertisement?  Muriel’s is a fabulous restaurant.  One of my favorites.  Too bad their reputation needs a fictitious ghost rather than standing solely upon the merit of their cuisine and service.

7 comments:

  1. THANK YOU! Someone who actually does Research, and yes I laughed at the "(Which is, by the way, the oldest bar in the city - the Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop story will have to wait until another time.)" That is such BS and I never tell anyone that on a tour! Great article, thank you!

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  2. I am a little confused about the picture at the bottom of this piece. If present day Muriel's is directly across the street from the Presbytere, how can the single story annex to the Absinthe House possibly occupy the same space? What am I missing?

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    1. I think I figured it out. That is the Pontalba building across the street, presently housing Stanley?

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  3. We are looking down St. Anne toward CdM - the Presbytere is not in the picture but would be on the right if it was.

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  4. Well, history or not, I took two pics of "Antoine's Table", this past Saturday, and caught a very defined photo of an apparition. Now, it was obviously a POC, and not Antoine or any other dead white guy, but there was no one in that photo when I took it, other than the lady eating at the table, and she was completely oblivious to whomever it was standing there in my photo. I took two photos. Nothing in the first, and a very obvious male frame, in the second, with defined feet and an arm. No head, and the body was fuzzy, but.....and I got all sorts of orb photos and wrote those off as dust on my camera, so it takes a lot to impress me. Whoever the apparition was, I do not know, but he was definitely there! I've just been defining him as risidual energy. My friend and I DID mention that "Antoine's Table" was one hell of a way to make some extra cash though! LOL

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    1. PixiePie, I too have a clearly defined photo from that same spot! In mine, you can see the top half of a man, his hat, head, and shoulders clearly defined. I'd love to see your picture!

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  5. I have a photo taken from that same spot of a fully body apparition of a woman in a wedding gown. If you would like to see it you can email me at pow617@aol.com. I would love to see yours!!

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