The Sultan of 716 Dauphine

The following article is presented for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research and is not a final authority on the subject. 

Welcome to Freaky Friday.  Today, we’re journeying to the wilds of New Orleans.  Buckle up because today’s show has murder, mayhem…and ghosts.

One look at 716 Dauphine, and I’m transported to another era.  It’s a beautiful building.  The wrought iron balconies wrap around it like intricate lace.  The open shutters beg me to peek inside.  The legend keeps me coming back, even if it’s just on my blog.

716 Dauphine Street was built in 1836. In 1939 Jean Baptist Le Prete, who owned a plantation in Plaquemines Parish, purchased it as a winter home for he and his family.

Back in the heyday of Louisiana Plantation society, wealthy families often had a home in town which they used for entertaining during the fall and winter months. During the summers, they’d move back to their plantations to oversee their moneymaking crop.

An early rendering of Jackson Square from a 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly

Le Prete decided to rent his city home. Some accounts say he did this because the house was going to sit empty, so why not make money off it? Some accounts claim Le Prete was hurting financially. Either way, legend has it that he rented the home at 716 Dauphine to a Turkish man.

Again, accounts vary at this point. Some say the tenant was deposed far eastern royalty. This version of the legend goes on to say the renter was the brother of a Sultan.  The sultan’s brother had absconded with the Sultan’s treasures and was on the run.  Still other accounts paint the tenant as a wealthy Turkish merchant.

All I’ve been able to figure out for sure is this: if the Turkish tenant existed, his name has been lost to the passage of time.

All accounts agree that the tenant of 716 Dauphine took occupancy of the house with a huge entourage in tow. Most accounts place numerous beautiful maidens in the entourage. The maidens, of course, were the Turk’s harem. Other accounts include eunuchs and scimitar-weilding guards who stood on opposite sides of the front door.

The Turk and his entourage entertained noisily, but kept their partying inside 716 Dauphine Street. The neighbors could only speculate about the scandalous orgies taking place behind the walls. One day, the party stopped.

Accounts again separate at this point. In some versions, a river of blood ran beneath the locked iron gates. In other versions, a passerby scented the unforgettable odor of death escaping the mansion. All stories agree that the house was investigated.

Inside the house, the most gruesome murder scene imaginable was found. Body parts were strewn everywhere. Blood had pooled and congealed on the floors. The corpses were so mutilated, they were unrecognizable…except for one.

The Turk—aka The Sultan—had been buried alive in the courtyard.

Nobody knows whodunit. One speculation is that the real Sultan found his errant brother and punished him.

Another is that the crew of the ship that brought the Sultan and his entourage into New Orleans noted the opulence of their belongings and returned to rob the residents of 716 Dauphine.

As the legend goes, the murder went unsolved. That’s scarier anyway.

So…the haunting.

At some point, the house was broken up into apartments.

A tenant who lived at 716 Dauphine in the 1950s saw a man in her apartment on two separate occasions. Both times, she was puzzled at how he’d gotten into her apartment so soundlessly.  She always kept the door locked, and she neither heard a key turn in the lock nor found the lock broken.

After seeing the stranger in her room at night, the female tenant fled her apartment. When she returned to get her things—to move elsewhere—she heard a long scream that ended in a gurgle. This tenant didn’t think of ghosts at the time, but she later saw a newspaper article featuring the Sultan story and believed she had seen the Sultan.

The wife of the man who owned 716 Dauphine in the 1970s claimed they never had tenants leave because of ghosts. She did say, however, that she saw something odd.

She awoke one night from sleeping and felt something odd about the room. At the foot of her bed, she glimpsed the figure of a man. When she turned on her bedside lamp, no one was there.

The origin of the story–the massacre of the Sultan and his entourage–is shaky.  I was unable to dig up any actual documentation about it.  However, the original owners, the Le Prete family, had their share of tragedy.  Perhaps the ghost belongs to one of them.  Or perhaps it’s something even more sinister.

716 Dauphine Street is one of the few places in New Orleans I wanted to go inside but never had the chance.  Every time I visited, it was an apartment building.  The architecture is hauntingly beautiful, and it holds a favorite spot in my New Orleans memories.

Sources:

Gardette/Le Prete House (The Sultan’s Palace)

“Life with an ‘Exotic Ghost’” by Lorena Dureau, Feb. 11, 1979, The Times-Picayune

New Orleans City Guide 1938

History of the Sultan’s Palace

Note: The oldest existence I was able to find of the “Sultan” story is from a volume of folklore/fairy tales dating back to 1922. Legends of Louisiana by Helen Pitken Shertz reads more like fiction than folklore. It is available for free download here.