The intrigue of Storyville will always define
the fanciful life of Dauphine Orleans Hotel, even 100 years later. Tucked
within Faubourg Treme near
the French Quarter, the
hotel harbors secret stories of the infamous Storyville District and the bordello
known as May Bailey’s Place. Throw in some tall tales of saucy Madams, gaunt soldiers
and Civil War ghosts, and the line between past and present quickly dissipates.
Dauphine Orleans sits in the heart of the former
Storyville district, created by Alderman Sidney Story in the late 1800s as a
way to cordon off the prolific prostitution trade in New Orleans. Much to the
lawman’s chagrin, his surname lent the perfect moniker for this raging new
red-light district where prostitution was legal for about 20 years. Rowdy
characters with names like Red Light Liz and Fanny Sweet entertained the city’s
elite clientele with only slight attempts at discretion.
Madam May Bailey
And then there was the lovely May Bailey. Today’s
Dauphine Orleans encompasses the original May Bailey’s Place, her lively and beloved
Storyville brothel. But rather than sweep its past under a well-worn rug, the
hotel proudly embraces its deep roots in New Orleans infamy. A subtle red light
graces a courtyard leading to the 1820s French Creole cottage now housing the
hotel’s bar, aptly name May Bailey’s Place.
Having drinks at May Bailey’s is more like stepping
into a Victorian lounge draped in dainty white curtains, plush red rugs and a
vintage-style parlor piano – with an occasional seated skeleton poised to
tickle the ivories. Portraits of former madams line the interior walls, created
by photojournalist E.J. Cellocq, an aristocratic Creole artist who slipped into
Storyville to capture the everyday lives of the notorious ladies. Hotel guests
with a keen eye will even spy May Bailey’s original “sporting house” operating
license from 1857 while sipping a Pimm’s Cup or Bloody Mary.
Herman House Courtyard
Like its bar, the Dauphine Orleans Hotel has
an inherent complexity. Spanning more than 100 guest rooms throughout multiple
structures, the hotel encompasses a Main House, an 18th-century Carriage House,
and the 14-room Herman House Courtyard. The Federal Style structure of Herman
House features stone fireplaces, Pecky cypress, brick and pine beams dating
back to the meticulous original owner, a wealthy banking and real estate
magnate who eventually lost his fortune in the Cotton Crash of 1837.
The elegant Herman House later devolved into
a notoriously crime-ridden prostitution den known as The White Elephant. In
contrast to the gracious Madam of May Bailey’s Place, hardened ladies-of-the-evening
such as criminal Eliza Riddle inhabited The White Elephant. Violence, theft and
murder lend credence to more than a few torrid tales of ghostly guests who
wander the grounds.
The Spirits of Dauphine Orleans
But spirit-filled legends abound in all the
buildings and sleeping quarters of Dauphine Orleans Hotel, some friendlier than
others. May Bailey and her younger sister Millie had become destitute after
their father died during the yellow fever epidemic in 1847, leading to May’s
life as a madam 10 years later. Millie lived at the bordello as well but was
desperate to escape the sordid lifestyle and finally became happily engaged to
a Confederate soldier.
On the day of their wedding, her soldier was
shot dead, leaving Millie waiting forlornly in her carefully hand-sewn wedding
dress. She reportedly roamed the bordello in her wedding dress for years
afterward, mourning until her own death. Guests of the hotel today claim to
catch glimpses of the “Lost Bride” standing outside May Bailey’s Place bar in a
lacy dress, still awaiting the return of her soldier.
Other visitors relate seeing a man dressed in
a dark Confederate soldier’s uniform haunting the same courtyard. But he’s not
the only military spirit. One of the Dauphine Orleans buildings reportedly
housed a convent used as a medical facility for injured Civil War soldiers,
many who died on the spot. Employees and travelers alike report seeing whispy
faint images of soldiers and madams dancing in the moonlight near the carriage
house and courtyards.
A section of the hotel’s Herman House
property belongs to the Hermann-Grima House Museum, once a film location for
Season Three of “American Horror Story.” It
also holds a Mourning Ceremony every October for The Widow Grima who died in
the home and is said to float through on occasion, leaving a scent of roses.
Other inhabiting spirits include slaves once living on the land, as well as
those of occupying Union soldiers. Their ghosts hang out near the stairwell,
which still bears bullet holes from rambunctious target practice sessions.
Cities of the Dead
It’s no surprise that infamy lives in a hotel
complex like Dauphine Orleans, whether it’s documented tales of Storyville or
whisperings of lost love and lingering apparitions. New Orleans is considered
one of the most haunted cities in America, and residents seem just fine with
that. With a location just minutes from the centuries-old French Quarter,
voodoo havens, Marie Laveau’s
grave and the above-ground Cities of the Dead cemeteries, the Dauphine knows
that its resident “neighbors” may be just as transitory as its overnight
“In other places, culture comes down from on high. In New Orleans, it bubbles up from the streets.” – Ellis Marsalis