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 guests.
“In other places, culture comes down from on high. In New Orleans, it bubbles up from the streets.” – Ellis Marsalis