Knowing a place also means to know its stories.
Discover the background, listening the tales of the people and knowing characters from the past, almost always men and women, whose actions have in some way influenced the evolution of the surrounding environment.
Great wealth often underestimated by visitors, too busy to photograph and visit more places at the same time.
Try to imagine the stories and events that you can find in a city lived, diverse and multicultural as the old New Orleans. Here every single building, every room, every sacred place and street corner tells about a its small, fascinating and sometimes mysterious fragment.
As the Dauphine Orleans Hotel, a charming vintage place located in the middle of the French Quarter. Not only one of the most distinctive boutique hotels in this area but also one of the oldest. A complex of historic buildings, including an old cottage, which develop along the elegant Dauphine Street, a few steps away from Bourbon Street.
Marc Becker, the director of the New Orleans Hotel Collection, welcomes me like a true gentleman of the past in May Baily’s Place (the cottage that i mentioned before) to tell me, aware of my interest in it, the fascinating history of this place and some unusual presences and appearances connected to it.
It seems that in the 1830s the area of Basin Street, just in the north of the French Quarter, was the area (known as The Scarlet Thread) designated to the brothels and to the unbridled fun, alcohol, women complacent, jazz singers, musicians and wealthy men willing to spend up to $ 50 per night (a considerable amount for the time) to stay with the most popular prostitutes.
In a few years, around 1850, the Red-light District of Basin St. extended it surprisingly until the most famous and renowned streets of French Quarter, Conti, Bourbon, Royal, Toulouse, St. Charles and Dauphine street.
The Brothels and their load of aberrant related activities were virtually everywhere, prostitution had become one of the most lucrative business in this area of the city, reaching such a level of corruption that the New Orleans City Council created a kind of legal treaty in which were designated areas authorized for that type of activity, the necessary licenses for the management and rates.
The whole area was then dubbed Storyville District from Sidney Story, the president of the City Council who worked to regularize this “activity”, that lasted until 1917.
The Dauphine Orleans Hotel was, in the period of Storyville District, a thriving brothel, complete with a license still affixed to the walls of the bar today, managed by a wily Irish girl, May Baily.
She settled in the old cottage and in the adjacent building (which now correspond to the bar and the main hotel) after arriving from Ireland with his family in the 1850s about. Her parents died suddenly, leaving her and the sister Milly in serious straits. So the enterprising May decided to open a brothel, forcing the young sister to share new business.
The story tell that Milly disgusted with that job, fell in love with a young officer, trying to change her life. But it seems that just days before the wedding her boyfriend has committed suicide due to a big gambling debt, leaving her again alone, again at the mercy of the sister.
Marc tells me more about Milly, how then she went crazy and died prematurely, and also the fact that today many people, the staff of the hotel and guests, see her often wander fleetingly in wedding dress, with a long white veil on her head (from here the nickname The Lost Bride) as if searching for something or someone, probably her lost love. It seems that she arrive after a wave of cold air and observe from the windows the people inside the bar or the hotel patio in an attempt to recognize her boyfriend.
Marc adds, with a certain tranquility (supernatural tales in New Orleans are almost on the agenda), which over time there have been other different reports, three people, probably belonging to different eras that often they appear in the rooms above the patio, in the pool area and in the apartments in front, right in the place where i stayed during my stay in the city.
According to those who report having seen them, there is a Civil War soldier, named Eldrige, a young woman dancing on the windows of the patio, her name should be Jewel, and a black man, named Melvill.
Apparently their presences is quiet, almost affectionate.
They appear, whispering words, moving objects and disappear quickly. That they are real or the result of suggestion, are now part of the history and life of the Dauphine Orleans Hotel and it’s impossible not to hear about it at least in the speeches of the staff.
I can confirm, having stayed here for several nights, that the entire structure from the cottage to the patio, to the elegant bedrooms is really very impressive, there is the past, it feels the mystery and the feeling, not at all disturbing, to be never alone.
It’s like to live New Orleans twice, inside its soul, not only in its historical sites but also in its secrets and you can really feel almost in connection with its fashinating past.
If you plan to visit the city and to stay in a special location, or if you’re simply curious to hear other old stories, maybe sitting at the counter of the May Bailey’s Place, hoping to “meet” Milly, i really guess the Dauphine Orleans is the place for you.
What are you waiting for? Enjoy the charming New Orleans!