New Orleans, a city draped in gothic tales and terrifying legends, is home to countless haunted places and paranormal hotspots. A popular story that has emerged is none other than the historic Old Ursuline Convent, an enigmatic structure wrapped in the legend of the “Casket Girls.”
As the tale unfolds, these young French woman emerged as central figures in a haunting saga that whispers of vampires lurking in the shadows of New Orleans. This article takes a look into the history of the covent and takes a deep dive into the mystery of the Casket girls, and its relation to the vampires.
History of Old Ursuline Covent
The Ursuline Convent’s story in New Orleans began in 1727 when nuns from the Ursuline Convent of Rouen, Normandy, were requested by Governor Étienne Perier to establish a convent in the city. Their mission was multifaceted, including running a hospital and educating young girls. The first building for the convent was designed by Ignace François Broutin in 1727, and construction was completed by 1734.
By 1745, plans for a new, more resilient building made of brick were underway, again under the guidance of Broutin. This new convent, finished by 1753, was adjacent to the original site, with some materials from the first building being recycled.
In 1824, the Ursuline nuns moved to a new location, and the convent building was repurposed for various uses, including serving as the “Archbishop’s Palace”, an infirmary, and an orphanage. It was later used as offices for the Archdiocese and a rectory for St. Mary’s Church.
The convent survived two fires that struck the French Quarter and 1788 and 1794. On both occasions, the building was undamaged by the raging fire that sweeped across the streets of the neighbourhood.
Today, the Old Ursuline Convent is widely considered to be the finest surviving example of French colonial public architecture in the U.S., and is often cited as the oldest structure in New Orleans.
Arrival of the Casket Girls
In 1728, a group of young French women arrived in New Orleans, clutching coffin-shaped cassettes containing their belongings. Handpicked by the Bishop of Quebec for marriage to French colonists, these women, known as the Filles a la Cassette, were placed under the care of the Ursuline nuns.
Their pale complexions and the peculiar shape of their cassettes fueled rumors and whispers among the townsfolk, with some suspecting them to be more than mere mortals.
Legends of the Vampires
The myth of the Casket Girls as Vampires emerged in the early twentieth century. The legend originated from an incident when the belongings of the Casket Girls—stored on the third floor of the Ursuline Covent—were mysteriously empty.
This discovery, combined with the sealed windows and doors of the third floor supposedly secured with nails blessed by the Pope, ignited rumors of vampirism.
Over the years, the rumors were perpetuated by visitors of the Covent who sought to venture onto the third for a glimpse of the mysterious caskets. When Old Ursuline Covent became a tourist attraction, the legend was perpetuated by tour guides, captivating tourists with the macabre idea of blood-draining vampires locked away in the convent.
Myth vs Reality
Despite the enthralling nature of this legend, reality paints a different picture. Investigations into the third floor of the convent reveal that it contains nothing more than archival records and other storage items.
The supposed vampire-proofing of the floor, including the blessed nails and sealed windows, is likely a fabrication. In truth, the louvered windows on this floor are modern hurricane shutters installed in recent years.
Visiting Old Ursuline Covent
The Old Ursuline Convent, an iconic historical and religious landmark in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a testament to the city’s rich past. As such, it is now a popular tourist attraction in the French Quarter.
Here are the details you should know if you are looking to visit the convent:
- Location: 1112 Chartres Street, Historic French Quarter, New Orleans, LA.
- Hours: Open Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.
- Admission Fees: General admission is $8.00, $7.00 for seniors, and $6.00 for students/military.
For those intrigued by the legend and wishing to explore more, the Old Ursuline Convent is one of the stops in the Ghost of New Orlean Tour by Ghost City Tours. These tours provide a closer look at the haunted history and eerie stories associated with this historic site, allowing visitors to delve deeper into the lore of the Casket Girls and other New Orleans’ ghost tales.