Louisiana Supreme Court Building
The Louisiana Supreme Court hosts the highest judicial order in the state. Even though Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana, the Supreme Court meets in the French Quarter, right in the heart of New Orleans. The building is known for its beautiful architecture, with its terra cotta Beaux-Arts style blending in with the architecture of the Vieux Carré. Ironically, the building was hated when it was first built, being called an eyesore. The facility hosts not just the Chief Justices of the state, but also the Law Library, the Attorney General, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, among several other offices. Even though it’s considered one of the city’s gems, it remained neglected for decades. All of the legal offices had vacated the building in the 1940s, and it wasn’t until a restoration project in the 90s that brought the building back to life. Today, the Louisiana Supreme Court is known for being haunted. Legends say that two witnesses to a crime were shot dead during a court hearing in the 1930s somewhere inside the building. They say the mafia was behind the murders. The ghosts of the two witnesses still live on the premises. The staff have reported phantom footsteps in and around the courtroom where they were murdered. They can usually be heard echoing through the halls late at night when the building is empty. The ghost of a lawyer also lives in the building. He’s the most encountered ghost in the courthouse, and he can be seen wearing a beige suit and a briefcase. Those who have witnessed his apparition say that he always seems to be in a hurry, and usually vanishes after going through a door or turning a corner. Experts speculate that he’s the ghost of a lawyer who shot himself in the courthouse after losing a big case.
The site where the Supreme Court now sits was once a popular market district known as Exchange Alley. The square was once lined with the offices of politicians and lawyers, but over time, had earned quite a seedy reputation. The area became abandoned and rundown. Pirates, bootleggers, and shady merchants used the alley to peddle their wares. Fights, stabbings, and murders were common.
Still, the people of New Orleans loved their dark little square, so when the Louisiana Supreme Court announced their decision to raze Exchange Alley, the public was outraged. Some saw the action as an attempt to reclaim a lost neighborhood, but most felt like they were losing a part of their history. When the alley was demolished, the Daily Picayune reported that Exchange Alley was one of “the most historic sites in New Orleans.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court
Before the new Supreme Court Building was erected in 1910, the courts operated out several buildings around New Orleans. Their original location was in the Government House, until 1820 when they moved to the Presbytere and Cabildo buildings on Jackson Square. In the late 1800s, it had become apparent that the Supreme Court needed a new headquarters, as the Cabildo had become crowded and outdated. The Louisiana Bar motioned to have a new building erected, and they got to work looking for a suitable location.
The original plan was to demolish the Cabildo and the Presbytere, but that caused a massive public backlash. They then planned to renovate the St. Louis Exchange Hotel until they settled on the area around Exchange Alley. While the plan did cause some public outcry, it was much less so than their plan to demolish Jackson Square. Exchange Alley had long become rundown, and the fact that it was once home to several politicians and lawmakers made it a fitting location for the new Supreme Court Building. Demolition of the alley began in 1903.
The new Louisiana Supreme Court was completed in 1910, and the first session in the building was held in October of the same year. The building also held several state offices like the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Attorney General’s Office.
The Beaux-Arts style and terra cotta sculptures might be looked at with wonder today, but the Supreme Court Building was considered an eyesore when it was completed. It was called an “intrusion” and an “artistic loss” by locals and the media. Architect Charles Harris Whitaker called it “one of the worst examples of a public building to be found in all of America.”
The lack of appreciation could be what caused its downfall. In the 1940s, the lack of public funding made the Supreme Court Building a difficult place to work. The building was not being maintained and had begun to fall into disrepair. Several government offices decided to relocate. The Louisiana Supreme Court moved to the Civic Center in 1948. The building remained mostly abandoned for decades, though the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife continued to operate in the building until 1982.
The possibility of renovating the Royal Street building began to circulate amongst lawyers and politicians in the 80s and 90s. The idea gathered steam, and the Louisiana Historical Society was founded in 1992 to lead the charge. Over the next few years, the organization secured funding and began restorations. By 2004, the building was complete, and the Louisiana Supreme Court moved back to Royal Street. One by one, the offices that had vacated the building decades earlier had begun to move back in.
The Ghosts of the Louisiana Supreme Court
Nearly every building in New Orleans is haunted, but oftentimes we don’t expect government offices to have ghosts. But in the Big Easy, nothing is impossible. While the Supreme Court building doesn’t do ghost tours, numerous employees and staff can corroborate the ghostly tales of the grand building on Royal Street. They say that at least four spirits live in the building, though there may be many more. Since it’s a government building, getting inside to investigate and search for paranormal activity is quite tricky, and probably illegal.
The most encountered ghost in the Supreme Court Building is that of a lawyer. According to local lore, the man lost a huge case sometime in the 1950s, and shot himself inside the building out of grief. His ghost has lived on Royal Street every since. Those who have seen the lawyer say that he wears a beige suit and carries a briefcase. He always seems to be in a hurry and is often seen walking the halls at a brisk pace. He is known to walk through walls and disappear around corners while on the way to his phantom court case. Some even claim to have seen him outside the courthouse, walking through the street as if he just left the building.
In the 1930s, a murder case involving the mafia was taking place in the courthouse. In an attempt to save one of their own, two of the witnesses were shot dead in the courtroom by one of the mafioso’s gangsters. The ghosts of the two witnesses live on in the Supreme Court building. While they prefer to remain unseen, many claim to have heard their phantom footsteps stomping around the courthouse. Noises echo through the halls of the building, and it’s quite daunting to hear someone walking around when the place is empty. The witnesses tend to appear at night after the staff have long clocked out.
The ghost of a young woman hangs out right outside of the building. She is often seen sobbing on the steps of the Supreme Court. Nobody knows who she is, and there aren’t any records that identify who she might be. Some witnesses claimed to feel her reach out to them after seeing her apparition.
Want more haunted New Orleans?
The Big Easy is known for its haunts. While there are plenty of spooky hotspots around New Orleans, sometimes ghosts just appear while walking down the street. It’s part of the city’s soul. But if you want to visit some of the city’s scariest frights, make sure to bring some extra shorts, because the spirits in New Orleans can be a bit rowdy. Loyola University is a Jesuit college with a bloody history. The school has seen suicides, exorcisms, and even a visit from Satan himself. While the students of Loyola have grown accustomed to the haunts, some still walk at a brisk pace through the courtyard late at night to avoid ghostly encounters. The Beauregard Keyes House was the site of a triple murder involving the mafia. According to some reports, strange spirits in the house drove one of the previous residents mad, causing him to run naked down the street with an ax. Speaking of axes, the Axman of New Orleans kept the city on edge in the early 1900s. He wielded his trusty ax with impunity, hacking away at his victims until they were nothing but a bloody mess. Want to visit the Big Easy? Don’t forget to read up on the top ten most haunted spots in the city right here!