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The History of the Ursuline Convent Deaths

Ursuline Convent

Many people who aren’t from New Orleans aren’t aware of the Ursuline Convent and the subsequent spooky stories surrounding it. Some New Orleans natives themselves may not be aware of the history of the Ursuline Convent deaths. Ursuline is a name you probably hear often living in New Orleans. There’s a school, a street, and of course, the famous convent turned museum. 

Unique NOLA is here to shed a little bit of light on the Ursuline Convent deaths and why it should intrigue you. 

What is the Ursuline Convent?

The Ursuline Convent is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. Completed in 1752, the Ursuline Convent is the oldest example of the French Colonial Period in the US. Catholic nuns arrived to stay at the convent once it was complete. Buildings in the 1700s were made primarily with stucco in order to help them stand up against heat and humidity. However, this tactic failed and the building deteriorated quickly before it was even built. 

In 1742, the building designer Ignace Nicholas Broutin redesigned the building to be built with brick and then covered in stucco so that it kept its institutional appearance. Unfortunately, the building then caught fire in 1788 and 1794. This makes people question its “oldest building” status as it had to be rebuilt after the fires. The fires, however, were not the cause of the Ursuline Convent deaths. By the 1970s the building had fallen into disrepair. In 1976 renovations started in order to uphold the convent’s status as a National Historical Landmark which it received in 1960.  

Who Settled in the Ursuline Convent? 

The first settlers of the convent were mostly prisoners and poor people from France. They were told that if they could reform at the convent they could be sent back to France. The men outnumbered the women tenfold and the women who were around weren’t there looking to have children. The Governor of Louisiana talked to the Nuns and the Nuns wrote to the King of France; this was the start of the suspicious Ursuline Convent deaths. 

What is the Story of The Ursuline Convent Deaths?

Before getting into the women coming over, it should be mentioned that people were dying a lot during this time. The city was rampant with disease and war. Yellow fever was ripping its way through the city giving New Orleans the nickname “City of the Dead”. Health in the city was not great so it was even more shocking when the “casket girls” arrived. 

The King of France was more than happy to send over women and initially sent over around 50 women. The women were only allowed one piece of luggage which in French, they were filles à la cassette, Through word of mouth filles à la cassette got the women dubbed as “casket girls”. The women were, unfortunately, locked under the deck of the ship so they could keep their purity on their voyage to New Orleans. What people didn’t take into account is that the trip took over 3 months. When the women arrived they were Vitamin C deficient and sick with scurvy. Their gums were bleeding, they were incredibly pale and the men thought they were vampires.

The mystery of the casket girls lies in what was in their suitcases, or what wasn’t. When the girls arrived mortality rates skyrocketed, especially infant mortality. Of course, people began to suspect the casket girls and upon opening their suitcases they were mysteriously empty. With the appearance of the girls when they first arrived rumors quickly spread that they used their suitcases to bring vampires to the city. More mystery and chaos ensued but eventually, the women were nursed back to health. However, there’s still a spooky air that surrounds the convent. 

Want to learn more about the Ursuline Convent Deaths?

If you want to learn more about the Ursuline Convent deaths, you need to take a Unique NOLA ghost tour! Consider taking  Our Favorite Ghosts Tour, which has spooky stories like this and more. If you’re looking for a bit more adult-only fun, consider our Lewd Spirits Tour which is perfect for bachelorette parties and has 3 bar stops.  If ghosts aren’t your thing, we also have a true crime tour, perfect for those who are true crime fanatics. 

You’re sure to be in for a treat when you take a Unique NOLA Tour.