A golden ghost haunts the rooftop of a famous French Quarter art studio.
It was a dark and stormy night … And as legend has it, a smitten young woman trying to prove her love died of exposure on a French Quarter rooftop. Since that fateful winter night, her golden ghost, without a stitch of clothing on, haunts the rooftop, shivering and pacing through the night before collapsing just before dawn.
The story goes that in the 1850s, the stately brick building at 734 Royal St. belonged to a well-to-do Uptown businessman and widower who owned many slaves. One of these was a stunning, hazel-eyed octoroon named Julie, who it was said fell madly in love with her master. He did not return her affection but was happy to cruelly continue to accept her favors.
Of course, that’s just one version of the story.
Other more modern and romantic versions cast Julie as a classy girl of mixed blood and her beloved as a Creole gentleman named Zachary who returned her affection but couldn’t marry her for fear of scandal.
The two carried on their affair with Julie stashed out of sight on the third floor while her beloved entertained his society friends below, including another woman of whom his family and society would approve. Julie understandably grew weary of this arrangement and began getting more and more insistent that her gentleman make an honest woman of her. It was said she even sought out the famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau for help in the matter.
Finally, one December evening during a fancy ball, Julie demanded her lover marry her. The cruel widower/besotted gentleman agreed — with one caveat: She must remove her clothes and walk on the roof until morning. If she did this, he would make her his wife.
Basically, he was being a jerk.
Never believing she would go through with the dare, he settled in for an evening of chess with a friend as the weather outside deteriorated, with whipping winds and a driving, cold rain. Lovelorn Julie, however, stripped as instructed and climbed the narrow wooden stairs to the slanted roof, where she braved the nasty weather, trying to win her nuptials.
She did not survive the night. The man she loved found her the next morning dead from the cold, her corpse still clinging to the brick chimney.
Pause for Science
Stop right there, you say. You can’t “freeze” to death in a New Orleans rainstorm, even on the rare occasion it drops below 50 degrees.
And yet you can.
Hypothermia sets in when one’s body temperature falls below 95 degrees, which it can do from prolonged exposure to temperatures as high as 50 degrees, especially (as with our poor Julie) if the person is wet since water absorbs heat 25 times faster than air. That’s #Science.
The winter following her tragic demise, Julie began to appear on the rooftop and has continued to appear on cold December nights ever since. The ghost of Julie is described not as a pale, wispy Casper-esque phantom, but a slender, golden apparition, naked except for a pair of gold hoop earrings. She paces along the ledge of the roof for hours on end, seeming to try to ward off the cold before finally collapsing as dawn approaches. She is one of the few naked ghosts to be found in North America.
Subsequent owners of the house reported that in addition to the sightings of Julie on the roof, footsteps could be heard coming from Julie’s former chamber and that an ethereal chessboard would sometimes appear on cold, stormy nights in the master bedroom. The ghostly figure of a man dressed in 19th-century garb is sometimes seen in the windows or wandering the courtyard.
In 2009, the Rodrigue Art Gallery of famed “Blue Dog” artist George Rodrigue moved from across the street into the building. Coincidentally, in the 1980s, Rodrigue had painted “A Night Alone,” a beguiling portrait of (a clothed) Julie as she sat by the chimney on the roof of the building where she would eventually die. It was part of the artist’s “Bayou” collection of 40 paintings exploring Louisiana myths and legends, and was the only painting Rodrigue ever set in the French Quarter. While Julie is said to visit other parts of the building during the warmer months, she has yet to visit the gallery itself, according to an employee.
So on a winter’s night when the wind and the rain lash the rooftops of the French Quarter, raise your head from Royal Street and try to catch a glimpse of poor Julie as she tries in vain to win her cruel wager. And for goodness sake, put on a jacket; You’ll catch your death.
Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary’s Guide to Hauntings, Horrors, and Dancing with the Dead. Weiser Books: Newburyport, MA, 2016
deLavigne, Jeanne. Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans. Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, LA, 1946
Rettner, Rachael. How Does A Person Freeze To Death? Live Science, January 30, 2019. https://www.livescience.com/6008-person-freeze-death.html Consulted January 2020
Rodrigue, Wendy. Musings of an Artist’s Wife: A Brief History of the New Rodrigue Gallery. September 11, 2009. http://www.wendyrodrigue.com/2009/09/ Consulted January 2020
Schlosser, S.E. Spooky New Orleans. Globe Pequot: Guilford, CT, 2016
Stuart, Bonnye. Haunted New Orleans. Morris Book Publishing: Guilford, CT, 2012