Know Your NOLA, Museums/Exhibits

Haunted NOLA: Horror and Hauntings in Historic French Quarter Pharmacy

For over a decade, Dr. Louis Dupas plied his ghastly experiments

For centuries, doctors have been taught that one of the main rules of their profession is to first do no harm. A certain 19th century New Orleans pharmacist must not have been in class that day, and his horrific behavior appears to have doomed him to forever haunt his former pharmacy at 514 Chartres Street.

The building at 514 Chartres Street is currently the home of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum but once was where pharmacist Dr. James Dupas is said to have killed or maimed his patients with his unethical experiments. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

The History of the Pharmacy

The French Quarter building the phantom pharmacist haunts is actually a New Orleans historical treasure. It was here that French immigrant Louis Dufhilo, the nation’s first licensed pharmacist, opened shop in 1823. As medical knowledge advanced in the early 1800’s, Louisiana Gov. William Claiborne passed a law that ended the slipshod and often deadly practice that allowed anyone with a six-month apprenticeship under their belt to mix and dispense medication to the unsuspecting public. Under the new law, pharmacists had to pass a three-hour oral examination by professionals in order to be licensed to mix and dispense medicine.

Dr. Dupas has been seen wandering through the museum, rearranging locked displays, throwing books and opening cabinets. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

Dr. Dufhilo was the first to pass the test that he took inside the Cabildo in 1816. He subsequently opened a pharmacy on Toulouse Street before moving to the Chartres Street building a few years later. All went well (for a while) as the good doctor experimented with new and more effective medicines, including his development of quinine to battle the scourge of yellow fever, the disease that killed one in six New Orleanians including Dufhilo’s own brother.

A photo of Dr. Louis Dufhilo, the country’s first licensed pharmacist, on the wall of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

In 1855, after over three decades of benevolent works, Dufhilo returned to France (and promptly died), and one Dr. James Dupas took over the Chartres Street building and hung out his shingle.

And since you read the opening paragraph, you know it all goes horrifically off the rails from here on out…

Dr. James Dupas’ Horrifying Experiments

From the start, Dr. Dupas engaged in all manner of unethical and experimental pharmacology, mixing tonics of dubious efficacy and over-prescribing medicines with mysterious ingredients or highly addictive components such as cocaine and heroin. As if that weren’t bad enough, he performed medical experiments of ambiguous purpose using razor-sharp drills, scissors and scalpels.

Pregnant women have reported feeling nauseated and experiencing abdominal cramps on the second floor where Dr. Dupas performed experiments on pregnant slave women. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

His experiments on pregnant slaves were said to be particularly diabolical as he furnished the women drugs with origins in voodoo or which employed poisons resulting in the birth defects, miscarriages and even the death of both baby and mother.

Neighbors began to buzz about patients seen entering the building and never exiting. To cover his crimes, it was theorized that Dupas used a low double door that opened from the second floor onto the carriageway below as a means to pass the bodies of his victims into a waiting wagon, or to allow the corpses of the poor souls to be buried in the courtyard behind the building. One source says that when questioned about his missing patients Dr. Dupas suggested that they had moved back to France.

The second floor doors above the carriageway through which it is rumored Dr. Dupas secretly passed the bodies of his ex-patients. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

For over a decade, Dr. Dupas plied his ghastly experiments until he was driven mad and struck down by syphilis in 1867. His crimes came to light when workers unearthed the remains of many missing patients in the courtyard, but the doctor had already escaped earthly justice.

A treatment for syphilis on display at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, a treatment which arrived many years too late to save Dr. Dupas from madness and death. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

The Pharmacy Today And Its Haunting

Today, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum occupies the Chartres Street building which has been restored into a splendid recreation of Dr. Dufhilo’s shop, with glass and mahogany cabinets displaying original mortar and pestles, glass medicine bottles, and all manner of instruments and implements of 19th century pharmacology and medicine, including a jar marked “leeches.”

But there is also an unwelcome fixture, that of a stocky, short, mustachioed ghost of late middle-age man wearing a brown suit under a white lab coat who roams his former pharmacy, opening cabinets, throwing books, looking into bottles, rearranging locked displays and frequently setting off the burglar alarm. He has frequently been seen on the curving stairway that connects the back of the shop to the second floor. People have reported feeling a ghostly shove from behind as they walk the creaking, wooden stairs.

People report feeling a ghostly shove from the evil Dr. Dupas as they climb the stairs to the second floor where he performed his horrific experiments. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

Women who are pregnant have reported feeling nauseated or experiencing abdominal cramps when in the second-floor rooms where Dupas was said to perform his dark experiments on pregnant slaves. Today, the second floor features a display of vintage obstetrical instruments and displays.

Back down in the courtyard, you can look up to the second floor and see the green doors through which the doctor is rumored to have passed the bodies of his unfortunate patients. The ghost of a female has been reported standing by the fountain at the back of the courtyard, perhaps one of the many victims buried in the courtyard out of sight of suspicious neighbors.

A fountain at the back of the courtyard where the ghost of a female has been sighted. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum doesn’t go out of its way to hype the deadly deeds of Dr. Dupas or play up his continued presence on the premises, for their focus is to educate visitors on the fascinating history of pharmacology and its history in New Orleans. However, that doesn’t stop the ghost tours from peering down the darkened carriageway at night or the curious questions from museum visitors in the safety of the day.

A few days ago, a pair of women asked the employee behind the counter if he’d ever seen the ghost of Dr. Dupas to which the employee replied, “I’ve never seen him… but he’s definitely here.”

Dr. Dupas engaged in all manner of unethical and experimental pharmacology, mixing tonics of dubious efficacy and over-prescribing medicines with mysterious ingredients or highly addictive components such as cocaine and heroin. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

References

Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Pelican Publishing: Gretna, LA, 2016

Murphy, Michael. Fear Dat. Countryman Press: New York, New York, 2015

Oldfield, Eileen. Things That Go Bump in the Haunted Pharmacy. Pharmacy Times. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/things-that-go-bump-in-the-haunted-pharmacy  (accessed October 2019)

Schwartz, Karen. The Craft That Cured A City. The History Channel. https://www.history.com/the-promised-land/new-orleans-pharmacy.html (accessed October 2019)

Stuart, Bonnye. Haunted New Orleans: Southern Spirits, Garden District Ghosts, And Vampire Venues. Globe Pequot: Guilford, CT, 2012

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
Getting there
514 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Opening Hours
Mon Closed
Tue-Sat 10am–4pm
Sun Closed
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