It’s not very often that you get the opportunity to stay in a haunted hotel that was also once the site of an alleged brothel. Here in New Orleans, there are a few hotel options that can satisfy this unique demand, but no hotel in the Crescent City can handle the “haunted” and “brothel” aspect quite the way the Hotel Villa Convento can.
(Check TripAdvisor Reviews and you’ll find “sexy vibe” pop up more times than should be considered normal for a hotel--guess if you have it, flaunt it, right?).
And the Hotel Villa Convento has it. With Greek Revival architectural accents, but a Creole townhouse structural foundation, there are not many hotels which can offer the same French Quarter-esque flare of the Hotel Villa Convento. Located on the historic Ursulines Avenue, the hotel is only a matter of a few blocks from Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. Just steps from the hotel itself is the Ursuline Convent, the oldest structure on the west side of the Mississippi River.
Did I mention that this hotel is reportedly the property that the infamous House of the Rising Sun song is based on? (There is recent speculation that perhaps House of the Rising Sun was not just one bordello but a company with various properties, as brothels were shut down on the regular).
Staying the night at this haunted hotel certainly holds promise for thrill-seekers out there hoping to have their own paranormal experience. As for what might actually happen to you during your stay at the Hotel? That remains to be seen . . .
In its original form, the plot of land which is now the Hotel Villa Convento once belonged to the Ursuline nuns. The nuns had arrived early in the French Colonization period, though they had been second choice for Sieur Bienville, New Orleans’ founder. The nuns he had wanted weren’t available, but the Ursuline nuns came with good backing from the French king and Bienville agreed. (Nothing like coming in second best). Though the Ursuline nuns were greatly loved within the city, they were unable to hold onto all of their original land--in 1805 they partitioned some of it off, and the Hotel Villa Convento’s plot of land was sold.
The lot where the Hotel Villa Convento stands now passed between many hands after the Ursuline nuns sold it off, but it eventually found itself in the grip of a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Poeyfarre. The townhouse Poeyfarre built around the year 1833 is the same structure that stands at the location today. For a period of time, the home remained in the Poeyfarre hands, but when Jean Baptiste Poeyfarre died ten years later, his widow sold off the property once again.
This time, Octave Voorheis was the lucky recipient of the beautiful Creole townhouse. But he was unable to hold onto it for long: Voorheis lost the building during the period following the Civil War in the midst of a heavy depression. With the South’s wealth depleted from the war, life in New Orleans certainly became more turbulent.
Gone were the days of wealth and endless fortune. The Union troops may have stormed into the Crescent City in 1862 and remained for the rest of the War, but there was no mistaking New Orleans’ nosedive after the Civil War’s conclusion. New Orleans, the most popular city in America, had failed to meet the prosperity of its former, antebellum self, and the further the city sank the more it became a location for vice and sin.
It is during this period that it is believed that the Hotel Villa Convento had probably become a brothel. There is not much concrete evidence to say this with any sort of definitiveness, but records do show that something must have been going at 616 Ursulines Avenue during these years. And if this true . . . well, it's safe to say that nineteenth century bordellos in New Orleans were not the nicest of places. Women were beaten; men were sometimes killed and stripped of any of their personal belongings; and syphilis ran rampant.
Pleasant, it was not.
Soon enough, the property once again was sold. In only a twenty-year period, the house on this lot exchanged ownership two more times. Pasquale Taromina purchased the property in March of 1902, and the family lived in residence until 1946.
After 1946, the property of the Hotel Villa Convento was once more passed into new hands . . . but this time, it was not home to one single person. Called the “Old Town Villa,” the property actually became a sort of rotating home for those who had no other place to stay while they were New Orleans.
The Old Town Villa’s most famous guest? Jimmy Buffett. Yes, that Jimmy Buffett. While at the hotel, he stayed in Room 305, which today is unofficially known as the Jimmy Buffet Room. (We’re quickly racking up the reasons why you should book your reservation for the Hotel Villa Convento right after you finish this article).
It was not until September of 1981 that the property would, once more, move on to a new owner. This time around the Campo family purchased the building. The ancestors of the Campos had actually arrived around the same period as the Ursuline nuns, but from the Canary Islands. Called Los Isleńos here in Louisiana, large quantities of people from the Islands flocked to New Orleans during the 18th and early 19th centuries (click here to learn more about this). Some of their descendants, the modern day Campos, purchased the property at 616 Ursulines Avenue and opened it as a hotel.
Today, the Hotel Villa Convento is known for its cozy, and quirky, atmosphere. Walking through the hotel, it is easy to see how this structure was once a family residence. Each of the twenty-five guestrooms, comes with a beautiful view, whether that be of the interior courtyard, looking out into the gardens of the historic Beauregard-Keyes House or the Ursulines Convent, or taking in the stunning downtown New Orleans skyline. (If you’re looking to book your stay for one of the rooms with these particular views, make sure to do so a few months in advance!)
For Emily, one of the hotel’s key employees and our guide of the property, Rooms 302 (which overlooks the Ursulines Avenue) and 401 (which has a breath-taking view of the city) are her personal favorites. In fact, Emily was actually a repeat guest of the hotel before she and her family moved to New Orleans so she could take a position with the hotel. This sort of dedicated love to the hotel doesn’t stop with just Emily; another one of the employees did the exact same thing.
The Hotel Villa Convento fosters a family-like establishment, where the staff enjoys learning about the guests and asking about their day. As Emily appropriately said, staying at the hotel is “like staying at someone’s house, but you still have your privacy if you want it."
But I'll be honest when I say that although you might be able to have your privacy from the living, it’s much harder to earn some alone-time from the hotel’s ghostly residents. And unlike many other haunted locations in the city of New Orleans, there is not much of a shock in who the spirits haunting the hotel might be.
So, the hotel is haunted you say? Oh yes.
The Hotel Villa Convento is said to be haunted by the ghost of one its former madams. Brothels in particular tend to be hotspots for hauntings and ghosts, thanks to all that negative energy, death and other types of tragedy.
Guests staying at the hotel have reported hearing knocking on the door and, as Emily explained to us during our tour, madams were known to knock to alert the couple inside that their “time was up.”
Strangely enough, the Madame's spirit makes herself known to the men who stay at the hotel more frequently. There have been reports of couples doing the “deed”, if you will, when the man rolls over, only to find an apparition of a woman dressed all in black staring at him from the side of the bed. The husband almost always stops, gathering his wife’s attention as he points frantically at the apparition. But the wife can never see the Madame, ghost or otherwise, and no doubt the husband is left feeling a bit out of sorts.
In another instance, a man staying in Room 301 happened to be using the restroom during the middle of the night when he heard the distinct words, “Hey baby” whispered in his ear. His panic was acute, momentarily paralyzing him, before he launched up and hurried to where his wife slept. The words were clear as day, and the voice—well, he’d heard the voice before. Apparently when checking in, the man was convinced that he’d heard a woman’s voice say his name when he stood on the front steps of the hotel smoking a cigarette. But his wife had been inside by the front desk, checking in with Emily, and there had not been a single soul around him.
Was that disembodied voice the ghost of the Madame herself, trying her to best to capture the man’s attention? It seems that the ghost of the Madame likes to still keep watch over those who stay at the Hotel Villa Convento. As Tim Nealon, founder and owner of Ghost City Tours, once said: “Either we have the ghost of a Madame who was quite the control freak or one that is still just a freak.” (Here’s to hoping it’s the former).
It was clear during our tour of the Hotel Villa Convento that, unlike many other hotels where only one room is haunted, paranormal activity is known to occur in many of the various guest rooms at 616 Ursulines Avenue.
In Room 302, one woman reported that she actually saw an apparition manifest right before her own very eyes. According to Emily, this one particular guest was a yearly visitor of the hotel; the sort of guest who always come during the season and always requested the same room. 302, with its beautiful view of the Convent and Beauregard-Keyes House, was undoubtedly her favorite. But one sighting of the ghost, one inexplicable spirit, and the woman refused to stay in Room 302 ever again. Who was this paranormal entity? It seems the details will always remain with the woman who saw it.
In Room 305, the Jimmy Buffet room, the traditional paranormal happenings have been known to occur, although certainly not to the same extent as many of the other suites. Personal belongings being moved about; unexplainable noises. In the ghostly world, this phenomena is the norm. But one day, Room 305 proved eery enough that even Emily, a two-year employee of the hotel, decided to stop what she was doing and head downstairs. She’d gone upstairs to 305 in order to check the hairdryer; it was a simple enough of task, but the moment she stepped foot into the room she began to feel as though someone was watching her. As Emily told us, she’s never really experienced paranormal activity at the hotel—she suspects it might be because the ghosts leave her alone as she’s an employee—but that one hair-raising moment in haunted Room 305 was enough to send fleeing downstairs to turn on the TV and pretend nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
But although ghostly phenomena has been reported in various guest rooms of the hotel, Room 209 has labelled the most haunted spot. During the hotel’s boardinghouse days during the mid-twentieth century, a man allegedly committed suicide in the tub of this room. There is little knowledge as to what caused the man to take his own life, but its clear that something or someone is still haunting this room.
Guests have told management and staff that they have heard voices; personal belongings are moved about within the room; and one day, a guest staying in 209 actually explained that they’d seen a white flag tied to the iron balcony. Except that disembodied voices are never pinned to the living; the items are moved without rhyme or reason and no one of the living to claim responsibility for shifting things around; and that flag dancing in the wind was never actually there.
The Hotel Villa Convento’s hauntings are harmless, pranks at best and eery at worst, but it’s safe to say that the ghosts of the property clearly have an agenda of their own. It’s their world and guests are just visiting it. The sounds of someone knocking on the door, of coughing or high-pitched childish laughter (even though children are not allowed) keeps the hotel feeling very active and alive, even in the dead of night when everyone is asleep.
Then again, there has been one other occasion when the sounds that were being heard were of the 'naughty variety'.
It was late one summer night when a couple staying at the Hotel Villa Convento were getting ready for bed. After having quite a long day wandering around the French Quarter, they were eager for some sleep. They shut the TV off and hiked the covers up to get comfortable. But then, it started: the sounds of giggling and the sounds of pleasure echoing from the room next door.
The couple exchanged a laugh and a knowing smile. “Newlyweds,” they said to each other.
For the rest of the night, the newlyweds next door kept it up, until the point when the couple skipped right from the “understanding” phase and proceeded straight for “annoyance and frustration.” When they looked at each other again, they muttered, “Newlyweds” with much less gusto than the first time.
The next morning, they ambled down the steps to the front desk. To the attendant, the husband pointed his finger toward the second floor where they had stayed the night. “Tell me,” he said, “did we have a pair of newlyweds next door?”
“Newlyweds?” the attendant replied, her expression one of confusion.
“Yeah, next door to us,” the wife said. “We heard them all night.”
The attendant shook her head. “I’m sorry, but there wasn’t anyone staying in the room next to yours last night. That room is under construction.”
The couple did not believe her and asked to be shown the room. The attendant agreed, and so the trio clambered back up the steps. Unlocking the door, it was clear to see that the guest room was in no way prepared for visitors anytime soon. Construction equipment littered the floor, and sawdust was sprinkled like fallen snow over all the saws and hammers and other tools. The couple paused and looked at each, both somewhat nervous to ask the hotel attendant if what they’d heard had been of the paranormal world.
It’s safe to say that it was. Although the ghost of the Madame is easily the most reported paranormal entity within the Hotel Villa Convento, the residual energy lingering on the property surely has a lot to do with the brothel and the spirits of the people who once occupied the building instead.
A good friend of Ghost City Tours, author James Caskey, was staying at the Hotel Villa Convento while researching his book, The Haunted History of New Orleans. He swore that this hotel, more than any other, was the most haunted location he encountered while staying in New Orleans.
Since purchasing the property in 1981, the Campo family has done a fantastic job in restoring the building back to its original splendor. In fact, Mr. Leroy, the hotel’s resident handyman, has been with the family and the hotel for nearly thirty years—preservation at a historical property never ends. With a history that includes Jimmy Buffet, the notorious setting for the House of the Rising Sun, and a property that predates even the current St. Louis Cathedral, staying in the Hotel Vila Convento is certainly like staying in a bygone era.
The hotel boasts that guests staying at the hotel should, “Enjoy a cup of chicory coffee on the courtyard or be encapsulated by the sounds and smells of the French Quarter sitting on a balcony--a stay at the Villa Convento will provide many memories, not just a place to rest your head.” And if that’s not enough to lure you in, perhaps the fact that the hotel offers complimentary parking to its guests is—the garage is located just a ten minute walk from the hotel and is on a first-come-first-serve basis. Even so, free parking of any variety is like finding the Holy Grail in the French Quarter so be sure to take advantage!
But the Hotel Villa Convento also offers a darker, more scandalous past, as well. And when making your reservation, you’ve got to ask yourself: Are you brave enough to stay the night at this legendary haunted hotel?