540 Chartres St, New Orleans
Formerly located across the corner in the haunted Reynes Mansion, could the current location of the Chartres House Cafe also be home to lost souls?
The Chartres House Cafe is located at 540 Chartres Street, but it used to serve guests on the opposite corner of Chartres and Toulouse. That property, known since 1722 as the Reynes Mansion after original owner Joseph Reynes, has a reputation for being haunted.
Patrons and passers-by alike have witnessed the phantom of a man dressed in 1970’s clothes standing by the windows. It is suspected that this spirit is that of a man who committed suicide on the 2nd floor of the Reynes Mansion when it was being used as an apartment building.
After moving across the street, the Chartres House Cafe got a fresh start in a larger building. However, in a city like New Orleans, that doesn’t mean it’s free of ghostly spirits. Is it possible that two buildings at the intersection of Chartres and Toulouse could both be haunted?
Children crying, mysterious apparitions, and ghostly touches are just a few of the paranormal experiences that have been reported at the Chartres House Cafe. Is the building holding onto the sorrow of its past? Are the former residents refusing to leave?
The Chartres House Cafe is known for its fine New Orleans cuisine and excellent service. In the building’s early days, however, not all guests on the property were treated with such courtesy.
Known as the Gally House or Keuffers Building, 540 Chartres Street is a favorite stop for tourists daring enough to reach into the past. At the rear of the property is a wall with a few small windows in it. Many visitors who reach their arms into these barred windows report feeling the touch of children's hands. Some also hear weeping or sobbing.
When they reach their hands into the windows, these visitors are reaching into former servants’ quarters. There are reports that several slave children were quarantined in these rooms during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1853. Could these visitors be reaching out to the lost spirits of sick and lonely children?
In early 1895, The Times-Picayune reported the death of one Mrs. Henry Dering who lived just a block and a half from the present location of the Chartres House Cafe. She is listed as having been just 24 years young. Just over a year and a half later, the same publication reported the death by “sunstroke” of Mr. Henry Dering, a German tailor.
At the time of his sunstroke, Mr. Dering was reportedly hard at work in his shop...located on the first floor of the Gally House property!
Through the years, there have been numerous reports of a ghostly young lady peering out from the windows on the second floor at 540 Chartres, even though the upstairs floors weren’t occupied. The woman’s identity is a mystery, but Mr. Dering’s death might give us a clue. Might the tailor’s wife be visiting his workplace, searching high and low for her time-lost love?
Unfortunately, we think this mystery remains unsolved. While the newspaper lists “Mrs. Henry Dering” at 24 years old when she passed, other records show that the tailor’s wife was actually 66. Johanna Dering was no “young lady” at the time. Though this phantom could be a young Johanna, we wouldn’t bet on it.
If you think Chartres House is a hotspot now, just wait until you see its past. The earliest records we could find of the property at 540 Chartres Street come from 1788. At that time, it was the home of Spanish Army treasurer Don Jose Vicente Nunez.
On March 21, 1788, a neglected candle caused a fire in the home. The flames spread quickly. By the time the blaze was extinguished, no less than 856 buildings were burned to the ground. Miraculously, only one person died that day. This is now known as the First Great New Orleans Fire, and it started right where the Chartres House Cafe now stands.
After the fire, the property changed hands a few times. In 1830, it was bought at a public auction for the handsome sum of twelve thousand dollars. The buyer was Major Louis Gally. He oversaw the construction of the building we still refer to today as the Gally House (sometimes called the Keuffers Building).
Major Gally built 540 Chartres as an investment property. The ground floor was for business use, and the upstairs floors were apartments. The rear housed the kitchen and servants’ quarters.
Upon his death, his obituary in The Times-Picayune speculated “We believe he was, in his earlier years, a soldier of the great Napoleon [Bonaparte]”. The timeline of Gally’s life suggests that may have been possible. Born in 1794, he would’ve been 20 years old when the French Emperor was exiled in 1814. He was just old enough to have served for a few years.
It’s worth discussing Louis Gally’s life in brief here, as he seems to have been a prominent public figure in his time. Perhaps most notably, he created and personally led the New Orleans Battalion of Artillery. This was a volunteer artillery unit which was the first called to aid General Zachary Taylor when the Mexican-American War loomed in 1845.
Newspaper clippings from the time fawned over the Major and his men, saying “We know no better specimen of citizen soldiery than Major Gally’s Battalion of Artillery.” His obituary refers to Gally as “one of our oldest and most respected citizens.”
The man who built the current home of the Chartres House Cafe was certainly a man worth remembering. Who knows, maybe the spirit of the old Major will be lured back by the smell of jambalaya!
Regardless of whether or not you have a ghostly encounter, you’ll always find good food and a good time at the Chartres House Cafe. You’ll find it at 540 Chartres Street, on the south corner of Chartres and Toulouse.
Slide around back and reach your hand through the dark windows of the servants’ quarters...if you dare!