The Ghosts of the Napoleon House

It has to be said: nowhere else in the French Quarter can you get a refreshing Pimm’s Cup like those served at the Napoleon House. But it also has to be said: nowhere else in New Orleans can you dine in a building that was actually offered to French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Whether you're coming for the famous cocktails or the old world elegance, the Napoleon House is a major hit for tourists and locals alike. In fact, it just might be one of the few restaurants in the city where the crowd has an even mix of insiders (locals) and visitors (tourists). What can we say? Everyone wants a bit of Napoleon for themselves.

But this popular restaurant is known for something else entirely: ghosts.

In the dark of the night, the Napoleon House glimmers like a beacon of hospitality. But be aware that upon entering this fine establishment, you won't be dining alone.

The History Behind the Napoleon House

Napoleon's Escape

An early photo of the Napoleon House in New Orleans, Louisiana, circa early 1900s.
The historic Napoleon House in the early 1900s.

1812. Nicholas Girod, the mayor of New Orleans, had just inherited property from his brother. It was a beautiful residence with a cupola on the roof that offered the only panoramic view of the French Quarter at the time. Only, Nicholas Girod had plans. During dinner one night with other politicians, the discussion turned to France. And naturally, talk turned to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was wreaking havoc all over Europe and being pursued by everyone in an attempt to dethrone him.

But New Orleans had been French originally. They’d loved being French, even when they’d been traded to Spain for sixty years. Then, the Spanish had pretty much become French too—it was better that way. The Creoles weren’t even that put out about the 1803 Louisiana Purchase when Louisiana had become French for a matter of days before Napoleon had opted to sell everything France owned in America to the United States.

Sure, the Creoles cried as their beloved French flag was lowered in the Place de Armes (Jackson Square) and the American flag went up. But here was a chance to aid Napoleon, who was French, and pay homage to Louisiana’s French lineage. (And again, everyone wanted to be French). Nicholas Girod stood up during that dinner and exclaimed: “We will help Napoleon—he may come here and live in my home!”

(Or something like this).

According to one New York Tribune article dating to 1920, Mayor Girod apparently found a confidante in Dominic You, a pirate friend of the Lafitte brothers. The account goes on to explain the rescue plan itself: "The plan was simplicity itself, in the telling of it. It was merely to make a quick dash upon St. Helena, overpower the British guards, bear away the Emperor, conduct him to a swift yacht and sailt off to America."

Napoleon never made it to New Orleans.

He died in St. Helena, exiled once more, just three days before the Plot was due to be set into motion in 1821. Oh, how Girod grieved! Or so the story goes.

In reality, there is no actual proof that this Napoleon Bonaparte plot actually occurred. In the 1920 article mentioned above--an article many believe to be the source of all the rumors--it goes on to list even the ship that Girod and his pirates planned to use: it was named, La Seraphine. But, like the plot itself, there is no evidence that La Seraphine even existed.

As for Mayor Nicholas Girod, he resigned from his position less than a year after Napoleon’s escape before becoming a city alderman between 1824-1825 under the adminstration of Louis Phillippe de Roffignac. He continued to live at No. 500 Chartres Street for many years until his death on September 1, 1840, somewhere between the ages of 89 and 93. He was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, and his beloved home pressed onward through the ages.

Mob Rule and Then the Legendary Impastato Family

Still, the property persisted on, without Napoleon and without Girod. By the early 1900s, it had become a grocery and, as some say, under the ownership of the New Orleans mafia. Those who lived in the surrounding areas claimed that if you saw someone be brought up to the upstairs floor, there was a very good chance that you would never see them leave after. How many people were killed or hurt in the second floor is unknown, but soon after the house was vacated. Its only inhabitants for nearly five years were vagrants of the city.

It is with thanks to the Impastato family that The Napoleon House is what it is today. Joe Impastato and his family rented the building, and then purchased it, all the while operating it as a restaurant.

For nearly a century, the Impastato family served the public heavenly muffulettas, Grilled Alligator Sausage Po’Boys and other classic New Orleans dishes. The Brennan family purchased the property from the Impastatos in 2015, but the ambiance has stayed the same: “Uncle” Joe’s muffuletta, classical music and a Victorian-bar that has served customers for a hundred years.

The Ghosts of the Napoleon House

A photo of the haunted restaurant, the Napoleon House, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, Ghost City Tours
The Napoleon House at night...what ghosts might you stumble across here?

What the Napoleon House has also served to its guests, albeit not intentionally, are its ghosts.

It seems that the Napoleon House is haunted by a spirit that is not so kind to guests who speak ill of the dead. On multiple occasions, guests clambering down the stairs were engaged in a conversation about how they didn’t believe the restaurant to be haunted—only to say then that they didn’t believe ghosts existed at all. As soon as the words crossed the woman’s lips, she felt a hard smack on the back of her head and a heavy push at her shoulders. If she hadn’t grabbed for the railing, she would have tumbled all the way down the steps.

Twisting up to look at her sister, she demanded to know why her sister had shoved her. The problem was: her sister hadn’t done anything like that. The force which had pushed the woman belonged to a specter, who apparently did not take kindly to being told that it did not exist.

Ghostly Encounters

For one previous tenant at the Napoleon House, getting close and personal with the building's ghost residents was a frequent phenomenon. As told to one blogger, Sarah Chambless, the tenant claimed: "You get a creepy vibe from it. When you're there by yourself, you feel like someone is there with you, but no one is with you."

Other tenants of 500 Chartres Street have claimed to have experienced the same sort of activity. Lights flicker, sometimes even on demand to questions posed to the spirits, and on more than one occasion, tenants have reported being touched or shoved by an invisible force...sometimes even in their sleep.

However, not everything might be as it seems at the Napoleon House. Former owner Maria Impastato once said that despite spending her entire life at the restaurant, she'd never once experienced any supernatural activity.

Perhaps this is because the spirits of the restaurant recognized Mrs. Impastato as a loving caretaker of the property, and therefore had no wish to scare her.

Perhaps, alternatively, the spirits of this restaurant only take exception to those who aren't part of the family...

Other ghostly occurrences have happened just like this one, meaning that if you want to find out if the Napoleon House is haunted, you’re best chance of engaging with paranormal activity is to go on a tirade about how ghosts aren’t real.

As a disclaimer, I’d recommend not doing so on the stairs just as a precaution.

Visiting the Haunted Napoleon House

Are you looking for something to eat during your stay in New Orleans? If so, there is no better place to grab a snack than at the Napoleon House.

With the classical music playing in the background, and the turn-of-the-century ambiance, the Napoleon House is quite literally a step back in time.

Are you ready to possibly have a run-in with the ghosts of this haunted restaurant?