The Haunted Old Spanish Garrison

Which ghosts haunt this former military fortification?

Referred to by many as “Morro Castle,” this property at the corner of Burgundy and Barracks Streets remains one of the first buildings in the entirety of the French Quarter to be built wholly by granite. And, according to legend, it is haunted by the spirits of Spanish soldiers who desired gold and fortune over loyalty to their comrades.

The Brutal History of the Old Spanish Garrison

Their mutiny came during the era of Spanish control of New Orleans. Already Frenchmen who had demonstrated their frustration of being sold to the Spanish King had led to an execution at the hands of “Bloody” General Alejandro O’Reilly. For the Spanish soldiers camped out in the garrison, their lust for more wealth . . . more power would not be dissuaded.

On one dark night, the group of men stormed the garrison in search of the jewels and treasure hidden with its stronghold. They murdered their superiors, the men who worked side by side with them daily. Word of their mutiny spread about town, a city already so tremulous because of the Frenchmen’s revolt against the Spanish.

Such a mutiny was not to be accepted nor forgotten.

The disloyal men were captured and locked in the Old Garrison. Tales of their executions horrified the citizens. Meat hooks were dug into flesh to string up the treasonous men. Even worse, it’s been said that their feet were plied with iron spikes to render them immobile, as their intestines were torn from their bodies and rats from the street gutters were allowed to feast on their bloody flesh.

Any hint of upheaval in the city then quieted, no doubt in the fear of experiencing similar repercussions for their discretions and greed. It was not so long after the ghosts began to appear at the Spanish Garrison, with the spirits of soldiers were frequently spotted emerging straight from the walls of the property.

A photo of the Morro Castle, or the Old Spanish Garrison, located down in the French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans and said to be quite haunted.
Morro Castle during the 1930s-1940s. It's said that this location was once the home of the Old Spanish Garrison, as well as one of the most gruesome murders caused by treason in the city. (Source: Historical New Orleans Collection.)

Only A Gory Legend?

Only, there’s something strange about this admittedly gory story: first, Morro Castle was not even built until 1830, whereas the Spanish assumed ownership of the Territory of Louisiana in 1762. In short, this property and the Castle itself could never have functioned as the Old Spanish Garrison. Secondly, the actual military fortification was stationed just outside of town at Bayou St. John, where remnants of the fort still exist.

The Ghosts of the Old Spanish Garrison

While the tale of thieving, greedy Spaniards hasn’t a bit of truth to it, 1303 Burgundy Street is haunted . . . and it’s haunted by soldiers, at that. (Which probably explains the whole ghost-walking-through-wall phenomena that no doubt has frightened even the staunchest of people).

Like many other residences during the Civil War, Morro Castle was not unique in that it was taken over by the Union Army when General Benjamin Butler swooped into the city in 1862. Initially he faced great resistance against the Confederates, and it seems that Morro Castle was reportedly converted into a jail for Confederates unable to escape the city.

Inside, Morro Castle became a place of sickness. Malnutrition struck out among the inmates and it’s said that brutality and harsh punishments were readily given out. But it is perhaps one factor that truly demonstrated how low Morro Castle had sunk as acting Union Jail: women were tossed in too. Ladies who insulted or struck out against any of the Union forces were not to be tolerated—in an order by the Department of the Gulf, Butler ruled: “it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

The hauntings at 1303 Burgundy have often been reworked to incorporate a story of greed and brutal murder—instead, the truth is even more somber. The Union military hospital was a dark place, and we can only assume that if ghostly Confederate soldiers are still being spotted within . . . Well, then it must have been very bad living conditions indeed.

Visiting the Old Spanish Garrison

Are you trying to visit the Morro Castle, otherwise known as the Old Spanish Garrison? Unfortunately, that is a feat a lot harder than it may seem, as this property is now apartment buildings.

What is our recommendation, then? Head down to the French Quarter night, and stop by old Morro Castle as night falls. While you can't venture inside, that doesn't mean you won't spot any paranormal activity while walking along the sidewalk. Do you hear the feint cry? Do you see a shadow creeping along the side of the building? The ghosts of the Old Spanish Garrison say hello.