Ghosts in the Graveyard - The Madam’s Haunted Tomb by Loren Rhoads

The Madam’s Haunted Tomb
by Loren Rhoads

New Orleans legend holds that the city’s nineteenth-century Creole aristocracy shunned Charles T. Howard as a crass American who made his fortune in the corrupt Louisiana State Lottery Company. At his first opportunity, Howard took revenge by buying up the Creoles’ favorite racetrack on the edge of New Orleans. 

Howard supposedly closed the race course, built a graveyard on the land, and charged the Creoles money to be buried there. Even though the story is not historically accurate, the oval shape of the old horse track still dominates Metairie Cemetery, which opened in 1872. 

Twenty-five years after the cemetery opened its gates, city alderman Sidney Story wrote the 1897 law that set up a legal red-light district in the city of New Orleans. 

The twenty-block area, two blocks west of the French Quarter, came to be nicknamed Storyville.  The district operated from January 1, 1898 until 1917, when the federal government shut it down.

One of the ladies who prospered in Storyville was known as Josie Arlington. Born in New Orleans in 1864, Josie became a prostitute at the age of 17. She saved enough money to open her own bordello on Customhouse Street. When Storyville opened, Josie transferred her operation to an ornate four-story mansion at 225 North Basin Street. It had an onion dome, bay windows, and expensive artwork. The company of her "amiable foreign girls" could be purchased for $5.

When Josie sold her business and retired as a very wealthy woman in 1909, society shunned her.  Two years later, she bought a plot on a slight rise in Metairie Cemetery and built a lovely mausoleum. Her polished red granite tomb was topped by two square stone braziers, representing the eternal flame. A life-size bronze statue of a woman stood before the tomb’s door, one hand raised as if to knock. Arlington died at the age of 50 on Valentine's Day 1914 and was buried alone in her monument.

Rumors started up immediately about whom the statue was meant to represent.  Was it Josie, turned away from her father's door because of her profession?  Could it be Josie, reaching toward — but never opening — the doors of eternity?  Or, as some said, did it represent a virgin turned away from Josie's business?  Josie had been proud that she'd always hired professional girls.  No one was ever deflowered, working for her.

Not long after Josie’s burial, two gravediggers called Mr. Todkins and Mr. Anthony claimed they saw the statue come to life and roam the cemetery.  When they approached it, she vanished and appeared back at the door of Josie’s tomb.

Drivers coming home late at night on New Basin Shell Road — which ran behind Metairie Cemetery — noticed a weird red light flickering on Josie's tomb. Serpentine fire danced and licked around the walls like some kind of hellfire.

The cemetery engraved a cross on the back of the tomb, but that didn't stop the light show.  The cemetery planted bushes, but still people stopped along New Basin Shell Road to gape at the fire burning on the madam’s tomb.

Finally, the owners of the toll road took down a flashing beacon. In addition, Josie's niece moved her aunt's body from the tomb to another site in the cemetery.

Although the Morales family owns the tomb now — and the New Basin Shell toll road is long gone — some say you can still see fire flickering around the former madam's tomb.

~Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. Her latest project is a series of short story collections for the kindle about a young witch who travels the world to fight monsters. Delve into Loren’s work at or pick some up at Amazon: Contact her at

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