By Fiona Broome
Breakfast at Brennan’s is a New Orleans tradition. Tourists and local residents flock to Brennan’s Restaurant every morning for a perfect meal and an occasional visit from “the other side.” Brennan’s is in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter and hosts a number of rather colorful ghosts that appear regularly – even in broad daylight.
Comte Lefleur is one of Brennan’s oldest ghosts. According to legend, Lefleur, his new wife, and his college-aged son were visiting New Orleans in the mid-eighteenth century. He rented the spacious brick residence that later became Brennan’s. To all, Lefleur appeared to be a mild-mannered gentleman – until one sunny spring morning when Lefleur visited several New Orleans merchants to arrange for three funerals and three burials. Upon returning home, he went upstairs to the Red room, killed his wife and son, and then hung himself from the chandelier.
Why did Lefleur murder his family? Nobody knows for sure, although some say his new wife and his handsome son were having an affair. Others suggest that Lefleur had been mad for some time.
Today the Red Room swerves as one of Brennan’s dining areas, and some people sense the presence of Lefleur in the corner of room. He appears as a shadowy figure, about five and half feet tall and somewhat portly. You may catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of your eye, although the apparition usually vanishes if you look directly at him. The count’s shadowy spirit has been observed flying across the room toward his haunted portrait, and the red Room’s gaslights have been known to flicker even when there’s no breeze. Comte Lefleur’s portrait, which hangs in the restaurant’s Red Room, is one of New Orleans’ most startling haunted sights. If you stare at the painting, Lefleur’s moderate smile slowly changes to a chilling – and some say evil – grimace. The effect can be very subtle, but it has been captured in photos.
The ghost of the count’s wife also visits the Red Room. She remains close to where her portrait is displayed – near the fireplace along the southwest wall of the room – far from her murderous husband. Above the fireplace about a foot away from the wall, visitors detect a “cold spot” that remains about ten degrees colder than the rest of the room, even on a sultry day. Reach toward the spot and you’ll feel as if you’ve reached into a freezer.
The painting of Comte Lefleur’s son is haunted as well – his ghost regularly rustles the curtains on either side of his portrait. Some say that the curtains aren’t making the noise; rather, the son’s ghost is whispering.
Next to the Red Room, the Chanticleer room hosts another dramatic haunting. In the late twentieth century, four painters intended to work overnight redecorating that room. However, as the evening progressed, one of the men was drawn to a window at the southeast corner. Looking out, he saw a grotesque face looking back at him. It appeared to be an old woman floating in midair outside the second-floor window.
The painter’s coworkers saw him stumble away from the window and dashed to see what had frightened him. They too saw the menacing face and stepped back in horror. The ghost followed them, thrusting her face through the closed window and then chasing the workmen across the room. All four men raced downstairs and broke through two sets of locked doors to the street outside. They never returned to Brennan’s – but the ghostly old woman never left.
The elderly woman’s spirit has been observed outside the Chanticleer room. Some even claim to have seen the ghost strolling the corridors late at night and describe her as five feet tall and dressed in a dark gown that almost reaches the floor. She’s been called a cheerful spirit and no one knows why the painters angered her.
Visitors have also witnessed a paranormal distortion where her ghost appears. Standing near the entrance to the Chanticleer Room facing the wall at the back of the enclosed walkway, many describe seeing the surroundings twist slightly, as if seen through a fun house mirror. The strange visual effect often leaves observers feeling disoriented, and many have had to look away or place a hand on a wall to steady themselves.
Two other ghosts have been reported at Brennan’s. One is believed to be the ghost of a slave and has been observed in the spacious two-story aboveground wine cellar, which in the eighteenth century served as slaves’ quarters. The second is Brennan’s most popular ghost, Chef Paul Blange, who invented many of the restaurant’s signature dishes, including Bananas Foster. Blange achieved international fame for his outstanding meals and was well loved and respected by Brennan’s owners and patrons. He often visited the dining rooms to greet the restaurant’s guests and make certain that they were pleased with their meals.
After many years, Chef Blange was diagnosed with cancer. As his health deteriorated, he was no longer able to work in the kitchen. However, his loyalty to Brennan’s was such that he continued to supervise the kitchen and often sat at the restaurant’s entrance dressed in his white chef’s uniform greeting guests as they arrived. When Chef Blange died in 1977, o one was surprised when staff and visitors began seeing his ghost around the restaurant. In fact, the chef’s ghost stops by frequently, and Brennan’s regulars look for him just inside the front door or strolling through the dining room.
The most reliable way to summon the chef’s ghost is to order Bananas Foster. While the bananas cook at your table, glance around the room for the chef’s translucent figure or look over your server’s shoulder. The chef sometimes manifests as a brief sparkle. Or you may see just a slight distortion, similar to heat rising from a road in summer, in the shape of man in a chef’s hat.
Brennan’s is known for world-class dining and fascinating ghosts. No matter where you’re seated, you’re never far from spirits of one kind or another.
Brennan’s Restaurant, 417 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130