J Patrick Allen
In the early eighteenth century, New Orleans was experiencing a population crisis. A request was sent to the king of France for women of a wholesome persuasion. In 1728, a ship docked bearing blessings courtesy of the Bishop of Quebec. I imagine that the men of New Orleans, licking their chops at the hope of finding a wife, were stunned by what walked off the gangplank. Thirteen emaciated, sickly women walked onto the dock, bearing all they owned in the world in thirteen casquettes—the equivalent of a trunk or luggage.
Alas, the nature of the men of the colony of Louisiana, harbored an ill fate for the girls. Though they were under the watchful protection of the local Ursuline nuns, many were placed into abusive marriages or forced into prostitution. New Orleans, it seems, had no use for women of virtue. Insulted and horrified, King Louis demanded their return at once.
The girls were being kept at this time on the third floor of the Ursuline convent on Rue Chartres. They were protected behind sealed windows and a sealed door lest—I assume—they flee to a sinful life. The casquettes, still full of the womens’ possessions, were left in the room for the women to collect their belongings for the journey back home. When the nuns returned for the girls, the casquettes were present but their owners—and the contents within—were not.
The third floor attic has since been supposedly sealed—by locks, by blessings, with the shutters closed with holy nails blessed by the Pope. Despite this, local legend frequently has the Casquette girls breaking free of their bound windows to stalk the night for fresh victims.
Stories tell of paranormal investigators caught in their sleep while watching the convent. Supposedly, the tapes caught a window on the third floor of the convent opening. The next morning there was hardly anything left of the investigators but a greasy smear. Of course, there are no official records of a murder of this kind. It may all be sensationalism invented by New Orleans’ very healthy tourism industry.
Still, the Filles a la Casquette are certainly worthy of stories.