This Grand Victorian Mansion that sits at 4800 Canal Street, with its awe-inspiring colonnaded portico, holds a special place in the hearts of many in old New Orleans. Surrounded by the famed “Cities of the Dead,” people from near and far journeyed to this breathtaking building to pay their last respects to dear departed loved ones. The historic property at the end of the Canal Street Cemeteries streetcar line has had an interesting life, and in many ways, the property at 4800 Canal still has its own stories to tell.
Originally built in 1872 by Mary Slattery, the original mansion was intended to be a home for generations of her family. After acquiring additional land from the Hebrew Congregation of Temme Derech, Mary Slattery’s property spanned from Gasquet St (now Cleveland St) to Canal, Anthony St and Bernadotte. By 1880, John and Mary Slattery had six children living with them in the home. Their son, John Jr, was listed as a Stone Cutter and sexton for the cemetery next door. The home was large enough to accommodate not only their rather large family, but also their friends, Mr. and Mrs. John Kane.
In October of 1905, the Slattery home was sold to Mrs. Marie Lafontear and William Klein. Marie maintained possession of the home until May 15th, 1923, where the home passed into the custody of Notary E. Howard McCaleb. In 1928, Mr. McCaleb filed a letter that he had purchased the house on the behalf of PJ McMahon. PJ McMahon’s intent was to turn the property at 4800 Canal into a grand
In 1930, the first advertising booklet of the PJ McMahon and Sons Undertaking Company began to circulate. The booklet contained exterior and interior photos of the mansion and descriptions of the many services offered. The building was considered an architectural wonder with its neo-classical revival style exterior and its eclectic Victorian interior. In 1933 the name of the structure was changed to, simply, PJ McMahon and Sons. In 1959, an ambitious building project was launched which added a specially designed elevator, a rear garage for the discrete delivery of the dead, additional viewing rooms and offices. At its height, the building featured amenities found in only the nicest of mansions such as smoking parlors for the men, private bedrooms and apartments with separate baths for the bereaved, maid service, an on-site cook, dining facilities, chaise lounges for the ladies in their private bathrooms and private drawing rooms. The funeral home was designed to mimic the comforts of home and rivaled all but a few of the grandest of residences of New Orleans. Yet all was not “Victorian Splendor.” PJ McMahon and Sons was a full-service funeral home. There was an autopsy room and an embalming room. There was a crematorium onsite, cold storage for the dead, casket storage, casket sales and a flower sales facility. The property was designed to anticipate and take care of every aspect of the funeral business. PJ McMahon and Sons was massively successful. It is estimated that over twenty thousand funerals were performed within its walls.
On April 29th 1985, PJ McMahon and Sons merged with the Security Industrial Funeral Home Corporation. The property was sold again in 1996 to Loewen LAHoldings (later known as Alderwoods). During this time, many of the amenities of the funeral home were done away with in cost-cutting maneuvers. Business suffered. The cost of the massive upkeep of the 130+ year old building began to take its toll. On March 23, 2004, Alderwoods sold the property to EHN2 Holdings, also known as Neil Corporation which owns Aveda’s Spas.
Neil Corp’s goal was to turn the ornate funeral home into a Day Spa Academy. Their first task was to gut the property due to its poor condition and the hazardous materials that ran throughout the building. Almost everything was removed. Not one stitch of plaster was left, not one floor tile remained. All that was left was the wood framing, doors and the staircases of the building. In this process, the CEO of Neil Corp died surrounded by somewhat mysterious circumstances and their board decided to discontinue the project. The gutted building was listed for sale in 2004. It remained empty and abandoned for three years.
During this period, disaster struck. Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans in late August 2005 and laid waste to the city. The former home at 4800 Canal survived the brunt of the storm due to its relative high ground.
On July 2nd, 2007, Jeff Borne, the owner of PSX Audio/Video Technologies, purchased the property to turn the decaying funeral home into the Mortuary Haunted House, a multi-million dollar haunted attraction designed to flood the senses with pulse-pounding terror and excitement. His dream was to turn the facility into a showcase of fear during the Halloween season. Little did he know what tales already lay in wait at the former funeral home.
When Mr. Borne’s work crew walked onto the property they walked into a building in a state of extreme disrepair. Graffiti decorated the walls and holes pitted the floors. If one did not watch their step they could fall through the top floor and end up in the basement. Mr. Borne’s plan was ambitious: to re-outfit and stabilize the building and open his Mortuary Haunted House to the public by September 19th of that year.
During this time he was approached by a paranormal investigative unit based out of Los Angeles. They hoped to investigate the PJ McMahon and Sons Funeral Home due to its hundreds of reports of strange occurrences over its long history. It seems that many of the souls that passed through the old PJ McMahon building…never left. A phantom woman in white was often seen on the top floor crying for her husband who had long since passed on. Legends told of a tall well-dressed man who appears when he believes people are disrespecting the cemeteries that lie beyond the walls of the home, admonishing the offenders to silence. The spectral forms of two rambunctious children, a boy and a girl, had been known to play pranks on the unsuspecting living. A former mortician was often seen by employees, continuing his bloody work in the bowels of the basement. Footsteps and whispering voices supposedly carried throughout the building when no one was there. Tales traveled far and wide of poltergeist activity, of pieces of furniture moving on their own, while shocked eyewitnesses stared in disbelief. These were just a few of the stories that had reached the ears of paranormal investigators over the historic mansion’s life.
The first informal investigation proved successful. The doors opened for other paranormal investigative units, such as Pensacola Paranormal, to come onto the property to find their own evidence of life after death. These formal investigations proved to be resoundingly successful. It was decided then that the building would be open for the would-be ghost hunter, the paranormal enthusiast, the amateur and the professional investigator to find their own evidence of ghostly phenomena. The building has been equipped with over 30 cameras (including night vision, color and thermal) and built in custom microphones to listen to
and record EVP’s. Equipment to detect temperature fluctuations and changes in Electro-Magnetic activity can be utilized by visitors to experience what serious researchers see when they say paranormal activity is occurring. Guests have seen apparitions, manifestations and have been poked and pushed by phantom fingers. The laughter of children has been witnessed by scores of people while statues have been moved while onlookers gawk with open mouths. Mr. Borne has turned the former grand funeral home into the world’s first REAL training ground for future ghost hunters, relying on anecdotal and empirical evidence in an attempt to prove to the world… ghosts exist.
So come in for the history or come in for the education. Come in to experience one of the grandest homes in New Orleans or come in to have your own personal paranormal experience. Learn of tales of days gone by or learn to use the tools on the cutting edge of paranormal exploration. So take a classic streetcar ride into the golden age of New Orleans, delivering you right to the steps of The Haunted Mortuary, one of the most haunted places in America. Bask in the wonder of its giant columns that stretch to the sky. Tour the mansion’s rebuilt interior which harkens you back to a simpler time. While resting just inches away from real graves on two sides of the building, this historic property serves as a portal to the world famous New Orleans Cemeteries. Come to experience true New Orleans history. Come to experience your own brush with the other side. Whatever reason you come, when you leave the Haunted Mortuary, you will never look at death quite the same again.