Earlier this week, The Originals aired an episode called “The Casket Girls.” In the episode, New Orleans was celebrating the Casket Girls Festival, but the show never really explained who casket girls were or what their connection to the vampire characters was. So I did some research on these obscure ladies of history, and found the legends to be far more fascinating than The Originals hinted at.
In the early 1700s, the Catholic church sent a faction of nuns to the Louisiana Territory. The Ursuline order was the first group of nuns to set up in what is now the United States. Louisiana was still “the wild west” around this time, loaded with seedy characters. In the hopes of making Louisiana a more desirable place to live, the French government sent over some young ladies to be wives for the plantation owners and bring a sense of civility and culture to the New World. They would stay with the nuns until suitable matches could be made.
The women coming over from France were supposed to be society women of marriageable age. While some of them likely were, history seems to suggest that the majority of the casket girls were orphans and prostitutes. The men they were being sent to weren’t exactly as advertised, either. Some were criminals and “blue-collar” workers. The women were often beaten and raped. Many returned to France when things turned out to be a little too rustic for them.
The casket girls were so-named because they came with trousseaus (clothing, linens, and other things they would need to start a marriage) packed in cases that looked like caskets. The journey to the New World often took five months, so when the girls arrived, they were often pale, weak, and gaunt. Rumors began to circulate that these girls were vampires - or were vampire smugglers.
It would seem that most of the casket girls couldn’t cut it in Louisiana and went back home to France. Most left their trousseaus behind, in the third floor attic of the nunnery. The attic was shuttered tight, but reports would claim that the shutters would fly open suddenly and randomly, no matter how many times they were nailed shut. Some people would say that, when the shutters were open, the vampires were roaming the city. When the sealed trousseaus were finally opened, they were discovered to be empty.
The Ursuline convent is still a convent to this day. The official words is that the third-story attic is empty, but rumors persist that the shutters have been sealed shut with nuts and screws blessed by the pope.