The Legend of Gracey Manor is a tale written by the creative team at Buena Vista Pictures in cooperation with the filmmakers of the 2003 film. It provides the backstory for the film's Gracey Manor and its original occupants.
The Beginning of Gracey Manor
Ambrose Gracey: A Sea Captain Builds His Dream
His ships carried chandeliers, rugs, European furnishings, wines, lamps, and all manner of luxury goods from Europe and the East Coast cities to the citizens of the sophisticated city of New Orleans. Unlike other sea captains of the time, his ships were free from pirate attacks, allowing him to keep a generous percentage of the value of all goods transported on his ships. This allowed him the funds to build a home. Due to his secret association with pirate Jean Laffite, he sometimes returned to the docks of New Orleans with more goods than he started with.
His comfortable antebellum home was designed with many windows and a porch that provided views far across the river. The house was aligned so that the captain could easily send and receive lantern signals from the front rooms of his home. The home had access by land and water, a major plus given his trading activities.
Just behind the property is what was once a small local cemetery. Some might think it strange to build a home so close to a cemetery. However, because of the commanding views and the raised elevation (which would protect it from flooding), the Captain chose to build his house on the property in spite of the cemetery.
He planted an oak tree behind the house to obscure the cemetery view from the bedroom windows. But in fact, Gracey considered the proximity of the cemetery to be quite advantageous, since he could build a secret tunnel linking a burial crypt to the house that no one would easily discover.
Because of his well-guarded relationships with both pirates and politicians, he designed his home with secret passages. The passages provided a means of bringing in and storing illicit loot. (Passages secretly linked not only portions of the house, but also the cemetery and the river.) These passages also provided a safe means of concealment or escape if attacked by pirates, thieves or (in the case of the war of 1812) the British army.
The passages also allowed Gracey to discreetly eavesdrop and glean valuable information that he could later use to his own advantage.
He made sure the manor included ample, comfortable guest rooms for visiting politicians, businessmen, and foreign dignitaries, as well as his relatives. He placed a golden sailing ship weather vane upon the top of his home as a marker for visitors.
While in London, Ambrose met a charming young Frenchwoman, Juliet Desmoulins, whose family had been forced to flee Paris during the French Revolution. They married in England then set sail for America. Back in New Orleans, the young wife had "star" quality that appealed to the local aristocracy, who prefer the French to the ill-mannered Americans. As they began to have children, Gracey expanded their home and started a shipping company.
Juliet bore them a son, George Gracey, who became the apple of his father's eye. George was quick-witted, fearless, and intelligent. He spent many hours with his father, learning everything he could. Throughout his early years, young George loved Gracey Manor - especially the secret passageways.
The Golden Age of Gracey Manor
George Gracey: Building a Dynasty
George was privately schooled, which fueled his public ambitions. After his father sent him to England for his college courses, George became obsessed with becoming richer, more successful, and more respected than any other family of old New Orleans.
Just before leaving England to return to America, George stayed at a summer estate with friends, where he met a well-cultured, loyal young butler named Ramsley. It seemed that Ramsley was about to undergo a beating and probably a jail term for an unspeakable offense at his current employer's house - a transgression actually committed by the employer's son. With these threats hanging over Ramsley's head, George asked him if he would like to come to America and serve as his butler at Gracey Manor. Amazed and grateful, Ramsley accepted and George secretly whisked him away to the docks and bought his passage for the trip to America. In the following years, he proved an invaluable asset to George in achieving the social goals he set for himself and his family.
Based in New Orleans, George took an active role in the family business and proved an able entrepreneur. After his father, Ambrose, died unexpectedly in a carriage accident, George bought steamboats and expanded the shipping company, making it one of the largest in the south.
George scored a social coup when he married Abigail, the beautiful and vivacious daughter of a state senator, once a former ambassador to England. (Ramsley actually helped arrange their first meeting.) George expanded the manor, adding a grand ballroom, portrait galleries and a conservatory. He and Abigail traveled to Europe, where they collected furnishings and art for their expanded home.
Among his purchases was a unique cast iron fireplace salvaged from a Scottish landowner's estate. The estate had burned to the ground, with just the fireplace, statuary, and a pipe organ surviving intact (the pipe organ was being restored at the Caretaker's House). The locals apparently thought the landowner was evil and his house was cursed, so George was able to acquire the extraordinary fireplace at a very low price.
Given Abigail's interest in music, George also bought the pipe organ. Once home, he moved their small organ to the attic and placed the impressive Scottish organ in the newly completed grand ballroom. The ballroom would soon be the setting for countless parties, masked balls, and their annual Mardi Gras fêtes.
George also brought home a unique collection of antique suits of armor, which he displayed in a great hall.
As the years progressed, the couple had a daughter and son, who filled the house with their laughter. A few years later, a third child, Edward Gracey, was born. A parade of animals, pets, and childhood playthings filled the grounds.
Invitations to their home became some of the most sought after invitations in Southern and East Coast society.
Tragedy Befalls the Graceys
One particularly hot summer, Abigail took the children to visit her relatives in Georgia. (In part, this was to avoid the yellow fever that frequently struck the region around their home in the summer.) While in Georgia, the children came down with scarlet fever. The two eldest children died, leaving Edward the sole survivor.
Abigail returned home, inconsolable, barely speaking or eating. She cancelled all social visits and sat in dark rooms. She became obsessed with the occult and converted her upstairs sitting room into a séance room and brought in a gypsy medium, Madame Leota, who used a crystal ball to contact the dead.
Aged beyond her years and her spirit broken, Abigail Gracey died. Following the funeral, George sealed off the séance room and resumed his work.
A Will for Posterity
Edward Gracey: The Future of Gracey Manor
Concerned for the future of his son, George transferred the bulk of his money to a British bank and modified his will. In his will, he specified that should he pass away, the Estate would take care of all future expenses related to the maintenance of his home. He specified that the home could not be sold without physical possession of the original deed, which George would keep hidden for his son. In addition, because of his generous gift of a new courthouse to the county, future taxes on Gracey Manor were waived in perpetuity.
Edward's financial stability ensured, George placed the responsibility for the proper training and upbringing of seven-year-old Edward to private instructors, all overseen by Ramsley. George then re-dedicated himself to doing what he enjoyed best - amassing a fortune.
Overprotected and isolated, Edward's best childhood friends were the children of the servants. Although Ramsley objected to their association, he allowed it on a limited basis since there were no other children from miles around.
George told Ramsley of his dreams for Edward's future as a governor, ambassador or even president. To prepare for this, George wanted Edward to get the right education, the right friends, and the right wife. Ramsley pledged to do everything in his power to make sure the boy had the proper training and education to perform his proper role in society. Ramsley saw to the boy's social training and saw that he was accomplished in a range of gentlemanly activities.
At the age of 15, he was sent to Boston to continue his education. He returned home during extended vacations, where Ramsley continued his instructions. At age 24, his education complete, Edward accepted a post at a Boston law firm. Edward was intelligent, soft spoken and cultured, with a quick wit. His nature was more romantic than aggressive - a source of endless annoyance to his father.
When George Gracey died the following year, Edward Gracey returned to Gracey Manor. He turned the day-to-day operation of the shipping company over to his father's trusted advisors. At Ramsley's insistence, Edward joined the social elite in New Orleans where he met the most well-bred young ladies in the region. (They, in turn, found him to be the most desirable bachelor.) The annual Mardi Gras balls began again at Gracey Manor, now with Edward as the soft-spoken but convivial host.
Gracey Manor Darkens
The Mystery Begins
Then, for no apparent reason, the parties ceased, the house fell dark, and Edward stopped his social whirl. Although no one knows exactly what happened, it was at this time that rumors about Gracey Manor began to be surface. Residents reported seeing an old gypsy woman at the mansion from time to time, but for the most part, the house was silent. It soon became the subject of gossip and speculation.
Workers in the home claimed that the house had a spirit of its own and could transform itself at will. Some said that daytime would suddenly turn to night and that lightning would strike on a sunny day. Others claimed that brass knobs transformed into bats, wall sconces became gargoyles and family portraits changed into images of the dead. Some even reported seeing ghostly dancers in the ballroom, who appeared and disappeared at will.
Today, Gracey Manor remains a commanding landmark, an embodiment of the grandeur, romance, legends and mysteries of another time.