“Deadly Vessel” premiered on The Dead Files on August 22, 2019. The episode focused on a New Orleans restaurant called “Vessel.” The episode contained a couple errors; however, none diminished Amy’s walk and observations. The episode profiled a woman who transformed New Orleans.
On November 6, 1795, Micaela Leonarda Antonia Almonester was born in New Orleans to Don Andres Almonester y Rojas, age 59, and his significantly younger wife, Louise Denis de la Ronde, age 29. Almonester was a wealthy Spaniard who was a Notary and real estate mogul. He commissioned the Jackson Square (then known as Place d’Armes) icons: St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere, and the Cabildo. When Micaela was 2 and ½ years old, he died.
Micaela became the wealthiest heiress in New Orleans. Her mother arranged Micaela’s marriage to a 20-year-old cousin, Xavier Celestin de Pontalba, affectionately called “Tin Tin.” They married on October 23, 1811 when Michaela was 15 years old. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to Paris, settling in the French chateau, Mont I’Eveque.
The marriage full of conflict. Celestin’s father, Baron Joseph Delfau de Pontalba, wanted control over Micaela’s entire inheritance. Her mother had wisely contracted for a small portion of the money to be used as a dowry. The marriage produced 5 children, though only 3 sons lived to adulthood.
In 1830, Micaela defied her husband’s orders and traveled to the U.S. Upon arrival in Washington, D.C., Micaela was invited to the White House. A rumor states that she had a torrid affair with President Andrew Jackson. Upon return to France, Micaela was locked in her room without contact to household staff and shunned by Tin Tin’s family. The goal was to cause Micaela to forfeit her vast fortune to the Baron.
Nearly 23 years to the day of marriage, on October 19, 1834, the Baron attempted to murder Micaela. Using two pistols, he shot her 4 times in the chest. Miraculously, she survived, though permanently maimed. Later that evening, the Baron committed suicide.
The newly titled Baroness de Pontalba, Micaela attempted to divorce her husband numerous times. The French courts had strict laws pertaining to divorce and rejected each claim. Luckily, her husband attempted to ruin Micaela’s reputation by publishing excerpts from the court proceedings. Micaela was able to turn the tables on Celestin, showing that he did not have her best interest as a wife in mind. By tarnishing her good name, Celestin violated his marriage oath. The Court finally allowed her to separate, although they never formally divorced.
In 1848, Micaela took sons Alfred and Gaston and returned to New Orleans. Micaela was disappointed at how run down her properties appeared. She commissioned architects to level the homes and rebuild Place d’Armes. The Pontalba Buildings were constructed and adorned with wrought iron railings that still contain the “AP” letters carved within them. Micaela financed the bronze statue of Andrew Jackson sitting on his horse which if the focal point of Jackson Square.
Had Micaela’s father-in-law not been so greedy, she would not have ascended to the title of Baroness. Micaela remained friendly with her estranged husband, even caring for him by covering his living expenses. Micaela died on April 20, 1874 at the age of 78. A gracious smart businesswoman, Micaela left a great legacy through her preservation efforts and charitable work.
Now some feel she haunts a restaurant that was once part of her vast real estate portfolio.
The Vessel restaurant was formerly a church. Built in 1914, it was converted to a restaurant in the 1970s. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina forced the restaurant to shutter. Alec Wilder had a premonition to purchase an historic church in New Orleans. He and partner Eddie Dyer purchased the property sight-unseen. The restaurant launched in 2016 to rave reviews. The official Website boasts: “eat drink congregate.”
Located at 3835 Iberville Street, the restaurant serves locally sourced items and city favorites. Reservations are highly encouraged. We make our annual trek to NOLA this December, and you can bet that I will be booking our table. Who knows? Maybe the Baroness will dine with us.