Although there is plenty of information about Marie Laveau (Lavaux) and her daughter and namesake in the legends and lore of Old New Orleans, known as Marie II, separating the fact from the myth has always been a challenge for those seeking a true history of this famous New Orleans icon. Nearly everything that is known about them originates in the secretive oral tradition of the practitioners of Voodoo and that information has been embellished with hearsay and drama, making an already larger than life persona absolutely formidable in the tales that survive.
Nevertheless, theres not a single person who grew up in New Orleans without hearing about the legend and powers of the citys infamous Queen of Voodoo.
Marie Laveau is known throughout the world as the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen of North America. In actuality, this famous icon is really a combination of two people a famous mother and daughter who epitomized the sensational and exotic appeal of Africanized Voodoo in 19th and early 20th century New Orleans. Both women thrived against the strong ethnic backdrop of this First American Melting Pot, the gumbo that is New Orleans, and their legend grew along with their patrons. Rich and poor sought them out, first the mother and later the daughter in equal measure, to seek the aid of their dark powers to control lovers, gain fame and fortune, become pregnant, and exact revenge on others important in their lives.
Marie I, the mother, reputedly was born a Free Woman of Color in New Orleans around 1794. She was a mulatto, a person of mixed Black, White and Native American blood. Some legends describe her as a Creole, a descendant of the great French and Spanish aristocracies; still others style her as the daughter of a wealthy white Southern planter and his Negro mistress. It is likely that she may have had the blood of every one of these ethnic groups coursing through her veins.
Marie Is marriage to Jacques Paris, a Free Man of Color from Saint Dominique (Haiti), is recorded on August 4, 1819: This record lists for the first time the names of Marie Is parents, listing her as an illegitimate daughter of Msr. Charles Laveau and a Marguerite Darcantrel. Marie was described as tall, beautiful and statuesque, with curly black hair, golden skin and "good" features (then meaning more white than Negro). She and Paris took up residence in a house, supposedly part of her dowry from Charles Laveau, in the 1900 block of North Rampart Street.
Paris disappeared soon after the marriage, perhaps returning to Sainte Dominique. A death certificate was filed five years later without any certificate of interment; Marie then began addressing herself as the Widow Paris. She took up employment as a hairdresser catering to the wealthy white and Creole women of New Orleans and this is considered the root of her enduring legend. For many of the women looked upon Marie as a confidante, confessing to her their most intimate secrets and desires about their husbands and lovers, their estates and families, their husbands mistresses and business affairs, and their other heartfelt wishes. What probably began as the delivery of broad-shouldered good advice from one woman to others ultimately grew into a force and a legend that still resonates throughout New Orleans today.
Around 1826, Marie took up with Msr. Louis Christophe Duminy de Glapion, a quadroon also from Sainte Dominique. They lived in Maries North Rampart Street house until his death in 1855 (some claim possibly as early as 1835). Although she and Glapion never married, Marie had 15 children by him in rapid succession and ultimately ended her hairdressing career to devote all her energies to raising this brood. But Marie by no means lost a clientele, for as she settled into domesticity on Rampart Street she also set about becoming the legend: The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.
Voodoo had been secretly practiced by blacks and islanders in and around New Orleans since the first boat loads of slaves arrived from Africa and the Caribbean. New Orleans was always more French-Spanish than English-American, and the slaves had came from the same parts of Africa that had sent blacks to work the French and Spanish plantations scattered throughout the colonial New World. After the blacks had won their independence in the infamous slave uprising in Haiti (1803-1804), the Creole planters escaping the rebellion brought their loyal slaves with them to the friendlier shores of southern Louisiana where the French-Spanish culture was more familiar and welcoming. The slaves were avid practitioners of the ancient Vodoun and Yoruba religions, and although deftly hidden among the intricacies of the prevailing Catholic faith, the old African beliefs thrived as the slave populations grew.
Quickly tales circulated of hidden and secret rituals being held deep in the bayous, complete with the worship of a snake god called Zombi, and orgiastic dancing, drinking, and lovemaking. Almost a third of the worshippers were white, desirous of obtaining the "power" that was promised by the priests and mambos directing these rituals. These meetings frightened the white population. Many slave owners began to fear that the blacks were planning an uprising against them, as had happened in Haiti. As a result, in 1817, the New Orleans Municipal Council passed a resolution forbidding blacks to gather for dancing or any other purpose except on Sundays, and only in places designated by the mayor. The accepted spot in the City was Congo Square on North Rampart Street, now located adjacent to Armstrong Park. Blacks, most of them voodooists, met, danced and sang in the stylized rituals, overtly worshipping their gods while entertaining (and frightening) the whites with their Africano "gibberish".
By the 1830s there were many voodoo mambos in New Orleans, fighting over control of the Sunday Congo Square dances and the secret ceremonies still held on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. But when "Mamzelle" Marie Laveau stepped forward to begin her reign, contemporaries reported the other queens faded before her; some succumbing to her powerful gris-gris, some being physically driven away by the brute force of Maries growing mass of followers. Marie also gained control of the Congo Square Dances by entering before all the other dancers and entertaining the fascinated onlookers with her snake.
Marie knew the sensation that the rituals at the lake were causing and used it to further the purposes of the voodoo movement in New Orleans. She invited the public, press, police, the New Orleans roués, and others thrill-seekers of the forbidden fun to attend. Charging admission made voodoo profitable for the first time. Marie was always a devout, practicing Catholic and she added influences of that religion -holy water, incense, statues of the saints, and Christian prayers - to the already sensational ceremonies of Voodoo.
Her entrepreneurial efforts went even further by organizing secret orgies for wealthy white men seeking beautiful black, mulatto and quadroon women for mistresses. Marie presided over these meetings herself and they invariably became secret public knowledge. Eventually, Marie Laveau, with all of the secret knowledge which she had gained from the Creole boudoirs combined with her own considerable knowledge of spells along with her undeniable magical abilities, became the most powerful woman in New Orleans. Whites of every class sought her help in their various affairs and amours while blacks saw her as their leader. Judges paid her as much as $1000 to assure victory in elections; other whites paid $10 (a high fee at the time) for an insignificant love powder. But she never charged the black community for her services.
At the age of 70, in 1869, Marie gave her last performance as a voodoo queen. She announced she was retiring and retired to a home located on the more peaceful St. Ann Street in the Old Quarter. But she never completely retired. She continued her work until at least 1875, when she is said to have been active visiting the poor and imprisoned and still giving readings in her home.
On June 16, 1881, Marie I, Widow Paris, died in her St. Ann Street house. Reporters of the day painted her in the most glorious terms, a saintly figure of 98 (actually 87), who nursed the sick, and prayed incessantly with the diseased and condemned. Reporters called her the recipient "in the fullest degree" of the "heredity gift of beauty" in the Laveau family, who gained the notice of Governor Claiborne, French General Humbert, Aaron Burr, and even the Marquis de Lafayette. Her obituaries claimed she lived a pious life surrounded by her Catholic religion, with no mention of her Voodoo past. Even one of her surviving children, Madame Legendre, claimed her saintly mother never practiced Voodoo and despised the cult.
Marie Laveau's reported Tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No.# 1
Then a similar tall woman with flashing black eyes, and the ability to control lives, emerged as Marie Laveau II.
Tomb of Marie Laveau II Saint Louis cemetery Number 2
Marie Laveau Glapion was born February 2, 1827, one of the 15 children crowding first the home on Rampart Street and then the St. Ann Street cottage. It was never known whether her mother, Marie I, chose the role for her daughter, or whether Marie II chose the role herself to follow in her mothers footsteps. By most accounts she shared her mothers features to an extraordinary degree, a virtual replica of Marie I. Others say the pupils of her eyes were half-moon shaped and this is how you could tell daughter from mother. Apparently, Marie II lacked the warmth and compassion of her mother because she seems to have inspired more fear and subservience than her mother did. Like her mother before her, she began work as a hairdresser; eventually, however, she abandoned that profession to run a bar and brothel on Bourbon Street, between Toulouse and Saint Peter.
Marie continued operations at the "Maison Blanche" (White House), the house which her mother allegedly had built for secret voodoo meetings and liaisons between white men and black women. Marie II was proclaimed to be a talented procuress, able to fulfill any mans desires for a price. Lavish parties were held at the Maison Blanche offering champagne, fine food, wine, music, and naked black girls dancing for white men, politicians, and high officials. They were never raided by the police who feared that if they crossed Marie she might "hoodoo" them.
Marie II continued in the rich traditions and persona of the Voodoo Queen began by her mother so many years before. The Saint John's Day celebrations were especially connected to the Voodoo rituals of the time, celebrated along the shores of St. Johns Bayou where it met the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. The St. John celebration of 1872 was distinguished by the presence of both mother and daughter and began as a religious ceremony in the tradition of Marie I. She came with a crowd singing. Soon a cauldron was boiling with water from a beer barrel, into which went salt, black pepper, a black cat, a black rooster, a various powders, and a snake sliced in three pieces representing the Trinity. With all this boiling the practitioners ate, whether the contents of the cauldron or not is not known. Afterwards or during the feast was more singing, appropriately to "Mamzelle Marie." Then it was cooling off time at which all stripped and swam in the lake. This was followed by a sermon by Marie II, then a half hour of relaxation, or sexual intercourse. Then four naked girls put the contents of the cauldron back into the beer barrel. Marie I gave another sermon, by this time it was becoming daylight and all headed for home. Marie II continued these yearly rituals throughout her lifetime.
Strangely, although Marie I seemed almost to fade into obscurity, Marie II "died" well within in the public eye. Since the public had never made a true distinction between mother and daughter, the death of one ended the career of the other. Marie II still reigned over the voodoo ceremonies of the blacks and ran the Maison Blanche, but she never regained high notice in the press. Supposedly she drowned in a big storm in Lake Pontchartrain in the 1890s, but some people claimed to have seen her as late as 1918.
Death did not end the power of the Great Marie Laveau.
Though the Widow Paris is reportedly buried in the family crypt in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the vault bears the name of Marie Philome Glapion, deceased June 11, 1897. If this inscription is correct, this would rightly be the burial place of Marie II. But the vault still attracts the curious and the faithful from all corners of the globe and gifts of food, money, flowers, candles, and artifacts can always be found there. Believers and the simply superstitious ask for Maries help in an elaborate knocking and turning ritual, marking the white stone with three crosses of red brick in the effort to write their hopes on her memory.
Curiously, in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 there is another vault bearing the name of Marie Laveau. This vault has red crosses on it as well and is distinguished as the "wishing tomb where young women can go to petition the great Voodoo Queen when seeking husbands.
Many cemeteries around New Orleans claim to be the last resting place of one or both of the legendary Laveau women, but the St. Louis No. 1 is recognized as the most accurate location. Still, there are others who insist that the Great Mamzelle never died and that she even visits the cemeteries herself, in disguise, chuckling with amusement at the devotees who honor her legend even now.
Marie Laveau's grave in New Orleans is visited daily by curiosity seekers and true believers of voodoo. Legend has it that you should make three "X" marks with red brick found nearby, place your hand over the marks, close your eyes, and knock hard against the tomb three times.
Apparently, still suggested by many New Orleans tourist guides that the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans still grants wishes.
NEWSPAPERS COVER THE PASSING OF MARIE LAVEAU!
Marie Philomene Laveau Glapion
DEATH OF MARIE LAVEAU
A WOMAN WITH A WONDERFUL HISTORY ALMOST A CENTURY OLD, CARRIED TO THE TOMB YESTERDAY EVENING. Those who have passed by the quaint old house on St. Ann, between Rampart and Burgundy streets with the high frail looking fence in front over which a tree or two is visible, have been within the last few years, noticed through the open gateway a decrepid old lady with snow white hair, and a smile of peace and contentment lighting up her golden features. For a few years past she has been missed from her accustomed place. The feeble old lady lay upon her bed with her daughter and grand children around her ministering to her wants.
On Wednesday the invalid sank into the sleep, which knows no waking. Those whom she had befriended crowded into the little room where she was exposed, in order to obtain a last look at the features, smiling even in death, of her who had been so kind to them.
At 5 o'clock yesterday evening Marie Laveau was buried in her family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Her remains were followed to the grave by a large concourse of people, the most prominent and the most humble joining in paying their last respects to the dead. Father Mignot conducted the funeral services.
Marie Laveau was born ninety-eight years ago. Her father was a rich planter, who was prominent in all public affairs, and served in the Legislature of this State. Her mother was Marguerite Henry, and her grandmother was Marguerite Semard. All were beautiful women of color. The gift of beauty was hereditary in the family, and Marie inherited it in the fullest degree. When she was twenty-five years old she was led to the altar by Jacques Paris, a carpenter. This marriage took place at the St. Louis Cathedral. Pere Antoine, of beloved memory, conducting the service, and Mr. Mazureau the famous lawyer, acting as witness. A year afterwards Mr. Paris disappeared, and no one knows to this day what became of him. After waiting a year for his return she married Capt. Christophe Glapion. The latter was also very prominent here, and served with distinction in the battalion of men of San Domingo, under D'Aquin, with Jackson in the war of 1815.
Fifteen children were the result of their marriage. Only one of these is now alive. Capt. Glapion died greatly registered, on the 26th of June, 1855. Five years afterwards Marie Laveau, became ill, and has been sick ever since, her indisposition becoming more pronounced and painful within the last ten years.
Besides being very beautiful Marie also was very wise. She was skillful in the practice of medicine and was acquainted with the valuable healing qualities of indigenous herbs.
She was very successful as a nurse, wonderful stories being told of her exploits at the sick bed. In yellow fever and cholera epidemics she was always called upon to nurse the sick, and always responded promptly. Her skill and knowledge earned her the friendship and approbation, of those sufficiently cultivated, but the ignorant attributed her success to unnatural means and held her in constant dread.
Notably in 1853 a committee of gentlemen, appointed at a mass meeting held at Globe Hall, waited on Marie and requested her on behalf of the people to minister to the fever stricken. She went out and fought the pestilence where it was thickest and many alive today owe their salvation to her devotion.
Not alone to the sick man was Marie Laveau a blessing. To help a fellow citizen in distress she considered a priceless privilege. She was born in the house where she died. Her mother lived and died there before her. The unassuming cottage has stood for a century and a half. It was built by the first French settlers of adobe and not a brick was employed in its construction. When it was erected it was considered the handsomest building in the neighborhood. Rampart street was not then in existence, being the skirt of a wilderness and latterly a line of entrenchment. Notwithstanding the decay of her little mansion, Marie made the sight of it pleasant to the unfortunate. At anytime of night or day any one was welcome to food and lodging.
Those in trouble had but to come to her and she would make their cause her own after undergoing great sacrifices in order to assist them.
Besides being charitable, Marie was also very pious and took delight in strengthening the allegiance of souls to the church. She would sit with the condemned in their last moments and endeavor to turn their last thoughts to Jesus. Whenever a prisoner excited her pity Marie would labor incessantly to obtain his pardon, or at least a commutation of sentence, and she generally succeeded.
A few years ago, before she lost control of her memory, she was rich in interesting reminiscences of the early history of this city. She spoke often of the young American Governor C
She spoke often of the young American Governor Claiborne, and told how the child-wife he brought with him from Tennessee died of the yellow fever shortly after his arrival with the dead babe upon her bosom was buried in a corner of the old American Cemetery. She spoke sometimes of the strange little man with the wonderful bright eyes Aaron Burr, who was so polite and so dangerous. She loved to talk of Lafayette, who visited New Orleans over half a century ago. The great Frenchman came to see her at her house, and kissed her on the forehead at parting.
She remembered the old French General, Humbert, and was one of the few colored people who escorted to the tomb long since dismantled in the catholic Cemetery, the withered and grizzly remains of the hero of Castelbar. Probably she knew Father Antoine better than any living in those days - for he the priest and she the nurse met at the dying bedside of hundreds of people - she to close the faded eyes in death, and he, to waft the soul over the river to the realms of eternal joy.
All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless contented and did not lag in her work. She always had the cause of the people at heart and was with them in all things. During the late rebellion she proved her loyalty to the South at every opportunity and fully dispensed help to those who suffered in defense of the "lost cause." Her last days were spent surrounded by sacred pictures and other evidences of religion, and she died with a firm trust in heaven. While God's sunshine plays around the little tomb where her remains are buried, by the side of her second husband, and her sons and daughters, Marie Laveau's name will not be forgotten in New Orleans. Daily Picayune - June 18, 1881
Death of the Queen of the Voudous Just Before St. John's Eve.
"On the eve of St. John I must wander alone, In thy bower, I may not be!"
" Marie Glassion, nee Lavaux, was buried yesterdy evening, and her funeral was attended by large numbers of the colored population. Marie Lavaux, as is well-known by all the old residents of the city, was the queen of the Voudous, that curious sect of superstitious darkies that combined the hard traditions of African Legends with the fetich worship of our Creole Negroes.
She was a woman of some presence and considerable conversational powers. Somewhat bent with years when she last officiated as regnant mistress of her weird domain, she yet retained a remarkable control over her whilom subjects and impressed them with her sovereignty. As a rule reticent on subjects other than fetich worship, she was somewhat loquacious and quite a spirited talker.
Her eyes were peculiar in their look and had considerable magnetism about them. Her face was of the old Negro type, expressionless except when highly animated, wrinkled from forehead to chin and with a skin not unlike parchment.
She was a peculiar character, and one which essentially belongs to an era of Louisiana long since passed away. That remarkable woman died at the advanced age of ninety-eight years, and it is curious that her demise should have happened within a few days of the "eve of good St. John," which is the anniversary of the Voudous, and which has been commemorated by the sect under her regency, for the last forty years, on the twenty-fourth of June of each year. When the next celebration comes, the Voudous will have no queen and on the eve of St. John Marie Lavaux will be voudouing with the ghosts of the past and her charms and incantations, will be of no avail. For she had love charms that brought lovers together and fearful drugs that sundered loving souls. Among her people her incantations, fetiches and charms were supposed to be without fail, and thousands crowded around her to obtain relief, fortune or revenge. How they were satisfied is neither here nor there, but they believed in the dark superstition, and faith covered all the faults and lies that made her a sorceress and a queen. With Marie Lavaux dies the last of these old Negro Creole characters that had almost risen in New Orleans up to the standard illustrations.
First went old Zabette, the celebrated cake woman of the St. Louis Cathedral, who in old times delighted the children and even some of the grown folks with her home-made pastry and delicious "boiere du pays," always kept cool in a bucket of clearest water. Of early mornings Zabette gave out choice black coffee in tiny cups to her clients, and we remember an old song composed ex tempore by a representative Creole on a certain morning succeeding a sleepless night, which she took as the price of a cup of coffee, and which began in this wise:
"Piti fille, piti fille, piti fille, Piti fille qui couri dan de lo."
Then went Rose, the coffee woman of the French Market, one of the comeliest of her race, black as Erebus, but smiling always and amicable as dawn. Her coffee was the essence of the fragrant bean, and since her death the lovers of that divine beverage wander listlessly around the stalls of Sunday mornings with a pining at the bosom which cannot be satisfied.
Now Marie Lavaux is gone, the least graceful or poetic of these strange personations of the past, but undoubtedly the most powerful, and we can say that with her vanishes the embodiment of the fetich superstition and the last representative of that class whose peculiar idiosyncracies were derived from the habits and customs of old Louisiana. Much evil dies with her, but should we not add, a little poetry?" New Orleans Democrat - June 17, 1881
"Who has been stuffing our contemporaries in the matter of the defunct voudou queen, Marie Lavoux? For they have undoubtedly been stuffed, nay crammed, by some huge practical joker. The informant for all is evidently the same, as the stories of the Picayune, Item and States consist admirably in their uniform departure from historical fact. According to the accounts of these esteemed but deluded contemporaries, Marie Lavoux was a saint, who had spent a life of self-sacrifice and abnegation in doing good to her fellow-mortals, and whose immaculate spirit was all but too pure for this world.
One of them even so far in his enthusiasm as to publish a touching interview with the sainted woman, in which the reporter boasts of having deposited a chaste kiss on her holy forehead. We are sorry for that reporter if his story is true, for if he really believes it all, his only consolation is in the fact that greenness is the color of hope. These fictions had one good result, for they created a vast amount of merriment among the old Creole residents, and in fact among all men of mature age who knew the social history of their time in New Orleans.
The fact is that the least said about Marie Lavoux's sainted life, etc., the better. She was, up to an advanced age, the prime mover and soul of the indecent orgies of the ignoble Voudous; and to her influence may be attributed the fall of many a virtuous woman. It is true that she had redeeming traits. It is a peculiar quality of the old race of Creole Negroes that they are invariably kind-hearted and charitable. Marie Lavoux made no exception. But talk about her morality and kiss her sainted brow - pouah!!! The New Orleans Democrat, June 18, 1881
The last account we have of her was published in 1886 by George W. Cable, one of the most respected Southern journalists of his era:
"I once saw, in extreme old age, the famed Marie Laveau. Her dwelling was in the quadroon quarter of New Orleans ... In the center of a small room whose ancient cypress floor was worn with scrubbing, sprinkled with crumbs of soft brick -- a Creole affectation of superior cleanliness -- sat, quaking with feebleness in an ill-looking old rocking chair, her body bowed, her wild, gray witch's tresses hanging about her shriveled, yellow neck, the queen of the Voodoos. Three generations of her children were within the faint beckon of her helpless, wagging wrist and fingers ... one could hardly help but see that her face, now so withered, had once been handsome and commanding. There was still a faint shadow of departed beauty in the forehead, the spark of an old fire in the sunken, glistening eyes, and vestige of imperiousness in the fine, slightly aquiline nose, and even about her silent, woebegone mouth ... Her daughter was also present, a woman of some 70 years, and a most striking and majestic figure. In features, stature and bearing she was regal. One had but to look at her, and impute her brilliances -- too untamable and severe to be called charms and graces -- to her mother, and remember what New Orleans was long years ago, to understand how the name of Marie Laveau should have driven herself inextricably into the traditions of the town and the times."
On June 16, 1881, word went out that Marie Laveau was dead. The Times Democrat wrote, "Much evil dies with her, but should we not add, a little poetry as well?"