Marie Laveau : Fame from Voodoo

Marie Laveau, New Orleans, LA, USA | Addresses – 425 Basin Street – MAP

In 1801 a black girl is born free during much slavery, racism and fear.

Charles Laveaux and his love Marguerite D’Arcantel named her Marie Laveaux (later spelled Laveau).

Marie came from free people of color.  Charles was high society and owned a New Orleans grocery store.  His father (her grandfather) was famous surveyor Charles Trudeau, credited with designing Lafayette Park and serving as interim mayor of New Orleans in 1812.

Not much is known about Marguerite.  Once a “domestic partner” to Frenchman Henri D’Arcantel.  Was a relationship of convenience as understandably many free woman of color would use white men for their freedom.

Marie was born out of an “affair” between Marguerite and Charles was she was still married to Henri.  Possible truth might be Henri didn’t care what she did.

Marie Laveau painting - - 1920 copy of 1835 portrait by George Catlin (now lost)
Marie Laveau painting – – 1920 copy of 1835 portrait by George Catlin (now lost)

Legend says Marguerite was a spiritualist.  Ironic and fitting considering what her daughter would become.

“Free people of color” pre-date slavery in the United States.  This law was used often in Louisiana by Creole men (or original French settlers) who fell in love with mixed-race women.

Children bore from these unions were given a good education and life.  Marie Laveau was declared a “natural daughter” of two free people which made her and her children also free.

The Voodoo Queen

Unlike the usual stereotype of fear created by the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, she was truthfully a beautiful, kind and adored woman. This gave her much attention from which she never shied away.

In 1819 at a young age, Marie Laveau married Jacques Paris.  It ended quickly in 1820 when Jacques mysteriously vanished.  No body was found, so some said he ran away and returned home to Haiti.

Eventually Jacques was declared dead and Marie started calling herself the “Widow Paris”.

Then (it’s believed that) 6 years later Marie Laveau met Christophe de Glapion.

Christophe was from a French family, a Creole and free person of color even though many though Christophe was white due to his very pale skin.  Christophe’s kind nature and endless respect for Marie made him a perfect match.

They had 5 kids together, not the rumored 15.   This confusion was common because of tricks played by Marie and her daughter, also named Marie (Marie II).  The truth is there were 15 total, kids and grand kids

Christophe died in 1855 and just like ex-husband Jacques Paris it was in mystery.   No details how he died, just his death left Marie and the kids in debt.

She was kicked out of her beloved home on St. Ann Street, depressing because it was a house Marie owned.

The Cottage on St. Ann —
The cottage on St. Ann Street was once owned by a rich local man who had it built from clay and moss in the 1700’s.  One day, the rich man’s son was arrested and put in jail for unknown reasons.

He went to Marie Laveau for help.  She agreed and spent 9 days inside St. Louis Cathedral.  Kneeling in prayer, Marie spoke for the boy with an offering of pain as hot peppers burned under her tongue.

Pain was penance, believed to “soak up the magic”.  Marie arranged for the same peppers to be placed under the court judge’s chair right before the son’s trial.  The boy was freed that same day.

House on St. Ann where Marie's cottage once was, New Orleans
A house on St. Ann where Marie’s cottage once stood – – In New Orleans’ French Quarter

The grateful man gave Marie Laveau the St. Ann cottage as a gift.

Christophe’s death caused debt and the house to be taken away, but her deeds gave it right back.

A “friend” purchased the cottage and allowed Marie and the family to remain forever, rent free.

The St. Ann cottage was demolished in 1903 and is the house at 1020 St. Ann Street marking the approximate location, now a tourist attraction.

The Many “Friends” of Marie Laveau – – 
Friend is used her as one of many people beholden to the Voodoo Queen for different reasons.

Such as she kept their secrets, because Marie knew them all from slave quarters to high society.

They said it was Voodoo, but probably just gossip.  Marie Laveau was also a hairdresser for high-society women who gossiped all the time, commonly forgetting Marie was listening.  The women spilled secrets about friends and family, the powerful of New Orleans.

As well there was Marie’s network of slaves and servants in every household.  She offered rewards for information.

Over time it’s said Marie Laveau knew more about the people of New Orleans than the government.

When did Marie die – –
On Thursday June 16th, 1881, Marie died peacefully in bed inside the St. Ann Cottage… or was it as some local papers reported her being accidentally beheaded… or maybe she didn’t die and was still walking the streets as the undead.

Historic Engraving of Marie Laveau and Marie Laveau II - - 1886
Historic Engraving of Marie Laveau and Marie Laveau II – – 1886

Because Marie Laveau did walk the streets of the French Quarter for years after her death.  They said was her, but that’s not true.

It was Marie Leavau the 2nd (or Marie Laveau II), her daughter with Christophe.  This is an example of one of many tricks pulled on the New Orleans public to show her powers.

So Marie did die in 1881, but where are her remains.  Believed to be inside the de Glapion family crypt in Saint Louis #1, but no one knows for sure.

This doesn’t stop fans.  With tradition steeped in Catholic and African lore, followers pay homage to the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans by raising her ghost.

How to Raise the Ghost of Marie Laveau

With the number 3 and the letter X.  Both significant to Voodoo, appearing in many spells and folklore.  For example, do wrong and it’s visited back on you 3-fold.  And X is an African symbol for crossing over to death and back again.

At the grave of Marie Laveau in St. Louis #1 - - Notice the XXs
At the grave of Marie Laveau in St. Louis #1 – – Notice the XXs

If you…

  1. Deface the grave of Marie Laveau with X X X in black chalk
  2. Knock three times to show your presence

It’s said, that same night, Marie’s angry spirit will visit you.

That even touching the grave is bad luck.  A friend of ours, and local paranormal investigator, tried this on a visit to New Orleans.  She’s okay!

Marie the Saint

Confusion follows Marie Laveau to this day.

We know she was connected to Voodoo, the hacked magic from different traditions finding its way to Louisiana via the Haitian slave population.

Marie was demonized by organized religion because she became a living example of how Voodoo is good.  She was the center of attention, this beautiful woman with “powers”.  Citizens turned to her for help.

In 1853, Yellow Fever hit New Orleans.  Marie the Saint saved many lives, and helped others to die comfortably.  She was always there, in hospital wards and the streets, using her knowledge of herbs and Voodoo prayer.

The church hated how the people loved her.  Some say they spread rumours of her evil to ruin Marie.  That’s ironic considering Marie Laveau was very religious, even turning to the church after Christophe died and acting as a Christian advocate who converted many.

But she was a rebel.  Marie Laveau turned away from the day’s “religious morality” such as their acceptance of slavery.  Christianity in 1800’s New Orleans supported slavery because of multiple passages in the Bible.

Also, being free meant Marie could own slaves, and she did… but not for work.  She owned them to free them.

A slave named Alexandrine – –
Alexandrine came to the Laveau household after being purchased by Jean Jacques Christophe Paris.  Recognize the names.  It was fake, combining Marie’s two husbands, and acting as an identity she used to secure secured ownership of Alexandrine for ten days.

Marie sold Alexandrine to a plantation owner Mr. Dumartrait in exchange for 1000 Spanish Piasters.  Not nefarious at all, because Piasters didn’t exist in 1800’s New Orleans, so no money was passed.  Because of this, and a legal loophole, Alexandrine was now free.

Mr. Dumartrait was real.  A white man in love with Alexandrine.  Since both of them were now free, any children they had were also free, as were their grand kids and so on.  All thanks to Marie Laveau.

Marie Laveau the Devil

The dark council of Marie Laveau was sought by powerful men.  They’d sit with her, in the St. Ann cottage, discussing business matters.  Marie gave advice and she was always right.

Many questioned how a free woman of color could know the business of powerful men.  So they called it Voodoo and these men were selling their souls to the devil.  Marie Laveau was the Devil’s messenger.

Many would be insulted by such a reputation.  Not Marie.  She welcomed the fear it created in a very superstitious French Quarter.  Fear which began the reign of a Voodoo Queen.

Doctor John – –
Marie disappeared for a time and legend states she went to train with a famous Voodoo priest named Doctor John.

Doctor John – – Click for a detailed article

Rumored to be a free man of color with experience in dark magic he used to stay out of the public eye.

If Doctor John existed, many believed he was Jean Montanet (or Montanee), an African man born in Senegal in 1785, and Voodoo priest practicing in the slave gatherings of Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park).

Years after Marie Laveau’s death, her daughter referred to Doctor John not as a person but an African ghost who assisted with rituals.

Living the image – –
In 1830 Marie returned from Doctor John as a Voodoo Queen.  She loved the publicity.

Let’s loosely say a Kim Kardasian of her time (but with talent), she played the part in public rituals with her snake Zombi draped over her shoulders.  Snakes are important to Voodoo, and Li Grand Zombi (Zombi to his friends) was seen a lot with Marie.

Marie Laveau’s eternal youth – –
Marie Laveau II was Marie’s daughter, which was confusing for a reason.  It remains one of the greatest tricks she ever played.  Marie Laveau made people think she was immortal and eternally young.

Marie II looked just like her mother.  When Marie got old, Marie II took over public duties and told people she was her mother.  They’d ask, “how do you look so young?” and she’d only smile.

They all believed Marie Laveau found youth through Voodoo.  An easy thought because Marie II was also a brilliant Voodoo priestess.

Marie Laveau did die peacefully in her bed at the St. Ann Cottage in 1881.  Her daughter would die in 1897 while crossing Lake Pontchartrain in a boat during a flood.  She fell in and drowned.

The Fiction of Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau, Robert Tallant - - writer of "The Voodoo Queen", 1946 (Click for book)
Robert Tallant – – writer of “The Voodoo Queen”, 1946 (Click for book)

She’s “evil” because many writers say so.  This included Robert Tallant, a columnist for a New Orleans’ newspaper who released a book in 1946 called “The Voodoo Queen: A Novel”.

He stated Marie conducted violent and bloody rituals and described her as leader of a satanic cult.

In 1957 he died in strange fashion.  If happening to someone else, Robert may have believed it was the work of Marie Laveau’s ghost.  At only 48 years old he dropped dead while drinking a glass of tap water in his apartment.

The coroner deemed it natural causes. No other explanation given.

The Legend & Ghost of the Voodoo Queen

Marie Laveau lives on through tales of magic and ghosts.  Some locals of New Orleans think she walks around the French Quarter as the reanimated dead.

What the vagrant saw – –
During the Great Depression a homeless man passed through New Orleans.  Finding a comfortable place to sleep inside Saint Louis #1 Cemetery, he laid down beside the de Glapion crypt.

Near the witching hour of 3am, he woke to sounds of chanting and drums.  Looked up to see naked people dancing, and in the centre a beautiful black woman who stood stick still.  A large snake wrapped around her shoulders.

The ghost of Marie – –
People claim to see Marie Laveau near her former beloved St. Ann Cottage dressed in white with a handkerchief around her neck and iconic wrap over her head.  Marie was known for such fashion it in the 1800’s, something that would stand out today.

Others say Marie Laveau transforms into a black crow and flies into Saint Louis #1.  Speaking of crows in that cemetery…

Daniel of the Ghost Walks’ experience in Saint Louis #1 – –

“On a visit to New Orleans, we took an early tour of the cemetery as people are only allowed in before 3pm in the very bad neighborhood.

“About to enter and I noticed a man sneak through the gates.  He looked suspicious but we had nothing to fear in such a large group.  I soon forgot about the man, until finding what he left behind.

“Down an aisle near Marie Laveau’s crypt, a large black crow lay dead on the ground.  Its head removed and placed an inch from severed neck neck, and its wings spread out.

“This disgusting act was done moments earlier.  I believe the man did it to represent dark Voodoo… or probably the act of a disturbed mind.”


Elmore Lee Banks – –
This story comes from the book Voodoo Queen by Robert Tallant (see above)… in the 1930’s Elmore Lee Banks walked into a local drug store.  While browsing he heard the bell ring over the front door as a customer entered.

Standing down an aisle, he saw the cashier fear and Elmore thought it was a robbery.  Standing still, he nervously waited for a yell, or maybe see the cashier duck.  Nothing happened.

Elmore walked up to see an elderly woman, who towards him.  “Don’t you know me?”, the woman asked

“No”, and she slapped Elmore across the face.

The woman ran out the door with a speed not fitting her feeble look.  Elmore running after, out onto the empty streets and she was gone.  He looked up and watched in shocked silence as the old woman flew up and over the wall of Saint Louis #1 Cemetery.

Back in the store Elmore found the cashier passed out in the backroom.  He shook the man who woke and yelled, “That was Marie Laveau!”

Marie’s mercy – –
When Marie was still alive two men were convicted for killing a slave girl.  Their hanging was set days later and drew a large crowd who gathered around double gallows eager to see justice be done.

All was calm until the executioner arrived.  Everything stopped as rust colored clouds filled the once blue sky.  Thunder exploded and lightning split the clouds.  Some women screamed.

Then as quick as it came, the storm was gone.

The executioner gained his wits and still pulled that lever, releasing the trap door and the condemned men fell… and both of them went right through the tight nooses, landing safely on the ground.

The men were hanged successfully on the second try, however the message was clear.  Marie Laveau wasn’t happy about the violent display, that she felt justice is not decided by people, but by nature.

The great Voodoo Queen’s power is respected today as much as it was back then.  Something that would make Marie Laveau very happy.

Read about other infamous ghosts : Real DraculaLizzie Borden | Ambrose Small | Edgar Allan Poe