No history of New Orleans, I suppose, would be complete without at least mentioning Marie Laveau, the legendary Voodoo Queen of the city. So, it only follows that many folks — locals and tourists alike — would want to find her grave and pay tribute to her. As I mentioned in a previous post, I took a comprehensive, but rushed, tour of the French Quarter and St. Louis Cemetery #1 with a knowledgeable but garrulous guide from New Orleans Legendary Walking Tours who saved what he thought would be the best for last, meaning we almost didn’t have time see what is — and isn’t — Marie Laveau’s gravesite. (Bear with me. There’s a story coming.)
I didn’t know much about Marie Laveau then, but I do now. Had to look her up. And what I’ve found is admittedly fuzzy — not only for me but for scholars who still seem a bit blurry on the details, too. Here’s the short version. Although some accounts list 1801 as Marie’s birth year, most agree that the Voodoo Queen was born free on September 10, 1794 but of slave lineage. Marie was the product of an affair between her mother, Marguerite Darcantel, and a successful mulatto businessman, Charles Laveaux. In 1819, Marie married Jacques Paris who disappeared around 1824, leaving Marie to be known as the Widow Paris. But Marie entered into a domestic relationship with a man of French descent, Louis de Glapion and together they raised seven children in a house in the Vieux Carré or French Quarter.
Known as a clairvoyant, Marie consulted with many residents of the French Quarter and led annual celebrations at places such as Lake Pontchartrain where bonfires, feasting, dancing, and ritual bathing became the stuff of legends, evidently. But here’s something I found interesting: Marie was known as a voodoo priestess, but she was also a devout Roman Catholic performing acts of compassion like ministering to the sick. And she lived a modest life despite her wealth. At one time, she even purchased a slave herself. Many saw her as a charitable woman while others only knew her as the Voodoo Queen. City records prove that she is buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1, but there is some confusion over which tomb is hers.
Most visitors, according to our guide, point to the tomb that is heavily marked with Xs. According to one source, visitors thought that to have a wish granted, they would mark an X on the tomb, turn around three times, knock on the tomb, and shout out their wish. People visiting the cemetery brought charcoal or paint with them; others, unprepared to make their mark, broke off bits of nearby tombs in order to scratch out an X. (And this latter practice is probably one reason why authorities have closed St. Louis Cemetery #1 to visitors except with licensed guides.)
Our guide, however, says this is not the grave of Marie Laveau. This tomb, marked with Xs in rows of three may bear Christian, not Voodoo, symbolism as sets of three Xs could represent the trinity: God the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. The markings could have been made to counter the voodoo effect of Marie Laveau. Or maybe someone Christian is buried here. He said there’s still speculation.
Our guide then led us to another tomb, a plainer one by far, but one that he says scholars agree is the true tomb of Marie Glapion Laveau. And today it’s easily identified: it’s the one where tributes are left at the base– a few coins, a scattering of trinkets, faded flowers, even old cigarettes. (Evidently, being a Voodoo Queen isn’t as glamorous in death as it may have been in real life!)
And so my tour ended with the pièce de résistence — the tomb of Marie Laveau, spawning a desire to learn more about the culture and practice of voodoo. I’m still amazed that Marie was both a practicing voodoo priestess and a devoted, even charitable, caring Roman Catholic. But it is New Orleans, after all. And who doesn’t love a blend of religions, cultures, backgrounds, legends and realities? And a few exaggerations maybe?
For more information:
Haunted New Orleans Tours: Marie Laveau, New Orleans Voodoo Queen: http://www.hauntedneworleanstours.com/marielaveau/marielaveau/
Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo: http://www.hauntedneworleanstours.com/marielaveau/marielaveau/
Wikipedia: Marie Laveau: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Laveau
Webster, Richard A. “Tomb of Marie Laveau, Voodoo queen of New Orleans, refurbished in time for Halloween” (October 29, 2014). The Times-Picayune. Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/10/tomb_of_marie_laveau_voodoo_qu.html