When Marie Laveau died in 1881, her obituary in The New York Times read: “lawyers, legislators, planters, and merchants all came to pay their respects and seek her offices.”
That was the sort of influence she wielded in the Deep South during the days of slavery, despite being a black woman.
Known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans for at least 40 years from the 1820s to the 1860s, Laveau was well known for her special powers, her charity works and her ability to heal and charm with her potions called gris-gris.
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Rumors of her supernatural abilities are so widespread that till date, people from all over the world visit her gravesite to leave tokens like candles, flowers, Voodoo dolls, and offerings with hopes that she will bless them and grant them their requests.
From hairdressing to ruling New Orleans community as a Voodoo priestess with mystical powers, reports say that the crypt where she’s buried, St. Louis Cemetery #1, is believed to be the most haunted cemetery in America.
“Visitors claim to have seen the ghost of the Voodoo Queen herself, inside the cemetery, walking around tombs, in her trademark turban, while whispering a Santeria Voodoo curse to disrespectful gawkers,” writes Roadtrippers.
Born in New Orleans on September 10, 1801, as a free woman of color, Laveau was the daughter of a free man of color and a Creole mother. Various sources say that Laveau’s mother and grandmother were voodoo practitioners, however, Laveau started life as a hairdresser after losing her first husband, Jacques Paris, with whom she had two children.
Her children would also pass away while young under unknown circumstances. Known around town as the Widow Paris while working as a hairdresser, Laveau’s clients were mostly wealthy white women who felt at ease revealing secrets and other confidential matters to her.
Gaining so much information from these influential people, Laveau was able to convince others that she was a Voodoo priestess with supernatural abilities though other sources claimed that she learned her craft from a “voodoo doctor” known as Doctor John.
It has been documented that enslaved West Africans first brought Voodoo to New Orleans and the religion evolved as black people escaped to New Orleans in their numbers during the Haitian Revolution from 1794 and 1801.
Despite being a devoted Catholic, who attended mass most of the time and advised others to do the same, Laveau became the most powerful among voodoo queens in New Orleans.
Writer John Kendall, once wrote, “After dark, you might see carriages roll up to Marie’s door, and veiled ladies, elegantly attired, descend and hurry in to buy what the old witch had for sale. An arrant fraud, no doubt, but money poured into her lap down to the last day of her evil life.”
Laveau was regularly present at the gatherings in Congo Square on Sundays (a day that slaves were given off from work). There, she sold her gris-gris bags, which sources say “contained bits of bone, colored stones, graveyard dust (also called goofer dust), salt and red pepper.”
“One of Marie Laveau’s more horrible wangas, or badluck charms, reputedly was a bag made from the shroud of a person who had been dead nine days. Into the bag went a dried, one-eyed Toad, the little finger of a black person who had committed suicide, a dried lizard, bat’s wings, a cat’s eyes, an owl’s liver and a rooster’s heart. If such a gris-gris were hidden in a victim’s pillow, the unfortunate would surely die,” writes Occult World.
During these Congo Square celebrations, she also sang while “conjuring the Great Serpent Spirit and becoming filled with the spirit of loa, wearing her Queen of Voodoo crown, proudly,” reports ghostcitytours.com.
With her charity works, Laveau visited condemned prisoners and prayed with them in their final hours.
“It has been said that the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans had the power to put a person into or out of City Hall. She nurtured the sick through multiple epidemics, stood on the gallows ministering to the condemned and was accused of causing the deaths, through voodoo, of both a lieutenant governor and a governor. Many condemned her as a witch while others praised her as a saint,” writes Strange History.
Legend says that she even rescued a Frenchman from the gallows, after invoking a great storm that caused the noose to slip from the neck of the convict.
From the 1860s, Laveau stopped practicing voodoo in public and remained in her home on Rue St. Ann until she passed away on June 15, 1881, at the age of 98.
With her funeral widely attended, records say she was interred in the “Widow Paris” tomb in St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery and her tomb remains the most visited in all of New Orleans.
Although she had a daughter, Marie Laveau II, who picked up from where she left off with some “wild rituals”, she is said to have drowned in Lake Pontchartrain.
Having inspired many songs and movies, including popular television show American Horror Story, one popular legend believes that Laveau never died, but changed herself into a huge black crow which still flies over the cemetery,” writes The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits.
In fact, “both Maries are said to haunt New Orleans in various human and animal forms.”