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TOMB OF MARIE LAVEAU

 

 

 

xxx

 

 

 

MARKS THE SPOT:

 

 

 

DEDICATION OR DESECRATION?

CALLING ON THE QUEEN

OF THE

CITY OF THE DEAD


THE FACTS ABOUT THE MARIE LAVEAU LEGEND

The following is excerpted from the book City of the Dead: A Journey Through St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans, Louisiana by Robert Florence © 1996, The Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, @ pages 60-63:

 

“Marie Laveau (c. 1794-1881)

Marie Laveau was the reigning Voodoo priestess of the nineteenth century. New Orleans Voodoo as a social phenomenon came into its heyday during the 1800’s. Under Marie Laveau’s guidance Voodoo thrived as a business, served as a form of political influence, provided a source o[f] spectacle and entertainment, and was a means of altruism. But what Voodoo is in its pure form is religion: forms of worship brought to Caribbean and American colonies through the slave trade.

Due to slavery, the entire life of the transplanted African was tragically altered. Naturally the religious beliefs and practices would change. This mutation of West African religion under the strain of slavery ultimately gave rise to the New-World phenomenon known as “voodoo.” More than any one person, Marie Laveau transformed the religious practices of African slaves into a major social and cultural institution of nineteenth-century New Orleans. On many levels, her life was an embodiment of New Orleans Voodoo.

To begin with, New Orleans Voodoo is steeped in Catholicism. Marie Laveau, the most renowned Voodoo figure in the history of North America, has been buried in a Catholic cemetery which has a separate section for Protestants. She was a devout Catholic who attended Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral nearly every day. First public record of her appears at the Cathedral, where she was married to Jacque Paris on August 4, 1819. To a greater extent than her predecessors, Marie Laveau would mix holy water, Catholic prayers, incense, and saints into the African-based Voodoo rites.

 

New Orleans Voodoo, like New Orleans culture, is a mixture. Marie Laveau herself was a mixture: She was a free person of color, born to Charles Laveau, a wealthy French planter, and a mother who sources indicate could have been a mulatto slave, a Caribbean Voodoo practitioner, or a quadroon mistress. Marie may also have been part Choctaw. The objects and actions employed in the practice of New Orleans Voodoo are called “gris-gris.” “Gris” is the French word for grey, signifying a mixture of black and white magic, magic which can be used for different purposes. Gris-gris, the basis of New Orleans Voodoo practice, is a concept which is based upon mixture.

Marie Laveau’s gender is indicative of New Orleans Voodoo. Hers was a matriarchal sect, like the African religion upon which it is based. Marie Laveau also embodies New Orleans Voodoo as an impresario. Voodoo ceremonies in Marie Laveau’s day were looked upon by some people as entertainment; she was the one who introduced this show-biz element. She understood theatrical staging, possessing a good sense of what people would line up and pay to see. These performances, and her general voodoo practice, were highly lucrative. Aspects of nineteenth-century New Orleans Voodoo were also business-oriented, and she was a consummate businesswoman.

Marie Laveau could very well be the person who eternally solidified the connection between the City of New Orleans and the practice of Voodoo. But despite her historic significance, much confusion surrounds her life, and this tomb. For example, the commemorative plaque states that this is the “reputed” burial place of this woman. Some of the information on the headstone corresponds with what is known about her: Marie, nee ‘Laveau’, married carpenter Jacques Paris. He dies within six years and she has become the “Widow Paris.” She thereafter became common-law wife to ship captain Christopher Glapion, who had distinguished himself in the Battle of New Orleans. The names Laveau, Paris and Glapion are all accounted for on this family tomb.

Yet the date of death, 1897, is not hers, but closer to her daughter’s, Marie Laveau II. So the question is, which one of them is buried here? Some say they were both buried in this tomb; others believe neither are here. Many people think their remains were switched between the St. Louis #1 and #2 cemeteries. The answer to this question is unclear and perpetually debated, as there are endless discrepancies in recorded information about her, much of it being legend. Yet even if Marie Laveau had been buried here, her remains would not necessarily be inside. Since bones are one of the most popular forms of gris-gris, it is likely that a Voodoo practitioner cleared them out of the vault shortly after her entombment.

TOMB REPORTED TO BE THAT OF MARIE LAVEAU II

 

In a sense, it does not really matter if Marie Laveau was buried here, because the tomb has been accepted as her final resting place and for generations the devoted and the curious have been visiting this site, conducting all kinds of rituals, leaving all kinds of gris-gris. You never quite know what you will find upon visiting this gravesite, anything from a statue of a monkey and a cock to a wedding cake couple circled in coconut, cayenne, and honey, to a freshly dead rat wearing Mardi Gras beads.

But you will always find the innumerable “X’s” blanketing this tomb and several others. The origins of this proverbial New Orleans Voodoo practice are unclear, but contrary to popular belief, it is not rooted in age-old local ritual. Judging from the sheer amount of X’s scrawled throughout the cemetery, it would appear the legions of Voodoo practitioners make their way through the City of the Dead on a regular basis. Although more Voodoo is practiced at this one tomb than any single tomb in the United States, many people who worship through Voodoo and genuinely live it as a lifestyle have never left a mark on the structures of the City of the Dead.

Marie LaVeau is considered by most of haunted New Orleans residence as the true Queen of Voodoo. Born in Haiti, her mother was a slave and her father was a wealthy  New Orleans French Plantation owner named Charles LaVeau. Marie was feared and respected by the people of New Orleans because her Voodoo knowledge was  more then extensive. She died at the  old age of 98 in 1881 and is buried in the St. Louis Cemetery #1. Where her haunted tomb attracts thousands upon thousands of visitors each year. This  new Orleans buril site is also said to be an extremely active paranormal ghost haunted site. Many people have claimed to hear a voice whispering to them at the grave site and numerous Voodoo dressed apparitions have appeared in photographs taken of the haunted New Orleans graveyard area.

The thousands of X’s are largely the result of tour groups, who have paid to learn how to practice Voodoo. Their instructions always include breaking a brick off of other tombs (notice the neighboring tombs depleted of their bricks) and a combination of steps which involve spinning around three times, scratching three X’s on the tomb, knocking on it, or rubbing a foot on it or hollering at it or kicking it, etc., (everyone does it slightly, if not very, differently from everyone else) and then leaving an offering to get a wish granted.

So is this or is this not real New Orleans Voodoo? It is, in that there is no doctrine or reasonable dictionary definition of Voodoo. Practitioners create ritual as they practice. However, the Glapion family who owns the tomb does not call this “Voodoo” but rather “vandalism,” and have complained that they can no longer read the inscriptions through what one family member considers “graffiti.” There are also tourist brochures and hotel concierges instructing wish seekers to scratch three X’s on her tomb, and even travel books which recommend the practice. But one of the most striking accounts of this practice appearing in a major supermarket tabloid, the story of a woman winning two million dollars in the Missouri State Lottery after scratching X’s on Marie Laveau’s tomb.”

The Wishing Voodoo Tomb


Controversy persists over where Marie Laveau and her namesake daughter are buried. Some say the latter reposes in the cemetery called St. Louis No. 2 (Hauck 1996) in a "Marie Laveau Tomb" there. However, that crypt most likely contains the remains of another voodoo queen named Marie, Marie Comtesse. Numerous sites in as many cemeteries are said to be the final resting place of one or the other Marie Laveau (Tallant 1946, 129), but the prima facie evidence favors the Laveau-Glapion tomb in St. Louis No. 1 (figure 1). It comprises three stacked crypts with a "receiving vault" below (that is, a repository of the remains of those displaced by a new burial).
A contemporary of Marie II told Tallant (1946, 126) that he had been present when she died of a heart attack at a ball in 1897, and insisted: "All them other stories ain't true. She was buried in the Basin Street graveyard they call St. Louis No. I, and she was put in the same tomb with her mother and the rest of her family."

That tomb's carved inscription records the name, date of death, and age (62) of Marie II: "Marie Philome Glapion, décédé le 11 Juin 1897, ágée de Soixante-deux ans." A bronze tablet affixed to the tomb announces, under the heading "Marie Laveau," that "This Greek Revival Tomb Is Reputed Burial Place of This Notorious 'Voodoo Queen' . . . ," presumably a reference to the original Marie (see figure 2). Corroborative evidence that she was interred here is found in her obituary ("Death" 1881) which notes that "Marie Laveau was buried in her family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1." Guiley (2000) asserts that, while Marie Laveau I is reportedly buried here, "The vault does not bear her name." However, I was struck by the fact that the initial two lines of the inscription on the Laveau-Glapion tomb read, "Famille Vve. Paris / née Laveau." Obviously, "Vve." is an abbreviation for Veuve, "Widow"; therefore the phrase translates, "Family of the Widow Paris, born Laveau"-namely Marie Laveau I. I take this as evidence that here is indeed the "family tomb." Robert Tallant (1946, 127) suggests: "Probably there was once an inscription marking the vault in which the first Marie was buried, but it has been changed for one marking a later burial. The bones of the Widow Paris must lie in the receiving vault below."

The Laveau-Glapion tomb is a focal point for commercial voodoo tours. Some visitors leave small gifts at the site-coins, Mardi Gras beads, candles, etc.-in the tradition of voodoo offerings. Many follow a custom of making a wish at the tomb. The necessary ritual for this has been variously described. The earliest version I have found (Tallant 1946, 127) says that people would "knock three times on the slab and ask a favor," noting: "There are always penciled crosses on the slab. The sexton washes the crosses away, but they always reappear." A more recent source advises combining the ritual with an offering placed in the attached cup: "Draw the X, place your hand over it, rub your foot three times against the bottom, throw some silver coins into the cup, and make your wish" (Haskins 1990). Yet again we are told that petitioners are to "leave offerings of food, money and flowers, then ask for Marie's help after turning around three times and marking a cross with red brick on the stone" (Guiley 2000, 216).

 

Editor’s Note: In recent days a controversy has arisen regarding the legend and practice of marking the alleged final resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau with X’s in the infamous “wish spell” ritual popularized throughout the past several decades by certain companies, groups and individuals working in the New Orleans tourism industry.

At the center of the controversy are attacks on this web site for posting stories about the legacy of Marie Laveau and the enduring legend of the "wish spell" X-marking practice. We have been repeatedly accused of encouraging what has now been designated a criminal activity. To clarify, the threats have only come from one individual within the industry who is not a native of New Orleans or the South, yet who, ironically, makes a living by the daily exploitation of the legends and folklore of this City.

The X practice is now so well-known, having been documented in hundreds of books, newspaper reports, web sites, local histories and travel books and brochures over the years, that what began as well-intentioned attempts to stop what some see as desecration have been given more "teeth" with the threat of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

Those caught in the act of marking on the Laveau tomb, or any other edifice within the historic New Orleans cemeteries, may be subject to police action.

The markings are, understandably, frowned upon by the owners of the tomb -- the Glapion family -- who have complained literally for years for the appropriate authorities to put an end to the activity. Now that regulatory action has at last been taken in response to the family's ongoing appeals, the local tourism industry seems to suddenly be singing a different tune.

At no time has this web site or any member of its editorial staff encouraged or endorsed the marking practice that is associated with the infamous alleged burial place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. The goal of this web site is foremost to help record and preserve the colorful local legends and folklore that make our region so unique; we do this in a manner that is deliberately entertaining and light-heartedly informative. This web site and our associated sites are envisioned as a supplemental "virtual tour" providing visitors with unique alternatives to add to their schedule when they visit this City. With our many offbeat stories, we also appeal to many "locals in exile" who now live in other cities across the US and who enjoy "revisiting" their hometown whenever they get online.

Every great legend is based in fact and a responsible folklorist or story-teller will acknowledge this, even when the legend is more colorful than the truth. To admit this would be folly to many of the people whose stock and trade is tourism for the sake of tourism, but in the interest of true preservation, the facts should not be forgotten and wherever possible should be provided so that the Intelligent Traveler is able to better appreciate the merits of a really good tale -- and will know when he or she is hearing just that.

Beginning with this page, and on other pages to come, wherever possible, we will provide not only the legend and lore as it has been passed down through generations of Old New Orleans folk, but also the facts, where known, that formed the root of the legend to begin with. In this way we honor not only our goal to inform and entertain but we also demonstrate a respect for you, our virtual and perhaps one day real-life visitors, and for the legends and lore that have made the City of New Orleans so beloved the world over.

We choose to inform rather than defend. You may be the judge of whether or not we have been successful.

Jane J. Wichers, Editorial Director

New Orleans, May 2005.

 

References
Baker, Robert A. 1992. Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 274-276.
Baker, Robert A., and Joe Nickell, 1992. Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, and Other Mysteries. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 217.
Cook, Samantha. 1999. New Orleans: The Mini Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides Ltd., 110, 112.
"Death of Marie Laveau." 1881. Obituary, Daily Picayune (New Orleans, La.), n.d. (after June 15), reprinted in Gandolfo 1992, 38-39. Dickinson, Joy. 1997. Haunted City: An Unauthorized Guide to the Magical, Magnificent New Orleans of Anne Rice. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press.
Gandolfo, Charles. 1992. Marie Laveau of New Orleans. New Orleans, La.: New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 2000. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, second ed. New York: Checkmark Books, 213-216.
Haskins, Jim. 1990. Voodoo & Hoodoo. New York: Scarborough House, 59-61.
Hauck, Dennis William. 1996. Haunted Places: The National Directory. New York: Penguin Books, 192, 193.
Herczog, Mary. 2000. Frommer's 2001 New Orleans. New York: IDG Books Worldwide, 158, 186.
Krohn, Diane C. 2000. Personal communication, December 3.
Klein, Victor. 1999. New Orleans Ghosts II. Metairie, La.: Lycanthrope Press, 64.
Nickell, Joe. 2001. Voodoo in New Orleans, Skeptical Inquirer January/February: 26(1).
Salzman, Jack, et al., eds. 1996. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, vol. 3. London: Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall International, 1581.
Smith, Susy. 1967. Prominent American Ghosts. Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Co., 139-140.
Tallant, Robert. 1946. Voodoo in New Orleans, reprinted Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing Co., 1990. (Except as otherwise noted, information about Marie Laveau and her daughter is taken from this source.)

 

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In Search of Marie Laveau

The following are some places of interest that any fan of Marie Laveau must include for a perfect visit to the haunts of this most famous Voodoo Queen

 

1801 Dauphine Street Marie -Laveau's Father's Home

1900 block of North Rampart Street (in Faubourg Marigny) - Dowry House

1016, 1028, 1022, 1020 St. Ann (originally 152 Rue St. Ann)

St. Louis No. 1, Crypt No. 3 - Alleged Burial Site of Marie Laveau

723 Rue Dumaine - New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

729 Bourbon Street - Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo

MORE CAN BE FOUND CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT MARIE LAVEAU THE VOODOO QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS www.hauntedamericatours.com/voodoo/Marielaveau/

New Orleans Voodoo Queen

MARIE LAVEAU PAGES FOR YOU TO VISIT:

MARIE LAVEAU VOODOO QUEEN (Click here for more.)

MARIE LAVEAU STORIES OF OLD NEW ORLEANS (CLICK HERE)

A MIDSUMMER CELEBRATION
IN HONOR OF MADAME MARIE LAVEAU A HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS TOURS EXCLUSIVE!! (Click Here for more.)

XXX MARKS THE SPOT: DEDICATION OR DESECRATION? CALLING ON THE QUEEN OF THE CITY OF THE DEAD (Click Here for more)

MARIE LAVEAUS' HOUSE OF VOODOO (Click here for more.)

Marie Laveau and the Devil Baby of Bourbon Street ( Find out more here.)

Expert Uncovers Birth Record of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau

 

 

 

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