The True History of Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie: Setting The Record Straight
What do we really know about the history of Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie, two very different and well-known New Orleans residents? They both have intriguing reputations but a lot of fiction has gotten mixed in with the facts over the years. While TV fans may think they know all about these women, the real story is very different. As New Orleans tour guides we know the backstory of the historical locations related to these two highly distinct figures. Read on to learn more about what makes one revered and the other reviled, and how you can learn about their lives with our expert guides.
Fact vs. Fiction
The third season of the well-known FX drama American Horror Story included a violent storyline between Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie. However, in reality, no record of a meeting between the two women exists. More importantly, the show did not accurately represent their respective personalities, as it depicted Laveau as vindictive and cruel, while it showed LaLaurie as somewhat repentant for her deeds.
On the contrary, as far as the available sources reveal, Marie Laveau committed horrendous acts and had no sense of remorse whatsoever, while Marie Laveau cared deeply about her community and practiced her faith with kindness. Let’s take a look at the real lives of both women.
Madame LaLaurie, Infamous Torturer and Murderer
One of the few accuracies in the FX portrayal of Delphine LaLaurie is the fact that she tortured and murdered many enslaved persons that worked at her New Orleans estate. It appears that Madame LaLaurie was suspected of abusive behavior towards her servants long before the event that brought it to light. However, it wasn’t until 1834 that, as a result of a fire, some of her victims were discovered and her cruelty revealed. However, the authorities in New Orleans apparently did not make any attempt to arrest her. Instead, due to the outrage of the local community, she and her husband fled to Paris, escaping any legal accountability for what she had done. However, furious New Orleanians vented their anger on her home, nearly destroying it.
Today, you can see the rebuilt and remodeled home, with its added third floor, on two of our ghost tours, the Spooky Family Ghost Tour and the Our Favorite Ghosts Tour. Visiting the location lets you learn more about her life, as well as the terrifying rumors and mysterious occurrences that add to the historical facts we know. Her home is also a stop on our Sinister Intentions true crime tour, where you can learn about Madame LaLaurie among other notorious New Orleans murderers.
Marie Laveau, Respected Member of the New Orleans Community
Marie Laveau’s true nature could not be more different from the fictional version of her. She practiced both Catholicism and Voodoo. A free person of color in nineteenth century New Orleans, she lived with her long-term partner and children. Over time, her spiritual gifts led her to become a leader in her community, and to use that leadership to help her fellow New Orleanians.
As a Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau gained fame for leading public religious observances, as well as for privately assisting those in need. Her St. John’s Eve ceremonies were legendary and attended by diverse audiences at a time in which racially integrated public events were rare. People also came to her for assistance with medical as well as spiritual problems.
Later in her life, when she discontinued leading public religious ceremonies, she still visited condemned prisoners, building altars for them in their cells and praying with them.
Following Marie Laveau’s death, and particularly in the 20th Century, rumors and distortions about her made their way into the popular imagination. Misconceptions about Voodoo and the proliferation of racist and sexist stereotypes led to the spread of lies about her life presented as fact in the press, in literature, and even in song. The American Horror Story version of her unfortunately constitutes yet another misrepresentation of her character and practices. To this day in the city of New Orleans, Marie Laveau remains a figure of devotion on whom followers call for help in all sorts of matters, much as they did when she was alive.
Pieces of Marie Laveau’s history that still remain in New Orleans include her tomb at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, one of many haunted locations in New Orleans. There are also two other tombs that some have claimed over the years are her actual burial site, although they are located in the same cemetery! The site of Marie Laveau’s home also still exists in New Orleans, although her original house was demolished in the early 20th century.
Want to learn more about Marie? Check out our Pestilence, Pandemic, & Plague Tour, to learn more about how her spiritual practices helped New Orleans residents to cope with medical issues.
Did Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie know each other?
History records no meeting between Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie, but their time in New Orleans did overlap. With Madame LaLaurie at one time being an influential socialite and Marie Laveau a famous community leader, they likely knew of each other. Whether they actually met is lost to history, but we can imagine they would not have gotten along. Marie Laveau was a kind and well-respected woman who assisted people in her communities across racial boundaries. Madame LaLaurie inflicted atrocities on the enslaved persons in her household without reservation or remorse. These women are remembered today for very different reasons, one with reverence and one with horror. The city itself stands as a reminder of their highly unusual lives, with their impact still felt around New Orleans today, albeit in very different ways.
Want to learn more about the real Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie?
The best way to learn about the history and mysteries of New Orleans is to take one of Unique NOLA’s walking tours! Learn more about both women’s lives and those of many other historical figures, and get up close and personal with the artifacts and architecture that remind us of them. Amid such a long and colorful history, you never know when you might see a ghost lurking around New Orleans, so what better way to get into the “spirit” than with one of our guides to show you the way. Book your tour today!