Marie Laveau is a significant figure in The Whisper Garden, and is one of the most iconic figures in New Orleans history. However, for someone so notable, it is a amazing how little we actually know about her.
We know she was born in 1794, or maybe 1801.
We know she was a free woman of color, the child of two biracial parents.
We know she lived in a little adobe house on St Ann street, conveniently close to Congo Square, where she would perform rituals. This also puts it very close to the entrance to the old St. Peter street Cemetery, though that cemetery was closed and moved by the time she was born.
We know that in 1819 she married Jacques Paris… or maybe his name was Santiago Paris. (old records can contradict each other.) That marriage was performed in the St. Louis Cathedral by Pere Antoine.
We know that her husband died in 1820… or maybe he ran off, or otherwise disappeared.
We know that some time after that she took up with Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion, a white man of noble French descent. They had a plaçage marriage, plaçage was effectively a form of common law marriage.
We know that they had a bunch of children, but nobody seems to know how many: maybe seven, maybe fifteen.
One of her children was also named Marie Laveau, and apparently looked so much like her mother that she could have been her twin, and is generally known as Marie Laveau II.
We know that she had a career as a liquor importer, but it is also commonly believed she was a hairdresser.
We know she died June 15, 1881.
And, of course we know that she practiced voodoo.
Beyond that though, there is so much that we don’t know. We don’t even know for sure where she is buried.
She might be buried in the Glapion family tomb in the St. Louis cemetery #1. Or maybe her daughter (Marie II) is buried there. Certainly, there is a plaque on the tomb that calls it her reputed burial place, and the tomb is covered in Xs left by people who believe that doing so will somehow get her to grant them wishes. From everything I’ve been able to learn about real Voodoo, this custom is not part of Voodoo, and both the family and serious practitioners of Voodoo wish it would stop. She, and/or her daughter, might also be buried in St Louis cemetery #2.
Marie Laveau knew a lot of things about a lot of people. When people came to her with problems, she usually knew what they were before she was told. Those who came to her certainly attributed her knowledge to her powers. Others have speculated that as a hairdresser, she had access to all the best gossip. Others have observed that she probably had access to all of the slaves and servants of the wealthy, and those slaves had access to all of their masters secrets. Her network of informants may have been paid in cash or favors.
Some of her miracles, such as being seen walking around town a few days after being buried, or performing the same ritual in two places at the same time, can be rationally explained by having a daughter who looked just like her. Though sometimes I wonder. The people of the 1800’s were not exceptionally stupid. If everyone knew she had a daughter who looked much like her, why would the assume it was Marie I and not Marie II?