Fact-Checking ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ And Its Historically-Inspired Women
This season, American Horror Story: Coven pulls greatly from the depths of New Orleans history for its witchy mysteries, and in some regards Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck chose some prime historical mysteries to re-purpose for their own uses. But there are holes and because I’m just that sort of person, I took the time to find them.
While AHS certainly pays decent homage to the mysterious women of New Orleans, like Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and murderer Delphine LaLaurie (played by Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates, respectively), the FX horror staple has taken liberties with the tales of these women and with the history of Voodoo itself.
MARIE LAVEAU WAS A HUMANITARIAN, NOT AN ADVERSARY
By all accounts of her mysterious life, the proclaimed Voodoo Queen of New Orleans was a woman of the people. According to a lengthy obituary of Laveau that ran in the New York Times , she was “one of the most wonderful women who ever lived.” On AHS, she appears as a ruefully spiteful woman holding onto an age-old grudge between practitioners of voodoo and witches.
BUT SHE WAS ACTUALLY A HAIRDRESSER
Laveau did serve as a hairdresser to wealthy white families, and as you may recall, she runs an old dump of a salon in modern day New Orleans on AHS. We’re guessing this is more of an homage in a tale that departs from the real Laveau’s life story.
LAVEAU DID PRACTICE VOODOO, NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH HOODOO
While there’s not exactly a list of every voodoo fertility ritual available in some well-curated list, a little research suggests that the ritual we saw in episode three of AHS: Coven, in which Sarah Paulson’s character is the subject of a fertility ritual that boils her husband’s semen in a mason jar and has half-naked dancers pour goat’s blood on her vagina, takes some liberties with Louisiana Voodoo.
While Voodoo isn’t necessarily completely separate from the spiritual foundations of Hoodoo, the folk magic born out of West African traditions is often confused with Voodoo. They are very different. And while they both involve recited chants and rituals, only Hoodoo has a documented preoccupation with the magical properties of blood and semen: Hoodoo.
We can’t prove that Leveau didn’t perform rituals like this, but it appears to be derived from Hoodoo and the spiritual base of Voodoo.
MARIE LEVEAU’S DEATH IS SORT OF A MYSTERY
While the New York Times obituary has her confirmed as dead at the age of 91 and buried in St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans, there are still people who believe variations on the tale. Some say she was buried standing up or that her resting place is below the Super Dome. Others argue over whether or not she was buried in St. Louis No. 1 or St. Louis No. 2. This is likely why she was a candidate for AHS’ assertion that she’d simply escaped death and continues to walk the Earth.
But as fun as that is on AHS, Leveau was seen in her old age (and thus she was not maintaining the beauty she was famous for when she was young), her grave (above) is marked with a brass plaque, and Marie Laveau historian Ina Fandrich has said she believes St. Louis No. 1 is Laveau’s final resting place. People visit Laveau there, year after year, leaving pennies and flowers, paying homage to the patron saint of New Orleans’ Voodoo tradition.
DELPHINE LALAURIE’S DEATH IS A GREATER MYSTERY
According to the Times-Picayune's history archives, LaLaurie was not buried in her own backyard like she is at the hands of Bassett’s Marie Laveau. Instead, the story goes that one of the slaves LaLaurie tortured set fire to her house on Royal Street (the one Nicolas Cage actually owned at one point in the recent past) and when onlookers cried out that someone needed to save LaLaurie’s slaves, they rushed inside to find her chamber of horrible torture and inhumane practices (no Minotaurs, however). LaLaurie was made an enemy of the people of New Orleans as the press continued to cover the atrocious story.
Finally, one day she ordered her carriage and hopped in as it sped down the street and away from the people who called for her own painful punishment. She escaped to the Northshore, and that’s where the rumors begin. Some say she made it to New York or Paris, others hold that she remained on the Northshore. Her final whereabouts are something of a mystery, allowing for her immortality tale on AHS – even if it completely ignores the history of the LaLaurie house fire (so far, anyway).
LALAURIE AND LAVEAU PROBABLY KNEW EACH OTHER
They lived in New Orleans at the same time, mere blocks from each other. In a small community such as LaLaurie’s it’s not inconceivable that they would have known each other, especially when LaLaurie was revealed to be a murderer and a torturer.
And with the small window of time between LaLaurie’s house fire and her escape and disappearance, it’s possible that Laveau may have visited LaLaurie much like she did on AHS, only without the whole buried alive portion of the story. There is some evidence that LaLaurie died in Paris according to Times-Picayune records, but without significant evidence, stalwart AHS fans can probably choose to believe Laveau gave her that immortality potion after all.
Images: FX (2), daveiam/Flickr