It was too early in the morning. Too early for me to stand outside in the chills of an unseasonable cold draft that blew over New Orleans. Still, I stood outside with a cup of hot tea and blood-shot eyes. The binger the night before did a hell of a job reminding me that I’m no spring chicken. Still, I stood there waiting for the tour to start.
Twenty minutes had gone by and my watch read eleven o’clock. A small crowd of people had gathered nearby. That’s when Jeffrey appeared out of nowhere. The owner and guide for “Strange True Tours” –One of New Orleans best tours if you ask me– A quick briefing and a restroom stop and we were on our way into the soul of New Orleans, The St. Louis #1 Cemetery.
I was excited. My heart was thumping fast when the group neared the cemetery’s gates. The rushing blood must’ve helped clear out the alcohol in my veins, because my splitting headache seemed to be fading. Which was a good thing since I really wanted to hear what Jeffrey had to say. I’ve always found New Orleans’ history the most fascinating. From the sordid history of the early settlers to the infamous ghostly legends. I have to be honest and say that I was apprehensive of this whole “ghost tour” idea. I felt comfortable enough knowing the city’s history to get by and do a one-man tour of the famous sites. That’s when Jeffrey began.
Jeffrey’s knowledge of his city was astonishing. You felt the pride pouring out of every speech he gave and somehow that made you proud. Even as a visitor to the soulful city. It was a strange feeling of mutuality that was felt inside one of the world’s most famous cemeteries. Old St. Louis #1. The sunken home of the Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau.
I was a kid when I first heard of the so-called Voodoo priestess. At school, I would spend my lunch hour tucked away in the library reading everything from Greek mythology to UFOs. Somewhere in the mix I ran into Ms. Laveau. I read about the rituals and supposed supernatural powers that Marie Laveau had, the fear that she instilled in all those who were fortunate or unfortunate enough to be in her presence. Story after story, they all painted Marie Laveau as some being from another world. A dark and terrifying world. And I think that’s how she wanted it to be.
Jeffrey runs the “Strange True Tours” along with his wife. They’ve been doing it for quite some time now as it was apparent by his deep knowledge of Louisiana history. After the formal introduction inside the cemetery, the man led us straight to the resting place of Marie Laveau. There was no time to waste, the heavy grey clouds above us seemed like there would rip open any second with a soaking deluge. Marie Laveau’s tomb stood apart. Not quite what I remembered from the countless images that I’ve seen in books, but it looked oddly familiar. The stone-cold white tomb stood there, defaced but proud. It was covered with writings and scribblings from all people from all walks of life. Most noticeable were the triple Xs that covered the tomb. It’s unknown why, but most visitors think that writing an “XXX” on the tomb is supposed to bring you good luck. What they don’t realize is that this is vandalism and the only thing you can get from that is some time in a holding cell. Trust me, The cops in New Orleans ain’t messing around.
Then, Jeffrey began his talk on Marie Laveau. It was flawless to say the least. He was on point with the facts. He was on point with the little-known bits of history that most books get wrong. He was, in essence, a true historian. There were no ghost stories, no urban legends in his tour. “Strange True Tours” was just that, New Orleans’ raw history. Strange and true.
There were other interesting sites inside St. Louis #1 Cemetery. Too many to tell. No doubt that Marie Laveau’s final resting place is the number one attraction there but if you continue down the narrow hallways of the dead, you get to see some of New Orleans’ other colorful residents. Some dead, some still alive. It was strange to see Nicholas Cage’s tomb there. The pyramid-shaped tomb will be his final resting place in the middle of the small cemetery.
As the tour continued, I kept looking back over my shoulder. A deep chill settled in my bones, part of me believes that it couldn’t have been all attributed to the cold winds that day. Amidst the dozens of tombs I could still see the white solitary tomb of Marie Laveau staring at me. I went back to the tomb and placed my hand on it and said a few words. I can’t remember what I said, not because I was scared or anything like that, but what do you say to one of America’s smartest business woman when you’re struggling to sober up? I do remember wishing her a peaceful afterlife, where ever she may be.
The misconception is that Ms. Laveau was heavy into “dark magic” to a point where some people believe she had made a pact with the Devil himself. The truth of the matter is that Ms. Laveau was a good business woman with a very spiritual life. She believed in keeping and practicing traditions and customs from the wide spread African Diaspora. She tricked people into thinking that she had supernatural powers and from that, she rapidly climbed many social ladders and influenced the high-society in New Orleans. Ms. Laveau was one of a kind.