Among the sites associated with New Orleans' voodoo is the tomb of one of its most notorious figures, Marie Laveau. For several decades, this “voodoo queen” held New Orleans spellbound… figuratively. Of course, some would say literally, as legend of her occult powers continued to captivate. She staged ceremonies in which participants became possessed by loas (voodoo spirits) and danced naked around bonfires. She dispensed charms and potions, called Gris-Gris, and even saved several condemned men from the gallows by controlling the thunder and rain. She told fortunes, healed the sick and remained perpetually youthful for more than a century--or so it is said. Some believe Marie Laveau never died...

A “free person of color,” Marie Laveau was the illegitimate daughter of a rich Creole plantation owner, Charles Laveau, and his mistress, Marguerite (who was reportedly half-black, half-Indian). Marie was probably born around 1794. At the age of 25, she married a carpenter named Jacques Paris - also a free person of color - who soon went missing and was presumed dead. Following the custom of the day, she began calling herself the “Widow Paris.” Soon, she entered a common-law marriage with one Christophe de Glapion with whom she would have 15 children. However, as late as 1850, a newspaper still referred to her as “Marie Laveau, otherwise Widow Paris”.

The Widow Paris learned her craft from a “voodoo doctor” known variously as Dr. John, John Bayou, and other appellations, and by 1830, she was one of several New Orleans' voodoo queens. She soon came to dominance by taking charge of the rituals held at Congo Square and selling Gris-Gris throughout the social strata. Marie worked as a hairdresser, which took her into the homes of the affluent, and she reportedly developed a network of informants.  It’s said, “No event in any household in New Orleans was a secret from Marie Laveau.” She parlayed her knowledge into a position of considerable influence, as she told fortunes, gave advice on love, and prepared custom Gris-Gris for anyone needing to affect a cure, charm, or hex.