On a recent trip to New Orleans to visit my cousin (who I can’t keep up with to save my life when it comes to drinking), she actually took me somewhere other than a bar! To clarify, that doesn’t mean we didn’t go to any bars, it just means we took a short detour between bar-hopping to actually see something not alcohol-related.
Enter the Historic Voodoo Museum of New Orleans … a kitschy, amusingly creepy, little museum tucked into a tiny downtown hole-in-the-wall (don’t blink or you’ll miss it… an alligator head marks the spot). It looked like your classic tourist trap, albeit certainly more obscure than the usual, but it was a small place with a small price of admission ($7); so, a relatively small commitment on our part. In we went.
The Voodoo Museum is chock full of relics representing the history of voodoo religion in the New Orleans area and how it’s shaped the culture there. Wooden masks, shrunken heads and portraits of Mary Laveau, New Orleans’ most famous voodoo priestess, cover every last inch of real estate in the tiny space. As do the monetary offerings museum-goers have left, in an attempt to gain favor with voodoo spirits.
Each room contains artifacts and placards that tell stories of voodoo sorcerers, psychics and witch doctors, all of which weird me out to some extent. And the way everything is displayed, crowded together all hodge-podge and dusty in dark rooms, makes it all the more creepy.
The real kicker for me, though? The undead.
My husband can’t get enough of The Walking Dead, but I can’t stand that show. It freaks me out (I am the definition of a sissy-fied tweety bird)! So imagine my discomfort when, after seeing dozens of human skulls and voodoo dolls and examples of witch doctoring gone bad, I arrived at the museum’s zombie room (cue ominous-horror-film music)…
A little annoyed (being scared makes me pissy, it’s just how I deal), I went ahead and toured the musty, cluttered, weird-smelling room looking at their collection of… well, stuff… and reading all the little placards that explained zombie-ism. At which point I found out it’s a thing.
A real thing!
Zombies are for real!!!
I like to think that I’m rather cultured, and generally in-the-know about things. But I literally had no idea that the concept of zombies was actually based on something real in history. For those of you who are as apparently uneducated as me, the undead version of the story is that zombies were corpses re-animated by Haitian sorcerers as far back as the 17th century, who would use them for manual labor.
The more sinister story, the one I learned about at the voodoo museum, involves living people. It says that when Haitian slaves would defy their masters, they’d be given powerful neuro-toxic potions that would induce a coma-like state. They would then be buried and left in the ground for several days as the toxins wore off and they experienced the sheer horror of being buried alive.
They were then dug up and given a new mixture of neurotoxins that induced a trance-like daze – making further attempts at deception or escape virtually impossible – while being assured that future misbehavior would result in the same underground punishment. Their spirits broken, they were submissive for the rest of their lives.
Eeeeeek!!! You’re seriously disturbed, right??
Fine… noone’s as big a pansy as me, I get it. But if that shit actually happened (and some historians think the explanation isn’t too far-fetched), it’s the kind of thing that should keep a sane person up at night. Even after I reemerged into the sunshine to continue my French-Quarter-bar-hop, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt shakier coming out sober than I did going in tipsy! What can I say, it doesn’t take much to give me the heebie-jeebies…
Not too scared to smile, tho … too vain!
If you go
The Voodoo Museum, at 724 Dumaine St., is open daily, 10am-6pm. It’s in the heart of the French Quarter, so easy access to those – like me – who need a quick break from bar-hopping. If you’re not into chintz, you might feel like it’s a rip-off. But if you’re at all interested in NOLA’s voodoo culture and history, there’s actually some good info in here if you take the time to read it. I’d go back. They also host haunted cemetery tours (call to get the scoop on times/dates). And if you’ve still not had enough, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, also in the French Quarter, offers psychic readings, spiritual and religious items and souvenirs. Enjoy!