Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
The Devil Child of New Orleans
“Above the call of the fruit and vegetable vendors and the cries of the Brusle bakers selling their daily wares could be heard the disconcerting yammering of a child that was not of this world!
Today, above the modern din of honky tonks and partying crowds, it is said the unearthly, chilling cries still pierce the dark night!”
—The Tale of the Devil’s Own Child, The Devil Baby of New Orleans, The Godchild of Madame LaLaurie
In the early days of Marie Laveau’s rise to fame, her clientele consisted mainly of negroes, country folk, and other free people of color whose long association with the practices of vodou and rootworkers made her a natural attraction to them. But at the height of her power, when her mystique was talked about constantly in the salons of the rich Creoles and white-bread Americans, Marie Laveau began to receive visits from the upper crust of society. And it was her service to this sector that embroiled her in one of the greatest legends of Old New Orleans: the Devil Baby of Bourbon Street.
Mam’selle Laveau was often called to the ornate mansion on Dauphine Street to delight and amuse the doyenne of the famous Creole family who lived there and all her idle and very wealthy friends. The voodoo queen had been referred to the ladies by a woman of the highest social standing in the city, none other than Madame Delphine LaLaurie. The family was a well-known, old line New Orleans family who had risen to prominence through their dealings with the wealthy Americans who lived on the Uptown side of Canal Street.
The Creole family of Dauphine Street had a beautiful daughter named Camille, and according to legend, when Camille came of age she had many suitors. To her great disappointment, however, all of them were Creole. To most young women of her station, this would be a fabulous dilemma; but for Camille, it was truly disheartening. All her life she had been envious of the wealth and station of the Americans, of their fabulous homes built in the Northern style, and of their immutable business dealings, all of which ended in profit that the Americans did not hesitate to flaunt.
In her few visits to the American quarter, Camille befriended the daughter of an American family, Josephine Brody, who often invited Camille to her home for tea and other activities. It was on one of these outings that Camille, it is said, met the man who would change her life forever and gain her a place in New Orleans’ haunted history.
Mackenzie Bowes was a Scotsman by birth, though his history and how he had obtained his considerable fortune were obscure. He never made much comment on it, and the shallow Americans in whose circles he moved with such ease were satisfied to simply know that he was “obscenely wealthy” and that the money was “very old,” coming down from old Scottish Lairds and some very lucrative family relations. He had arrived upon the steps of the Brody home in the company of August Brody, the eldest son, whom he had accompanied from New York. He was looking for a place to settle down, the Brodies were told, and New Orleans seemed just the place for a man like Mackenzie Bowes.
From the moment Camille laid eyes on the handsome Scotsman, she was smitten, and she began to look for every opportunity to spend more and more time with the Brodies and their Scottish houseguest. It greatly pleased Josephine and her family when Bowes began to return Camille’s interest with an immediate attentiveness and devotion. Camille’s parents, who also became regular houseguests of the American Brodies, encouraged the romance, hoping for a fine union for their daughter.
But not all were so delighted. In scorning her Creole suitors, Camille had mostly embarrassed them and wounded their pride; nearly all turned their attentions to other sultry Creole daughters. Nearly all, that is, except Etienne Lafossat Matthieu.
It did not please Etienne at all that he had been set aside by Camille like a plaything that had outlasted her attention. As Camille’s romance and her stature among the Americans grew, it was clear to all, including Etienne, that marriage was imminent. When Bowes threw off his Presbyterian faith and converted to Catholicism, marriage was certain, and shortly after the plans were announced in St. Louis Cathedral.
All this while, Marie Laveau had watched with interest, and she was not surprised in the least when Matthieu came to her cottage on St. Ann imploring her aid. He wanted Camille back, he said at first, but when the voodoo queen shook her head and assured him it could not be so, then Matthieu ground his fist into the table and pronounced: “Then I want her dead!” To his surprise, Mam’selle Laveau laughed at his request. “You cannot know what you ask, boy,” she said in her heavy Creole French. “You will pay dearly for me to take her life. Are you ready for this?” Matthieu thought it through as quickly as his fevered mind could. “Then make her suffer, like she has made me suffer. She goes to the Americans to make a spectacle of herself; make a spectacle of her for all to see.”
Marie Laveau spat upon the ground and stamped the spot with her feet. “So let it be,” she said, then set about instructing Matthieu on all the things she would need to make a fetish and to effect a good curse. “Bring these to me within a week–,” she had told him, “–and be patient after that. You will see the Scotsman ruined and Camille suffer as you have asked. Now, go!”
On a bright October morning, Camille became the bride of the mysterious Scotsman in the halls of the great St. Louis Cathedral. All the high society of New Orleans, from both quarters, attended the fabulous wedding and the celebration at the family home afterward. Yet, in the dark of her cupboard on St. Ann Street, Marie Laveau worked her charm. It would be months in coming, but Etienne Matthieu would have his revenge, and would regret the day he asked it.
When Camille and Mackenzie returned from their wedding trip, the new bride was already pregnant. Beaming with delight, the handsome couple settled down in a townhome on the Rue Bourbon, not far from the French Market. While her husband went about his affairs in the day, Camille spent hours planning the nursery that would receive her child. Nothing could dim her enthusiasm or quell her excitement–except on one occasion when she happened upon Etienne Matthieu in the market. His scowl was so dark and intense that Camille thought she would faint, and her mother, who was with her, called for the carriage to take her home.
Soon, however, the shadow passed. Or so it seemed.
Camille’s mother, Adelaide, began to become restless in her sleep. Never one to be plagued by sleeplessness or dreams, she began to have vivid nightmares that would wake her in the middle of the night; afterward, she would be so unnerved that she found it impossible to go back to sleep. She tried desperately to keep her troubles from Camille, not wanting to intrude upon the young woman’s joy, but one day the daughter confronted her. When Adelaide told Camille about her dreams and fitful sleep, the young mother-to-be was disturbed.
“My husband is having dreams as well,” she told her mother. “He wakes suddenly in the night, calling for me, but he will not tell me what he has dreamed, or why he cannot sleep again.”
This greatly troubled Adelaide, and when she had departed from Camille, she spied a beautiful mullatress selling fish beside the road and this immediately put her in mind of Mam’selle Laveau. As soon as she arrived home, Adelaide sent out a servant with a message for Marie Laveau.
Within a half hour, the servant returned and announced that Mam’selle Laveau was waiting to be admitted. Adelaide went to the door herself and quickly brought Marie into the house. For what seemed like an eternity the two were closeted together in the Creole parlor while Adelaide poured out her concerns and told Marie every detail of her troubling dreams. When she added that Camille’s husband was having nightmares too, a glimmer passed Marie’s dark eyes.
“I believe the child to be in the greatest danger,” Mam’selle Laveau finally pronounced. “This is what the ancestors are telling me. When Camille is confined, and the time of her delivery comes, I alone should be called to midwife her. Otherwise, I fear there will be a great evil laid upon this child. The problem is with the husband, you know.”
This troubled Adelaide greatly, and she could not understand the meaning of it. Nonetheless assured by the voodoo queen that all would be well so long as she alone might bring the baby, Adelaide put aside her fears. She watched as her carriage clattered away down the cobblestoned streets of New Orleans, taking the mighty Mam’selle home to await the call.
Mackenzie Bowes was always a dark and mysterious man, and much about his past he kept to himself. The most that Camille had been able to wrest from him was his connection to a family of Scottish lords called Strathmore. She learned that he was in line to inherit a title and possibly a castle, “But several male heirs before me would have to meet untimely ends!” he had said with a wink. So they would not be Lord and Lady of anything, thought Camille, but still, the idea of her child sharing in this noble bloodline was almost intoxicating. Camille went to great expense in making the nursery a fitting place to receive such a child, complete with walls painted with the noble lineage, which causes great consternation to the father to be, who it seemed wanted to distance himself from his Scottish past.
One day, while looking through a Gazetteer, Camille came across a story about the Earls of Strathmore and the gloomy Scottish castle they called home. It was a cursed place, or so the article said, and had been associated for ages with the darkest form of malign arts. “Glamis,” it read, “is purported to have locked within its walls the Devil himself!” More specifically, she read of the 15th century Alexander Lyon, 2nd Lord of Glamis, who is otherwise known by his more infamous moniker of Earl Beardie.
According to this legend, which Camille read, Earl Beardie was a cruel and indulgent man, who was thrown down a stone staircase after being accused of cheating in a poker game with two Scottish chieftains. So humiliated in his own castle, the lord returned to his room in a drunken rage, and demanded his servants find him someone to play cards with immediately, notwithstanding the late hour. The servants, however, demurred, reminding their wroth liege that it was nearly the Sabbath and no man would play for fear of committing sacrilege. In response, Lord Glamis shouted for all to hear he would play until Doomsday if he wanted and ordered the servants out of the room. At five minutes to midnight, one brave servant returned, warning his lord that no man would play due to the time. Beyond irate, Earl Beardie said he would “play with the Devil himself” and ordered the servant out. At the stroke of midnight, there was a knock on the door, and a tall stranger dressed in black entered asking to join the game. The stranger sat down and placed thirteen rubies on the table. Greedy and impulsive, Earl Beardie did not object to the company. Thus began their game, the host dealing, and the guest setting the stakes. According to the legend, Lord Glamis lost it all by the sound of the morning church bell–including his soul, and for his sacrilege, is allegedly cursed to endlessly play cards till Judgment Day.
Naturally, such tales disturbed Camille, for combined with the dreams and fitfulness of her husband and mother, this seemed to her an omen of some sort. She began to wonder, but soon all thoughts would turn to her delivery: her first labor pains began, and she entered her confinement.
Dutifully, Adelaide sent for Marie Laveau. Camille’s labor was long and arduous, but the patient Marie did not once leave her side. She would soothe her through her pains and pat her head with a cool towel. Sometimes she would talk to Camille in a sing-song using the strange French patois of the island Kreyola. And it seemed that Camille’s pangs were having a strange effect on Mackenzie as well, for as the pains increased and the delivery neared, Mackenzie became more and more agitated and nervous.
He insisted upon being in the room, but Marie Laveau was not one to be bullied, and no sooner did he step inside than he was put out again. The Scotsman fidgeted as the time neared and would not be comforted. At last, unable to bear it, his mind seemed to completely collapse, and he ran from the home into the dark night.
Camille suffered greatly from the labor and mercifully passed into unconsciousness before death came for her. Her grieving family was inconsolable when Mam’selle Laveau told them that Camille could not be saved, but that the child had survived. Then the voodoo queen looked at them and told them to be prepared.
“There is a curse upon this child and it has nothing to do with your poor girl,” she said. “This is the work of years of malice and someone who hated this child enough to bring the devil out of hell to curse it.”
Then Marie Laveau revealed to the family the bundle laying in her arms. All present gasped in horror, including the family priest who had arrived in time to perform the last rites over Camille’s stiffening body. In the arms of the mambo was not a plump and blushing human baby, but a grotesque and lurid imitation, a horror, a curse.
Wails filled the room when the thing was exposed, and all could see that where light tufts of hair should be were two lumps–the early roots of horns to come. Where little hands and feet should have been were the claws of some wild animal, like a possum or a raccoon. There were scales upon its body, though its genitals were perfectly formed, and all could see it was a boy. But it was the eyes, the horrible, leering hell-like eyes that caused Adelaide to faint in despair and Camille’s poor father to turn his back.
“Take it!” he said to Marie.
“But Monsieur!” said the sly mambo, “What of his father!”
“_Its_ father has thankfully gone mad! He was taken in by the Ursulines just an hour ago, ranting and foaming at the mouth. He is quite beyond our help!” came the heartless reply. “This is the curse of his family, not ours!”
“As you wish,” said Marie Laveau, as she bundled the little infant to her. A barely perceptible smile crossed her full lips as she passed out into the humid New Orleans night and made her way toward St. Ann Street.
But suddenly out of the shadows came the hunching form of Etienne Matthieu. Marie Laveau stopped suddenly but was not moved by the sight she saw: Etienne’s own curse had come home to roost and he was hideously deformed. Where once a handsome Creole man had been, there was now only the bent and broken form of a cripple. His face was so contorted that Marie knew no one save she alone could stand to look upon it.
“What have you done to me!” Etienne cried and lunged for Marie Laveau.
The voodoo queen held up a hand. “Stop!” she said in a commanding voice. “You are marked for all to see, Etienne, for Camille has died because of your hatred. Now you may be testament to her life. Go away, and do not show your face to me again. It offends me!” With that, Marie Laveau passed into the night, and Etienne passed into obscurity.
A thought came to the voodoo queen and she turned quickly on her heel, making her way to Royal Street and the familiar doorway of another renown woman, Madame LaLaurie. After the servants had let her inside, Marie was greeted in the crimson parlor of the fabulous LaLaurie home. When Marie had told her tale and shown the baby to Madame LaLaurie, the parlor rang with their laughter at what fools humans are to tamper with the will of the gods.
“But he must be baptized!” Madame said. “I know a priest who will do it right away! And I will stand for this child! It needs a godmother, after all!”
That is the history of the Devil Baby of Bourbon Street, but the story does not end there.
It is said that Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie shared the care of the unwanted child between them. Sometimes the child would be kept with Marie at her home on St. Ann; other times, Madame played host to it, and, it is said, she even had a nursery made for it on the second floor of her home. Servants and slaves who caught glimpses of the baby began to whisper tales back and forth; when any came to the ears of either woman, the reaction was brutal and quick. Most of the gossips said that Marie and Madame used the baby to call to its true father, the Devil himself. But no one had any proof, and no one wanted to get close enough for it.
When Madame LaLaurie was chased from New Orleans after a fire in her home led to the discovery of horribly mutilated, tortured and dead slaves, the care of the “Devil Baby” fell to Marie–a duty she is said to have shared with her eldest children. For a few years, the fact that such a monstrous being was kept in the heart of the French Quarter was the subject of continuous gossip. The pitiful and chilling wails were not of this earth, and whenever the rain would fall, it seemed, the baby would moan and howl incessantly, to the great disturbance of French Quarter residents.
One rainy day, however, there were no howls and shortly afterward the Laveau family was seen, all dressed in black, gathered in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, where they were laying someone, or something to rest. Could it have been the Devil Baby? Most people assumed this to be the case. But if Marie Laveau buried the Devil Baby back in the 1800’s, other said, then what continued to howl and terrorize tourists and locals alike all along Bourbon Street for years to come?
No, the devil child did not die; he merely grew–and is it any wonder that he found New Orleans to his liking?
No, the devil child found himself all too at home, and so the matured scion fashioned a place of his own. According to the legends, he made no secret of his address: 1319 St Charles Avenue in the 1840’s. According to legend, the baroque mansion went up overnight, as if by fell witchery. The mansion is said to have been built so quickly that it made little sense inside: every room reputedly is on a different floor, and stairs go off in all directions but can only ever be climbed downward.
Reportedly, Camille’s diabolic child-grown man built this house for his mistress, one Madeline Freneau, whom he kept in lavish luxury. Sadly, Ms. Freneau’s beauty and lust was only surpassed by her feckless indiscretion. Distracted by the city’s many sins, the devil of New Orleans was oft busy, leaving Ms. Freneau lonely and bored. Consequently, she took another lover, one Alcide Cancienne. Failing to consider the diabolical nature or her first lover or even the common inhibition to keep her affair a secret, Ms. Freneau dined openly with Alcide in the mansion’s main dining room. During one of these occasions, the house’s master returned and asked after Alcide’s identity, who glibly named himself as Ms. Freneau’s lover. That night at dinner, Alcide told his lovely mistress that the devil had told him he could have Ms. Freneau and thirteen thousand dollars if they would take the name Mr. and Mrs. L. Ms. Freneau was delighted, and told Alcide they should be together forever. Alcide laughed at the beautiful young woman and told her he was bored with her and wouldn’t keep her even for such a fortune. Enraged, Madeline leapt across the table and killed Alcide. Her first lover then entered, laughing. He delighted in the horrific scene and celebrated promptly by eating both Alcide and Madeline.
For many years after this, the house on St. Charles Avenue sat empty, but eventually a few intrepid families dared to occupy the mansion. The reports of the haunting there were terrifying. Apparently, the fateful dinner would replay over and over again in front of residents in phantom form and both Alcide and Madeline’s ghosts haunted the house. Some say that the image of the Devil himself was embedded on the outside of the house and that blood would drip from his open mouth. Others instead have noted the eerie similarity between the graven image and that of the earlier accounts of the Devil of Bourbon Street.
In time, though, 1319 St Charles Avenue was demolished. Some say the devil finally came to collect his son. Some say the diabolic entity was slain. Others, however, say that the devil child merely moved. After all, New Orleans promises plenty of real estate for the damned.