It's interesting to me how often history demonizes women and children who don't conform to the expected norms of their day.
If you were to visit the French Quarter of New Orleans and go on one of the ghost tours, you would learn about three examples: Marie Laveau, Delphine Lalaurie, and the Devil Baby of Bourbon Street.
Marie Laveau was born in 1801 and died in 1881. Records indicate that she was both a Roman Catholic and a voodoo high priestess. Many people living in New Orleans at the time blended their Catholicism and their voodoo into a single hybrid belief system. Although Laveau is often depicted as a witch or agent of the devil, many sources indicate that she took care of the sick, ministered to inmates, served as a midwife, and nurtured unwanted babies until she could find them a home.
If you were to Google Delphine Lalaurie, the phrase "serial killer" appears beside her name, even though there is no concrete evidence proving that she ever killed or hurt anyone. Sources do say that imprisoned slaves were found during a house fire, and many of them appeared to have been grotesquely disfigured. The thing is, Delphine's husband was a surgeon known for "curing hunchbacks" and performing other experimental surgeries. We also have records that prove that at one time before the house fire, Delphine attempted to divorce her husband. Why is that she has gone down in history as the villain and not her husband-doctor?
The story of a devil baby whose cries can still be heard on Bourbon Street involve both Marie Laveau and Delphine Lalaurie. People at the time believed the devil baby was the result of a curse that occurred when Marie Laveau was asked to use her voodoo magic by an unrequited lover. But more evidence suggests that the unfortunate child was a Harlequin baby who suffered from a rare genetic skin disorder. A baby with this condition is born with thick plates of skin that tear apart as the baby grows, often causing deformity in the facial features.
Sources also indicate that when the baby's mother died during the delivery and the father ran off, wanting nothing to do with the disfigured child, Marie Laveau took care of it. There are multiple reports that she frequently took the baby to the Lalaurie residence and that Delphine helped Marie to care for the child. Delphine even insisted on a baptism and offered to sponsor the baby. Wouldn't it make sense that Marie Laveau turned to the Lalauries because 1) they had a lot of money and 2) because Delphine's husband was a surgeon? It seems likely that the doctor performed the skin grafts that were necessary for the child's growth and development. It makes sense that the child would then convalesce at the Lalaurie residence while recovering from surgery. I would imagine this happened repeatedly until the child's death.
I think Marie Laveau was demonized because she lived the role of a priest at a time when women were expected not to lead but to serve quietly. She also used methods that were considered unorthodox by the Church. I think Delphine Lalaurie was demonized because she dared to ask for a divorce when it was strictly prohibited by the Church. And her husband, being a renowned surgeon, couldn't possibly be blamed for the disfigured slaves. And the poor Devil Baby was demonized because he looked different, and rather than feel compassion for this child, society spurned him.
In my novel French Quarter Clues, the heroines--friends in their fifties--discover the truth about these three historical persons while investigating a tethered ghost.
Each novel in The Mystery House Series is based on a true historical injustice. The ladies go from one haunted location to another to investigate why the ghost or ghosts have been unable to move on. Each time, they uncover a piece of history that most people don't want to remember. But only by bringing the past injustice to light can the tethered souls be vindicated and able to find peace.
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