Reconstituting the Vanished (1994-1998) was an image/text project that explores the lives of four remarkable Louisiana women. Gelatin-silver prints made after visiting the places they lived were scanned and combined with archival images and documents from the Louisiana State Museum. The historical interpretations were a 4 year collaboration project which traveled widely. Text by Barbara Allen and digital images by Lynda Frese.
Marie Laveau was born in New Orleans in 1795 to Marguerite and Charles Laveau. Owning at least a dozen slaves and numerous properties throughout the city, her family was comfortably situated as free people of color. She was married in 1819 in St. Louis Cathedral to Jacques Paris, a native of Santo Domingo. The couple moved to a small house just off Rampart Street. Her husband disappeared several years later, and Laveau began a long liaison with her white next door neighbor, Christophe Glapion, a union that produced many children. Described as a tall, charming, light skinned woman with flashing black eyes, it is commonly held she was a hairdresser in her early years. She became a important practitioner in the New Orleans voodoo community in the late 1830’s, selling gris-gris, charms and herbal healing potions, as well as telling fortunes and casting spells. Known for popularizing the voodoo belief system, she turned her gift as a performer and clairvoyant into a thriving business. She was renowned for her Haitian-style dancing at Congo Square and her voodoo rituals held on Bayou St. John and along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Respected and feared by black and white communities alike, she used her celebrity status to gain access to power and wealth and to improve conditions for the city’s prison population. She was also remembered as a remarkable healer who nursed hundreds of people through the numerous yellow fever epidemics during her lifetime. She lost many of her fourteen children to these plagues. During her last twenty years she became a spiritual counselor to the inmates on death row at the Old Parish Prison near Congo Square. She would prepare an altar room for each condemned prisoner and pray with him until his execution. Marie Laveau died in 1881, a devout Catholic and vodooienne and was purportedly buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 on Basin Street in New Orleans.