It’s a quarter till 11 at night, and I admit, I’m hesitant to start writing this post because I know it’s going to creep me out, and then I’m going to either not be able to sleep OR fall asleep and have nightmares where I’m chased by voodoo dolls or some such nonsense.
But here I go anyway; wish me luck!
When Charlie and I visited New Orleans last year, we did all the touristy things (well, most of them; since we don’t drink, I think we missed the most popular tourist activities.), including visiting a voodoo museum. We can thank (blame?) Siri for sending us to the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
After the hours we spent exploring the sunny French Quarter, the interior of the aged, converted row house on Dumaine Street felt dim and shadow-filled. As our eyes adjusted, we found ourselves in a tight entry crowded with a handful of tourists, voodoo paraphernalia, and a reception desk.
“Welcome to the Voodoo Museum; the tour will begin shortly,” the lady behind the desk greeted us, her voice velvety and thick with the Creole accent so typical for New Orleans. Dressed in flowing garments with her jet-black hair wrapped in a colorful headdress, she bore a striking resemblance to the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, whose portrait hung on the wall over her head.
As we waited, we perused bookshelves acting as the gift shop, stocked with potions, charms, gris-gris, and voodoo dolls made by local practitioners. Not being voodoo savvy, I consulted the always-helpful Wikipedia to learn that gris-gris is a Voodoo amulet worn as protection against evil or to bring love, luck, or fertility. During slave times, gris-gris were used in black magic, and slaves would often employ them maliciously against their owners. I’d like to assume that the gris-gris for sale in this museum were the benign variety, but I’m not totally convinced.
Shortly, it was time for the tour, which consisted of Marie Laveau’s look-alike taking our $5, briefly describing the museum and the history of voodoo, handing us a pamphlet, and telling us to move freely about the museum’s adjoining hallway and two rooms.
“Museum” really isn’t the most accurate word for this place. I don’t know about you, but when I think of a museum, carefully curated and organized collections come to mind, with placards explaining the history of the displayed artifacts; museums are generally airy, well-lit, and clean, and usually don’t smell like evil…
Yes, I said it; this place smelled of evil, the weight of it heavy in my lungs. My breath grew shallow in an effort to keep out the tainted air.
Voodoo music emanated from hidden speakers, casting its mystical spell, cheap incense clung to the musty air, and years of dust caked every surface. The hair on the back of my neck prickled.
Charlie and I made our way down the narrow, dimly lit hallway, examining the framed documents, yellowed news articles, and dusty artwork covering the walls…scenes of voodoo rituals replete with drums, hands-in-the-air prayers, and near-naked figures dancing around fires.
The Gris-Gris Room
Halfway down the hallway, we entered the first room, which was filled with gris-gris and spirit statutes, its brick walls covered with animal skulls, skeletons, and crosses made of leg bones.
Against the back wall of this room stood a man-size rendering of Rougarou, a half-man/half-alligator creature who prowls the swamps around New Orleans searching for those who break the rules of Lent (or so local Cajun parents tell their children). Being that I don’t follow Catholic Lenten practices, I’m glad we didn’t encounter him on our swamp tour the day before.
The final straw for me in this room was a yellowed human skull impaled on an iron fence, its crevices stuffed with offerings of cigarettes, coins, and paper money.
The Altar Room
I had hopes that the second room, the room at the end of the hallway, would be less…less… I don’t know…less wrong.
This room housed an altar for Marie Laveau, adorned with statues, both voodoo and Catholic, candles, photos, and other voodoo relics and artifacts. On this altar, previous visitors had left offerings of the strangest things: lipsticks, hair pins, beads, old licenses, pictures of children (that is wrong in so many ways), a bottle of nail polish, condoms, liquor. I wonder what they were hoping to gain from leaving these things behind, and I also wonder what power, if any, these gifts provide to the spirits lurking in the shadows.
Also in this room was a collection of old (used!!) voodoo dolls; countless were pinned (ironic, that!) in a grimy display case, many more set out on tables amid candles, crosses, and other relics. How many lives have been ravaged through the use of these old, dirty creations because of anger, jealousy, or the desire for revenge? They felt like ghosts hanging in the air, waiting to tell their stories to anyone willing to listen.
I was NOT one of those people!
And I was ready to GO!
Let’s Get the Hell Outta Here!
I suddenly realized that we were alone in the back room. I looked at Charlie. “Are you ready to get the hell out of this place?” he asked me? The words were barely past his lips as I grabbed his hand. I turned on my heel to leave when I found myself face-to-face with a fiendish apparition. “Not so fast,” said our hostess. She brought her hand up in a blur and blew a billowing cloud of white powder into our faces.
As I edged past her to enter the hallway the lights suddenly dimmed and I found myself looking down a long, musty tunnel. We fell to the floor as the voodoo queen cackled and danced around the room, her arms flailing about wildly as she shouted some ancient incantation. It seemed that we were to become her next offering to Jobu; our souls would provide him with the feast he demanded fortnightly.
We were desperately trying to crawl down the hallway; I could only think of getting back to my children, Tiny Tim and little Florence. Tiny Tim was such a scamp, always looking for ways to grow his shoe-shine business. How would he manage his little cane and shoe-shine box without me? Little Florence was a budding gymnast with a floor routine that was sure to wow the Queen but she was completely incapable of lifing on her own. I had to get back to them!
I called out to Charlie to keep crawling and reminded him that we had so much to live for. He looked resigned to spending an eternity with Jobu but I wasn’t ready to cash in my chips just yet. We crawled and crawled, beset upon by the harpy who was madly celebrating her latest catch and now brandishing a rusty, curved machete. I neared the entry room as the lights grew dim, I realized that perhaps this was the way it was all destined to end. As I faded into the inky darkness of my tetrodotoxin-induced haze, I suddenly heard a growling sound…
The front door to the museum exploded inward, showering the room with jagged splinters of 200-year-old wood. A brilliant shaft of light from the street pierced the incense haze, and as suddenly as it appeared the shaft was eclipsed by a hulking figure. I could only make out a silhouette but I knew instantly who it was. Before I could call out, the square-jawed figure lifted a Thompson submachine gun to his hip and raked the room from side-to-side.
The staccato chatter of the Tommy gun drowned out the voodoo queen’s insane cackling. As the gun barked its death commands, Krieg the Wonder Dog chomped down on the stubby cigar that was clenched between his teeth. His fedora shuddered as his barrel chest absorbed the bone-jarring recoil of the fearsome weapon. Like a scene from a Jimmy Cagney movie, he cut an imposing figure in the swirling smoke. The acrid smell of cordite mingled with the stale, moldy, and incensed-stained air.
He fired low to break bones and spill guts, his exceptional skills with his “room broom” made short work of the voodoo priestess and her idols. The spent brass spewed out of the ejection port of the weapon in a high arc, raining down on the floor in a tinkling shower of sparkling death. I reached out for him and for a brief instant we locked eyes. Even in his finest moment he submissively broke eye contact and went back to finishing the job, stitching that evil woman from her noodle to her dogs. As he was firing his last burst, he threw his long leash to us with his free paw and barked out a command.
Charlie and I grabbed the leash and held on for dear life as he clipped the lead to the front of his harness. He spun on his heel, his ghetto claws scratching the centuries-old wooden floor like nails on a chalkboard. He leaned forward and began pulling. As Charlie and I crossed the threshold, Krieg lit the wick of a Molotov cocktail with his cigar and casually tossed it over his shoulder into the museum. Once outside, our heads began to clear and I understood how close we had come to ending up on permanent display at this unholy place.
Once Krieg was sure we were alright, he put his Tommy gun back into its violin case and began pressing his spongy nose against my forehead. He was such a brave dog and had done so well, but all I could think to say was, “Krieg, that cigar is going to stunt your growth!” We high-fived and the three of us had a great laugh as we headed toward Bourbon Street. What a great Spring day this was shaping up to be!