History of Vampires in New Orleans
History of Vampires in New Orleans
New Orleans Paranormal and Occult Research Society
Vampires and vampire-like creatures have been found in the folklore of every civilization, every culture, every religion since the beginning of recorded time. New Orleans is no exception. New Orleans was settled in the early 1700â€™s and it was during this time in Europe that massive vampire hunts were occurring.
It was a tradition that began in the early 1200â€™s in Eastern Europe and over hundreds of years spread into Western civilizations. Vampire hunters, usually church representatives, were digging up the dearly departed, driving wooden stakes through the corpses, then beheading and burning the body.
Causes of vampirism varied. For instance, one could be predisposed at birth for vampirism. Having been born at certain times of the year (New moon, Holy days), born with a red caul, with teeth, or with an extra nipple were sure signs. If the child was born with excess hair, white hair, red hair, a red birthmark, or with two hearts, the theory persisted. The 7th son of a 7th son was believed to be doomed to vampirism. If the child was weaned too early, suckled after weaning, or died prior to Baptism, vampirism was suspected upon death. If the pregnant woman received a curse or was stared at or attacked by a Vampire, the child would be cursed to vampirism. This type of predisposition
was considered a genetic defect, like a mutation, and vampirism was inevitable.
Vampirism can be obtained after birth as well. Typically, being fed upon seven or more times, without dying, would guarantee one to become a vampire. But, numerous things can happen after oneâ€™s death that can lead to vampirism: Committing suicide, practicing Sorcery or Witchcraft, eating sheep killed by a Wolf, leading an immoral life (prostitutes, murderers, alcoholics, rapists), dying without Last Rites, having a cat jump over the corpse/coffin, having a shadow fall on the corpse, no burial or improper burial rites, death by violence, or death by drowning.
There are of course ways to prevent vampirism should any of the above occur: A number of different things might be done in order to take steps to prevent that body from ever returning from the grave. Weighting the eyes down with coins, tying the mouth closed or stuffing with garlic, were common practices. As were placing coins or dirt on the eyes.
Our ancestors would cover mirrors in the house and stop the clocks in the home of the deceased.
In Louisiana, many families still practice a custom called "sitting up with the dead". When a family member died, someone within the family, or perhaps a close family friend, would stay with the body until it is placed into one of our above ground tombs or is buried. The body is never left unattended. There are many reasons given for this practice today, most commonly, respect for the dead. This tradition however, actually dates back to Vampire Folklore in eastern Europe. In doing this, you were watching for signs of paranormal activity. If a cat was ever seen to jump over, walk across, or stand on top of the coffin; if a dog was seen to bark or growl at the coffin; or if a horse shied from it, these were signs of impending vampirism and at that point you would take steps to prevent the corpse from returning from the dead.
Commonly used procedures would include burying the corpse face down, and burying at a crossroads. Often times, family members would place a sickle around the neck, tie body parts together or mutilate the body, usually by decapitation and placing the head at the bottom of feet. The most common remedy for impending vampirism was to drive a stake into the corpse, decapitate it and then burn the body to ashes. This method was the only way to truly destroy the undead.
By the 1700â€™s, these practices were going on all throughout western Europe, particularly in France and Germany, where many immigrants were migrating to New Orleans. Believers insist that vampires could have been smuggled over in ships with the settlers. The early French settlers brought over brides from Europe who transferred their belongings in large wooden casket-like boxes. But according to folklore, even though Vampires
prefer the night, they are not destroyed by daylight. It was common for the vampire to walk about during the day. They generally hunted and fed at night. They would not have needed to be smuggled in coffins in the hulls of ships. This idea is that of fictional writers such as Bram Stoker. More than likely, vampires would have entered the ships like anyone else and blended in well with society.
If being a murderer, rapist, or other criminal element would predispose one to vampirism, it is easy to see how they would have become so prevalent in New Orleans. The city did start out as a penal colony. All of the original settlers would have been predisposed to it! Once they blended in with the mortals, they could easily feed on the population without raising much suspicion. With people dying in great masses from diseases such as yellow fever, whoâ€™s going to notice another body here or there?
New Orleans has always had a high murder rate, not to mention, a lot of missing persons! The French Quarter has always been a very mysterious and seductive place. Many a person has mysteriously disappeared, many of whom were never known to have been here in the first place. Runaways commonly come to the French Quarter to hide out, as do people with "pasts". If no one knows you are here, how will they know if you should disappear? If you just "drifted in", people will assume you just "drifted out", as well.
Vampirism and Disease
In certain areas of rural Louisiana, some plantations had the exterior keyholes turned upside down to prevent entry of the "undead". Unhappy spirits of the dead were believed to bring disease into households. For many years, yellow fever epidemics were blamed on such "evil spirits". It is documented in our history books that early settlers in New Orleans would fire cannons into the air to repel these spirits. Plagues, as well as tuberculosis, in Europe were often blamed on vampirism. Tuberculosis patients often coughed up blood leading doctors in the Middle Ages to believe that they had been ingesting blood. Thus, came the belief that the disease was the product of a vampire bite. The word Nosferatu literally means "plague-carrier". Early cemeteries in Louisiana were often placed far from towns, many times at a cross roads, to discourage the spirits from finding their way home. Often these tactics were called "confusing the spirit".
In many cultures, Vampirism is believed to be nothing more than aberrant behavior resulting from adverse mental or physical conditions. Porphyria, a human blood disorder, is believed by many to be a condition that has resulted in many "Diagnosed" Vampires. The patient suffering from Porphyria becomes extremely sensitive to light. In addition, skin lesions may develop, and the teeth become brown or reddish-brown in color. The gums recede giving the canine teeth a "fang-like" look.
Like the diabetic who replaces insulin with injections, blood transfusions can be effective in reversing the effects of Porphyria. It is believed that in medieval Eastern Europe, nobleman may have been instructed by their physicians to drink blood to reverse the disorder. Because so many royalty had a tendency to marry within the same family, it is easy to see how recessive genetic disorders such as porphyria may have been more prevalent among the nobleman.