The “Horrific” American History Behind ‘American Horror Story: Coven’


Grisly facets of America’s unique “horror history” is craftily interwoven in this season’s American Horror Story. Not only were Marie Laveau, Delphine LaLaurie, Salem’s Tituba and the Axeman of New Orleans actual historical people- all of them share a similar biographical conclusion: nobody really exactly knows what became of them.


Queenie’s acclaimed ancestor, Tituba, was the first in Salem, Massachusetts to be accused of witchcraft in 1692. A house slave of a debatable Arawak origin, Tituba at first denied having anything to do with sorcery after two young girls made accusations against her. Eventually however, she confessed to being in allegiance with Satan and even accused others of practicing witchcraft with her. Despite her confessions, she was never tried and was spared the executions that befell the twenty other accused inhabitants of the area. She remained imprisoned throughout the trials, and was afterwards bought out and released by a person unknown and the rest of her life goes on unrecorded.

The true horror of the LaLaurie house was not unveiled to the public until 1834, after an oven-chained kitchen slave set fire to the house in an attempt at suicide. What was revealed instead horrified even the slave owners of the day. LaLaurie’s attic imprisoned shackled slaves that had been left victims to LaLaurie’s sadistic cruelty, chained to medieval torture devices, limbs stretched, orifices created, mutilated beyond human recognition. One slave even begged the rescuing fire fighters to let him die in the blaze as to no longer endure the pain inflicted by Madame Delphine LaLaurie.

This kind of brutality, even in slave owning Louisiana, created a public outrage and a mob fell on the charred remains of the LaLaurie house to demolish what was left of it. It is during that time that LaLaurie, undetected, supposedly fled the scene by coach, escaping to the waterfront and sailing off to France. It is unclear what exactly became of her after the fire. Some say she returned to New Orleans years later under a new name, while others believe she lived out her remaining years in Europe. Her alleged gravestone in St. Louis Cemetery #1 has a death date that is debated by historians.


The infamous “voodoo queen” Marie Laveau was a feared and respected member of the French Quarter throughout the 19th century. Laveau was born a free woman and like her TV persona played by Angela Bassett, Laveau worked as a hairdresser. Through her occupation, she was in touch with the gossip of the white high society that made up most of her clientele. Her religious rituals became a popular spectacle to behold, which gave her the opportunity to use her voodoo practices as another form of income since many sought out her advice or mystical “assistance.” Her magic was said to of rescued a group of condemned met at the gallows by breaking the rope that tied their nooses.


Although she lived to be one hundred years old, she was considered perpetually youthful as well as beautiful. Like LaLaurie, there is confusion as to where Laveau is buried. Some say she was buried alongside her daughter, also named Marie. Crypt plaques with the same name and differing death dates cause genuine confusion as to where her physical remains may be located, but the tomb that is considered her final resting place is marked by tourist-carved X’s in St. Louis Cemetery #1. A ceremonial offering which Fiona mocks to the still-living Marie Leveau in episode two. Helping to rekindle the old rivalry between witchcraft and the arguably interchangeable, voodoo. It’s up to speculation whether or not Laveau and LaLaurie ever made contact with one another (Look up Devil Baby of Bourbon Street).

Finally, the New Orleans Jack-the-Ripper, the dubbed “Axeman” plagued the streets of New Orleans from 1918 to 1919. Taunting the local police force with a cryptic letter stating that he was some Hellish being who would spare any would-be victims if they were playing jazz music. He was originally believed to be targeting Italian grocers, leading some to believe that the illusive killer to be tied with Mafia connections. Others believed his targets were women, but his victims eventually differed in gender and ethnicity. A home invader, the Axeman took his casualties while they slept in their beds at night, usually gaining entrance through a chiseled out door panel. Police truly believed they were dealing with a maniac on the loose. However, the Axeman vanished as quickly as he came, and noone has ever been able to unmask the man who slain nearly a dozen innocent people over the duration of a year’s time.

American Horror Story has taken creative liberties on unsolved history before. The Black Dahlia murder that occurred in Season One’s Murder House was pretty impressive, especially the historically accurate scene where the mother and child come across the grinning, naked corpse of actress Elizabeth Short. By breathing life into these historical characters, even if to bring them out into a fictionalized screen, rescues them from total obscurity. And bringing our nation’s more dark and spooky history to light, even for the sheer sake of storytelling, is a truly noble cause.

Wrapping up the loose ends and creating new whereabouts of these people had to of been fun. Instead of a mad escape from justice, have an eternal living burial for LaLaurie. Why not have the Axeman stabbed to death by a coven of suffragettes? Laveau? Of course she figured out a way to live forever. Previews for next week shows that Queenie’s heritage to Tituba will lead to conflict between any loyalty she may have to the coven or a position working under Laveau. What ever became of Tituba after the witch trials? It’s yet to be seen, but American Horror Story is doing a pretty good job at challenging the idea that truth is really stranger than fiction.