After A Hurricane Devastated A Louisiana Town, Locals Believed Voodoo Could Be To Blame
The story of Julia Brown stands today as one of the most well-known Louisiana voodoo legends. "Aunt Julia" was the community healer for the tiny town of Frenier, LA. Although she was their healer, many people believe she put a curse on the town.
Frenier, located just east of New Orleans along the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, was completely wiped out by the Great Storm of 1915 on the day of Brown's funeral. It's rumored that Aunt Julia placed a voodoo curse on the town that leveled the community when she passed.
Much like it is today, voodoo was a widely misunderstood faith in the early 20th century. Although voodoo priests are generally healers who believe in doing good in their communities, many perceive them to be practitioners of curses and black magic. So, did Brown curse the town, or is it merely a folk story? We may never know.
- Photo: Shawn Harquail / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
Julia Brown Was Known As An Oracle
Julia Brown was known for her predictions; some were mundane, while others were quite alarming. She frequently sat on her front porch and sang her premonitions. Her songs occasionally scared the locals, but her most famous song was one of her last: "One day I’m going to die and take the whole town with me."
This is where many think the curse originated from, though not everyone thinks that was Brown's intent. According to a modern voodoo priestess, "Voodoo isn't as much about curses as it is about healing." She thinks it's possible Brown was actually protecting the town, and trying to warn residents of the impending storm.
- Photo: EBCanon / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
Julia Brown Was A Healer, But Locals Were Afraid Of Her
Julia Brown appeared to care for her community in Frenier. Using natural remedies, herbs from the nearby woods, and basic medical knowledge, she likely acted as the town healer. Although the residents of Frenier relied heavily upon her, they reportedly began to take Brown for granted. They turned to her only when they needed her, but avoided her most other times. It's unclear whether she was an actual voodoo priestess, but many residents apparently believed she practiced dark magic.
Wary of Brown's predictions, a large portion of Frenier's population showed up to her funeral. Many attended out of fear, but others were there because of guilt - they wanted to pay their respects to make up for the various ways they had mistreated her in life.
- Photo: jc.winkler / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
People Think Julia Brown's Ghost Still Haunts The Area
Today, Frenier is a tiny fishing village, encompassing a handful of houses and a restaurant. The isolated area is well-loved by residents and a popular spot for swamp tours and fishing. However, it never returned to its former size after the 1915 hurricane. So much of the town was wiped out that it was simply never rebuilt.
Some locals believe Julia Brown's ghost still haunts the Manchac Swamp near Frenier. Many people visit the mass grave in Frenier cemetery and have reported hearing an eerie voice singing her infamous song.
- Photo: Jay Carriker / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5
According To Census Records, Julia Brown Was A Real Person
Many legends and stories are loosely based on real people, but Julia Brown's life was documented. Census records show her maiden name was Bernard. She was born in or around 1845, and married a man named Celestin Brown.
She set up her modest healing practice on land granted to Celestin by the government. Julia Brown inherited the land in 1914, not long before her passing on September 28, 1915.
- Photo: Not Credited / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The Storm Hit Louisiana On September 29, 1915, And Wiped Out Everything In Its Path
It began to rain on the night of September 28, 1915 - the same day Julia Brown passed. By 5:30 pm on September 29, the full brunt of the hurricane hit Louisiana. The storm swept into the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean, bringing winds reaching 130 mph, 8.2 inches of rainfall, and a 13-foot storm surge. The weather cleared the following day, but by then the storm had claimed the lives of an estimated 275-300 people and caused about $13 million worth of damage.
In Frenier and the surrounding towns of Ruddock and Napton, the storm was disastrous. The storm surge flattened every building in the area, washed away railroad tracks, and knocked over cypress trees. Twenty-five Frenier residents perished while attempting to weather the storm in the railroad depot when the building collapsed.
- Photo: Photographer Not Credited / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
There Was No Way To Warn Residents About The Incoming Storm
Frenier was a very small village established along a train stop between New Orleans and Ruddock, a logging town to the northwest of New Orleans. Ruddock's population numbered about 1,000 people and was much larger than Frenier's, but it, too, was not prepared for a major hurricane.
Without electricity or roads, there was no way to communicate the incoming storm to any of the small towns along Lake Pontchartrain. It was a 5- to 10-mile trek through the swamp to get to the city of La Place.
When the storm hit, it took out both Ruddock and Frenier.