Popular stories tell that in 1915, a faith healer living in the small town of Frenier, 25 miles west of New Orleans, predicted she would take the town with her when she died - and that no one believed her until it was too late.
Her name was Julia Brown and rumors abound that she was a traiteuse, a voodoo priestess, and an oracle in the early years of the 20th century.
Locals would come to Julia - so the stories go - for a cure for what ailed them, but when her remedies weren’t needed, people stayed away in fear. She would sit in her rocking chair on her front porch, play guitar, and sing. Several times - so the lore dictates - she had correctly predicted disasters in surrounding towns. In her most ominous ditty, culminates the mythos, Julia sang, “One day I’m going to die and take the whole town with me” and her premonition came true.
It is true that after Julia died, the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915 struck. The Category 4 storm swept through Louisiana, flattening small towns in its path like Frenier. What is not true is everything else.
Julia Brown, reports Sonya Alexander in Deep South Magazine, was a literate Black landowner, a wife, and a mother of three educated children (all of whom survived the 1915 storm). She is described in a first-hand account as a “nice lady” liked by everyone in the town and was fondly called “Aunt Julie.”
So how did this myth of voodoo priestess, oracle, and healer come to fruition?
Alexander’s research reveals that the myth of Julia as a voodoo priestess did not surface in public lore until 2010. Certainly it arrests attention far more than the truth of Julia as a housewife and mother. While magic and voodoo and predictions of the demise of entire town are certainly more exciting than everyday people, Alexander points to the uglier underbelly of our yarn-spinning: “…the way her identity has been altered has served to permanently shift her legacy from human being to ‘other,’ as most Black people have been designated throughout history. She’s been transformed from housewife to ‘magical negro,’ yet another addition to the canon of Voodoo sensationalism so prevalent in Louisiana.”
How many other stories we tell have been thus fabricated?
Visit Frenier Cemetery, listen to the stories, and remember the real person who lived as Aunt Julie.
Know Before You Go
The only way to see the cemetery is via a tour by the Cajun Pride swamp tour company - who purchased the land the cemetery is on. It's essentially a mass grave, with no paperwork existing on who is buried there. The tour also includes a look at the cabin where Julia, rumored as a voodoo priestess, lived.