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Brandon Schexnayder of Southern Gothic Media shares some Voodoo curse stories and legends from his hometown of New Orleans, in which we learn that Aunt Julia Brown of Frenier, Louisiana, may not have been who you think she was.

New Orleans Legends

Legends are born from truth, and lore has origins in history. Over time, friendly ghosts become sinister, warnings become curses, and the swamp swallows up the truth. Today, we speak with Brandon from Southern Gothic, who, along with his sister Brianne, goes to great lengths to find the real history behind some of America’s most bizarre legends. Oftentimes the real history is stranger than the lore.

Alligators in the swamp located by these New Orleans legends
A gator among the cypress trees in the Louisiana swamps. Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

About the guest: Brandon Schexnayder of Southern Gothic

Brandon and his sister Bryanne were born in New Orleans. The siblings’ parents dragged them along on their hunt for obscure genealogy long before anything could be Googled. As children, their eyes couldn’t roll hard enough at their parents’ obsession with scouring cemeteries and library archives for tiny pieces of their ancestry puzzle.

As the internet opened up access to more obscure history, the siblings decided it was their turn to research and tell stories. They dig deep into the history, legends, and true crime stories of the American South on their podcast Southern Gothic.

Brandon who dishes the truth behind some New Orleans legends
Brandon of Southern Gothic Media, who gives us the real history of Julia Brown

Bryanne is a professional archivist, which is evident in the rich detail and historical accuracy of their stories. At the time of this interview, she’s just been published in Feminine Macabre Anthologies Volume III. Brandon is a lifelong audio engineer, which is evident from the incredible sound of their podcast. He moved to Franklin, TN and worked in Music Row recording studios, helping artists like George Strait, Dolly Parton, and Lee Ann Womack make their albums.

More ways to experience Southern Gothic

Becky and Diana came soooo close to getting a ghost tour of Franklin, TN, from Brandon when we visited Nashville in 2022, but sadly it wasn’t in the cards (stupid storm). If you play your cards right, you can catch him as a guide for some of the spookier offerings by Franklin Walking Tours. Keep up with Brandon and Southern Gothic on FB/IG @southerngothicmedia or on Twitter @SoGoPodcast.

Southern Gothic will also be at the following.

The Voodoo Curse of Julia Brown: one of New Orleans’ fascinating legends

Brandon starts this episode of New Orleans legends with a lovingly curated story of Julia Brown. While Brandon has told this story on his podcast, Bryanne is continually unearthing more information.

The basic story you might have heard: Julia Bernard was born into slavery around 1845. She and her husband Celestin Brown lived in the southeastern Louisiana swamp town of Frenier.

What’s that, you say? You’ve never heard of Frenier? Well, that’s no surprise, considering Julia put a voodoo curse on the whole town, resulting in it being wiped off the map by a classic category 4 New Orleans hurricane on the very day the town gathered for her funeral.

…or did she?

Who was this folklore figure, in real life? How has her reputation morphed over the past century? Also, how did this highly-valued local healer, midwife, mother, and farmer get the reputation of a wicked Voodoo priestess? (And by The Weather Channel, of all sources!)

Julia Brown’s story

Julia Brown (born Julia Bernard) lived in Frenier, a small farming community in St. John the Baptist Parish, near Lake Pontchartrain. The man she married, Celestin Brown, received a plot of land there for his service in the Civil War. The community of Frenier was mostly German immigrants, and its economy was based largely on exporting sauerkraut to Chicago.

Julia Brown was not just a New Orleans legend, but a real person, confirmed in census records and articles from the Times-Picayune. She was a sort of folk healer; a nice lady who used her meager resources to help her neighbors when she could. She also held a reputation for practicing voodoo. We get the feeling that this was similar to the way Appalachian Granny Women practiced healing, which, poorly understood at the time, felt like witchcraft to the local yokels.

Julia Brown, Louisiana voodoo priestess?

Whether or not Julia Brown ever intentionally practiced Voodoo or placed any curses at all is unclear. We’re guessing it was probably after one of her ungrateful white clients disrespected her yet again that she decided to leverage her wicked reputation. She began dropping salty hints that furthered her notoriety. We like to think she could’ve played many pranks on rude or ignorant locals, no doubt mostly harmless, but stealthily building clout as someone who they shouldn’t mess with.

The main thing people talk about, however, is how she began singing eerie songs on her front porch. Songs with lyrics like “One day I’m gonna die and take the whole town with me.” Knowing what we know about Southerners being casually morbid, this chipper little ditty might’ve been just a folk tune at the time, much like Ring Around the Rosie is an adorable kid’s song about an awful death from Bubonic Plague. Little did the townsfolk know, Julia Brown’s lyric was about to get a whole lot more meaningful.

The Legend of Julia Brown

Julia Brown died of old age on September 29, 1915. Her funeral was held in her home; her casket placed in the customary wooden box on her front porch. During the funeral, a massive hurricane struck, bringing in a devastating storm surge. The hurricane destroyed the Illinois Central Railroad depot (there goes the sauerkraut export business) and the entire town of Frenier, along with some other towns in the New Orleans area.

hurricane descending upon a funeral at an old wooden house. Mourners in traditional early 1900s attire are gathered. Dark, ominous clouds swirl in the sky, with heavy rain and wind starting to lash the area. The surrounding landscape includes cypress trees and swampy terrain, characteristic of southeastern Louisiana. The house looks weathered, with hanging moss and wooden beams, creating a tense atmosphere as the storm rapidly approaches.

In hindsight, the superstitious townsfolk decided that Julia’s salty songs were actually a curse. They started the legend that she actually caused the disastrous September storm, and that she did so spitefully, magically, and definitely on purpose.

Was the storm really a curse? Did Julia Brown intend to curse the town with Voodoo weather magic? Either way, the perfectly-timed hurricane that left Frenier a ghost town cemented her place in local lore.

Can you visit Frenier today?

Cajun Pride Swamp Tours offers a boat ride that takes you through the cypress trees of St. John the Baptist Parish to the remains of Frenier in Manchac Swamp.

Diana around age 3, receiving a New Orleans t shirt for Christmas and getting very excited about it.
Diana’s always gotten inordinately excited about New Orleans.

Always great to talk with another paranormal podcaster!

Brandon told us he could talk about ghosts all day. With his entrancing voice and artful prose, we could listen to him tell ghost stories all day. The Southern Gothic podcast focuses on historical accuracy and respect for its subjects. It’s also full of true mysteries about the darker side of New Orleans’ history. Pull it up on your phone next time you’ve got a campfire going and nobody has a ghost story to share.

And if you do, you’ll be sure to have have a spooky day!