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American Horror Story Coven: The True Story Behind Delphine LaLaurie

The immortal spell was fictional, American Horror Story: Coven’s character Delphine LaLaurie was actually based on a real-life New Orleans woman of the same name. AHS: Coven was the Ryan Murphy TV Show’s third installation, focusing on a small coven of young female witches in modern-day New Orleans, led by The Supreme Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) and her daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson). The coven had to channel their powers and hide their magic from society, all the while engaging in a centuries-long feud with the local Voodoo witches led by Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett).

Ryan Murphy’s action in including true stories with a bit of a stretch isn’t uncommon since he used a similar famous historical murder case in AHS: Murder House, where The Black Dahlia became a ghost at the haunted house. Although under a different name, AHS: Asylum’s Lana Winters was inspired by investigative journalist Nellie Bly. Later in season 5, Hotel, AHS included plenty of real-life killers similar to Delphine LaLaurie, with serial killers John Wayne Gacy, Aileen Wuornos, and Richard Ramirez dining with the Hotel Cortez’s serial murderer founder who was in turn inspired by hotelier H.H. Holmes.

Coven’s Delphine LaLaurie, played by Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, actually was a 19th century New Orleans serial killer who was infamous for brutally torturing her slaves, going far beyond the already permitted inhumane cruelties within the Code Noir. For the most part, American Horror Story was accurate with the background of LaLaurie being a wealthy New Orleans socialite who tortured and bound enslaved people in her attic. Continually murdering her slaves beyond the Black Code’s rules made the real LaLaurie notable as a serial killer. However, there were no theorized connections to witchcraft or using blood mixtures to keep herself young.

In Coven’s background on Laveau and LaLaurie, an angry mob of black citizens in New Orleans stormed the LaLaurie mansion in revenge of her cruelties, specifically on Laveau’s lover who turned into AHS season 3’s Minotaur, where they captured Delphine and expelled her to immortality buried under the street. In reality, the mob was full of New Orleans white citizens who discovered LaLaurie’s grotesque tortures after earlier helping put out a kitchen fire in the mansion. The neighbors in the French Quarters found out that the fire was started by LaLaurie’s kitchen slave, who was chained to the oven and set the home ablaze in a suicide attempt to free herself from LaLaurie’s torture. When the mob infiltrated LaLaurie’s home, she and her daughters were able to escape to Paris, France, where they reportedly stayed for the remainder of her life. Unlike the series, she wasn’t bound to an eternal life underground.

Ryan Murphy mostly played on the folklores that were told about LaLaurie in real life when crafting Kathy Bates’ American Horror Story character. The stories told about LaLaurie’s tortures became exaggerated over time, with the unsubstantiated claims that Murphy incorporates being the particularly gory brutalities like the gouging of eyes, ripping out intestines, and replacing heads with a boar. While Delphine LaLaurie did have a daughter named Borquita, there was no evidence that she had an affair with a Black employee. Another detail fabricated by Murphy was the real-life LaLaurie mansion turning into a museum, though actor Nicolas Cage did own it for a short time. It had many lives after Delphine’s escape as a home for delinquents, a public high school, and an apartment building, but no public museum.

Delphine LaLaurie wasn’t the only true story included in AHS: Coven; certain mythologized characters and real-life figures also have integral roles. Marie Laveau was a real-life New Orleans herbalist and Voodoo priestess who earned the title of “Queen of Voodoo.” The sinister Papa Legba was also based on a Louisiana Voodoo figure called the Loa, known to be a trickster and median between humans and the “Good God.” Additionally, American Horror Story’s Axeman serial killer was a real-life mass murderer in New Orleans in the early 1900s who really did threaten death in a letter if houses didn’t play Jazz music.

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