Monday, January 29, 2007

Voodoo Village

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of people are Googling for Voodoo Village, and far be it from me not to give you what you want. I’ve decided to tell you everything I know about it. Unfortunately, that’s virtually nothing, because I was never there (until the summer of 2007, or was it 2008?).

I first heard of it back in high school: fleeting and enigmatic tales of a dead-end street where shrunken heads sat atop poles or hung in windows, and cauldrons boiled in the yards. Some of the braver, and often less intelligent boys would brag they’d been there, or were going. Supposedly, it was an unpaved road where tires would sink into mud up to a car’s door handles, and the occupants would be trapped. The trick was to get in, see, and get out without being caught by the village people. As the story went, their escape was often blocked by a school bus that would mysteriously appear across the road when none had been there just a moment ago. It was a fun story, but for all I knew, it was urban legend. I’ve asked various people over the years if it really existed, and they have assured me it did, but couldn’t quite pinpoint where it was located. They’d have to take me there, they‘d say, but it’s one of those things that just never happened, so I was still unconvinced.

Enter Bob, Memphomaniac of Bob’s Point of Skew. He's lived in Memphis all his life, so I was sure if anyone knew the truth, he would, and would be willing to share it. He got right back to me with a wealth of information. Yes, Voodoo Village really existed, and yes, it really was as freaky as the tales. He provided the address and a map to the location. It was here, but I've deleted it. I've been thinking about this, and I never should have posted it. If someone posted the address to my house so a bunch of people could drive by and gawk, I wouldn't be very happy about it. No matter how much of a tourist attraction it may be, I was wrong to do it.

As you can (no longer) see, Voodoo Village was located on a dead-end cul de sac in the southwest part of Memphis, and there are few close neighbors, even now. Memphis, like most other cities, has grown exponentially since Bob and I were in high school, so you can imagine how remote it must have been in the ‘60’s when local people discovered its existence. I’m actually a little surprised that the village was not very far from where I now live. Voodoo Village acquired its name from the various art and religious symbols displayed there. According to sightseers and journalists who wrote about it, a man named Wash Harris, who claimed to be part African American, part Native American, enclosed his house and three others with chain link fence and formed a compound. The entrance to the street was secured with a heavy iron gate. It was often reported that on the first drive past the village, the gate would be closed, but by the time the driver of a vehicle reached a place to turn around and come back to gawk again, the gate would be as open as an invitation. A few foolish people who accepted the invitation learned that by the time they reached the end of the cul de sac and attempted to make their way out, the gate was closed once again, or years later, blocked by some other means. Once in a while those other means consisted of a large tow truck, or school bus parked across the road.

Besides the houses, inside the compound was a homemade temple covered with crosses, hearts and sunbursts, and filled with small lights, candles, and voodoo dolls; an eight-foot candle; a giant figure with outstretched arms often described as a thunderbird with horns; something with a huge propeller; fans, spindles, spinners; stars and crescent moons perched on poles (not shrunken heads as legend had it); a set of wheels connected by a crosscut saw; painted stumps, towering crosses; African Pygmy masks, and a statue of Jesus holding a Bible with a dagger through it, as well as through his hand. According to what few neighbors were nearby, the Villagers burned bonfires and chanted in tongues on the occasion of full moons, and the eyes of Jesus glowed while blood dripped from the dagger. All of this was accompanied by a half a dozen junk cars. Had they belonged to unwary curiosity seekers foolish enough to take pictures? Many people who encountered Harris, or one of his “family,” were warned not to stay long, get too close, or take any pictures, and the warnings were issued with enough force to be taken seriously. At least one person escaped with photos, however, and you should be able to see them here. They don't show much, so don't get too excited.

Wash Harris denied having anything to do with the dark arts, but would never explain what any of the symbols meant. He said it was his secret, and if he gave that away, what would he have left? But he did claim that they all had meaning and were symbols of God (not being very specific about which god to whom he referred). He called his place St. Paul’s Spiritual Temple. He was said to have been in his 80’s in the 80’s, so chances are he’s deceased by now. In any case, the village and all its artifacts are reported to be gone. I think in the spring, I may drive over there and take all the pictures I want. There’s bound to be a few ghosts lurking about the place. Maybe I can capture a picture of one of them.

August 24, 2007 UPDATE:

A Ms. Gibson wrote to tell me she visited Voodoo Village. I asked her permission to share them with you. Here's the first:

I just came across your post and wanted to share my recent trip to Voodoo Village.

After talking about it with my friends, I decided to mapquest the road (name deleted). Turns out it's only about 20 miles from where I live.

I went there recently, and as far as I know, everything, or the majority of it, is still there. There is no gate across the road, at least, not when I drove in. I saw the colored posts, weird statues (I don't remember seeing the figure with outstretched arms or the creepy Jesus, but I was too busy watching the exit to look closer), and the huge candle. I did see the propeller thing ... any idea of what it is or what it's for? The temple with the sunbursts and other symbols is the thing that creeped me out the most, kind of like a twisted kid's cartoon. I'll be honest, I was a little scared when I was turning around in the cul de sac that I would see the bus parked across the road, but nothing happened. It actually felt abandoned.

The whole thing made me think of a twisted Libertyland. (Southern Writer's note: Libertyland was our local theme park, gone now.)

I thought this was interesting and wrote back. Ms. Gibson's second e-mail said:

Haha! I had my boyfriend drive both times. I definitely wouldn't go alone, even in the daytime. I don't think it's abandoned, but it was later in the afternoon (around 5 or 5:30) when I went the first time, so maybe they just weren't out. And the last time I went, another car turned in before me, but I don't know where they went ... they just vanished into one of those dark, overgrown driveways. Creepy. I went again at night, around 9 or so. Even creepier, especially this one cross statue with what looked like a basket attached to it ... Stuff like that alone fuels rumors about sacrifices. One funny thing that happened was that as I drove down the road, a rabbit ran across in the distance, then ran right back. Of course, my imagination went into overdrive, haha. I thought it was running from something, you know, the usual person with a huge knife and carrying a skull, waiting in the dark. Hehe

I wish the pictures were still up, so that others could see what we're talking about. I didn't even think to bring my camera, which might've been a good thing. Maybe that's why my trips were so 'uneventful' ... hm. But if I ever do get pictures, I'll send them to you.

(Southern Writer's note: I had no idea the pictures I'd linked to had been removed from the Internet. That sux. Sorry to see it, but I hope Ms. Gibson doesn't risk her life to get more. Taking pictures is one thing the Villagers seem to get really upset about.)

Special thanks to Ms. Gibson for allowing me to share her experience with you.

This guy used to have a couple pictures posted, but they seem to be gone. Here's one someone has on Flickr.

NOW THAT WE'VE HAD OUR FUN,  y'all please leave these poor people alone. What was true 30 years ago may not be true today. The folks who live in Voodoo Village seem like perfectly nice, ordinary people.  I'll tell you right now, if you came snooping around my house in the middle of the night you would be met with a shotgun, and how could you expect anything different? Before you drive down their street, stop and ask yourself how would you like it if people were driving down YOUR street, just to ogle YOU? They have pets and children just like everyone else, and don't need the extra traffic endangering them. Just let them be. Go read about 2012 instead. It's a whole lot scarier.