In years past, there were many renditions of this famous “boogeyman” (or, boogeybaby?) of New Orleans legend, the earliest of which were carved from dried, hollowed out gourds. This primitive Devil Baby dolls were often hung in the windows of old Creole cottages to frighten off the real Devil Baby who lurked in the darkness just beyond the gas lights. Other primitively carved Devil Baby dolls, complete with horns and a knotted jute tail, would sometimes appear on the stoops of unfortunate victims of the local hoodoo rootworkers. (It is said Marie Laveau frowned on the practice of leaving effigies of the Devil Baby because it made light of the “afflictions,” as she described them, of her adopted ward, the real Devil Baby.)
These early, hand-carved Devil Baby dolls are extremely rare these days. Those families in possession of such an heirloom usually have kept it hidden and have passed it down through generations, so it is hard to estimate just how many of these little effigies were in circulation.
In the early 20th century, however, other versions of the dreaded Devil Baby doll began to appear in and around New Orleans. These renditions were more doll-like, clothed in children’s garb and able to stand on their own, with a stuffed body and arms that moved slightly. The face of the Devil Baby dolls was always the same, with leering, glassy eyes and small horns protruding from the forehead. It was said that these dolls had faces that most closely resembled the actual Devil Baby; this was verified by a woman who had evidently played with the Devil Baby as a child.
These are the first dolls to truly have a “haunted” reputation. They were a “black market” item in old New Orleans, and in order to obtain one it was necessary to be well connected among secret sosyetes and practicing vodoun community. As bad luck seemed to follow the dolls – some claim because of a curse laid on them all by Marie Laveau – none of them seem to have survived this period. Only parts of one doll remained and these had been locked away until very recently.
Recently for stories about the Devil Baby posted on Haunted New Orleans and Haunted America Tours, local artist and Mardi Gras parade designer Ricardo Pustanio was able to obtain the remnants of the last known surviving Devil Baby doll (c. 1900’s). From these he was able to recreate the doll, adhering to the size and style of the original, for use in the Haunted site stories. These new Devil Baby dolls are full-size, exact replicas of the turn of the century dolls produced in old New Orleans, and, like their predecessors, there is something not quite right about them.
The handmade, sculpted dolls seem to have taken on a life of their own. Their eyes seem to follow you as you are moving about the room near them, and when they are gathered together there is sometimes the sound of whispering and rustling among them. Since the dolls were constructed with no real magical intent, the fact that they seemed to be animated by some otherworldly agent made Pustanio curious to see what would happen if he separated them.
Even though no one likes having the Devil Baby dolls around, Pustanio was able to convince a few of his friends to each take one of the dolls for safe keeping. It wasn’t long before Pustanio’s friends began to complain about having the dolls and all were anxious to return them. Evidently, even separated there is something devilish about the Devil Baby dolls.
One person claimed that the Devil Baby doll he was keeping moved on its own when no one was there. It was housed in a spare bedroom closet and each day when the unwary keeper returned from work, the closet door would be ajar and the Devil Baby would be lying halfway out, sprawled on the carpet.
Another of Pustanio’s Devil Baby dolls apparently “got loose” at night in the home of a couple who was keeping it, overturning ashtrays and littering the kitchen floor with beads from a bead-making craft kit nearby. The couple had no pets and no children; there was no other explanation for the strange occurrences.
A third Devil Baby doll was placed with famous psychic Reese at his new home in Lakeview in the days before Hurricane Katrina. Reese, a collector of rare dolls, immediately disliked the Devil Baby but reluctantly agreed to keep it. In the two weeks he had it he was continuously awoken in the night by the sound of a baby crying. By the end of the second week of the doll being in his home, Hurricane Katrina struck flooding the house with 7 feet of murky water. When Reese returned to his devastated property he was disturbed to find that the Devil Baby doll was one of the only things missing from the inside of his home.
Sylvia Cross, a paranormal investigator who specializes in possessed objects, bought her Devil Baby doll directly from Pustanio online. She thought it would be the perfect addition to her collection of spooky dolls; little did she know she had purchased the real thing. In a short time, she observed changes in the doll’s position from morning to evening; she reported the sounds of snuffling and crying coming from near the baby; and she also related that her two cats would not go near the doll, refusing to even be in the same room with it.
“Some objects,” said Cross, “are just ‘born,’ for lack of a better word, with a dark soul. I think the Devil Baby is one of those objects. If you look into its eyes you can almost discern the flicker of a trapped, unhappy soul.” Others believe the glimmer is put there by the Devil himself and that he claims every incarnation of the Devil Baby as his very own.
Cross also purchased a Voodoo Queen doll from Pustanio and she claims that it is haunted as well. Pustanio claims that only his talent and nothing magical or ghostly went into the creation of his dolls, but many still believe them to be possessed by something unexplainable and bizarre. It is interesting to note that Pustanio’s previous forays into other forms of art over the past 15 years, including painting and sculpture, are rumored to have something of the supernatural about them.
Besides his online store, Ricardo Pustanio recently allowed his Devil Baby dolls to be placed on eBay for auction as an initial showing from a large collection of New Orleans-inspired artwork. One Devil Baby doll has already changed hands on eBay several times; it seems the old saying “buyer beware” was never more appropriate!
Asked about the possibility that his artwork is haunted, Pustanio just shrugs and says, “I’ve heard about haunted dolls since I was young. We had several in our family that came down to us. But I never thought my dolls would be haunted, too.”
Ricardo Pustanio’s Devil Baby dolls, haunted or not, are in high demand. Each is one of a kind and can be made to order and dressed in baby clothes the purchaser supplies. Other dolls by Pustanio include Voodoo Queen dolls, Voodoo Zombie and Lwa dolls, and Voodoo You dolls made by the artist to look like any person the buyer wishes.
- Devil Babies on Haunted America Tours: http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/devilbabies/