~ * Charles Massicot Gandolfo * ~
According to family legend, near Port Margot, on the northern coast of ancient Saint-Domingue, the French corsair commander, Daubert, had a plantation, a wife and an infant son. In the summer of 1791 the entire region from Le Cap to Port-de-Paix erupted in revolution and violence. History’s only successful slave revolt began in flames and blood. The story recounts how the privateer, turned planter, managed to ride up to the from gate of the plantation home, bloodied and wounded. He lived only long enough to warn his wife of the enraged slave army coming close behind him. The new widow grabbed their infant son and stood, frozen, in panic and resignation. Just then a lone, quite voice came up to her. Jacquinette, a slave, took the woman’s hand and lead her to a shed near the main house. As the slave army approached ever closer, she hid the mother and child in barrels then guarded them as the rebels ransacked and burned everything else. Finally, as the furious regiment moved on to other targets, Jacquinette smuggled the barrels, mother and child onto a nearby refugee ship.
In the U.S. Census of 1810, the Widow Daubert is listed in New Orleans on Kerelec Street in the Faubourg Marigny with a minor son and one female slave. In time the young widow’s attention turned again to marriage and before long she was remarried to a Frenchman and subsequently moved to start a new life in Bordeaux, France. The primary care and attention of the her son fell to the supervision of the now freed woman, Jacquinette. In time the bond between the young boy and Jacquinette became so strong that she not only became his practical Mother, she also dominated his life even after he himself married and had children of his own.
The only other thing family lore tells us about Jacquinette, was, that she was Voodoo Queen. The young Daubert became the Assessor of the old New Orleans Third District during the time it was an autonomous Creole entity within the City of New Orleans. As powerful and prominent as Daubert became, it was said he was always ruled by Jacquinette.
Francois Daubert died in 1875, and while his great-great-great grandson, Charles Massicot Gandolfo, was not born until 1939, somehow the spirit of Jacquinette continued to rule.
Charles Massicot Gandolfo got the sobriquet, Voodoo Charlie, from the celebrity interviewer, Larry King, during the 1988 Presidential party convention in New Orleans. Funny, in the family, we never called him "Charlie," and he never used that nickname, but this time it stuck.
My brother died on Mardi Gras day, 2001, and while the Voodoo Museum was only a small part of all that he was, it is the most tangible part of his legacy and the part that brings us here.
The difference between a Creole, and an American, it has been observed, is that the Creole loves life and all it’s dependents such as art, romance, music, food, honor, faith, justice, family, charity, etc., while the American loves first, and foremost, money. Charles Massicot Gandolfo was a pure Creole both by blood and soul.
He always liked to known as Charles Massicot Gandolfo. He always said his name was Charles and, he loved our full middle name, which was our Mother’s maiden name.
Charles never was of any profession, although he mastered a few. First, and foremost he was an artist. Taking a natural talent he demonstrated as a child, he studied Commercial Art at Delgado College and fine arts under the celebrated John McCrady at his art school in the French Quarter. He specialized in animals, Louisiana swamp scenes, Mardi Gras, portraits and the sensuality of the female form. His portrait of Marie Laveau for the Voodoo Museum is world recognized. In the early 1960’s he served in the Louisiana Army National Guard with the historic Washington Artillery. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he owned and operated a network of hair salons called the Salon of the Artist. His final project, which was never completed, was the creation of a Louisiana folklore and folk life swamp attraction called the Forbidden Jungle. And, of course, from its creation in 1972, through today, he was the founder and creator of the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
Charles’ passions were real and his dedications tangible. He proudly wore the label "liberal." In particular, in the great causes of his times, he championed both Civil Rights and Women’s Issues. He did so not only in speech and affirmations, but in action. Besides marching in the original Equal Rights parade protest in New York in 1970, he worked for liberal and Democratic causes in the deep south without fear of personal safety. His small clay bust of John F. Kennedy, painfully sculpted in the days between his assassination and burial, remains a visible legacy of his open heartedness and ideals.
Charles loved Louisiana. In 1968, when we took a took a road trip to the west coast and back, he made sure first to have the Governor’s office send him a miniature state flag we could attach to our vehicle’s antenna. As a kid, I had already gone with him to every one of Louisiana’s 64 Parishes. He loved the swamps, cypress tress, Spanish moss, snakes, alligators and even nutrias. He loved alligator sauce piquant and almost anything he could put Tobassco sauce on. He loved to tell about the Chinese Bandits of the 1958 LSU national football championship. He loved Cajun music, classic music and opera. He knew where the old haunted slave run-a-way villages were in the swamps. He knew more about Louisiana geography, history and culture than all the state’s museums and university’s could hope to know.
To some people he was a "mark." But, the joke is on them. He knew what he was doing and always did exactly what he wanted to do. Some people are just really and intentionally that giving.
When the Voodoo Museum opened in 1972 the only other businesses with any Voodoo affiliation, even indirectly, were the small old "voodoo" drugstores in the neighborhoods of New Orleans. Today, Voodoo has become a commercial catch phrase with multitudes of Voodoo shops in the French Quarter, Voodoo Tours, music, food, souvenirs, sports, drinks, temples, etc. Most, if not all, in some way owe heir origins to Voodoo Charlie and the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. In a way, his place in the history of Voodoo should rightfully be as the person who began the New Orleans Voodoo Renaissance and preserved this uniquely Creole part of Louisiana.
Voodoo Charlie always did, and always will, belong to the magic, romance and Voodoo of Louisiana.