Archives For Culture

NEW ORLEANS. Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. opened the first licensed pharmacy in the US in 1816 in New Orleans. In 1950, the site became The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Not only does that site have a place in the history of US pharmacies, but it also has a place in the history of New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo in the US.

A recent news story reported on the link between that pharmacy and New Orleans Voudoo and Hoodoo in the US. It sold potions, powders, and gris-gris, magically charged objects.

That pharmacy functioned as a “discrete” contact point between Catholics, presumably White, and New Orleans Voodoo clergy, presumably Black or Creole as Carolyn Morrow Long notes in her book “Spiritual Merchants: Religion Magic & Commerce”. The pharmacy also has a place in the tangled history of the New Orleans variant of the color line. In Anglo-America, the single-drop model of racial purity developed into a two-caste racial model. In contrast, Franco-America, like Spanish America, developed a mestizo/mulatto caste. In New Orleans, people called this mixed-race caste Creole.

Dufiho’s pharmacy combined elements of a bodega, an occult shop, and a drug store. The contemporary pharmacy only recently evolved. Pharmacies were different then.

Credit Flickr photographer octal / Ryan Lackey. [Wikimedia]

Differences between 19th Century Pharmacies and those of today.

Doctors argue whether George Washington died from some type of severe throat infection or the treatment for that infection. He died in December of 1799. As a rich and powerful man, Washington received the best of medical care for his time. His doctors bled him to restore his “humoral balance.” They removed between 76 and 126 ounces of his blood within a nine to ten hour period. They also gave him an enema. These treatments probably left Washington dehydrated. At the start of the 19th century, access to health care could be a health hazard.

Major advances in prevention and treatment of disease occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides vaccinations and antibiotics, these advances included “controversial” new techniques such as surgeons washing their hands between surgeries. They also involved adequate sewage systems. This explosion of medical knowledge changed the pharmacy.

In the early 19th Century, the categories of pharmaceuticals, botanicals, potions, and the proverbial “snake oil” blurred together. Differences became sharper during the Progressive Era from roughly 1897 to 1920. During this period, city, state, and federal authorities developed regulations to protect consumers from deceptive advertising. These new regulations also protected consumers from dangerous and unsanitary conditions in manufacturing.

In the 19th Century, the pharmacist manufactured pharmaceuticals on the premises. These Progressive Era regulations facilitated the centralized manufacture of standardized pharmaceuticals in factories rather than decentralized production in local pharmacies. Today, the local pharmacy is more of distribution site than a manufacturing site.

Voudou, Voodoo, and Hoodoo/Conjure

Carolyn Morrow Long has written extensively about New Orleans. In her aforementioned text, Morrow Long discusses the intersection of Voudou, Santeria, and Hoodoo with commerce.

Long prefers to label the Afro-Caribbean religion Voudou rather than Voodoo. She feels “Voodoo is so often used to mean senseless mumbo-jumbo, as in voodoo science or voodoo economics.”

Long locates the origin of Voudou as a variant of the religious tradition practiced among the Fon people in Benin. She located the origins of Hoodoo among the Kongo people in Central Africa. In the Americas, Voudou emerged from its African origins in French Catholic colonial areas. Similarly, Hoodoo arose in Anglo-Protestant colonial areas. The African base acquired elements of folk Catholicism and European folk magic. Voudou and Hoodoo evolved on different, if parallel, paths.

Long distinguished between Voudou and Hoodoo or Conjure. She described New Orleans Voudou as having “a complex theology, a pantheon of deities and spirits, a priesthood, and a congregation of believers.” In contrast, Hoodoo lacks priests and priestesses. It has “no community of believers; no ceremonies involving music, and drumming, sacrificial offerings, and spirit possession. Personal misfortune is thought to result from the ill-will of one’s fellow man, not from neglect of the deities, the saints, or the dead. Conjure is strictly pragmatic.” Voudou involves a community of practitioners with a similar belief system, but Conjure or Hoodoo is a technology.

A Hoodoo Drugstore: The Cracker Jack

Carolyn Morrow Long has written about The Cracker Jack, a 20th Century New Orleans pharmacy that sold Hoodoo supplies.

The Cracker Jack functioned as a Hoodoo drugstore from about 1915 to the early 70s. It existed in the South Rampart neighborhood of New Orleans. People called this African-American neighborhood the “cradle of jazz.” According to Long, it sold “roots, herbs, powders, oils, washes, baths, incense, religious medals, holy cards, and candles.” People from the neighborhood would ask for personalized prescriptions.

The South Rampart Street neighborhood formed an African-American commercial and entertainment district. An eleven-year old Black child, Louis Armstrong, shot off a gun in this neighborhood and was sent to the “Colored Waifs’ Home.” Later, Armstrong helped to create New Orleans jazz in its neighboring bars and clubs.

Long asserts that Hoodoo pharmacies existed in urban African-American communities throughout the South. As people moved to the North during the Great Migration, Hoodoo pharmacies followed them. By the 1920, the Cracker Jack had a mail order business. It sold Hoodoo merchandise throughout the eastern US.

The Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, told Zora Neale Hurston about The Cracker Jack. She thanked him in a letter. She probably used this pharmacy as part of her research into Hoodoo in New Orleans.

A White man of Belgian Catholic descent, George A. Thomas owned The Cracker Jack. Thomas became increasingly unstable. In 1934, Thomas was committed to a local mental hospital where he died in 1940. His family continued to run The Cracker Jack.

Post WWII urban blight took its toll. The neighborhood sank deeper into poverty and crime. Someone robbed The Cracker Jack. Urban renewal, or “Negro removal”, claimed the Cracker Jack. Its building was demolished in the early 70s and with it several pieces of history.


Winter Holiday Survey

The Wild Hunt news has launched an on-line opinion survey about how its readers spent the recent Solstice and the dominance of Christian imagery. It is open to people from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  Many people, regardless of spiritual identity, report feeling highly alienated at this time of year. Few reports exist of how Pagan deal with this time of year. No identifying information is collected, but some demographic data will be asked. You can skip any questions that you would prefer not to answer. The results of this survey will be published later this month. Please consider sharing your thoughts. The survey will take about 5 minutes and is located at Thank you.