“The point is, in this whole, wide, wicked world… The only thing you have to be afraid of is me,” Fiona Goode, American Horror Story: Coven.
For three seasons, Jessica Lange has dominated the small screen as a force of nature on American Horror Story. She stands out in a troupe of wildly talented actors. She is in turns larger than life and wracked with poignant vulnerability.
Both Megan and I feel that Jessica Lange embodies everything we want to be as we navigate womanhood. We realize we know her largely through the characters she plays. And we can’t help but project things onto her. But she looms large in our imaginations as an ideal. She radiates grace and poise. She is drop dead gorgeous and lives with style. And she can be one scary mother with the flip of a switch.
Megan and I decided to spend Halloween 2013 in New Orleans when she was in LA for Halloween 2012. Everything was set long before the destination of the third season of American Horror Story was even announced. So it was just one of those fantastic coincidences that I happened to find myself in one of my favorite cities at the same time that one of my favorite shows was shooting there.
From our first full day of vacation we were hellbent on following in the stiletto footsteps of our favorite heroine. Only the first three episodes of Coven had aired when we arrived so we had a short list of settings to find. Armed with iPhones and black hats, we tapped location addresses into our GPS. This post in Deep South Magazine is a great resource for specific locations from the show.
Our first mission was to recreate one of the most iconic moments of the whole season — when the girls of the coven take a field trip through the French Quarter led by Fiona.
This shot was taken in front of Vacherie Restaurant (827 Toulouse Street). Megan and I were alone and we didn’t have a tripod that we could set up in the street, so we ended up asking strangers to take the picture while we posed. And it proved a little bit difficult to describe exactly what we wanted and not just because the people who wandered by seemed to be inebriated (drunk tourists in New Orleans? What are the odds).
But one person who stopped to help us happened to mention that one of his travel mates had seen Evan Peters (TATE! okay Kyle, but he’ll always be Tate to me) walking through the Quarter earlier that day. And this was the moment that the seed was planted.
Prior to this casual comment, my goal had just been to find the locations from the show. But from this moment on I became obsessed with the idea of finding Jessica Lange as well.
After we got the witch walk shot we wanted, we popped into the cafe we’d been blocking and talked to a very charming waiter. He’d also been watching Coven, though he wasn’t there the day that scene was shot. He did say we were the first people he’d seen recreating the moment and we took pride in that fact (ultimate fangirls!)
Between parties and sightseeing we kept pretty busy the next couple of days. But Sunday, it seemed like things were falling mysteriously into place.
Accompanied by John Charles, Megan and I returned to our favorite Voodoo shop in the French Quarter. Though we kept our eyes open everywhere we went and tried to find out where the show would be shooting through On Location Vacation, we’d had no luck spotting cast members. We decided we would try a voodoo spell to draw Jessica to us.
Most of the summoning spell artifacts in the voodoo shops are designed to bring someone his or her true love. So I asked one of the practitioner’s if there was something I could use to meet a different kind of heart’s desire. The practitioner asked me if I was trying to meet a specific person and I admitted shyly that I wanted to meet Jessica Lange.
“Oh,” exclaimed the practitioner, “she’s staying right across the street.”
She went on to say that they often saw Jessica Lange walking her dog around the block and to describe other sightings. Megan and I were stunned. There are at least six voodoo stores in the Quarter and we had no idea that Jessica Lange was even staying in that area.
I’m not much for signs or fate. But clearly the universe was giving me a sign that it would be a good idea to sit on the curb for hours and wait for Jessica Lange to appear. And to help convince the universe to do this, we picked up a Communication Candle and some Come To Me oil so that we could do a spell.
We dribbled oil over the candle, told the universe that we wanted to speak to Jessica Lange or something even better and that we intended no harm. We each pulled up pictures of Jessica Lange on our smart phones so that we could concentrate on bringing her out. Then we proceeded to hold that candle and sit on concrete for about four hours.
John Charles doesn’t even watch American Horror Story. He was just keeping us crazy girls company. And we spent a good part of our vigil giggling at ourselves. We tried to remember everything we’d been told about concentration and invocation to make the spell potent.
We didn’t see Jessica Lange that evening. The spell didn’t work. And Megan and John Charles both left the next day (I stayed just over a week, but their trips were shorter). But I wasn’t finished with my Coven romance.
The rest of that week anytime I was near that street I’d pass through and try to will her to appear.
In the meantime, I still had to visit the school.
On Wednesday before Halloween I returned to the Garden District to see the building that acts as Miss Robicheaux’s Academy in the show. It’s actually Buckner Mansion at 1410 Jackson Avenue. All of the interior shots of the school are filmed at a soundstage in New Orleans.
When I arrived it was immediately apparent that they were shooting at that house and the neighbor’s house next door. You can see the crane that was in the front yard all that day in the picture above.
I politely approached someone on the crew and he told me that there wasn’t anything I’d be able to see going on for a bit, but that it would be a good idea to come back around 6pm. Obviously the universe was once again speaking through someone in New Orleans and guiding me in my divine mission.
So I had about five hours to kill in the Garden District.
Turns out once you’ve seen the Lafayette Cemetery (which I’d already visited twice that trip) there isn’t too much to do in that part of New Orleans except eat. There are two cemeteries about a mile away, and I walked over, but once you cross St Charles Street, the neighborhood quickly degrades from magnificent to terrifying. And it was a hot afternoon so being out in the sun wasn’t appealing.
This was another situation where common sense says, do not sacrifice a day on this fool’s mission. Go back to the Quarter, drink, be merry.
Readers of this blog know that I’ve decapitated common sense long ago. I’m pretty much up for anything uncomfortable and ridiculous. So I killed time all afternoon even dragging out an unwanted snack at the Cheesecake Bistro (I was so full, but air conditioning! Also, Killed by Chocolate Cheesecake which was amazing). And eventually parked across the street from Miss Robicheaux’s Academy for another evening of casual stalking.
I wasn’t the only fangirl. Several groups came by and watched for a bit. One girl was all in black with a black parasol posing in front of the school as the sun went down. And a trio of loud teenage girls dying to see Sarah Paulson was there longer than I was.
I sat on the sidewalk for two or three hours and I saw some hustle and bustle. The crane moved up and down in front of the school several times. Lights were turned on and off. Extras dressed as EMTs were in the school yard.
Around 8:30 a PA came over and talked to those of us watching the filming. She said that if we waited until after eleven everyone would get on vans to go back to the studio and that would be our best opportunity to see members of the cast. But Jessica Lange had already wrapped for the day. And we’d be seeing actors from across the street in amongst their minders and crew members. I decided not to spend another two and a half hours sitting there to see witches who weren’t Jessica. I got a streetcar back to the Quarter and nursed my sorrows.
Despite the seductive whisperings of the universe, I did not see Jessica Lange during my New Orleans trip.
Maybe I wasn’t stalking hard enough.
Megan and I have tried voodoo spell casting a couple of times now, and though we have listened intently to the practitioners and made offerings to the spirits, none of our spells have been successful. I’m beginning to think voodoo is too light magic for my tastes. All of the promises to do no harm seem to weaken the magic. Next time I want to draw a movie star out of his or her house I’m going to bring a fat newborn baby to sacrifice.