If you know about Voodoo Village, then you must have lived in Memphis, TN. I took a road trip this week with a colleague who used to be a police office for Memphis PD. She asked me if I had ever heard of Voodoo Village and my mouth opened so wide that my bottom lip hit the gas pedal and the car went into G-force mode. I had not heard Voodoo Village mentioned since leaving Memphis in 1973. I grew up in Memphis and not only knew of Voodoo Village, but had visited several times as a teenager because I one of the lucky ones to have a car.
Voodoo Village is a very strange place and there were many tales told in the 1960’s and 70’s about this place. I remember this as being one of those infamous dark roads. It is located at the end of Mary Angela Rd and is now alleged to be haunted. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to “be sure to back down the street to Voodoo Village because you’ll be surrounded and they won’t let you leave.” Well, that was enough of an incentive for me to check it out.
Voodoo Village is a fenced in compound that consisted of very colorful buildings. The building are unique and have all kinds of odd things nailed into or attached to them. We visited Voodoo Village as teenagers to try and see the people who lived on that road. The people were unique to Memphis and no one could figure out who the were or why they were there.
After I was asked if I know about Voodoo Village and told my colleague “Why yes I know about it,” we became very interested in knowing if it was still there or if anyone else know of the place. Curiosity almost killed me so here I am writing this blog post and looking up Voodoo Village on Internet. Both of us were about ready to change our McAllen, TX road trip into a Memphis, TN road trip so we could try and find Voodoo Village once again.
I remember the thrill and chills we got as teenage daredevils plunging down Mary Angela Rd in drive and not in reverse. We never were surrounded, but I have never seen any place like Voodoo Village. Even then it was a place that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This place has its own “feel” and it’s one that is hard to describe. My colleague talked about seeing old people waling around with goats when she would get a call from the area. She drove in with a patrol car and remembers no one would talk to her. She also got that “creeped out” feeling when she went to Voodoo Village. At the time I heard a lot of stories and of it as a haunted place. It was not a place I went to alone.
Instead I chose to Google it and was surprised to find out there is a lot of Voodoo Village online. I have added some of the links to my post should you decide to look for the information.
HauntedAmericaTours.com calls Voodoo Village “A MYSTERIOUS LITTLE CORNER OF HAUNTED MEMPHIS.” They describe Voodoo Village on their website as, “The hoodoo empire of Walsh Harris’ Voodoo Village, (a fenced compound of brightly colored houses and signs in deep South Memphis) Home to a variety of artistic and intellectual practitioners. ” HauntedAmericaTours.com also says on its website, “It first gained attention in the early 1960’s when conflicts between gangs of white youths and the black residents of Voodoo Village made headlines. Ever since, Voodoo Village has been a site of many teen dares and initiations, and its reputation for weirdness has only grown over the years.”
I don’t remember much about gangs of youths having conflicts there in the 1960’s, which is when I was visiting, but maybe this is why we were told to back in so we could drive out if we were surrounded. I have slept a few nights since then and only remember bits and pieces about the place. Some things you never forget and this place is one of those memories I will never forget. I rarely think about the place, but now I may have to visit it and see if I get the same odd feelings I did as a teenager.
What really got me is that there were several places in Memphis with nuttsy stories that were just too wild to believe – except for Voodoo Village. You can find out more be reading the Voodoo Village information at Urban Legends.
How I wish older small color photographs would never fade. I was 18 when I shot the photograph of Frank Zappa. You can see be in the dressing room mirror – well sort of. If you could only see the color of my short sleeve sweater and the bright green and yellow floppy flower on the front. I imagine someone would have to pick you up off the floor because you were laughig so hard.
Here is the story of my photographing Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention during his Memphis concert:
I was keen on photography ever since I can remember, like 4-5 years old and started with my mother’s old Brownie camera. The cameras continued to upgrade until my grandfather gave me the best gift ever. He knew I was into photography and gave me his Leica35mm camera. How I wish I had that camera now. It vanashed years ago. Anyway, the camera was very heavy and difficult to hold still while taking a photo without a tripod. I persevered and got comfortable holding the heavy camera and taking low light photographs. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was to be my first rock band to shoot.
I made friends, or so I thought, with an individual in Memphis. His name was Jimmy. He was tall, thin and had very long blonde hair. In fact, he was my first gay friend. We hit it off. He had a friend who got us hooked up with Mid South Productions and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was their very first rock concert. BTW – I checked and Mid South Productions is still around in Memphis after all these years. The plan was that I would shoot the concert and then Jimmy would have the film developed. Being 18 I was rather naive and didn’t think to ask what happens after I give him the film.
I shot the concert. It was a blast having a stage pass that allowed me to go anywhere. Living in Memphis and down the street from Elvis, talking to Rufus Thomas and Issac Hayes on the phone made me feel that it was no big deal and I think I only have one of my stage passes. That one is around only because my sister took it out of the trash. One of my best friends babysat for the kids of the drummer for the Boxtops and Sam the Sham was about a mile away in Hernando’s Hideaway. Anyway after shooting the concert, I took photographs of Frank Zappa while he was in his dressing room. It was the only roll of color film I had and when I went to rewind and remove it broke in the camera. I went to a dark closet removed the film and kept it with me the rest of the night. It never made it to Jimmy.
Frank Zappa told me that he wanted to see the photographs when I got them back because he was working on a new album and might use some of the pictures on that album. Pretty exciting for an 18 year old. I also remember being the only female backstage at Mid South Productions first concert. After the concert everyone, band & roadies, were going to a nightclub until it closed. Then they would return to the hotel for a longer party. I remember Frank Zappa had a very large and tall body guard with him that night. The two of them, the guy who set it up (can’t remember his name) and I walked out of the dressing room only to discover everyone – and I mean everyone – had left and gone to the club. Mid South Productions actually left Frank Zappa behind. What a hoot that was! The next decision was who had a ride nice enough for Frank Zappa to set in and get to the club. Well, I had a 1969 Ford Thunderbird with suicide doors. Frank Zappa rode with me of all people! I got him to the club but don’t remember how he got back to the hotel. I had a very interesting conversation with Frank Zappa while we were at the club. We went back to the hotel and I sat in a corner most of the night people watching. That was fascinating to me. Oh where was Annie Lebbowitz when I needed a mentor. I put the camera down way to soon at all the concerts I shot and there were quite a few. We are just talking about Frank Zappa this time, but I will tell you another person I was behind the scenes with was David Bowie. That’s for another post.
I continued to shoot photographs of bands brought to Memphis by Mid South Productions for a year before moving to another state. The only photographs I have to show for it are the ones from the broken roll of film taken in the dressing room of Frank Zappa and the one black and white photograph of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention rehearsing before the concert. Whenever I asked about the photographs I would get one excuse after another and I was young but should have known better. I should have talked to the father of one of my good friends. He was an assistant district attorney who probably could have helped. I got word that either Jimmy or a male friend of his was taking a portfolio of my photographs (the ones I never saw) around town claiming they were his and he was getting photo shoots from them. The big kick in the butt was that he didn’t even know how to load a camera. I decided that he would be found out sooner or later. Instead I moved and got a lot smarter. The person who told me about my photographs being stolen and used is the person who gave me the black and white. I have decided to post it since it may fade in the future and I do not have the negative. At least if anyone should recognize it they will know the person who claimed to shoot it was a faker. Just call me the Almost Famous Photographer. If he were alive, Frank Zappa would now know why he never got a copy of my photographs…..
I forgot to mention that I’ve always gotten a kick out of the bottled Coke sitting on the stage floor. Hey Coca Cola wanna talk?
It’s funny the memories of youth that ring out when thinking about and reliving an event from our past.