Photography by Matthew Noel
Both local folklore and popular media tell us that
Louisiana has always been connected to things eerie.
The writings of horror novelist Anne Rice, set primarily in New Orleans, hint that a vampiric subculture may roam the streets of the old city and its nearby parishes. Similarly, the HBO series “True Blood,” explores a world where blood-suckers live among rural Louisianians.
One of the longstanding traditions in the outlandish and mystical Louisiana is a belief, handed down through folklore and claims of sightings over the years, of scary cryptids: hairy man-beasts that roam the watery morasses and moss-dripping forests of the state.
Louisiana folklore gives us creatures such as the Honey Island Swamp Monster, a lumbering “bigfoot” of St. Tammany Parish; The Grunch Road Monster, a chupacabra-like creature said to roam New Orleans; and Cajun Country’s Rougarou, also known as the Loup Garou, a hairy wolf-man with glowing eyes.
In celebration of the scary creature of local lore and the scads of creatures said to roam neighboring parishes, every October, Houma, Louisiana, hosts Rougarou Fest, an event where ghosts, goblins and spirits of the netherworld gather to eat, drink, parade and socialize.
“The Rougarou Fest is one of the most popular festivals in the Houma area,” said Joey Pierce, communications manager for the Houma Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The quirk and character of this festival has the ability to draw in visitors from around the country for one fun-filled weekend in Louisiana’s Bayou Country.
“From traditional Louisiana food to folklore, Louisiana culture is on display at Rougarou Fest,” Pierce said.
The festival is planned this year for October 21 and 22 in downtown Houma. Features include an array of Cajun foods, a parade of haunted creeps and a scary costume contest. Virtually the entire town becomes a scene of fright.
According to Jonathan Foret, executive director of South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, which coordinates Rougarou Fest, Cajun culture is awash in creepiness.
“I think superstition runs in our veins,” Foret said. “As young Cajun children, we grow up hearing stories about mysterious things that have happened along the bayous, and traiteurs that could heal or curse a person.
“These oral traditions are passed down through generations and shared with visitors,” he continued. “I think that has helped to create this spooky reputation for us down the bayou. It also doesn’t hurt that we’ve got lots of alligators, snakes, spiders and tons of other critters that give you the frissons … the chills.
“Sprinkle a little Spanish moss across all of it,” he added, “and you’ve got the perfect setting for a spooky or downright scary tale.”
The most anticipated feature of this event is the fun disguises.
“There have been some really amazing costumes over the years,” Foret said, “but I think some of my favorites have been the Sanderson Sisters from the movie ‘Hocus Pocus,’ and the two young girl ghosts from the movie ‘The Shining.’ The witch costumes are always beautiful, and I really like some of the more traditional ones.
“It may be because I love ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,’ but I love seeing kids as ghosts walking around covered in a sheet with two eye holes in it,” he added.
There are a few changes planned for this year.
“Because the festival has grown so much over the past few years, we will be renting a large stage for our live music performers and expanding the footprint of the festival,” Foret said.
New additions for 2017 also include a scavenger hunt and a recycling center partnership with “Keep Louisiana Beautiful.”
“Festival-goers will bring bottles or cans from the festival to the Rougarou Recycling Center to collect tickets and redeem prizes,” Foret said.
Another environmentally conscious addition is a “Rougarou Sweep,” where at the end of the festival, volunteers will wear witch hats and use brooms to clean up after the event. Prizes will be given for the three best decorated hats.
A common theme of caring for the vulnerable, natural world surrounding Houma and south Louisiana runs throughout the event. The goal isn’t just to have a good time, but to raise funds and awareness.
“Let’s talk about what’s really scary, and it has nothing to do with the Rougarou,” Foret said. “Coastal Louisiana could lose 2,250 square miles of land over the next 50 years if we take no action to preserve and protect our coast,” he said. “During those 50 years, Terrebonne Parish could lose 41 percent of its land. If the Rougarou doesn’t have a place to live, neither do we.”
He said The Wetlands Discovery Center works to educate both students and adults on “the challenges we face as a coastal community and the opportunities we have for growth.
“We have so much to celebrate here,” he said, “and the Rougarou Fest gives us an opportunity to celebrate who we are as a people. We want to continue that celebration for as long as possible.
Want to go?
USA Today recently ranked the Rougarou Fest as one of the Top 10 Best Costume Parties in the United States, and the Southeast Tourism Society selected the Rougarou Fest as a Top 20 Event during the month of October out of eleven states in the southeast United States.
For more information, visit RougarouFest.org
or houmatravel .com