American Horror Story (AHS), an anthology horror TV series, has given us nine gory seasons so far. Known for both terrorizing and tantalizing its audience with the most macabre plots and stories, AHS has become something of a cult classic. When things get too disturbing on the show, you might want to comfort yourself by saying that it is all fiction. Nothing so evil or scary could exist in real life, right? Well, you would be surprised to know that many of the characters on the show are based on real people! From Delphine LaLaurie and Marie Laveau to Elizabeth Báthory and John Wayne Gacy, here are 10 real-life people who inspired characters in American Horror Story.
1. In 19th century New Orleans, socialite and serial killer Delphine LaLaurie, tortured and killed several slaves in her home. In public life, she pretended to be polite towards Black people and even bragged about keeping her slaves in good health. She was portrayed by Kathy Bates in American Horror Story: Coven.
Delphine LaLaurie, more commonly known as “Madame LaLaurie,” was a Creole socialite from New Orleans. She was born in 1787 during the Spanish colonial period, and her parents were prominent figures in the European Creole community of the town.
She married three times and was widowed twice. She maintained her social status and was in good standing in her community until April 10, 1834, when officials responded to a fire at her mansion. Upon investigation, they discovered several slaves who were chained and bound in her attic. They all showed evidence of violent and cruel abuse that took place over a long period.
As it turns out, although Madame LaLaurie was seen to be polite towards Black people in public, and she also pretended to care for the health of her slaves, in reality, she was a sadistic serial killer who took pleasure in torturing and killing her slaves.
The tales of LaLaurie’s abuse may have been embellished over the years, but the responders to the 1834 fire claimed to have seen stark naked male slaves chained to the wall with their fingernails pulled out and eyes gouged out.
It was also said that they saw slaves whose lips were sewn together, intestines pulled out, and ears were hanging by shreds.
Despite evidence of abuse and other horrific crimes, LaLaurie was never convicted or punished. There is little evidence of what she did or where she was after the 1834 fire.
However, it is said that she fled New Orleans during the mob violence that took place after the fire and went to Paris. According to French archives, she died on December 7, 1849, although the circumstances of her death are unclear.
In American Horror Story: Coven, the nefarious Madame LaLaurie is played by Kathy Bates. Although the show fictionalizes and sensationalizes LaLaurie’s story, in many instances, it is highly accurate. (1, 2)
2. Kit and Alma Walker were inspired by a real-life couple, Barney and Betty Hill, who claimed that they were abducted by extraterrestrials in 1961. It was the very first highly publicized report of alien abduction in the US.
American couple Barney and Betty Hill claimed that they were abducted by aliens in a rural region of New Hampshire in September of 1961.
The incident later came to be known as the “Hill Abduction.” The couple stated that the aliens came from the Zeta Reticuli system, which is why it was also called the “Zeta Reticuli Incident.”
According to reports and statements given by the Hills, the UFO sightings happened on September 19, 1961. They were driving back from a vacation, and when they reached the south of Lancaster, New Hampshire, Betty claims that she saw a bright point of light in the sky.
While her husband drove the car, Betty claimed that she was witnessing something like a falling star, but it was moving upwards instead of downwards.
When she saw that it was moving erratically and growing brighter and bigger, she urged her husband to stop the car. Upon stopping the car, Betty looked through her binoculars and saw an oddly shaped aircraft flashing multi-colored lights and traveling across the Moon.
She suspected that it might be a flying saucer, but her husband reasoned that it might just be a commercial airliner. However, Barney changed his mind when he saw the aircraft descend in his direction without ever turning. They quickly got in their car and drove towards a narrow, mountainous stretch of road.
The couple kept driving down the isolated road while observing the craft as it came closer and closer. At one point, the craft descended rapidly towards their car, which caused Barney to hit the brakes in the middle of the highway.
The huge and silent craft hovered 80 to 100 feet above them. When Barney stepped out of his vehicle and moved closer to the craft, he claims that he saw 8 to 11 humanoid figures peering out of the window and looking at him.
One of the figures allegedly told Barney to stay where he was and keep watching. Terrified, he ran back to his car and told Betty that the beings were going to capture them. While he drove away at a high rate of speed, Betty kept an eye on the object.
Soon, they heard some buzzing sounds and felt a vibration passing through them. Then they felt an altered state of consciousness and their minds felt dulled. When they returned to full consciousness, they noticed that they had traveled nearly 35 miles with vague memories of how they got there.
After the incident, Betty began having vivid dreams in which she had an encounter with the beings. She claims that she and her husband were taken aboard the aircraft and examined. She also stated that the beings wanted them to forget their experience and wiped their memories, but she insisted that she would one day remember.
The Hill Abduction was one of the most publicized UFO abduction cases in the United States, and Betty’s tapes and notes have been placed in a collection at the University of New Hampshire. When talking about the inspiration behind Asylum’s Kit and Alma characters, showrunners said that they had this incident in mind, although their story does not follow the same premise of the real-life incident. (1, 2)
3. Marie Laveau, a Louisiana Creole Voodoo practitioner, midwife, and herbalist, was one of the prominent figures of New Orleans in the 1800s. She became known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans” for helping people with her magical abilities. In American Horror Story: Coven, the character of Marie Laveau is played by Angela Bassett.
Marie Laveau, who appears in American Horror Story: Coven as played by Angela Bassett, existed in real life. Born in 1801, Marie Catherine Laveau was a midwife, herbalist, and Voodoo priestess who was famous in New Orleans. Later in life, she became known as the “Queen of Voodoo.”
Much like in the show, real-life Marie Laveau opened a beauty parlor. She was a sought-after hairdresser for wealthy New Orleans families.
Although not much is known about her magical career, it is said that she cultivated a good relationship with all of her clients and got to know gossip and personal information about them. Then she used that information to offer magical solutions to their problems.
The show presents a fictionalized version of Marie Laveau to serve its plot better. For example, in the show, the Voodoo priestess is portrayed as a ruefully spiteful woman who holds on to an ancient grudge. In reality, however, Marie Laveau was described as “one of the most wonderful women who ever lived.”
Although Marie Laveau was not the only Voodoo priestess in New Orleans at the time, she was certainly among the most well-known. Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation regarding her practices. However, that has not made her legacy in New Orleans any less impressive.