This $1.2 million French Quarter property may contain a magical portal to another spiritual plane

Most of this story is probably purely hooey. Or maybe not.

Perhaps the self-proclaimed Mississippi-born witch who sold powders and potions in a French Quarter store in the 1970s really found a metaphysical portal to another reality. And perhaps that portal is now under a strange wooden bed in a small apartment attached to a retail store currently on the market for $1.2 million.

And perhaps the late great rhythm and blues star and devout madman Dr. John always around there. And maybe pop art pioneer Andy Warhol once paid a visit. And who knows, maybe there to be disembodied ghosts flutter through the property like termites around a street lamp.

Gray mouse

The $1.2 million estate at 521 St. Philip Street was once the site of a 1970s gathering of botanists and witches.

The two-storey stucco mansion at 521 St. Philip Street was built sometime around 1825. By Vieux Carré standards, it’s a simple Jane. It is painted a neutral gray, and apart from the modest neoclassical dentures at the top, there is no decoration whatsoever.

Most of the building is divided into residential flats that surround a small courtyard. The part that encompasses the metaphysical portal to another reality is the ground floor, a 1,680-square-foot strip of storefronts that open onto the sidewalk.

There are four old fashioned store entrances. The far left door leads to an antiques and curio shop – and haunted séance salon – called Le Coffre Au Tre’sor (The Treasure Chest). The next door opens into a tiny little foyer called The Chess Cave, where New Orleans chess master Jude Acres keeps a board and chairs. The third and fourth doors lead to the Hands of Fate tarot, palmistry, astrological parlor, which is also the starting point for Wicked History Tours.

The McEnery Company, the real estate company marketing the retail space, calls it “spiritual and historic.”


The witchcraft business


In this 1972 Times-Picayune photo, “Queen Witch” Mary Oneida Toups stands amid her gris-gris ingredients at her shop at 521 St. Philip Street

Mary Oneida Toups arrived in New Orleans during the heyday of the hippie era in 1968 and soon got into witchcraft. She set up a botanic shop in 521 St. Philip, stocking the “greatest selection in the country” of all-natural medicinal and magical remedies.

A photo of the place from 1972 shows shelves full of jars and jars of hyssop, pokeberries, royal radish and the like. That’s “Witch Queen” Toups standing in the back, a blouse with a distinct 70s pattern and arms crossed.

1972 was also the year Toups founded a coven of like-minded, anti-establishment spiritualists. According to a March 1972 Times-Picayune column, she officially registered her association of occultists with the state, such as a church.

As columnist Howard Jacobs wrote, “She incorporated and legislated ‘The Religious Order of Witchcraft,’ intended to prevent any repetition of past persecution and to protect witches from the archaic wrath of ignorance.”

The doctor was in

Dona Kolva knows all about Toups, at least as much as everyone else knows.

Kolva spent seven years working at Le Coffre Au Tre’sor, collecting facts and anecdotes from people who remember or study the enterprising witch who once inhabited the storefront of St. Philip. Kolva said Toups was above all a good witch, interested in healing and the well-being of others. She held Wiccan ceremonies at the Popp Fountain in the city park.

Her husband, Boots Toups, was friends with musician Mac Rebennack, who played a flamboyant, voodoo priest stage character Dr. John had thought. The doctor seems to have been connected to the botanics. According to Dr. John’s witty autobiography “Under a Hoodoo Moon” Boots and Oneida asked him to give his name to the operation.

Jazz Fest 2016: See photos of Dr.  John from the 50's to the present (copy)

Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John at his most flamboyant.

As he recalled, “The Dr. John Temple of Voodoo had deflated in a gris-gris shop on St. Philip Street, and I’ve hung out there quite a bit over the years.”

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According to Kolva, Dr. John occasionally crashed into the small apartment behind the store, where the Witch Queen had built an altar. Before they put a new floor in the apartment a few years ago, a large pentagram (a benevolent pentagram) had been painted on the floor.

The portal

Where the altar and pentagram used to be, there is now a small bed with a fine wooden canopy and a wide-screen TV on the wall. The symbols of Toups’ spirituality may have disappeared, but the magical portal to “another space and time,” as the online real estate brochure puts it, is apparently still fully functional.


The apartment at the rear of the antique and curio shop Le Coffre Au Tre’sor (The Treasure Chest) is furnished with a small bed with a luxurious wooden canopy and a wide screen TV on the wall that now houses a Wiccan altar and painted pentagram.

Kolva said psychics observe ghostly blue figures in the area. In fact, visitors everywhere see, hear and feel mystical things, she said.

Occasionally, they may also see remarkable bodily entities.

One time, actor Benedict Cumberbatch came in, though he didn’t have much to say, Kolva said. And presumably Andy Warhol has recorded a visit to Toups’s shop in his copious diaries. The silver-haired artist curated an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1970 and had a solo exhibition at a local gallery sometime later in the decade.

Kolva said Toups gave up the store in the late 1970s when she and Boots broke up. She died not long after.

free spirits

Kolva, 67, is the perfect keeper of Toups’ legacy. She is a lover of all the precious antique jewelry, guitars, sports shirts and oddities in the place. She is a lover of the creepy facts and superstitions that come with the territory. And she clearly has a penchant for Toups’ assertive role in life.

“You know she was a free spirit,” Kolva said. She came to the French Quarter from a very different place, and like countless people before her, “she reinvented herself and became what she was,” Kolva said.

Even in her past life in Meridian, Mississippi, “I think she knew what she wanted to be,” Kolva said. “You don’t just read about witchcraft and become a witch. There’s something in you that makes you leave the comfort of what you know.”


Dona Kolva, an employee of the antiques and curio shop Le Coffre Au Tre’sor (The Treasure Chest), gives a tour of the eerie seance room. †

Kolva, who was born in North Dakota and lived in Los Angeles before settling in New Orleans, said she won’t be devastated if the property is sold and she has to leave 521 St. Philip Street.

“I hate to leave,” she said, but she’s mostly retired anyway, and wishes the owner well.

Who knows, the former den of the Witch Queen might turn into a nice coffee shop or something.


The $1.2 million property at 521 St. Philip Street includes this eerie séance space.

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