A Cup of Night

Parallel Earth: 261136
Designation: Permanent Collection
Parallel Historian: Lyra Bertram

IMG_9327 smaller edited

Formal Drinking Cup
Unknown glassworks (r. 1919, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA), circa 1900
Black milk glass

This exquisite piece of glassware was found in the wreckage of the French Opera House in New Orleans. The Théâtre de l’Opéra stood on the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse Streets in the French Quarter from its opening in 1859 until it burned down on October 4, 1919. The opera house played a central role in Creole life. In addition to stage productions, the venue hosted receptions and banquets for the most well-to-do members of the community. It was also a poorly kept secret that certain rooms were reserved for highborn French vampires known as soucouyants. The etymology of the word is a matter of debate, with some scholars arguing that it is derived from the English verb to suck and others tracing its roots to the French noun for suspicion, soupçon. While no conclusive evidence has been found, local scholars believe that the fire was a calculated attack. Oral traditions abound from the area, detailing a bloody history.

While vampires in the North and Western United States enjoyed a gilded age in the late 19th century, the mixed-race soucouyants faced newfound hostility during this time. Post-Reconstruction New Orleans was marked by an increased emphasis on segregation, between white and black, with the Creole people grouped with black freedpeople for the first time, and between the living and the undead. The once powerful clans were threatened from all quarters. They were eyed with suspicion by their former allies and despised by the newly emancipated, who resented both Creole condescension and the expectation that they give up their blood.

The soucouyants ate no food, but had traditionally procured blood through alliances with wealthy white landowners. Originally, this was drained from black slaves, and later purchased for a few cents from impoverished freedpeople. Since they considered the act of piercing the flesh distasteful, soucouyants sipped from vessels like the one featured here, with each vampire clan commissioning new designs to keep up with current fashions. These pieces were almost never stamped with a company logo in order to protect esteemed glassworks’ from a reputation for dealing with vampires. However, the double handled design of this black milk glass cup marks it as a likely product of the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company in Pennsylvania. Chemical analysis of the residue at the base confirms the presence of human blood.

IMG_9325 edited smaller

Note the expertly cast repeating pattern within the vessel.

The diamond texture lining the inside of the cup suggests it belonged to the Boisbaron clan, whose coat of arms featured three red diamonds on a black field. Notorious for their voracious appetite, they were nicknamed the “bloody barons” by a fearful public. Alcee, the clan’s patriarch, perished in the Théâtre de l’Opéra fire, and the family was never able to regain its former status.

phm logo for front page

Click on the + icons below to leave a comment, ask a question, or receive updates.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s