Thursday, December 24, 2015

Baton Rouge, Louisiana - Plantation Country

Monday, Dec, 14th - Saturday, Dec. 19th

Seasons Greetings from Louisiana.  Louisiana was named for King Louis XIV by Sieur de La Salle, an explorer who claimed the region for France.  It became a state in 1812 and the pelican with three young is the state symbol.  We set up camp here at Jellystone Park near Robert, Louisiana on Monday afternoon.

It's a beautiful park with Yogi, Boo Boo and Ranger Smith all around the park.  There are several pools, water slide, paddle boats and lots of other recreational stuff for kids.  A great place for family fun when it's warmer, but the pools are not heated and the water is icy cold right now.

On Tuesday we drove into Baton Rouge to tour the Capitol.  It's one of only four capitols that are skyscrapers and it is the tallest of the four at 450 feet.  Nebraska is second tallest.  North Dakota and Florida have the other two skyscrapers.  The statue is Huey P. Long, a.k.a. Kingfish, who was governor and a major force behind getting this new capitol built in 1932.  He was a controversial political figure and when he won the election to be U.S. Senator, he refused to take the oath for two years, so he was both Governor and Senator Elect from 1930 to 1932.  He wanted to ensure his hand-picked successor was elected, so he could maintain his control over Louisiana politics.  He was in the Capitol just outside the Governor's Office in 1935 when he was fatally wounded by an assassin's bullet.  He is buried here beneath his statue.  There are 48 steps each one engraved with the name of a state in the order in which they joined the Union.  Alaska and Hawaii share the top step, as they joined the Union later.

This is just inside the 50' tall entry doors.  It is really beautiful.  The two bronze chandeliers weigh two tons.

House of Representatives.  

Entering the Senate Chambers.  The coffered ceiling is Celotex made from bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane grinding.

 All decked out for Christmas inside, but outside they are already getting set up for inauguration of a new governor in January.

The capitol is 34 stories high.  We took the elevator up to the observation deck on the 27th floor.  Awesome views.

The statue of Huey Long is in the center of the garden in the left-hand corner of the picture.  Bridge and the barges on the Mississippi.

To the right are the Pentagon Apartments for the legislators and the State Annex Building.  The apartments were originally army barracks (1819) and then dormitories (1886 to 1925) when LSU was located here.  Just to the left of the Pentagon buildings is where President Zachary Taylor's home was.  He was the commander of the barracks prior to his election as president.

The river boat to the right is a casino where we enjoyed a nice buffet lunch overlooking the river.

Down in the park is the original Old Arsenal Powder Magazine 1835 to 1885.  It was controlled by the Confederates from 1861 to 1862.

We toured the Old Arsenal Museum later in the week.  It was built as a powder magazine and could hold up to 3,000 barrels of gunpowder, each holding 100 pounds of gunpowder.  It had 54" thick walls and a 10' high explosion fence.  It was designed to protect the gunpowder within and contain the explosion if that failed.

We walked around Spanish Town after we left the Capitol looking at all the homes built around 1805.  I don't know what kind of flower this is, but it was a big bush like a lilac bush just loaded with these beautiful blossoms.

Tuesday we were at the Louisiana State Museum looking back out at the Capitol.  Louisiana is the Pelican State.  The State Penitentiary was in Baton Rouge before 1845.  When Standard Oil arrived here in 1909 the population was 11,000.   The first official air mail flight between cities in the U.S. was from New Orleans to Baton Rouge on April 10, 1912.  The population is now over 250,000 with 750,000 in the metro area and it is a top-ranked national port with important petrochemical, construction and medical firms. 

This is the funeral catafalque that held the coffin of Jefferson Davis following his death in New Orleans.

Linda Koerner holds the record for catching the first Blue Marlin over 1,000 pounds in the Gulf of Mexico.  She caught it in a fishing tournament near Port Eads on July 23, 1977.  It weighed 1,018.5 pounds and was 6 feet wide and 14 feet long.

She caught it with the blue and yellow squid lure in the center about 8" long.  In 2004 8.27 million pounds of wild crawfish were harvested in Louisiana plus 70 million pounds of farm-raised.  They lead the nation in shrimp production at 39% of the total market, annual catch of more than 100 million pounds has a retail value of $800 million.  They are also one of the top producers of oysters and crabs and lots of fish, turtles, alligators, frogs, catfish, redfish, pompano, bass. trout, red snapper and cobia.

One of Louisiana's most famous exports is pepper sauce, made from peppers ranging from cayenne to tobasco, used to flavor many of their favorite dishes, such as gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee.

The second floor has great Zydeco/Cajun style music playing and it is all about their music, food, sports, Mardi Gras and how they celebrate the Joie de Vivre (Joy of Life).

The Leviathan Float made its debut in 1998 and made Carnival history inspired by the biblical sea monster  from the Hebrew word for coiled serpent.  It's a 125' float in three tandem sections.  It was the first large scale Mardi Gras float to use fiber-optic lighting with nearly 54,000 individual lights.  It has been the parade's signature float since then.  Speaking of parties, they call the LSU stadium Death Valley.  It holds 92,000 fans and becomes Louisiana's 6th largest city when the fans arrive.  They start showing up in the parking lot on Thursday for a Saturday game with their RVs and such to get set up for the tailgating parties and start cooking jambalaya, gumbo, boiled seafood, alligator sauce picante, red beans and rice.  Sometimes they even have an old fashioned Cochon de Lait (pig roast, literally pig in milk or suckling pig).  The rule of the day is Le Bon Temps Rouler (Let the Good Times Roll)!  Sounds like a good motto to me.

The street maskers make up the unofficial Mardi Gras.  The Mardi Gras Indians (African American men) traveling in groups called tribes or gangs roam the streets of their neighborhoods in a pageant far removed from the official carnival of parades and tourists.  The men often design and sew these outfits themselves, sometimes with help from friends and family.  These amazing suits of feathers, rhinestones, sequins, etc. can easily cost thousands of dollars.  Their ritual song and dance routines are practiced year-round, often in neighborhood bars and clubs.  Like the floats, the day after Mardi Gras they start working on next year's costume.

They even decorate lawn mowers for the parades.

Heading home after a long day at the museum.  Wednesday we relaxed and went to a movie, The Martian with Matt Damon.  It was pretty good.

Thursday we visited San Francisco Plantation which is supposed to be the only authentically restored Grand Mansion on the Great River Road.  The fountain is old sugar kettles.  The sugar cane was cooked down several times to refine it into crystalized sugar.

It was originally named Sans Frusquin from a French slang phrase meaning "without a penny in my pocket" referring to its great cost by the time it was finished.  Often times, when a couple completed building their plantation home. they would travel to Europe for a year or two to select the furnishings.  Each winter they would take their family from the isolation of the countryside into town for the social season where they usually had a town home often on the scale of the plantation home itself.  The walkway atop the roof is called the belvedere and gives a view of the vast plantation fields and the river, so the family could watch for steamboats and other river traffic.  The two cisterns on either side of the house were where the rain water was stored and routed into the house.  This is the back side of the house.  The grand stair case at the front is now hemmed in by a fence, highway and huge levee that obstruct the beautiful view of the great Mississippi River they once had.

There was a wooden porta-potty in the main bedroom upstairs, but it was only used in emergencies, such as when someone was sick.  This was the type of accommodation everyone used.  However, the slaves quite often didn't even have an outhouse.  If they did have one, it was reserved for women.  After Emancipation, former slaves built sets of outhouses behind their cabins.  Door carvings in the shape of a sun or moon provided light and ventilation, as well as marked which privy was for men, and which was for women.

Two-room school house on the left and two-family slave quarters on the right.

This is the best view I could get of the front, as the fence is right behind me and the highway.  It's a beautiful grand staircase coming up from both sides.  The 20-year-old wife came here in 1855 from Bavaria for a short visit with her husband's family.  His father died and they ended up staying to run the plantation.  She wrote a letter to her family in Germany every month, but never saw them again.  They have 100 of those letters that a descendant from Germany gave them.

Once lined with plantation homes and sugar cane fields, a lot of the view along the River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is like this now.  There are many chemical and petroleum processors, a large nuclear power plant and sugar refineries for the plantations.

Then we decided to stop and tour Oak Alley Plantation.  This is a view of the rear of the mansion.

Behind us are the slave quarters.  They originally had 20 of these small cabins that were divided in half for two families.  The average number of slaves on a sugar plantation was 110.  His brother-in-law nearby had 231.  Between six related families (five brothers and a sister) living along a nine mile stretch of the river here, they owned 892 slaves.

This is a view of the front of the mansion through the 1/4 mile alley of 300-year-old Virginia Live Oaks.  Much more impressive than the front of the other plantation we toured.  Around 1710 an unknown settler planted an alley of 28 oaks in two equal rows spaced 80 feet apart leading to the river.  The largest has a girth of 30 feet and a 127-foot spread of limbs.

A close view walking up the Oak Alley.  It is called the Grand Dame of the Great River Road.  Several movies, soap operas and TV shows have filmed here, including Midnight Bayou, Primary Colors, Interview With a Vampire and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte starring Bette Davis. 

This is a side view where the detached kitchen originally sat.

The fan above the table was attached to a rope that was continually pulled by a young boy slave to keep the diners cool.  It was very hard to pull and he might have to keep it moving for several hours.

All the homes were built for great cross ventilation, but when dusk came they had to close all the windows to keep out the swarms of mosquitoes.  The heat was very oppressive, thus the high ceilings and very high attics for the heat to escape to.

All the beds had mosquito netting, including the baby's cradle.

The girls room.  Once the boys reached 15, they were no longer allowed to sleep in the main house.  They resided in a separate building called a garconniere until they were married.  Garcon means boy.  I guess they thought the boys might be up to some improper activities if they were allowed to stay in the house.

View from the upstairs balcony back down the Alley of Oaks to the Mississippi.

The branches from the Live Oaks extend out so far from the trees that they sometimes break off from their own weight or gravity just gradually pulls the limbs down until they rest on the ground and start growing upward again.  So some of the branches are braced up with posts.  They are really amazing trees.

They don't lose their leaves in the fall.  They are just continually shedding and growing new ones.

The green stuff growing on the tree trunk and branches is called resurrection fern.  When the weather is dry it just shrivels up and turns brown, but as soon as it rains it turns green and gets all fluffy again.  It is an air plant like an orchid and does not hurt the tree.  They also sometimes have lots of Spanish moss hanging from their branches, which also does not hurt them.

A little closer look.  They live about 600 years, so these trees are only middle aged, like me.  You don't know.  I might live to be 120 or so.

Replica of a Confederate officer's tent.  Enlisted men just slept on the ground, with a blanket if they were lucky.

Friday we visited the magnificent Old State Capitol building.   It was built in 1847 and designed to resemble a medieval castle.  It was no sooner finished than it was gutted by a fire during the Civil War.  It was eventually restored and served as the state capitol until 1932.  It is now a museum of political history.  It sits on five acres and is surrounded by an 1885 cast-iron fence.

The cast-iron staircase leading up to the governor's gallery and the senate and house chambers.  Black and white fossilized marble floors.

All the flags that have flown over Louisiana.

The cathedral dome with stained glass and gold leafing throughout is amazing!

The House of Representatives.

The public gallery above and looking across at the Senate.

The Senate Chambers.

The ornate open hallway at the top of the stairs is the governor's gallery.  Their current governor, Bobby Jindal, is in the lower left corner.

Going back down.

Then we walked a couple blocks down the street to tour the Old Governor's Mansion.  Unfortunately, it happened to be closed to tours that day.  It was commissioned by Huey P. Long in 1929 and was deliberately designed to mimic the White House.

We were looking for a place to have lunch, but we passed on this one.  We stopped at Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant and had a very good Mexican lunch.

Some pretty Black-Eyed Susans as we were walking through Spanish Town.  It's like being in the tropics down here with all the rain and humidity.  No wonder everything is so green and lush.

We walked by the current Governor's Mansion which is surrounded by fence and security cameras.  It was built in 1962 by then Governor Jimmie Davis in the opulent River Road plantation style.   Jimmie Davis wrote the song You Are My Sunshine for the state and sang it many times for crowds during his successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1944 and 1960.  Governor Davis was also known for riding his horse, Sunshine, up the 48 front steps of the State Capitol.  He was a country and gospel singer for decades after he left office.  You can tour the mansion by appointment.

Well, it's time to say goodbye to Yogi and all his friends....

and float on down the river to see the sights in New Orleans, N'Awlins, that is.  Watch out for alligators in the river guys.  In the 1930s almost 65,000 were killed each year in the state.  By 1962 there were as few as 100,000 left and they began to regulate the harvest.  Now there are 1 to 2 million according to a census done by helicopter.  The state issues 35,000 special permits annually to hunt wild alligators only in September.  Over 30,000 are harvested each September and the license revenue is $8.2 million.

Saturday we drove a half hour over to Abita Springs Resort where we are glad to say that this is the closest we will be getting to a white Christmas.

More about New Orleans next week,

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