Postcard From The Louisiana Plantation Tour

Of course, no trip to New Orleans is really complete unless you take a Plantation Tour along the Old River Road or at least drive it yourself and pick a couple of the antebellum plantations to visit. A professional tour is nice because you have a tour guide who will fill you in on the history and bring to life the charmed and sometimes tragic lives of the plantation owners, the worker's families and the slaves who lived in a bygone era. The only drawback is the price. Most of the tours charge about $75 per adult and $55 per child (12 & under) to visit two of the homes. If you choose to drive yourself and pay to get into the homes of your choosing, it is still rather expensive - on average about $20 per person for each home. You could spend several days and hundreds of dollars to see all of them. We didn't.

Oak Alley Plantation
The first home we saw, and probably the most famous, was the Grand Dame of the Old River Road, Oak Alley Plantation. Built in 1839, this Greek-revival style home has a double row of 28 huge live oak trees extending for 1/4 mile leading to the front of the house. Period costumed guides provide an interesting 40-minute tour. These plantations were owned by people who generally started off rich and became extremely rich by producing sugar during a time when it was considered white gold. I kept thinking about hundreds of slaves tending to the sugarcane operation and keeping the grounds immaculately groomed while the owners enjoyed a life of grandeur amid conspicuous consumption. Walking around I felt Rhett Butler would come around a corner any moment!

Next up we came to St. Joseph Plantation. Sugarcane is still grown on this 1,000 acre spread and it is still a working operation. At only $15 per person, it was also one of the least expensive homes to see. Built in 1830, in addition to the 12,000 square foot main house which is filled with period antiques, you can visit numerous other buildings on the grounds such as restored slave quarters, workers quarters, barns, chicken coops and the original detached kitchen. The plantation was sold in the 1840's to a wealthy doctor who had a magnificent garden planted which contained flowers and plants from around the world, including bananas and coffee. The garden was so extensive it required 30 full-time slaves to maintain it. Now that is one heck of a garden!
St. Joseph Plantation

The family who now owns it purchased the property at a sheriff's auction in the early 1870's when the previous owners couldn't pay the back taxes due to the financial catastrophe they suffered after slavery was abolished. Many of the former slaves stayed to work on the plantation as paid workers for the new owners. The main home ceased to be lived in by the mid-1960's and was closed with the antique furniture still inside in the 1970's. As the home deteriorated though, over 100 close and extended family members formed an association in 2003 and began restoring the home to its former glory.

The next plantation we stopped at was the Laura. The 24,000 square foot main home was built in 1804 using skilled slave labor. A 2,500 square foot detached kitchen was built behind the house. The plantation began with several thousand acres of land, the main house, 10 large outbuildings, a barn, several warehouses and quarters for 17 slaves. Eventually it grew to include 12,000 acres of rich, cleared land, 69 cabins for 186 slaves, living quarters for 20 paid workers and overseers, several water wells, several community kitchens, barns for 100 mules, and a small hospital for the slaves. Surrounding all of this were the fields of sugarcane stretching as far as the eye could see.

After the civil war ended slavery, like at St. Joseph, many of the freed slaves continued to live in their quarters on the plantation and worked the sugarcane fields as hired hands. Some were still living in the cabins in 1895 when a cypress lumber mill paid to have their own workers live in the quarters. Workers continued to live in these cabins until 1977 when most of the buildings were in such bad condition they were torn down. Today, only 4 remain.
The Laura Plantation

The Laura continued to raise sugarcane until 1981 when it was purchased by an investment group who wanted to tear down the buildings, clear the sugarcane and build a bridge over the Mississippi River on the property. After the purchase though, they found there is an active seismic fault right below the site and they could not get permits to build their bridge. Somebody did not do their due diligence! The property went into receivership and was abandoned until the St. James Sugar Company bought it in 1992. In 1993, the main house was purchased by the Laura Plantation Company, a private enterprise, for the purpose of restoring the home and opening it to the public. In August, 2004, an electrical fire burned over 80% of the home. It took 3 years to restore, but it was once again opened for tours in 2007.
Slave cabin

After a full morning and most of the afternoon, we were looking forward to a late lunch/early supper before heading back to our hotel. The Mama-woman had heard good things about the B and C Seafood Market and Cajun Restaurant so we stopped there expecting our mouths and belly's to be nicely rewarded. The building itself was clean, but nothing to be impressed by. That doesn't mean diddly-squat to me though as some of the best meals I've ever had have been in little off-the-beaten-path, run-down shacks. It did have plenty of character with several stuffed alligators dressed up as a chef (named "Chef Don't Ask") and a sexy girl alligator in a wig placed inside the ladies bathroom, a television showing a gator hunting show, and several musical instruments, including a guitar, which anyone can pick up and start playing.

We placed our order with the friendly waitress and waited. And waited. We walked around looking at all of the stuff on the walls as we waited some more. And then we waited some more. Finally, our food came and I'm sad to report, it certainly did not meet our expectations. It was OK, but the portions were certainly not overly generous and the taste was actually kind of bland. And according to the prices we were charged, they're pretty proud of their food too. Maybe the fact we were there long after lunch time and before supper time had something to do with the quality. It certainly wasn't the worst food we've ever had, but I doubt we'll be stopping by there again.

Alligator chef in the B&C Cajun Restaurant
All in all though, it was a darn fine day and we still had one more to enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer!

Little touches inside the restaurant like this painted
electrical outlet added doses of humor

Postcard From Haunted New Orleans - Part 2

continued from Part One

Chief Dunderhead finally returned and gathered his flock to continue the tour. I noticed we were down to about 16 from the original 22 folks who started the tour. We moseyed over to the Beauregard-Keys House at 1113 Chartres Street. The house was built in 1826 for a rich auctioneer, Joseph LeCarpentier, but the name given to the house comes from 2 other residents, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and the author Frances P. Keyes.

Chief Dunderhead holding forth at the
Beauregard-Keys house.
This house is the scene of what is perhaps the most spectacular haunting in the city. There have been reports that late at night, there is sometimes a ghostly replay of the Civil War Battle of Shiloh where more than 3,500 men were killed and General Beauregard had a major role. Men with mangled arms and blown off faces wander around the house. Severed human limbs float in the air and the cries and moans of wounded men and dying horses fill the air. The furious sounds of war are heard, guns and cannons firing a deadly hail of lead and the smell of blood and death fills the air. 

The house has been converted into a museum now and the current caretakers say the story a ghostly battlefield is nonsense. The do admit though, there is certainly some unexplained goings on in the house and they also admit none of them will stay in the house during the night because "it gets kind of spooky in here." They report the windows will often rattle in their frames, even when there is no wind. They feel cold spots as they walk the halls and sometimes feel a cold hand brush against their arm. The worst though is the feeling that they are not alone even when they are obviously in a room by themselves. They say it feels as if someone is watching them.

The house is supposedly also home to a rare animal entity. Two psychics both stated they feel it is a dog named "Lucky," the pet of Frances Keyes when she lived in the house. When Ms. Keyes died in 1970, the faithful dog quit eating and drinking and would not leave the bed side. The poor dog laid there whining and crying until she too died just 2 days later. Caretakers and visitors have told of hearing a dog running down the hall behind them, but when they turn to look, there is nothing there. One time, a blind visitor with a seeing-eye guide dog was on a tour of the house. Upon entering the bedroom where both Ms. Keyes and Lucky died, the guide dog stiffened, raised its hackles and began to nervously shake and whimper. The visitor said, "Oh, you have a dog in here." The guide told her there had not been another dog in the house since 1970. "No," the visitor replied, "My dog never acts like that unless he sees another dog." As soon as the group left the bedroom, the guide dog calmed down and was once again his normal, calm self.

Another resident, Paul Munni, was a world champion chess master. While living there, he went insane. His last night alone in the house, he came running out naked, holding an ax and screaming. He ran through the streets trying to kill anybody he could get near, but fortunately, everyone managed to get out of his way or hid until he passed by. Police finally subdued him and hauled him off to an asylum. In addition to being a chess genius, Mr. Munni loved to play the piano and was very adept at it. The police have been contacted by people who do not know the building's history who were passing by late at night and heard beautiful piano music accompanied by a man screaming. When police respond, there is nobody in the house.

The sun has fully set by the time we leave Beauregard, Keyes, Munni and Lucky. I give the tour guide props for telling some good stories (when he's not talking about himself), but there hasn't been anything scary or weird yet. Now it's dark though and I got a bit of a spooky feeling at the Lalaurie house. The Lalaurie Mansion is considered to be the most haunted spot in perhaps the most haunted city in America. With the proven facts of the evil and depravity that went on there, if any place deserves to be haunted, it's this place. The story is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.
Dr. Louis Lalaurie and his wife Delphine moved into the 3-story mansion in 1832 and the place became well known for the lavish social affairs the doctor and his wife hosted. Guests dined on fine food served on exquisite imported china. The chairs and couches were covered in Oriental fabrics. Delphine carried herself in style and always exuded her belonging in the highest of society and she and her two daughters were known as the finest dressed ladies in the city. But there was another side to Delphine, some say a truly insane side. It was a side only a few were allowed to see, much to their sorrow.

Lalaurie Mansion (photo courtesy of  
Wikimedia Commons)
With their wealth, the Lalaurie's owned dozens of slaves who saw to their every need and kept the mansion in pristine condition. And Delphine treated them horribly. On days when she held a party, out of eyesight of the guests of course, she chained her cook to the fireplace in the kitchen until everyone had eaten their fill and departed. She would become angered if she found dust on any furniture and would chain the maid to a wall and use a horse whip on them. Eventually, the neighbors began whispering that something was not right in the Lalaurie house. Screams of pain could sometimes be heard. The slaves seemed to disappear and new ones replace them too often to be normal. 3 different stable boys came and went in a matter of months and none of them were ever seen again. One day a neighbor was returning home when she heard a scream and witnessed a small slave girl, Lia, aged 12 and known to be Delphine's personal maid, being chased across the flat roof of the mansion by Delphine with a whip in her hand. The young girl reached the edge of the roof and without hesitation, jumped to her death. The neighbor then witnessed Delphine emerge from the house with a shovel, grab the dead girl by the arm and drag the body into the small back yard where she dug a shallow grave and buried it.

Even though the law in those dark days allowed slavery, there was a law against mistreatment of slaves. The neighbor reported what she had seen to the authorities and all of the Lalaurie slaves were confiscated and resold. Unfortunately for them, Delphine persuaded other members of her family to buy all the slaves and then give them back to her.

The stories of something strange going on in the house continued and soon, party invitations were being declined and the Lalaurie's were no longer being invited to social events. In short order, they were being politely ignored by other members of high society. Then one day a fire, perhaps set by the cook who couldn't take any more abuse, broke out in the kitchen and raced through the house. Firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze, but in the process, a hidden, secret door was found in an upstairs hallway.

Behind the door, firemen found 12 slaves chained to the wall. Men, women, and several children, all naked and in pitiful condition. Several more were chained to homemade operating tables. Two were painfully compressed and confined in dog cages. Their arms and legs had been broken to fit them into the cages. Human body parts were strewn around; heads and severed limbs were found in buckets. Whips and board paddles were hung from the walls and men's severed body parts were lined up on a shelf like trophies. There were more sick depravities visited on these poor people, but I'll stop the description here. It was reported the firemen, men who in their careers had seen human bodies in horrible situations, retreated from the room and threw up. Needless to say, only a truly sick, psychotic mind could even think of such things, much less actually doing them.

When word got out of the discovery, a mob carrying hanging ropes surrounded the house. Before they could break in however, a carriage pulled by 2 horses burst from behind the gate and the Lalaurie's made their escape. Nobody knows for sure where they went or what happened to them as they were never seen in New Orleans again and there has been no record discovered about them after that day.

Within days, the house had been broken into, ransacked and left in damaged condition. It stood vacant for years until a man purchased it from the city for a pittance. He began repairs and moved in, but stayed only 3 months before fleeing. He told the neighbors he couldn't take the screams and moans any more. Again, it remained empty for years. Even the homeless who went inside for shelter would not stay and would even come running out into a cold rainstorm in the middle of the night. Over the years, a few people tried to use the place; it was turned into apartments, but invariably, tenants would leave in a few weeks in spite of the extremely low rent being charged. One tenant left in the middle of the night and told the manager a naked black man had attacked him, but when he screamed, the naked man vanished. One young mother left when she awoke one night to find an elegant woman dressed in fine clothing bent over the crib holding her baby. When the mother made a sound, the entity looked at her with "evil eyes" and disappeared. There were claims of pets being butchered. Children were supposedly attacked by a smoky phantom welding a whip. Everyone complained of hearing moans and cries.

The house at one point was turned into a saloon named appropriately enough, "The Haunted Saloon." It closed when the owner kept having trouble with employees abruptly quitting. It was turned into a furniture store which wasn't successful. The owner thought vandals were breaking in at night because he would find the inventory covered in a black, stinking liquid. After this happened several times, he spent the night in the store with his shotgun and was positive nobody had gotten in, but in the morning, he once more found his merchandise covered in the strange liquid. He closed the store that same day.

Nicolas Cage purchased the house in 2007, but suffered financial setback after his purchase and the property was foreclosed on Friday the 13th, 2010. He never spent a night in it. Today, the Lalaurie Mansion is owned by Regions Bank and has been totally renovated and turned into luxury apartments. Rumor has it that priests and an exorcist were brought in to cleanse the building. Maybe that worked. However, perhaps there's still something there. You may notice the picture posted here is from a royalty-free source rather than one I took like the others. I have a very dependable Nikon 35mm digital camera that I keep in very good condition. It has never given me any trouble and takes great pictures. I took several shots of the Lalaurie Mansion and when I looked at them after taking the picture, they looked fine. When I got back to our hotel and downloaded them to my computer, the pictures were nothing but white. I looked on the card - white. I didn't change any settings and the pictures I took before and after are perfectly fine, just not the Lalaurie Mansion photos. Chill bumps on my arms!

Our next destination was a bar which used to be a house of ill repute and I'm sad to say, it was kind of forgettable. Again, Chief Dunderhead claimed it belonged to a friend of his and urged us to buy drinks as we went into a back outdoor patio which had a somewhat large tree in it. The story here was that a young prostitute, new to the profession, fell in love with a sailor. He asked her to marry him and said he was going to make one more voyage overseas to earn enough money to buy a house for them. She faithfully kept going to the docks waiting and watching for his ship to return, but it was long overdue and assumed to be lost at sea with all hands. The older ladies made fun of her for thinking she could escape the life she had been forced into by circumstances. One night, deep in despair, she made her way into the courtyard and hung herself from the same tree under which we sat. Supposedly, there have been reports that some nights a wispy, ghostly female can be seen hanging from the tree. I intently looked, but probably needed several more adult beverages before I would be seeing anything hanging from the tree other than a few leaves.  To be honest, the bar wasn't that interesting and Chief Dunderhead told the story like he was more than ready to end this thing and join his friend at the bar. It was a disappointing ending to the tour.

Back to our car parked at Jackson Brewery after
the ghost tour.
I counted the people sitting around the tables in our group when we broke up and found there were only 13 of us left. Seems to me that when almost 50% of your group leaves a walking tour before it is over, then maybe it wasn't exactly the biggest thrill. There were certainly parts that were interesting. Talking to some of the other folks in our group was fun. The way our guide kept urging us to buy drinks from his friend's bars kind of irked me and probably contributed to my less than thrilled feelings for the tour. I think you can do better and get out cheaper by buying one of the many "ghosts of New Orleans" books and mapping out a walking tour of your own. That's what we'll do the next time we are in New Orleans, and there will definitely be a next time. We're already looking forward to it, but I'm pretty sure we'll give the Lalaurie Mansion a wide berth!

Postcard From Haunted New Orleans - Part 1

No building or office for Haunted History Tours - just this
sign and a card table set up on the sidewalk.
Ghosts and goblins all year 'round! New Orleans has a long history filled with pirates, battles, voodoo practitioners, evil people, deranged people, sinister people, bloodshed and natural disasters with much loss of life. Is it any wonder it is well deserving of its reputation as one of the most haunted places in America? And one of the more successful businesses in town is Haunted History Tour. For $25 per adult and $14 per child, it seemed like an OK deal, especially since I qualified for the senior discount of $7 off. We signed up and, as instructed, were at Reverend Zombie's Voodoo Shop 30 minutes ahead of the 6:00 pm tour start time.

Our tour guide and his dog.
Along with 19 other thrill seekers, the Mama-woman, Youngest-daughter and I eagerly waited across the street from the card table set up on the sidewalk in front of the Voodoo shop (which led to several concerns about this being a fly-by-night operation and the safety of our credit card number) for our tour guide. A rather strange-looking guy with long grey hair wearing a silk puffy shirt, black pants, derby hat and a small dog on a red leash finally made his way over to us at 6:10. He told us he was going to tell us stories that were profound and profane and if anybody was easily embarrassed then we should get our money back and go away. I found him to be cocky and very condescending, but we'd done paid our money so...

We walked a couple of blocks down the road to the back of the St. Louis Cathedral. We stopped and he began telling a story, but first, he informed us that he was "the real deal," born and raised in the swamps around New Orleans and a full-blooded Indian. He lives in the French Quarter and knows all the stories and all the people and there are stories told about him. He has plenty of women friends because they find him "interesting, a bit scary, a bit dangerous...and they like my dog." I didn't find him to be any of those things, but his dog was kinda cute.

St. Louis Cathedral
Most people are well aware of the St. Louis Cathedral as it is one of the iconic pictures of New Orleans. Chief Dunderhead (the honorary name I gave our guide in my head) finally got around to telling the interesting history that we didn't know. There have actually been 4 churches where the cathedral now stands. The first, built in 1718, was a small, wooden temporary structure. The building which replaced it was made of brick and timber and completed in 1727. This building completely burned in the great fire of 1788. The building which replaced it was completed in 1794. It contained the famous two round side steeples, but the central bell tower, designed by Ben Henry Latrobe, the architect who designed the White House, wasn't added until 1819. An even larger building was needed by the mid-1850's so a major renovation was undertaken. During this renovation to add more space, the middle bell tower collapsed which caused much more of the building to be rebuilt than was planned. This is the current building which is now over 160 years old.

In 1764, the King of France gave Louisiana to the Spanish in the Treaty of Fountainbleu. The people of New Orleans though, were not informed of this before a group of Spanish soldiers showed up, took down the French flag and replaced it with a Spanish flag. Thinking they were being invaded, the Creole people banded together with six men serving as their leaders and drove out the Spanish soldiers. Of course, the Spanish didn't appreciate this so in 1769, 24 war ships carrying hundreds of fully armed soldiers arrived to assert Spanish ownership. A new merciless governor arrived with the troops and ordered the 6 leaders of the Creole brought to him. They tried to tell him they didn't know about the treaty when they drove out the earlier Spanish, but he paid no heed to their pleas and order them to be hanged in the courtyard of the St. Louis Cathedral. He also issued a decree that nobody was allowed to touch the hanged men; they were to be left hanging until their bodies rotted as a warning to anyone else who dared question his authority. Anyone caught trying to remove the bodies would join them.

The priest of the cathedral, Pere Dagobert, pleaded with the governor, but was told to stop asking or the next time he would suffer the same fate. Soon, the bodies began to stink and birds began to eat the decaying flesh. Even the Spanish soldiers were repulsed and thought the governor had gone too far. Finally, during one stormy night, Father Dagobert gathered the families of the six men, cut down the bodies and placed them in pine boxes. He then loudly sang mass in his clear, distinctive voice and led a funeral procession to St. Peter's Cemetery where the men's remains were buried in unmarked graves. The sympathetic Spanish soldiers conveniently had to go inside for a bathroom break or for protection from the storm and were all temporarily away from their posts so nobody stopped the priest's activities. Word soon got to the governor, but even he figured out that if he hung the beloved priest, there would be such a backlash that he would not be able to trust his own soldiers with his safety. Father Dagobert was replaced by a Spanish monk as leader of the church, but he continued to oversee his flock until he died of natural causes and was honored by being buried under the altar.

For many years, personal sightings and experiences have been reported of Father Pere Dagobert and the 6 unfortunate executed men. Nothing strange seems to happen during the day, but once the cathedral is closed to the general public in the afternoon, witnesses tell of faintly hearing mass sang in a clear, beautiful voice at the altar. The singing then travels down the aisle toward the doors and a bright light moves from window to window until the voice fades as it seems to head out the doors and on toward where St. Peter's Cemetery was located. During stormy evenings, the ghostly image of Father Dagobert often materializes and can be seen by the living, kneeling in prayer. Perhaps he still prays for peace for the 6 executed men, or maybe he simply continues to pray for the safety and well being of the city and church he loved. And whenever he can be seen, visages of the 6 men can also be seen in the shadowy doorways and corners of the church, standing ready to assist him, forever grateful for giving them a proper funeral.

The Andrew Jackson Hotel
Walking to the Andrew Jackson Hotel, stopping along the way so Chief Dunderhead's little dog could leave a deposit on a little patch of grass, he kept up a continuous chatter (Chief Dunderhead, not the little dog who never barked or exhibited any signs of being possessed) of how he is an actor and how he knows all the alleyways and nooks and crannies where the underbelly of New Orleans can be seen. Arriving at the Andrew Jackson Hotel on Royal Street, we found out the structure had been built on the site of an old boarding school which had caught fire in the late 1700's and burned to the ground killing 5 children who were unable to escape. For over 200 years now, hotel guests have reported hearing children playing in the courtyard late at night, especially when the moon is full. Some have reported hearing children laughing and squealing like they are playing chase at 3:00 AM, but when the guest looks in the courtyard to see why children are up so late and making so much noise, even in the bright moonlight they can see there is nobody there, not anybody living anyway. And the noises abruptly stop.

Chief Dunderhead in front of Madame John's Legacy

On Dumaine Street is a house called Madame John's Legacy. It was built for Jean ("John") Paschal, a sailor who was killed in the Natchez Massacre of 1729. His widow remained in the home until 1777. The house served as a set in the movie "Interview With The Vampire" in 1994. The scene is of caskets being carried out of the house and placed in horse-drawn hearses and Lewis (Brad Pitt) reveals Lestat's (Tom Cruise) "mischievous" practice of feasting on French Quarter families. However, the spirits reported in the area are most probably due to the yellow fever epidemic which struck in 1853. In this city of 154,000 people, almost 8,000 died in a few short months. In the month of August that year, 1,186 died the first week, 1,526 died the second week, 1,534 the third week, and 1,628 the fourth week. The streets were deserted from fear as the cause of the disease was unknown at that time. So many people died that bodies in the French Quarter were simply piled up outside on the sidewalks of Dumaine Street to wait for the hospital's death carriages to come by and pick them up. It was not uncommon for there to be several dozen anonymous bodies piled up each day in front of the house now known as Madame John's Legacy. Carriages used as hearses would haul 8 - 10 coffins each to the cemeteries. Confusion and delays at the cemeteries were unavoidable so lines of hearses 2 to 3 miles long were often waiting at the gates. The hot August sun, high humidity, lack of time to embalm any of the bodies and the hastily built simple knot-holed pine coffins containing the quickly decaying bodies rendered the air putrid. It's no wonder the spirits of these poor departed are restless.

The elementary school Mr. Simmons attended.
Chief Dunderhead then led us, after stopping for his dog to squat and pee on the sidewalk, to what he called the scariest building in New Orleans. A frightening person once inhabited this building, a person so scary that grown men whimper just from the thought of him, hardened criminals cringe, Hell's Angels turn and run. It is the elementary school building where Milton T. Simmons went to grade school. Most of us know him as Richard Simmons. And before you leave nasty messages for me, those were Chief Dunderhead's words, not mine. Evidently he considers himself to be a comedian as well.

About 45 minutes of our 2-hour tour had expired with 10 minutes of that spent waiting on the tour to start. We now followed our intrepid guide to a spot which is supposed to be very haunted. Nothing happened while we were there so I can't say anything about the haunting, but the building certainly had some interesting history - Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street. The structure was built in 1772 and remained untouched by the great fires of 1788 and 1794. Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre ran a most profitable business from this building by outfitting and financing pirates who plundered goods from ships at sea and then brought the ill gotten booty back to the Lafitte's business to be sold. Since they avoided government fees and taxes, the goods could be sold far cheaper than the honest businessmen could sell their legal wares and soon, almost everyone else was out of business. Eventually, to speed up the process and to ensure all of the captured goods were brought back to their store, they purchased their own ships and became pirates themselves.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop
Jean was a good looking man as well as being rich and welding a lot of influence in the city so he had many mistresses and lovers, but he only had one true love in his life - the wife of the governor of Louisiana. When the governor found out about the affair, Jean had an enemy even more influential than he. The authorities became interested in the Lafitte brother's business and eventually closed it down and arrested not only the Lafittes, but their men as well. The war of 1812 was providential for the brothers. They offered themselves, their men and their ships in service against the British and after valiantly helping to win the Battle of New Orleans, were pardoned by President Madison.

The Lafittes moved their operations to the gulf coast of Texas and went back to being pirates after their pardon. After moving several more times when the heat from authorities became too great, the Lafitte brothers faded from the scene with Pierre dying from an illness in 1821 and Jean supposedly being killed in battle as a pirate while trying to capture several Spanish vessels. Some historians however, claim he survived the battle and returned to New Orleans where he changed his name and retired on his pirate riches.

Jean was known to hide a large stash of gold within the brick walls of the structure's fireplace. For many years now the building has been a neighborhood bar and patrons claim to have seen a pair of red eyes watching them from within the fireplace. There have also been reports of inexplicable cold spots near the fireplace even when there is a roaring fire. Several paranormal investigators have said they feel an aura of "unwholesomeness" near the fireplace. Bar patrons sitting near the fireplace have also reported being touched by a cold hand, but when they turn, nobody is there. Jean is known to have smoked cigars and there is often the distinct aroma of cigar smoke in the area. There have been a number of reports of Jean's ghost materializing in the women's restroom. Evidently, his penchant for women remains even in death. Most disturbing, however, are the reports of people seeing a ghostly Jean appearing in corners looking annoyed at the living and twirling his mustache in his fingers. When seen, the figure quickly disappears. There is a mirror upstairs where Jean lived which is reputed to often have the visage of a woman reflected in it. Perhaps it is Jean's true love, the wife of the Louisiana governor who no doubt enjoyed numerous afternoon trysts in the room. Perhaps it is simply some poor forgotten girl who fell hard for Jean, but was rejected by him after he was finished with her.

Chief Dunderhead then told us he needed a break to wet his whistle and we probably did too and since he is good friends with the owner of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, we should all try one of the establishment's famous drinks and then take advantage of the bar's bathrooms. And with that, he walked off and left us for the next 30 minutes. We waited for our guide to return and we waited for dusk to become full night. We still had sites to see and Chief Dunderhead told us ghosts come out after dark. Perhaps the best is yet to come.

Postcard From The Swamp

Going on a swamp tour in Louisiana has long been desired by me and the Mama-woman, but the weather just wouldn't corporate.  We weren't waiting for perfect weather, but on our last trip to New Orleans it rained the whole time, the time before that was freezing dog-butt cold and the time before that it was 105 degrees in the shade with 90% humidity. Each time we cancelled the tour tickets we had reserved in advance. This time the weather gods smiled on us as we woke up to a weather forecast of mid-70's for the high temperature, low humidity and partly cloudy skies.

Plugging in the address of Cajun Encounters into our GPS, we had no problems getting from our New Orleans hotel to their rather remote location in Slidell. Driving down increasingly more rural roadways, from interstate to a 4-lane to a 2-lane blacktop to a gravel road, we arrived in due time and parked in their gravel lot next to a river. Tickets are $25 per person, but we had $3 off coupons for each of us so we used the savings on cold drinks from their on-site store. It was tough, but we managed to resist buying any dried alligators, alligator heads, alligator teeth, t-shirts with alligator pictures on them, baseball caps with alligators on them, alligator key-chains, or any of the dozens of other alligator-themed souvenirs. We were a few minutes early so we sat outside in the shade of a covered table located next to a large concrete alligator enjoying our cold drinks and the refreshing slight breeze that smelled surprisingly clean rather than "swampy" like I expected.

Honey Island swamp
After a few minutes, with more people showing up and milling around, a guy in a Cajun Encounters shirt (with an alligator picture on it) called for the 9:30 tour folks to gather 'round him. After sending the under 16 years of age kids back inside to get life jackets, he directed us down a wooden-decked walkway to the boat dock. 10 adults and 4 kids joined the Mama-woman, Youngest-daughter and myself as we climbed aboard a 22-person open-air flat-bottom boat. Everyone found places to sit on the benches which all faced outward so there was no grumbling as there were no "bad seats." With 17 passengers rather than the maximum of 22, everyone was sitting a bit close to their neighbor, but there was enough space to be comfortable.

Our guide came aboard and told us his name was John. A pretty good sized man around 30 years old I would guess, and right personable. He smiled a lot and was very engaging. He seemed to actually be interested in his passengers rather than just doing a spiel and took a few seconds with each to find out where we were from. He informed us he was an actual Cajun, born and raised next to the Honey Island Swamp we would be seeing, but he was a true rarity, a college educated Cajun! He claimed to have played in this swamp from the time he could row a piroque (a small, flat-bottomed boat) and made money on the side hunting alligators. I didn't really believe him then, but before the tour was over I did!

Gator up close!
As we proceeded down the river, we would pass little openings in the trees and John would ask us if we wanted to go in. Some we did, some we didn't and before long, we were all totally and completely lost - all of us except John, thank goodness. Alligators seemed to be everywhere. It was early in the season and not all that hot so they weren't very aggressive. The whole time we floated up and down water channels, John kept up a friendly chatter of facts and swamp stories and legends, pointing out flowers, animals, kinds of trees and plants and telling us about them.

For example, we came to a small stand of Tupelo trees and he told us about the honey bees that make their hives in these trees each spring and how as a boy he would bring a smoker and take some of the honey back home for spreading on biscuits. The pollen the bees use is from the tree's flowers that bloom for 2 - 3 weeks starting in late April and that's how it got its name - Tupelo Honey. It is also known as "Swamp Honey" and is so fine that it is considered the honey that all other types of honey are measured against. He then segued to discussing the song Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison, pausing every now and then to point out another plant or animal. The man was a veritable swamp encyclopedia!

At one point we were slowly gliding under some low-hanging tree limbs, low hanging enough that we had to duck our heads. I was sitting in the front of the boat and this one particularly low-hanging limb had been on my side so I had ducked under it just as John quickly pushed the boat away from it. I figured he was just being nice to the rest of the folks, guiding the boat so they wouldn't have to duck down so far, but that wasn't what he was doing. I got concerned when he asked if anybody was really afraid of snakes. I didn't say anything, but I should have been raising both arms and jumping up and down shouting "Me! Me! I'm irrationally scared of them and I admit it!" He pointed to the limb which had just gone over my head and I about pooped my pants I kid you not! A bad snake was right there and it must have passed less than a foot over my head! He laughed and said it wasn't poisonous, but it wasn't dead and I consider any non-dead snake to be a bad snake.

Look close and you can see that devil snake!
As we sat there looking at that devil snake, he told the story how a few months ago he wanted to impress a tour group so as they passed under a tree with the same kind of snake as this, he reached up and grabbed it. He played with it for a while as the tourists shrieked, but when he went to put it back in the tree, the thing struck out and bit him on the neck! It sank its fangs into his flesh and wouldn't let go until he finally grabbed the head between his fingers and forced its jaws open. He said it hurt like hell and bled a bit, but knowing it wasn't poisonous, he went ahead and finished the tour. He cleaned up when he got back to the store and didn't think much more about it except to promise himself he would never do that again. Several days later, his neck was red and swollen and he was sick as a dog - the bite had gotten infected and the infection had spread through his body. After several days in the hospital and a lot of pain and drugs, the infection was cleared and his life was saved. I took the story as proof of my convictions that the only good snake is a dead snake. You're going along just fine, everything in your life is good then one day you get a little bite from a snake and bam, you're on death's doorstep!

About 3 hours after we left, we headed back to the dock. Taking the main channel rather than all the little side bayou's, we passed several Cajun homes and swamp villages, homes built on islands of ground in the middle of the swamp. The waterways are their roads and the only way in or out is by boat. We came up on a man and 2 young boys who had a hand-made wire mesh container contraption which was partially underwater and hooked up to a pulley. John seemed to know them so he steered us over close and asked them what they had for supper. The man grinned and said, "Mudbugs!" as he winched up the container to show us the hundreds of red crawfish they had. We drifted on down and John wistfully said, "That's gonna be some good eating there" like he really wished the man had invited him to come on back and stay a while.
I liked the orange bath tub in the side yard. Nice touch!
We arrived back at the dock safe and sound with all limbs and fingers accounted for; no snake bites and no alligator chomps suffered. As each member climbed out of the boat, we exchanged thank you's and pleasantry's with John and the adult men slipped some bills into his hand as they shook it. The money almost magically disappeared into his jeans pocket before shaking the next guy's hand.

We made our way back down the wooden sidewalk to the store where the kids dropped off their life jackets. With a few handshakes and mumbled "Nice to meet ya" departure overtures between the folks of our group, people with a fleeting bond, people who would most likely never see each other again and probably wouldn't recognize each other if we did, we made our separate ways to our respective vehicles and back to our separate lives.

Our tour had been fun, interesting, and informative; our guide knowledgeable and engaging. It was well worth the cost and I didn't feel ripped off at all, something that seems to be ever more rare. I tell you what though, it would have been a much different thing if that dang snake had dropped in my lap!
One of the many Herons in the swamp. I believe this to
be a Great Blue.
A Great White Egret. Beautiful bird

Deep in the Honey Island Swamp. Spanish moss and
Cypress trees abound.

I particularly liked the handicapped parking sign in front of
this home.