By the time we finally got everything packed up and remembered how to hitch up the trailer, it was mid-morning on the 3rd. Many members of our winter “family” stopped by to wish us bon voyage. We headed north to I-Ten, then west through Mobile and on to Port Allen, just across the Mississippi from Louisiana’s capital. (Yay, we finally crossed the Big M!)
We picked Baton Rouge because it was roughly half way between Gulf Shores and our next planned destination, Houston. It turned out that Louisiana’s Capital offered good sightseeing and great history lessons. On the first day, we spent some time gawking at and in the Old State Capital, a huge, ornate building on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi whose last governing occupant was the infamous Huey Long. After restoration in the 1990’s, it’s now the state’s Center for Political and Governmental History. Long promised a new state capital building as part of his 1928 gubernatorial campaign and pushed it through when elected. He was a U.S. Senator when the 34 story, art-deco structure was dedicated in 1932.
And, while we didn’t visit the LSU campus in the same downtown area, we did go out to the Rural Life Museum. An educational teaching facility, it has been rated among the ten best outdoor museums in the world. It consists of a central exhibit barn and a large “village” of structures indigenous to past centuries. Plantation examples include a commissary, overseer’s house, kitchen, slave cabins, sick house, schoolhouse, blacksmith’s shop, sugar house, and grist mill. Residential and community buildings include a country church, pioneer’s cabin, Carolina cabin, shotgun house, Acadian house (Cajun architecture from Canadian immigrants) from and dogtrot house — two log cabins with a breezeway or dogtrot between them under a common roof. Typically one cabin was used for cooking and dining while the other was used for private living space.
The following day, we visited the Magnolia Mound Plantation. It’s also adjacent to the Mississippi, in the northern part of the city, but only a portion of the original 950 acres, back from the River, are preserved. The original house was built in 1786, and numerous additions were made throughout the 19th century, and it was a working plantation even after the Civil War. The furnishings are a mixture of native construction and French Creole pieces, added by the third master, Armand Duplantier, who married the widow of the second owner. The Duplantiers had five natural children, along with issue of previous marriages, so enlargement of the original cottage became a necessity. Over 50 slaves worked the plantation. In addition to the house, the grounds boast its separate kitchen, a slave cottage, overseer’s house, carriage house growing herb garden, and “pigeonaire,” where the birds were nurtured and harvested for the table. One interesting feature was the large sheet of wood over the dining table with a pull cord; it was wafted by a slave to keep the family cool and chase off many flying pests. A beautiful wedding was being set up on the grounds as we explored.
From the plantation, we went cross-town to the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center. In its main building, an environmental treasure, were housed many cages containing snakes and other reptiles indigenous to the area. In the center of the parking lot was a turtle pool, with dozens of the little guys swimming, sunning, and sometime ganging up on each other. We walked around the lush grounds just a little, because it was late in the day.
On our final full day, I went back downtown to the city’s Veterans’ Memorial Museum. What an experience! The museum is anchored at one end by the USS Kidd, a WWII destroyer. As I toured her, my mind went back to my early teens, when my sister Jane, then just 21, married a handsome ensign named John Carpender. John became a “big brother,” sorely needed since my life was dominated by six mothers (long story). He served aboard a sister ship, the USS Stoddard, and I took a train to Newport, Rhode Island right after Christmas in 1952 to visit Jane and John. We were aboard the Stoddard for New Year’s Eve, when the OOD got to write the midnight log in poetry.
The opposite end of the museum was anchored by a real Flying Tiger – one of General Claire Chennault’s fleet that flew so many productive missions against the Japanese in the early days of the Second World War. Chennault, also credited with rebuilding the Chinese air force, grew up in Louisiana and is memorialized by a larger-than life statue in the outdoor rotunda above which the plane is suspended. In between are many show-window type exhibits in the walls, each heralding a military hero from Louisiana. Among the many other exhibits are a large model of the submarine USS Baton Rouge and full size replicas of a riverboat pilot house and a gun deck on the USS Constitution.
Finally, there was a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. It consisted of an eternal flame surround by a square of marble walls. On these walls were engraved the names of every Louisiana war dead from the Revolutionary War through 9-11. One exception: the overwhelming loss of life in the Civil War did not permit the inscription of names but simply the dedication of a panel. Two panels contained quotations from Eisenhower and MacArthur. MacArthur’s words, from his famous farewell West Point speech, read in part:
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.
On the morning of the 7th, we departed for our first visit to Texas.