Sunday, March 10, 2013

Yesterday we visited San Francisco Plantation. They were having a fund raiser so in addition to the plantation tour there was a car show and a craft show.  Like all the other plantations in the area this one is close to the Mississippi River to facilitate shipping sugar cane.  Over the years the river has taken all the land in front of the house, now the plantation sits at the foot of the river’s levee.

Built in 1856 the plantation’s original name was Sans Frusquin.  Its French slang and means “without a penny in my pocket.”  The name stems from the plantation owner’s lament about his German wife’s spending to decorate the plantation.  The interior is more European then other homes in the area.
The ground floor includes the wine cellar, china pantry, billiard room and dining room.  The dining room has a table that it 26 feet long and seats 24 people.  The floor is finished with brick that was ground to a fine dust and then applied like stucco. The final appearance is crushed velvet.  


The wine cellar also contains the master’s shower.  This is a really interesting contraption. State of the art at the time, it took two people to work it while the master bathed. One slave filled the lower tank with water. Then a slave pumped the water to an overhead cistern. The bather then pulled a chain to release the water.
The main floor contains the homes main entrance and reception area, the ladies drawing room, men’s drawing room, master bedroom, children’s bedroom, boudoir, green sitting room, grey sitting room and bedroom for the oldest son and a large porch facing the Mississippi.  

The green sitting room includes a table with a petticoat mirror under it. Ladies would use this mirror to check to be sure their ankles or petticoat were not showing.  In the day, an ankle was VERY titillating.
The boudoir was used as a birthing room. Once the baby was delivered, mother and child remained in the room for six weeks to ensure the baby was not exposed to anything.  The ceiling in the boudoir has cherubs painted on it. The skin color is quite dark and the faces are those of adults not infants.  The effect is very odd.
The grey sitting room includes a “fainting couch.”  I’ve heard the term many times but never understood its use until the tour.  Fashion dictated that ladies have tiny waists. To achieve that, ladies had their lower ribs removed.  Then they wore a corset.  These corsets were laced so tight that ladies would sometimes have trouble breathing. At San Francisco Plantation ladies would retreat to the grey room where a maid would undo the laces on the corset.  This would allow blood to rush to the lower extremities causing the lady to faint on the couch!

The ladies drawing room is painted a brilliant light purple.  The room is elaborately decorated with decorative painting on the walls, ceilings and fireplace mantle.

The room contains a courting chair. This allowed the young couple to sit beside each other, but facing in different directions. When a young man came courting the couple was always chaperoned.  Mother sat in the room feigning knitting or reading while ease dropping on the couple. The room also contains a mirror strategically placed so that father could sit across the hall in the men’s sitting room and also keep an eye on the couple. Courting candles were used to set boundaries for his daughter. When the daughter's suitor came calling, the father would light the courting the candle. When the candle burnt to the metal at the top of the candle holder, it was time for the suitor to promptly leave. However, the father could change the height of the candle based on how comfortable he felt about the suitor.

The most interesting thing about the main floor is that many of the rooms are formed by LARGE folding doors.  When all the doors are open and the furniture is removed the space can be used as a ballroom. Since the walls are not really fixed and load bearing walls there are numerous cast iron Corinthian columns that support the third floor, roof and widows walk.

The third floor is a REALLY HUGE attic enclosed with shutters. Every day during warm weather servants would go up in the attic and open all the shutters to allow a cool breeze from the river to flow through the house.
The house was eventually abandoned and remained empty for 40 years. In 1973 the plantation was purchased by a local oil company who deeded a small plot of land and the house to the San Francisco Plantation Foundation. After several years of research the oil company underwrote $2,000,000 to restore the house to its former glory.

Friday, March 8, 2013

St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 was established by the Catholic Church in 1823. It was an extension to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. The city was being ravaged by cholera, typhoid, diphtheria, smallpox, bubonic plague, yellow fever and malaria. The stench of the French Quarter at that time was quit foul because of the chamber pot refuse, dead animals and kitchen slop. However, the residents thought that these odors were caused by evil spirits spread by the deceased. So Saint Louis #2 was built far from the border of the French Quarter to keep evil spirits away.  

For most places in the USA burial means “planted 6 feet in the ground.”  But New Orleans is below sea level and the water table is extremely high here. It is hard to dig graves because they often fill up with water before you can get them dug. Even worse yet is floating corpses and coffins. When it floods in an area with a high water table the coffins may simply float up through the sandy soil and float down the street. This is not only a problem in Louisiana but it is a more constant problem in New Orleans. One casket company actually uses pictures taken of caskets that are floating along just to show how airtight their products are. The federal government now requires that all bodies be buried with a metal ID tag on their toe and a water proof vile that seals into the casket lid so that bodies can be identified and returned to their proper resting place when this kind of thing happens. 

Many family members are buried in each tomb. With the heat and humidity is does not take long for the deceased as well as the coffin to disintegrate and the remains are moved to the back for the next family member.
There are a lot of decisions to make when you bury someone above ground. First you have to decide what kind of tomb you want. There are  - box tomb, barrel vaulted tomb, oven vault, coping grave, ledger stone grave, parapet  tomb, pitched roof tomb, sarcophagus tomb, society tomb, temple tomb and even  pyramid tomb.

Then you have to decide on what kind of headstone. There are simple headstone, block headstone, pulpit tombstone, raised top tombstone, scroll tombstone, tablet tombstone, ground level adstone stele and gothic headstone. There are compound markers. Such as table, basal, die, pedestal, column and cross vault. And you can include any architectural or sculptural combinations. And don’t forget Obelisks markers.

Besides choosing the tomb type and the headstone, families also chose symbols they want to adorn the tomb. There are many symbols to choose from. There are the obvious – The Virgin Mary, crosses, doves, lambs, angels and clasped hands But you can also choose ivy, poppies, lions, palms, hearts, sea shells, hourglass, flowers, columns, etc.

Once you’ve made all of the above decisions you have one more important decision to make. Whether to fence or not fence. Ornate metal fencing is a big part of New Orleans’s architecture so including it at the grave site is not surprising.



Jim and I found graves that date back to the 1700’s. Many of these older tombs are no longer cared for because the entire family has passed away. The older tombs are falling into severe disrepair because of this.  A New Orleans organization called “Save Our Cemeteries” is working hard to restore the cemeteries.

 Reading the headstones makes you wonder about the occupants. I found a tomb that had three adult children who all died on the same day. How do parents survive the death of three children all at the same time?
More surprising to me was the tomb for Sisters of the Holy Family, a black sisterhood.
Henriette Delille, was born a "free person of color" in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1813. Delille, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, though they were not acknowledged at the time  as a religious sisterhood by the Catholic Church. The order was devoted to the poor and uneducated. They nursed the sick during epidemics that devastated New Orleans. They provided hospice care and created an annex for the city's many orphans. The fact that these black ladies are buried in this cemetery is a testament to their good works.



After Delille died in 1862, there were only 12 members of the order. Soon after, only five of these remained. Under their care, the order thrived and grew. Ultimately the Sisters had missions in California; Texas; D.C. and Belize.
In the late sixties, the Sisters of the Holy Family approached the archbishop of New Orleans about embarking on the canonization process. When they asked for his support, he replied, "Why did you all wait so long?" according to the Los Angeles Times. "Clearly this is a life that needs to be elevated to sainthood." The sisters had waited because, before 1960, they doubted the Church would elevate a black woman to sainthood. In 1989, the Sisters of the Holy Family formally opened Delille's cause for canonization with the Catholic Church, a process which can take decades, sometimes centuries. If the process is successful, Delille would become the first American-born black saint.
The cemeteries were really interesting, a must for all visitors to this incredible city.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

We took a drive down the east side of the Mississippi River. We were told this area had been hit hard by Hurricane Isaac in August 2012 and most of the damaged homes had not been repaired yet. It was a shocking drive. Most of the homes had their doors and windows blown out. The soggy contents of the homes were piled by the road to be hauled away.  Less than 10% of the homes were being repaired. Less than 1% were even occupied. And it wasn’t just older, smaller homes. Million dollar mansions stood empty. There were still storm tossed homes and boats piled on the levee!

This area received only minor damage when Hurricane Katrina came through.  But Hurricane Isaac was a severe, slow-moving Category 1 hurricane that produced  heavy rain and a 12 foot storm surge.  Unfortunately, the levees in Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parish are only 8 foot high (the Federal levee along the Mississippi  is 12 feet high.)  The storm surge topped the levee and caused flooding almost 12 feet deep.  Even though it’s been  more than 6 months, Plaquemines Parish is still under a state of emergency.
This area actually experienced damage much worse than New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  From the looks of things it will be a long time before things return to normal.

For Jim’s first trip out of the trailer we drove to Venice. Venice is the southern most community in Louisiana accessible by automobile. It’s located 77 miles south of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River. With a population of around 200 it’s a tiny blip on the map of Louisiana. Venice’s nick name "The end of the world" is really appropriate. This is where the ten state, 1,502 miles long Great River Road ends.
WikiMiniAtlasVenice was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Venice, like much of southern Louisiana, has seen significant rebuilding, reopening, and reoccupation. Here's one of the schools that was flooded by Katrina.
Venice also faced an environmental disaster when oil from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion began washing ashore in Venice.  

On the drive to Venice we passed through several small communities. On the east side of the road is the levee for the Mississippi River. The west side of the road is a huge estuary for the Gulf of Mexico. Because this land is at or below sea level there is water everywhere.

 If you fail to notice all the water the houses and commercial buildings will remind you. In southern Louisiana they require houses to be “elevated.”  In some locations houses are only elevated 3 or 4 feet (like in New Orleans.)  But in this area, buildings are elevated 10 feet. So remember when house hunting - if the realtor casually mentions shatter proof windows, hurricane shutters AND the house is jacked up on pilings that are 10 feet high you can count on hurricanes.

Speaking of water and hurricanes – cemeteries here really suffer from the bad weather. Because the water table is at 5 feet (or less) the dead are “buried” above ground in cement vaults. We saw this old cemetery on our way home. The sign is really sad.  

The further south we drove the more the water encroached on the road. When we reached Venice the water actually slapped and splashed the road finally covering it completely. Makes me wonder what will happen to Venice if global warming does cause the poles to melt and the sea  to rise 3 or more feet. This would not concern me so much if it weren’t for the oil refineries dotting the road. As it is, to get to the last refinery you have to drive through the flooded road.

 I love this photo. It's an attempt to keep the water from eroding the road. These are metal panels pounded 6 feet into the ground. I can't imagine what a battle it must be to keep the road open.

Along the way we stopped so I could do a little birding. The estuary was teeming with birds. We saw Pelicans, Annahinga, Terns, Gulls, Loons, Ducks, Ibis, Herons, Egrets, and Osprey. The estuary was really beautiful with cypress trees providing perfect perches for the birds to dry off and warm up on.

 So here's the Venice Marina. This is a huge sport fishing area for the Gulf of Mexico. Commercial shrimp boats are also based out of here.