There’s a certain romanticism that goes with the old Louisiana Plantations. Driving up to Houmas House Plantation just outside of Baton Rouge, LA, I defy anyone not to be bowled over by the beauty of the place.
This used to be the biggest sugar plantation by a long stretch. There were hundreds of them in the Deep South in the 1800’s but when you consider a large one to consist of around 20-30,000 acres and Houmas House had over 300,000 acres you can see the gulf of the difference.
Spiral staircase where most ghostly activity is said to occur…
Gone With The Wind fans will love the fact that the book was actually based on the (now lost) journals of the Hamptons (one of the previous owners of the house) and those of a family friend Mary who was in love with one of the men of the house – the Rhett of the story if you will. Two of the family’s daughters died in quick succession and they ended up moving to South Carolina, selling the house, 323,000 acres and around 500 slaves for $1,000,000 (nowaways more like $30,000,000) to an Irishman named John Burnside. He’d came to American years earlier with $1.25 in his pocket. Now if that ain’t the luck of the Irish I don’t know what is.
Breakfast on plates which are an exact replica of the original family’s china
Yes I mentioned slaves. This part of the world is where slavery was at it’s most prevalent. The ownership of one human being by another was a dark time in human history but the small saving grace, at least in the French colonnial Deep South was that apparently they lived by a code forbidding the mistreatment of slaves and allowed them to earn money to buy their freedom. Because they were housed, clothed and fed, many of the slaves lived better lives that the ‘free’ Lousiana farmers and general folk… but stiill, it’s slavery. Not a good thing.
Nowadays there are no slaves, just extremely friendly and knowledgeable staff and tour guides. We were shown around by local historian Jimmy, who’d helped restore and furnish the house. The dinner that night was one of the most interesting I’ve ever had as he regaled us with stories of vampire legends, celebrity guest anecdotes (Stiffler’s mom is a regular guest) and history of Louisiana. He also let us in on the secret of how to make the perfect Gumbo.
The house is full of hidden treasures such as a possibly original Gauguin painting, a clock belonging to Marie Antoinette, a bed stayed in by Bette Davis (the house was used for filming an old Hollywood thriller) and a solid silver statue of Abraham Lincoln carved by the same man who made Mount Rushmore. It was bought at auction for $3200 but the weight of the silver alone is worth around $30,000 – the auctioneers didn’t know who it was carved by at the time, put it that way.
This is worth wedge
Bette Davis’s bed
There are plenty of ghost stories, if you can try and get on Miss Susan’s tour (she’s so charming and funny) she’ll tell you how she will not put her head down on a pillow in that house as she’s seen too many ghostly activities including witnessing another tour guide get pushed down the stairs. Why I do declare that it’s pretty scary.
The former owner, John Burnside, invented the ‘mint julep’ right there in that very house and liked them so much that he insisted on having 3 of them each morning before breakfast. Sounds like my kind of guy. You can get one of these world famous drinks from the ‘turtle bar’ which is a converted ‘garconierre’. A garconierre is a small two story house in the grounds of the main house where the boys of the house would be sent to live when they were over 14 – if they had sisters and cousins living in the house, teenage hormones could start making them look pretty appealing. These were the days when if you showed someone your ankle you had to marry them… a more innocent yet incestuous time.
Grab your mint julep and sit on rocking chairs overlooking the Mississippi levy or on any of the benches in the surrounding picturesque gardens and you’ll be back in the 1800’s in no time. My personal cocktail recommendation is the Violet Royal – violet liqueur, prosecco & lemon rind. Mmmm mmm.
Mint Juleps in the Japenese garden
Banks of the Mississippi delta behind the house
Rocking chairs outside the cottages