Thursday, April 29, 2010

Big Times on the Bayou

Magnet # 229: Sights of Louisiana

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  The Bray Family

Louisiana celebrates the anniversary of its statehood tomorrow.  Ever since it was added to the Union, it has become an important shipping center of the South and is of great importance because it is includes the delta of the Mississippi.  With its connections to nations such as France and Haiti, the state has a feel that sets it apart from the rest of the nation, making it irresistible on screen, in print, and, of course, in person.

Although the French were the first to settle Louisiana, the Spanish were actually the first Europeans to reach the area. However, after two initial expeditions, they had little interest in that part of the New World, which suited the French just fine. They claimed the area, with their holdings stretching all the way north to Canada and west to the Dakotas and began to build a commercial empire there. While Mobile and Biloxi were the first capitols of the French territory, they soon centered their attention on New Orleans when they realized how important control of the Mississippi River was for trading. Yet after losing wars with both Great Britain and Spain, the French were forced to give up their holdings in the Louisiana Territory. It was during this time that French settlers from Canada traveled down to live in the Spanish part of the territory after the British gained control of their lands in Acadia and forced them out. They settled in what came to be known as Acadiana and their descendants are the Cajuns that are now so prevalent in Louisiana. France was soon able to take back what they had lost to the Spanish, thanks to a not-so secret treaty made by Napoleon Bonaparte. And when the United States finally won their independence from Britain, they received their holdings in the Louisiana Territory, but they also wanted the French lands. They knew having control of the Mississippi River was critical and they didn't want to have a major European nation bordering them, if possible. It was then that President Thomas Jefferson directed Robert Livingston, the United States' Minister to France, to buy New Orleans and some of the surrounding area. He was authorized to spend up to 2 million dollars. However, when Spain threatened to effectively close the port of New Orleans to the United States, Jefferson grew even more concerned and sent James Madison to meet with Bonaparte himself, giving him up to 10 million dollars to spend. But the French Foreign Minister caught Monroe and Livingston off guard, asking what they were willing to pay for the entire Louisiana Territory. The pair, concerned that Bonaparte might change his mind, acted quickly and without Jefferson's consent, paying around $15 million for all of the land. Jefferson was shocked when he heard of the deal and though he had his concerns about it, he nonetheless backed it, getting Congress to ratify the treaty. As Spain had never officially handed over the land, a lowering of that land's flag and raising of the French one was necessary before the American flag could be raised at New Orleans the next day. In one move, the United States doubled in its size.  After then, the United States divided off most of what would become the state of Louisiana into the Territory of Orleans.  Later, more land was added to the territory when settlers in Florida revolted against Spain and James Madison was able to take land in as far west as Louisiana, claiming it was part of the Louisiana Purchase.  The area finally became the 18th state in 1812, nine years after the Louisiana Purchase was made.

Louisiana is pretty close to my homestate of Alabama, so I've been there a fair amount of times over the years, if only passing through on the way to Texas most of the time. The two Louisiana cities I've spent the most time in are New Orleans and Shreveport, which have very different vibes. New Orleans is, of course, one of the most distinctive cities in the United States, with its historic French-style buildings and lively atmosphere. Or course, with its above ground cemeteries and links to voodoo, it's also a somewhat creepy destination. I've been there a couple of times on trips with my family. In fact, I distinctly remember staying in a very tall hotel that overlooked the Superdome when I was growing up. I thought it was a very pretty place and, with its squares, it's a little like my current city of residence, Savannah. I don't have many souvenirs from there, and considering the French Quarter and Upper Bourbon Street are well-known for being tourist traps, I'd definitely like to check them out again. Who knows how many magnets I could find there! Shreveport, on the other hand, is a much quieter, less flashy city. We've visited some extended family there and it's a nice place. I wouldn't say it has a very strong Louisiana feel - it's pretty close to Texas and Arkansas and I don't think there are any swamps, for which the state is known, in the area. In fact, when my relatives went out in search of magnets there for me, all they could find at first were ones from Texas - funny, eh? But it is also a very nice place - I'd day it has more of a Southern feel to it, while New Orleans is Southern with a French twist.  They're both great places and are worth seeing if you haven't been to them yet.

With its swamps and bayous, alligators, ties to voodoo, and largest city, Louisiana has a feel all its own.  It even has one of the more notorious state capitols in the nation.  Its skyscraper of a capitol in Baton Rogue was built by the notorious Huey Long and it's also where the kingpin was gunned down and where he's buried.  And, of course, it's also home to Plantation Alley, a route between Baton Rogue and New Orleans featuring about 30 stunning antebellum mansions.  There is plenty to be seen in the Pelican State, and I know it's just a matter of time before I'm there again.


  1. I have been to several of the plantations in Plantation Alley. They are so worthwhile to see. You learn more about life in those times.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation - now I'll be sure to give them a try!