This page was written entirely by Susan Langlois. These stories, tales, and tidbits are based on local folklore and tales handed down for generations in Louisiana. This information is not intended to be documented fact, but rather for entertainment of the reader. All rights reserved.
TALES, TRIVIA & TIDBITS
Much has been written about Louisiana, and for good reason. The state provides an endless source of material for the pen, and simply put, “She is the stuff that makes good reading” – fun, life, love, music, food, adventure, intrigue, pirates, ghosts, rich men, poor men, fancy houses, boathouses, Indians, voodoo, history, folklore, family, exile, war!
WORDS SELDOM HEARD ELSEWHERE
Many phrases and words are uniquely Louisiana’s. Some are just Deep South dialect with a twist. Most are French in origin, and while sadly this language is fading with each generation, some remain.
Pirogue (pee-row) – small wooden boat; a French / Spanish adaptation of the dugout canoe
Bayou (buy-you) – natural waterway much like a stream with a slight current; navigable at least for a pirogue
Laissez les bon temps rouler! – (Lay-zay-lay-bon-temp-rou-lay) “Let the good times roll!” Heard at the kickoff of a party, festival, celebration or as a Mardi Gras float rolls out (for example), or any other time fun is anticipated. Always expressed with an exclamation!
Tres Bien (tray-ben) – very good
Ca c’est bon! (sa see bon) – it’s good
Lagniappe( lan yap) – often used; it means a “little something extra”, like when a person orders a dozen raw oysters and they are given 13 –that’s lagniappe!
Bon Appetite – literally means good appetite; Louisiana translation – Enjoy!
Roux (rue) – “first you make a roux” has been the buzz phrase of Louisiana cooks for a hundred years; many dishes begin this way; a mixture of oil and flour cooked to light brown for seafood and dark brown for meats
“Fixin” – means one is getting ready to or thinking about doing something; i.e.: “ I was just fixin to come over to your house”; origin unknown & not currently even being researched
“Axe” – used quite often as “let me axe you something”; not meaning they wish to chop something for you nor a reference to any tool, just means they wish to ask you a question
“Zinc” – used a lot around the New Orleans area; not to be confused with any metallic element; just some folk’s pronunciation of Sink!
“Wrench” – i.e.: “go wrench the vegetables”; this does not refer to using a tool on the vegetables, nor is it a reference to the Louisiana version of the food processor, but rather just someone wanting the vegetables rinsed!
Sha – a kind or sympathetic term; derivative of the French word Cher or Cherie; a one word sentence that can mean “Isn’t that cute”, or “isn’t he or she sweet”, or even "poor thing"; often heard as a reaction to a cute kid or baby; also means honey, baby, darling, or dear
Fais do do (fay-doe-doe) – In smaller communites of the French Country years ago, this was a party where Cajun grown ups danced “up front” while their children were put to bed in “the back” of whatever building or home the dance party was being held; the Acadian French of Louisiana love their music and dancing, so these parties were held often; though Fais Do Dos are seldmon heard of anymore, it is still a custom in our area for parents to bring their children almost anywhere they go; in French the words literally mean “to make sleep” and still today, when parents announce bedtime to their little ones, it is expressed as - “time to go doe doe”.
Slave Cabin/Joseph Dunn
Laura Plantation/Norman Marmillion
Louisiana is steeped in mystery and intrigue, from ghosts at the old plantations to voodoo in the French Quarter, from monsters in the swamp to pirates in the Gulf. Here are a few of the colorful stories and characters of the state –
Some are true I’m often told, though seldom is there evidence to hold
Some they scare you in the night, though seem so silly in morning light
Some were made up just because; each generation adding a bit more fuzz!
Brer Rabbit – The well-known Uncle Remus stories were written in the slave quarters of Laura Plantation, on the River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. First written to teach life lessons to the children of the plantation, they have become the staple reading for generations of young people, and the basis for the Disney movie “Song of the South”. Laura Plantation is one of the finest examples of the Creole Cottage design in the state. Laura is also very unique and set apart by the fact that it was built, run and managed solely by a Creole lady. Talk about a liberated female - quite a feat for 200 years ago! This lovely place was ravaged by fire in the summer of 2004, but is being lovingly restored as this is written.
The Lougarou or Loup Garou (French for werewolf) – Like the Yetti or Bigfoot of other areas, Louisiana has its own Lougarou. Sometimes the tales depict a ghostly spirit, sometimes a demon or monster, and in other versions Lougarou is half man, half animal, or werewolf. However, no matter the version, he is always a horrible creature that roams the swamps of south Louisiana. There are tales of the Lougarou back to the first landing of the Acadians, who it is said acquired the stories from the local Indians. No matter the version told, Lougarou has always frightened the children of south Louisiana from venturing alone near swampy areas - perhaps the reason for his creation!
Ghosts along the Mississippi – With mansions of old and decades of legacy, it is no wonder there are volumes written about the ghosts of Louisiana. Houmas House, it is said, has several ghosts in residence and Laura has her “Creole Children”, who are often seen playing along the stairwells. However, one of the most noted of all is The Myrtles in St. Francisville. Dubbed one of the most haunted houses in America and featured on several television shows, the story behind the haunting goes: Chloe, a slave in the 1800’s was caught eavesdropping on a family conversation and the plantation owner severely punished her. In retaliation, Chloe poisoned the owner’s food and he died. To this day Chloe and the master are said to haunt each other. Now a Bed and Breakfast and Fine Restaurant, many people who visit The Myrtles have returned with tales of ghostly sitings. I have a friend who recently stayed at The Myrtles for a weekend getaway with her husband, and both say they knew little of the tale before going. Awakened around 2:00 a.m. by a gentleman in full Confederate uniform walking through her room, my friend awakened her husband, who quickly told her she was just having a dream and went back to sleep. Several minutes later, the gentleman walked back through the room a bit faster and was followed by a young girl in a bandana turban and 1800 garb. My friend grabbed only her purse and slippers, drove back to Baton Rouge and did not return for her clothes or husband until long after daybreak the next morning!
Jean Lafitte, “Pirate of the Gulf” was one of Louisiana’s most colorful residents. This “gentleman pirate” was a legend even in his day, called “The Hero of New Orleans” by some and “The Terror of the Gulf” by others. Part of the Louisiana Purchase, south Louisiana was a bit of a problem early on for the government. With vast marshlands and misunderstood inhabitants – the Creoles, Cajuns, Europeans and Indians, it was considered a “wasteland” and the government basically overlooked the area, leaving residents to fend for themselves. This provided a grand opportunity for the likes of Jean Lafitte. With ships and crews, he stole from foreign freighters and sold the wares, even black-market items, in the streets of New Orleans and along the bayous. Two U.S. Presidents condemned Lafitte as an outlaw. Though seen by others as an opportunist at best, he considered himself a gentleman and supporter of the American cause, though he never held citizenship. Lafitte was the first to step forward and volunteer to protect the mouth of the Mississippi from enemy hands during the Battle of New Orleans, which gained him exoneration by another U.S. President for his past. However, after the war Lafitte returned to his unsavory deeds and finally left America a wanted man. One can visit Lafitte’s blacksmith shop, one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter where this complex character conducted both legitimate and questionable business.
Marie Laveau / Voodoo Queen
– Marie Laveau, noted voodoo queen of New Orleans, was a real person who lived and died in the French Quarter and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1. One of the oldest “above ground” cemeteries in the city, St. Louis was the location of the famed cemetery scene in the film Easy Rider. Voodoo is a very curious and mysterious phenomenon with ancient West African origins. As the slave-holding colonies sought to “Americanize” the Africans, including teaching them their religion and faith, sometimes the result was a blend of the old and new. The voodoo of New Orleans emerged as such, a strange crossover into a religion of its own. Many tales surround Marie Laveau both in life and death, and to this day visitors to St. Louis Cemetery give accounts of her ghost roaming the grounds. The Light
– A phenomena indigenous to the swamplands, there are areas of south Louisiana where strange lights have been appearing in the same places for generations. Eyewitnesses all describe these lights the same – a single, bluish-white light that “floats” a few feet above the ground, being hundreds of feet away at one moment and then “jumping” to a few feet away the next. Many dismiss the phenomena as swamp gas, presumably caused by a combination of water, gases and vegetation. Of course the less scientific stories are more interesting - like the train conductor, lantern in hand, who is looking for his head that was lost in a terrible rail accident. In Grosse Tete, just 14 miles from where I grew up, there have been reports of such a light for as long as I can remember. One October night after a high school football game (many years ago), about 20 kids piled into the back of a truck and went to see “The Light”. I, and all my girlfriends made it very clear we didn’t believe such foolishness, and let the guy driving, who said he had seen it before, know he was buying the burgers if it didn’t appear! He parked his truck just off a road, with a swampy area about a hundred feet beyond. The scene alone was scary enough with an old abandoned house nearby, draped by giant oaks. We all jumped out of the truck laughing and talking, which prompted the guy who drove to tell us we needed to be quite. Still whispering and giggling, the girls continued to think this guy was crazy – that is until a bluish-white light appeared just beyond the swamp bank. One of the girls said, “You guys have someone out there just to scare us!” And then, in a split second, the light was 3 or 4 feet in front of the truck. After that, it was total chaos and screaming with legs and limbs clamoring for a spot in the cab. It was a quiet bunch all the way home and the burgers were forgotten! We still talk about that night when we get together, but none of us have ever returned! TRIVIA & TIDBITS
The name Baton Rouge means Red Stick
in French. When d’Ibervile sailed up the Mississippi in 1699 the spot was noted to be the first high bluff north of the Gulf of Mexico. The Houma and Bayou Goulas Indian tribes resided in the area and the bluff divided their hunting grounds. A dead cypress tree, looking more like a giant stick than tree, stood atop the bluff and here the Indians hung animal skins and fish to mark the hunting ground division. The tree was so stained with blood from the animals that it appeared to be a Red Stick, hence the name.
The lace-like Spanish moss
that gracefully drapes trees of Louisiana is neither “Spanish” nor “moss”. Actually it is an epiphyte or air plant. The Indians called it “tree hair”; the French “Spanish Beard” and the Spanish called it “Frenchman’s Wig”. By any name, it is a sight that is well known and loved in the Louisiana landscape.
The Battle of Baton Rouge
, in September of 1779, was the only battle of the American Revolution fought outside of the original 13 colonies.
The first official U.S. inland airmail flight
between cities was made on April 10th, 1912 from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. The mail was primarily composed of postcards people sent to themselves as memorabilia. Some of these postcards sold in recent years for as much as $80.00. The pilot, George Mestach, made the trip in an at the time record of 2 hours - 30 minutes longer than by car today! Interstate 10
through Louisiana stretches from Jacksonville, Florida on the Atlantic coast to the Pacific at Santa Monica, California. This is a 3,000-mile trek of continuous interstate
without a stop sign or traffic light. Baton Rouge boasts the first Pentagon buildings in the U.S.
, in the four 2 story buildings known as the Pentagon Barracks near the capitol. The buildings are thought to have been built around 1824 and have been continuously occupied for nearly 200 years, though with diverse occupants. The buildings have served as army posts, a Civil War headquarters, the first campus of Louisiana State University, government offices, and the site where General George Custer activated his Seventh Cavalry of Little Big Horn fame.
Prior to the Civil War, Louisiana had more millionaires than any other state in the Union and subsequently more ante-bellum homes than any other. Many were devastated during the Civil War and by infringing industry in more recent years, but many still remain offering beautiful sites and grounds to visit. Pictured here are the grounds of Houmas House, boasting the most extensive gardens of the plantations and well worth a visit during any season.
***The Ivory Button, a tradition of unknown origin, was installed to give notice to all who entered a home that the mortgage was paid off. Set in the main banister of the ground floor handrail, it was a subtle way for the owner to let his visitors know he “owned” the home without liens.
***Very few plantation homes had closets and outside stairways leading to the second floor were more common than inside stairwells. The reasons were for saving money rather than making some fashion / design statement. During the Spanish occupation of Louisiana, property taxes were based on the number of rooms within a home, and closets and stairwells were classified as rooms.
***Many people are surprised to find out that the slave quarters of plantation homes were not built of wood, rather than brick, to save money. Actually brick would have been more economical as most plantations had their own kilns on site. However, wood was used because many of the slaves were extremely superstitious and believing that bricks housed evil spirits, they would not sleep in a brick enclosed structure.
Dr. Titchenor’s famous antiseptic was introduced to the world in Baton Rouge during the Civil War. Dr. George H. Titchenor was wounded in Baton Rouge during the war and by the time he received medical attention it was determined his leg would have to be amputated. Protesting, he left the army hospital without leave to stay in a friend’s private residence. It was there he developed the antiseptic which brought him fame and fortune, but also saved his leg.
Louisiana is noted as a place where folks love to have fun and this was true in the 1900’s as well. Carrie Nation of prohibition and saloon smashing fame was invited to speak and hold one of her meetings in Baton Rouge by Reverend T. J. Baltz of the Anti-Vice league. While little is known of what happened after Ms. Nation arrived in town, what is known is that it was a great joke for there was no record of an Anti-Vice league and the only T.J. Baltz in town owned one of the most popular saloons in town!
The Cypress tree derives its name from Greek legend. Cyparissas, a young boy Greek mythology, accidentally killed his beloved stag playmate and asked the gods to let him mourn forever. Appollo granted the boy’s wish and changed him into a tree – drooping and sad looking, the cypress tree. To the people of Louisiana the tree may still look sad, but it is also considered a treasure. Living sometimes a thousand years and taking another thousand to rot, these trees are revered for the grace they bring the swamplands and their lumber is one of the most sought after building materials in the south.
The origin of Dixie, nickname for the south, has two versions. One is a reference to the Mason – Dixon line, which separated the north and south during Civil War days and the other involves New Orleans, prior to the Civil War. In the throws of a booming economy, the banks in New Orleans were often lined for miles with ships as there was not enough warehouse storage for all the cargo in port. The boatmen would leave ship wishing to spend their money but were met early on with quite a problem. New Orleans at the time was divided between the Americans on one side of Canal Street (center of town) and the Creoles on the other side in the French Quarter. The $10 bill was the prevalent bill of the day, and the boatmen found themselves in need of French tens on the Creole side of town and American currency on the other. An industrious New Orleans bank solved the problem by printing the $10 currency in English (ten) on one side of the note and French (Dix) on the other side. It is said the bills became known as “Dixies” among the seafarers and later how they referred to the south in general.