Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Oak Alley Plantation

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Oak Alley Plantation

As soon as I saw photos of Oak Alley Plantation’s grand entrance, I knew I had to come here and photograph it myself.

That mansion at the end of all those oak trees. How romantic and southern — it was something straight out of Gone with the Wind!

There were other mansions in South Carolina and Georgia, a few in Mississippi and Alabama, but this Louisiana plantation would be the one — and its location was ideal, just an hour from New Orleans. This was our first stop on the #SouthUSA road trip after picking our car up in New Orleans.

Oak Alley Plantation

The “Big House” of the plantation, the main house, is decorated in decor from the mid-nineteenth century.

From a distance, the Big House looks like a behemoth — but with just four bedrooms, it’s much smaller than what you’d expect for a rich family at the time. Far from the mansion you might expect.

Smoke Curtain

Lavender Room

Oak Alley Plantation

A docent dressed in a period costume led a large group around the Big House and taught us about life on Oak Alley plantation and the Romans, one of the most powerful families ever to live here.

A few tidbits that she shared with us:

Men were welcomed to Oak Alley Plantation with a glass of rum. It was considered unladylike to drink rum, so instead women were given fruit — fruit that had been soaking in rum for quite some time, that is!

Courting Candle

“Courting candles” like this one were used by girls’ fathers when potential future husbands came to visit. The father would turn the candle to a certain height — tall if he liked the suitor, short if he didn’t care for him — and the suitor would be permitted to stay until the candle burned beneath the top rung.

Welcome Pineapple

You might know that pineapples are a sign of welcome. At Oak Alley Plantation, guests were often welcomed with a pineapple on a tray in their room. But if they were given a second pineapple the next day, it was a not-so-subtle sign that they had overstayed their welcome.

The Big House was a beautiful place to visit, as was the alley leading up to it. But as much as I enjoyed it here, I came here for a different purpose.

I couldn’t do this big trip through the South without taking time to see where slavery once took place.

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation was once home to 110 slaves, all of them living in shacks behind the Big House. Reconstructed shacks now house an exhibit on slavery at the plantation.

It’s impossible to condense the full-scale horrors of slavery into a finite product. The American Girl books featuring Addy, a girl who escapes slavery with her mother? Excellent history, but they’re sanitized for kids. Django Unchained? Sure didn’t shy away from the horror, but come on, now. Roots? Very good, but antiquated.

The two films that, in my opinion, do the best job of depicting the horrors of slavery, are Amistad and 12 Years a Slave. Either of those films will rip you open and haunt you.

Oak Alley’s slavery exhibit doesn’t take that approach. Instead, it’s a historical display of the aspects of slaves’ lives. The more horrifying aspects of slavery are kept under wraps, making this an exhibit appropriate for children.

Even so, you occasionally see something that stops you in your tracks.

Oak Alley Plantation

While it may seem to be an overly smoothed over version of slavery veering away from the most difficult aspects, it’s still an excellent historical display. Oak Alley’s goal is to honor each of the slaves that once lived on the plantation.

Oak Alley Plantation

Throughout the exhibit, stories of the slaves’ lives are told, like Antoine’s. A local botanist was attempting to cultivate pecan trees with softer shells and failed at every turn. Despondent, he asked Jacques Roman if one of his slaves could keep trying to cultivate them.

Antoine, a gardener and skilled arborist, was given the task. Within two years, Antoine had successfully cultivated the pecan trees and had grown them into an impressive orchard.

“Jacques took great pride in his orchard, but it was Antoine’s achievement we remember today,” reads the exhibit.

Oak Alley Plantation

Antoine’s father, Zephyr, had another story. Jacques Roman’s late mother, Louise, insisted two things upon her death: that Zephyr be freed and that he never be separated from his family.

Jacques Roman freed Zephyr, but his wife and sons remained enslaved. Zephyr stayed with them on the plantation, now working for wages. His goal was to save enough money to buy his wife Zaire’s freedom, which took ten years and cost him $350. By that point, Zephyr was 70 and Zaire was 60.

They were free — and they continued to stay on the plantation.

Oak Alley Plantation

Every since my visit, I’ve been thinking about the slaves who lived and worked here all their lives with no escape. While this was by no means a comprehensive lesson on the horrors that slaves went through on a day to day basis, it was moving to see one of these places first-hand. If you’re coming to the South, I recommend you visit one of these plantations for yourself.

Essential Info: Oak Alley Plantation is about a one-hour drive from New Orleans in the town of Vacherie. Admission is $20 for adults, $7.50 for teenagers and $4.50 for children. Tours of the Big House are included in the cost of admission and take place every 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a car, there are several group tours to Oak Alley Plantation that depart from New Orleans.

The #SouthUSA campaign is brought to you by Country Inns and Suites by Carlson and Holiday Autos. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Comments

44 Responses to “Oak Alley Plantation”
  1. Gary Dauphin says:

    Thank you for this terrific article and wonderful photographs. We also think you did a good job outlining the history of the plantation, and in particular the exhibit ‘Slavery at Oak Alley.”

    We believe it is very important that we tell not only an accurate history of the plantation, but a *complete* history, which must include the enslaved community that live here. The enslaved community, frankly, made the plantation owners wealthy, while living in inhumane conditions.

    We worked hard to tell an open and honest history of the enslaved community, as one part of the plantation’s history. At the same time we had to build an exhibit that was educational and engaging, that would be helpful to visitors of all ages, and would meet modern building codes. It was a very challenging project that took over two years to research and build, and we think we did an good job under challenging circumstances!

    Thank you for visiting with us, and for this fine article.

    • Gary, thank you for the comment and for including the information that you do. You’ve got a wonderful exhibit and I hope that everyone visiting New Orleans take the time to visit Oak Alley.

  2. Katrina says:

    Very sobering when you actually put yourself into their shoes. I have not yet seen 12 Years a Slave, but plan to. Here in Virginia we have quite a few plantations open for tours, and it’s all so grand and you try to picture yourself as living in the big house. Then you see the slave quarters and realize that not everyone lived such a charmed life. Thanks for the post.

  3. Raffaella says:

    Gorgeous photos, well-articulated thoughts. It’s always hard to combine enjoying a place aesthetically when it’s haunted by something as viscerally shameful as slavery.

  4. Well written information on the slavery portion. I think it gets overlooked, which is a shame. Most like to go for the plantation but should be reminded of the slavery it took to run such beautiful plantations.

  5. Amanda says:

    That first photo is amazing!

    I agree that visiting one of these big Southern plantations is a must. I went to Boone Hall last summer in South Carolina (which has a similarly dramatic tree-lined driveway) and not only really enjoyed it, but also felt like I learned a lot.

    I would definitely visit this one if I was already in New Orleans, though!

  6. Quyen says:

    What a stunning Southern gem! It is definitely hard admire the beauty of the plantation and also witness the sobering realities of slavery. A fascinating experience for any history buff!
    http://liveitinerantly.com/

  7. Francisco says:

    Without a doubt, one of the darkest moments in American history. A lot of sacrifice for a objective that only benefits for some.Besides that what a romantic and beautiful main house it is.
    This plantation must be a big point of interest when you visit New Orleans!

  8. When I visit the south, I always stay away from the plantation. I feel like they soften the blow of our haunting history into a tourist attraction.

    However, your post did a great job to spot lighting the history of some of the slaves that lived there.

  9. Sofie says:

    I had no idea about the pineapple and the candle. Interesting way of being blunt without speaking.

    Still have to see Roots and Twelve years a slave. I really want to, but on the other hand I know that those movies will haunt me for a while.

  10. Renuka says:

    Oak Alley Plantation looks like a nice place. Very well described. I like the black and white pictures.

  11. Arti says:

    What a fascinating place! You have given a superb account of the beautiful mansion and the tid-bits were interesting to read too. But the best thing was that entrance through those Oak trees, as you mentioned, straight out of some novel!

  12. Exactly how I picture the deep south. I just love the look of those old oak trees lining the entrance. It looks so romantic and would be a great place to get married I think.

  13. Ilvenyc89 says:

    I have been reading all your entries this week and you have changed my mind and my life for the better. I used to be narrow minded about travelling and now I want to see the world and take chances. this blog has been a great learning experience for me !!! Thank you so much and keep blogging .

  14. Karisa says:

    Very nice post about Oak Alley Plantation. I’m happy to read your coverage of the slaves quarters. When I visited Oak Alley in January that exhibit really impressed me. The names on the wooden wall was such a strong statement too. My docent informed us that in the future there will be tours offered of the slaves quarters-I would love to go back and take that tour!

  15. Catherine says:

    What a beautiful house. Such a shame about the history of it though. The horrors that so many people must have experience there are literally unthinkable. The thing is, even when you stop and think about it and put yourselves in their shoes, what you’re imagining is probably nothing compared to what they went through. That’s the scary part.

  16. Phil says:

    It’s been a few years since I visited Oak Alley. The images you have captured are almost better than I remember when I visited. While slavery is abhorrent, it is part of the history of the south. It is important to understand that history if one want’s to understand the southern United States today.

    Thanks for a great post!

  17. Alicia says:

    These are beautiful photos, Kate – what kind of camera/lens do you use?

  18. singh says:

    great blog i must say you done good job very nice pictures.
    Dubai Desert Safari

  19. Katie says:

    I really like how you depicted the history of slavery in connection with the plantation, as well as specific stories. Love the pics of Oak Alley too! Gorgeous place with a ton of history! Could you imagine if our dads still lit a candle for our “suitors”?

  20. I just watched 12 Years a Slave, so the thought of slaves was at the back of my mind when I saw the first photo. Thanks for sharing their stories and including the photo of the slaves’ quarters.

  21. Sofia Rhodes says:

    Frankly speaking, It gives a rich look to visitors and creates a different view in itself.. I loved the way to took pics.. really awesome.. Do upload more pictures..!!

  22. Eric White says:

    Haha I love that they gave women rum-soaked fruit instead of rum. What’s the logic there, I wonder?

  23. Nice photos Kate. Well-articulated post. I agree that this plantation is a must to visit place.

  24. Anna says:

    I’d love to visit that place. Love how you contrast the life of the plantation owners with that of the slaves. It’s really moving.

  25. Ryan says:

    This is an awesome article Kate. I love how you are able to make a perfect pairing of the beauty of the property and its slave past. It’s almost a weird feeling when I look at plantation homes like this, because they are absolutely stunning and I want to be like, “Oh wow I want this to be my house!” and then I counter that with the fact that they enslaved people. Great photos.

  26. Lovely post! Oak Alley Plantation is at the top of my list when I visit New Orleans next year.

    Happy travels :)

  27. Victoria says:

    The house is obviously beautiful as most of the mansions were but when you think of how they built and maintained the plantations. It’s pretty horrible. You did a good job of touching that most sensitive of subjects in a relevant, but educated way.

  28. Julie says:

    Okay, first off I just want to comment that I’m so jealous Oak Alley allows interior photographs now! I visited back in 2007 and it was verbotten but my parents visited last Christmas and my dad came back with some, and now yours. Gorgeous by the way :)

    Yes, it’s easy to visit these stunning edifices and forget that it wasn’t the individuals drinking their mint juleps who built them but rather the forced efforts of slaves who lived and worked under horrific conditions. I applaud plantations that show both sides of the story and clearly are dedicated to preserving its slave past as well.

  29. Wow, such incredible photos and a dive into the history.
    Thank you so much for sharing the dark story to this place as well.
    It’s vey important to also share the history.

  30. April says:

    Hey, this place is awesome! I feel like I’m in an ancient movie ahile looking and reading at this post. Oak Alley Plantation looks really beautiful and a wonderful place to visit. I hope to get the chance to walk that narrow road with the beautiful trees around it. Such a priceless moment it would be. Thanks for sharing!

  31. Aude Gori says:

    Hi Kate!

    Do you recommend to travel alone to New Orleans. I really want to go in February 2015, it’s been on my list forever. Mardi Gras happens around the time I want to go.

    Is it ok to travel alone to New Orleans alone? (I’ve never travelled alone and none of my friends are available or want to go).

    Greetz from Brussels, Belgium

    • You can do it, Aude. It wouldn’t be my first choice for a solo trip, but it absolutely can be done. My top recommendation is to make ABSOLUTELY sure that you have a hotel within walking distance of the French Quarter, as cabs are impossible to come by during Mardi Gras and there is no Uber. There are lots of hotels in the central business district, which is next to the French Quarter.

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