Santa may come to visit your house in a sleigh with 8 tiny reindeer but along the Mississippi River in Louisiana he rides in a John Boat pulled by 3 green crocodiles.
December 18 – 24, 2019.
I may have mentioned before that I have a niece, Ariadne, who lives in New Orleans. Whenever we pass by her way we stop to visit. We always do something fun and completely different from the last time we visited. Besides the things we are going to talk about in this blog post we also listened to some Jazz on Frenchman Street, saw Ariadne’s boyfriend, Ian, perform in a Christmas Play, ate out a bit, and walked around Ariadne’s lovely neighborhood in the Treme. I wonder if we will ever wear New Orleans out.
Infinity Science Center
But before we made it to New Orleans we had one more place to visit on our own.
The Infinity Science Center is located right next to a rest area we have stopped at many times on our way to and from the Crescent City. And every time we’ve stopped we’ve said to each other, let’s check it out some time. This was our time.
I looked into ticket prices on their website and found them a little bit steep ($18 per person/$15 per senior). But this was before I clicked on the Senior Wednesday link. Every Wednesday seniors get in for only $9 per person. And you only have to be 55 to qualify as a senior. Yay (Eek!), we are both seniors!
The Senior Wednesday link also said that there were shuttle tours to the nearby NASA rocket testing facility, the John C. Stennis Space Center, but when we arrived at Infinity we found out the tours were no longer being offered. We did get to watch a short movie about the facility (see picture below).
As Werner Von Braun reportedly said, “You can’t get to the moon without going through Mississippi”. Why? NASA needs to test those rocket engines. The Stennis test facility was designed for this. It is in remote swampland, but close to rail, road, and river. Engines are mounted over large 90-degree chutes, which have water sprayed in during tests. Fuel is pumped in from large tanks. The tests generate lots of steam.
Interior of a fun interactive deep-sea exercise. Your module descends to inspect a gulf oil rig. You see wildlife on the way. Oh no! A valve on the bottom has sprung a leak. At the bottom, you have a short time to maneuver your craft and fix the leak. The window damage on the right occurs on your ascent. What could have broken your windows like that?
Interior of the US-manufactured segment of International Space Station.
Sleeping chamber in model of US-manufactured part of the ISS. It’s vertical, but that doesn’t matter in space.
This interactive display allows you to create hurricanes. Start by manipulating low-pressure system over the US, high pressure over the Atlantic, and storm off the coast of Africa. If you get everything just right your hurricane can wreak havoc on the US.
Code emergency responders leave when checking a home after a disaster. Top has date home was searched. Left has initials of responders. Right indicates hazards like gas leak. Bottom has number of dead bodies found.
This monitor shows shock waves whenever you stomp on the floor.
First stage of Apollo 19 mission, which never materialized. Most of the stage holds fuels, which must be kept at dramatically different temperatures. Black and white striping allows monitors to watch the rocket’s spin.
Apollo 14 capsule after descent through the atmosphere and recovery from the ocean. If you were on the Apollo 15 crew, would you take pause after seeing this banged up, burnt up thing?
Full-sized mock-up of Apollo lunar lander. Astronauts used this to practice entering, exiting, and doing tasks on the exterior.
F-1 Engine used to power Apollo Saturn V launches. This liquid propellant engine generates over 1.5 million pounds of thrust.
Barataria Preserve at Jean LaFitte National Historical Park and Preserve Louisiana
Once in New Orleans, my niece took us on a nice hike in the Barataria Preserve on the other side of the Mississippi River just a little outside of the city limits.
The Barataria Preserve is one of the Jean Lafitte Historical Park’s six sites and the third one we have visited (only 3 more to go – guess we will have to come back).
Old cypress spared from the timber harvest days at Jean LaFitte.
Racoon seems to say “Go away! I would let you eat your escargot in peace”.
Racoon dining. There are a lot of empty snail shells around (like the one on the left).
Spanish moss at Jean LaFitte.
Spanish moss hangs over hyacinth-filled canal at Jean LaFitte.
Blue heron at Jean LaFitte National Park.
I knew nothing about Whitney Plantation when Ariadne suggested we go. The Plantation was definitely pricy for us ($25 per person plus tip for our tour guide) but I didn’t think Ariadne would steer us wrong.
Whitney Plantation is a little different from many of the other plantations who have opened up their doors for tours. Whitney’s main focus isn’t on the antebellum lifestyle of the plantation owners but rather on the life of the slaves.
Statue of one of the slave children from Whitney Plantation. Many of the children born into slavery here were still alive during the Depression.
As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, WPA researchers recorded interviews with former slaves to preserve their stories. Here are more statues of Whitney slave children.
…and more statues. In the WPA interviews the grown former slaves told of the brutality of conditions living as the working property of other people.
As part of the tour each everyone is given a lanyard with a picture of one of these statues and a short paragraph transcribed from their WPA interview. Mine was of Francis Doby (second from the left). He was 100 years old when he was interviewed.
Memorial for slaves at Whitney Plantation.
Memorial for slaves at Whitney Plantation. This is one memorial at one plantation. The Mississippi River was lined on both sides with sugar plantations from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
Memorial to the many babies who died at Whitney Plantation.
During the sugar harvest plantations like Whitney became factories. Slaves where imported from other areas, sometimes doubling the population. Fires were lit under strings of kettles like these, and manned 24*7. For weeks sugar was cooked, and ladled by hand down the line of kettles until it became molasses.
Slave cages at Whitney Plantation.
A long handled sugar ladle in a kitchen at Whitney Plantation.
The Plantation house and live oak trees. Even after Emancipation many of Whitney’s former slaves still toiled in the fields and the sugar factory where low wages and perpetual debt to the company store meant that they continued to live in bondage.
Festivals of the Bonfires
The Festivals of the Bonfires is a long-held tradition by the people who live in St. James Parish in the towns of Gramercy, Lutcher, and Paulina that border the Mississippi River. Starting around Thanksgiving residents start building log teepees atop the river’s levee. On Christmas Eve they light them on fire to illuminate a path for Papa Noel (Santa Claus).
We had a plan to see the fires on Christmas Eve but I really wanted to see the structures before they went up in flames. On our drive to the Whitney Plantation, we drove right through one of the towns, Gramercy, where some of the bonfires would take place. So after our tour, we made a detour back through the town to see what was going to be burning.
Structures sit on top of the levee in Gramercy ready to be set on fire.
Most people start building their structures around Thanksgiving. Some people wait until the last minute.
Some structures are decorated for the holidays.
This wooden alligator was also built to be burned on Christmas Eve. It was featured on the National News.
Festivities around the alligator.
And then everything was lit on fire on Christmas Eve.
It was quite a scene.
And there are fireworks too.
View through the fire.
Someone was handing out sparklers.
I read somewhere that there were emergency vehicles/personnel on hand but we didn’t see any.
Eerie glow on the hill.
Fires as far as you could see.
And more fire.
And more fireworks.
People partying on top of the levee. To the left, you can see the glow of a petrochemical factory – the main industry in this part of Louisiana.
I don’t know, do you think Papa Noel found his way to Gramercy?