Home of the annual Mardi Gras celebration, Louisiana is located in the southern region of the United States of America, and, is the only state in the nation which doesn’t have counties but “parishes!”
Neighbored by Arkansas (north), Mississippi (east), Texas (west), and the Gulf of Mexico (south), the state has mostly shaped from deposits that washed ashore the Mississippi River. As a result, the state is highly rich in marshlands, swamps, huge estuaries, and a diverse variety of flora and fauna.
Officially called the Pelican State after the state bird, The Eastern Brown Pelican, Louisiana was named after King Louis XIV (King of France, 1643 – 1715) and was known as ‘La Louisiana’ at the time, meaning “Land of Louis.”
While the state has a lot to flaunt – Breaux Bridge the Crawfish Capital of the World, Dubach the Dog Trot capital of the World, Mamou the Cajun Music Capital of the World, Crowley the Rice Capital of the World, and much more, it is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Paul Prudhomme, the celebrity chef often regarded as the inventor of Turducken (it’s chicken inside a duck inside a turkey recipe)!
A state with several cards up its sleeves and more nicknames than its number of ‘parishes’, Louisiana has much to offer in terms of secret spots and ultimate discoveries. Let’s take a look at some of the hidden gems in Louisiana and dive into the many amusements that await us.
1. Frenier Cemetery, Laplace
Julia Brown, considered a faith healer and a voodoo priestess (depending on the varied needs of the town residents), predicted the end of Laplace long before it happened, but, no one took the admonition seriously. Unfortunately, for them, the only remaining thing in Laplace, Louisiana today is a cemetery full of graves.
Julia lived in the town during the early 20th century, and, even though people believed her to be an oracle, they kept their distance from her for the same supernatural reasons. One day, sitting on her front porch, Julia, in her most gloomy tone, hummed, “One day I’m going to die and take the whole town with me.”
The town attended Julia’s funeral on September 29th, 1915 – the same day that the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915 wiped Laplace off of Louisiana’s map. All but two residents were killed; the two survivors were out of town on the day.
Now, Julia and the whole town rest six feet under the grounds of Frenier Cemetery.
2. The Eiffel Tower of New Orleans, New Orleans
On the streets of St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana stands the Restaurant de La Tour Eiffel, the former celebrated restaurant that once stood atop the real Eiffel Tower.
In 1981, restoration work at the most-visited paid monument in the world established that the restaurant needed to be taken down for it was too heavy to be sitting atop the edifice. Heartbreakingly, the restaurant was torn down piece by piece and stored in boxes.
When Daniel Bonnot, a prominent French Chef, and his partner, John Onorio heard news of the event, they jumped at the idea of acquiring the parts. The duo paid $1.5 million to have it shipped to New Orleans, where the restaurant was rewarded with a (short-lived) second chance. Even though the restaurant opened with a grand crowd, the restaurant had to be shut down within three years due to financial stress.
Several attempts were made to transform it into nightclubs and eateries, but, nothing lasted.
At present, the construction serves as an event space and museum known as the Eiffel Society.
3. Lake Peigneur, Erath
A simple workplace mistake can create an enormous whirlpool of regret, literally.
Lake Peigneur, until the late 1980s, was a small freshwater lake that covered 1,300 acres of land and was popular for recreation and fishing. However, on November 20th, 1980, everything changed dramatically.
At the time, Texaco was drilling the land underneath the lake for oil, but, a miscalculation by the workers led them to drill through the ceiling of the salt mine that laid below the lake. While the workers escaped in time (from the drill site as well as the mine), what unfolded in front of them was perhaps one of the biggest man-made whirlpools in history!
The ground around the lake shook frantically, and in no time, the 10-feet-deep Lake Peigneur had consumed everything that surrounded her – 65 acres of land, eleven barges, houses, forests, and a 150-foot-tall rig. Not only did the effect result in the (temporary) tallest waterfall in the state, it was also the only moment in the history of mankind that the Gulf of Mexico flowed North!
So, the next time your boss looks at you funny for missing a simple deadline – you know which story to tell him, don’t you?
4. Kentwood Historical and Cultural Arts Museum, Kentwood
The town of Kentwood has very little to celebrate except that this is where the alleged ‘queen of pop’, Britney Spears, was born.
As a token of love for their beloved singer, the residents have established a small exhibition, known as the Kentwood Historical and Cultural Arts Museum, that commemorates the singing career and life journey of Britney Spears. Four rooms dedicated to plentiful fan photos, artifacts, a case filled with her awards, and a light-up Britney are one of the two major attractions in the museum.
The second attraction, drastically different than the first, is an homage to the heroic, local soldiers who fought World War II. A machine gun from the time, few trinkets that the soldiers brought back home, and a dummy battleship narrates the history of the town.
5. Abandoned Jazzland, New Orleans
Six Flags is regarded as the largest regional theme park company in the world. With around 18 sites across North America, it is by far one of the most popular of its kind anywhere. Jazzland, in New Orleans, was one of the Six Flag Parks that served the city for over five years before Hurricane Katrina rendered it abandoned and silenced on August 29th, 2005.
Once a major attraction, the Park was hit by Hurricane Katrina when it struck the Gulf of Mexico. Water that flooded Jazzland rose to six-feet high and turned the whole site upside down.
When restoration work began in the town, the amusement park was considered too expensive to be restored and thus, was scheduled to be torn down.
The remnants of the amusement park are closed to the public, but, urban explorers, on a quest to quench their thirst for adventure, trespass to experience the once-thriving-now-post Apocalyptic wonderland.
6. Grace Episcopal Church, St. Francisville
The American Civil War, one of the gravest in the nation’s history, lasted till May 9th, 1865, however, for a brief period of time in the history of St. Francisville, the Confederates stood shoulder to shoulder with the Union soldiers in honor of Lt. Commander John E. Hart, the commander of Union warship, U.S.S. Albatross.
In the first half of 1863, the war between the two groups was at its peak. U.S.S. Albatross, led by Lt. Commander Hart, was one of the two Union ships that breached the Confederate blockade around Port Hudson, a community 12 miles far from St. Francisville. Grace Episcopal Church was an easy mark and was continually targeted by the Union soldiers.
However, on June 12th, 1863, the firings stopped unexpectedly. The commander, who was insanely unwell, had taken his own life. To the absolute disbelief of the Confederates, a small boat with a white flag approached them, requesting an honorable Masonic funeral service in the churchyard for Hart.
Considering Hart was a practicing Mason, W.W. Leake, the Confederate Officer, a fellow Mason, and the warden of the state’s oldest chapter of Masons in St. Francisville, arranged for the burial. And, in a moment of bizarre circumstances, the Civil War Stopped for the two sides – at least momentarily.
7. The Singing Oak, New Orleans
Across the street from the New Orleans Museum of Art stands a local artist’s masterpiece that is often overlooked by passers-by, unless they take a minute to stand near the giant Oak that stands at the middle of City Park.
The Signing Oak aka the Chime Tree is known, by the few who have experienced it, not only for the relief that it offers from the blazing sun but also for the enchanting music that it creates as the wind blows through it.
Local Artist Jim Hart strung several wind chimes onto the branches of the Oaktree, which, when blown by the wind, produce a melodious symphony. The chimes have been all painted black to merge with the color of the tree branches.
The tallest wind chime on the tree is 14-feet-long!
8. Abita Mystery House, Abita Springs
Unusual Collections and Mini-town (UCM) Museum aka Abita Mystery House was created by a local painter, John Preble, who drew his inspiration from New Mexico’s Tinkertown Museum and began collecting all possible junk and scrap material that he could get his hands on.
Crafted out of numerous discarded items, found objects, and peculiar handmade creations, Abita Mystery House comprises not one but many buildings, each filled with a different kind of idiosyncrasy – art cars, arcade machines, mosaic tiles, creole cottage, and miniature towns.
You could also attend a push-button activated “jazz funeral”, or, befriend Darrell, the dogigator (well, what else would you name a half-dog half-alligator?).
9. Saint Roch Chapel, New Orleans
When yellow fever struck the Gulf Coast in 1817, New Orleans alone suffered a loss of 40,000 residents. Reverend Peter Thevis couldn’t bear the loss anymore, and, in 1867, he decided to dedicate his prayers to Saint Roch, Patron Saint of Good Health.
Saint Roch had reportedly saved many lives from the wrath of plague and several other untreatable diseases.
When he was banished from his parish due to contraction of black death, Saint Roch went into hiding in a nearby forest. A dog, who belonged to a local, brought him bread and licked his wounds.
As the rest of the story goes, the licking healed the Saint, after which the dog owner found him and became his disciple.
It is believed that Reverend Thevis and his community suffered no losses during the epidemic of yellow fever.
Today, believers continue to pray to Saint Roch for good health and leave their dental plates, polio braces, and other prosthetic body parts as offerings.
10. The Myrtles Plantation, St. Francisville
Speculation has been made that the Myrtle Plantation is built over a cemetery. While this may or may not be true, there are certainly other (true) stories that make this present-day B&B one of the most haunted houses in the United States of America.
As the oldest tale goes, the property was owned and constructed by David Bradford in 1796. “Whiskey Dave” was a notable personality in Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion and his home was a real-time plantation with several slaves working for him. Chloe was one of the slaves who worked at the property, but, was banished due to some minor differences with her employer.
To restore her work status, Chloe tried to cure Bradford’s ill grandchildren with a herbal remedy which, inopportunely, ended up taking their lives. As a punishment, Chloe was hung from a tree at the plantation yard and later thrown into the Mississippi River.
The property changed several owners, and inexplicably, a lot of children passed away from different diseases.
11. Fort Proctor, St. Bernard Parish
A castle-like fort intended to protect New Orleans from its enemies, Fort Proctor was erected after the city was attacked by the British Army in 1814. Floating amidst Lake Borgne in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, the citadel, regrettably, was destroyed in a hurricane soon after it was completed.
By the time reconstruction could begin on Fort Proctor, Civil War had taken over America, and, consequently, all attention was diverted to the war at hand. When the battle was finally over, all that was left of the fortress was an obsolete, rotten edifice which wasn’t of any use to anyone.
Today, the Fort is accessible by kayaks or small boats only, and, is a great site for urban explorers to navigate around the submerged foundations and collapsed walls.
12. Séance Room at Muriel’s Jackson Square, New Orleans
Muriel’s Jackson Square in New Orleans, Louisiana is not like your usual restaurant. And, we mean it! Where else in the world can you get to relish a plate of your Creole delicacy next to a séance room which is dedicated to the ghosts of the city’s past?
Originally a holding facility for slaves, the building was partially destroyed in 1788 in the Great New Orleans Fire. Later, the new owner, Pierre Lepardi Jourdan, restored the building and moved here with his family.
Unfortunately, Jourdan lost the house in a game of poker in 1814, and, before he could be forced out of his own home, he committed suicide on the second floor.
Several owners later, the building was open to the public once again in 2001, this time as a restaurant, but, it preserved much of the original structure. A séance room was created on the second floor after several accounts of paranormal activities were reported.
Every night, a table at the restaurant with offerings of wine and bread is reserved for Jourdan.
13. Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, Gibsland
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two names that redefined the image of criminals from shabby and mean villains to extremely glamorous and sexy personalities, will forever be remembered in the history of America as a “power couple” who dominated the nation’s crime scene during the Great Depression.
When they weren’t traveling around the country or taking photos, they liked to rob and steal (and occasionally shoot their way out of a confrontation). A story that strangely reminds us of a roguish Romeo and Juliet, the tale of Bonnie and Clyde ended pretty much the Shakespearean way – bullets and bloodshed.
Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum commemorates the spot where the epic “couple” died in a car after being fired at by six police officers. Owner L.J. Hinton, son of Ted Hinton (one of the officers at the shooting), has stored several related artifacts from the scene – firearms, windshield from the “car” (the actual automobile is in Vegas), replicas of their tombstone, and Bonnie’s red hat!
14. Museum of Death, New Orleans
Originally established in California by J.D. Healy and Catherine Schultz, this one-of-a-kind collection was brought to New Orleans in 1995. A compilation of autopsy videos, letters and paintings by serial killers, shrunken heads, and all such death-related oddities line the rows at the Museum of Death in the French Quarter.
Definitely not for the faint-hearted or people with weak guts, the exhibits at the museum can sometimes be considered extremely graphic.
Among the peculiar yet intriguing objects on display are a business card from Jack “Sparky” Ruby who killed Lee Harvey Oswald (who killed President Kennedy), paintings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy aka the “Killer Clown”, letters from serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer aka the “Milwaukee Cannibal” and Ted Kaczynski aka the “Unabomber”, Manson family photos, and, more significantly, the Thanatron – a euthanasia device invented by Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
Though there is no age restriction on visitors, the elaborative details at the facility can be hard to digest sometimes. Don’t worry though. If you aren’t as strong as you thought you are, and, you faint on our tour of the museum, you get a free t-shirt that commemorates your “passing out and living to talk about it” glory.
15. Angola Prison Rodeo, St. Francisville
For the last 50 years, Angola State Penitentiary has been conducting a one-of-a-kind event which, although seems barbaric and precarious to spectators, gives inmates a sense of freedom and power that they otherwise lack in their daily lives.
Open to the public since 1967, the Angola Prison Rodeo is an annual event that takes place in the month of October (Sundays) and for one weekend in April. While it’s not the only of its kind, it is the longest-running prison rodeo in the country. Hosted in a stadium that holds 10,000 onlookers, the Prison Rodeo is full of exciting, daring events.
Bull riding, wild cow milking, and bareback riding are some of the traditional events at the Rodeo, while a few less-traditional sports such as bull poker (for those of you who are unaware – it requires four men to sit at a poker table while a raging bull makes his way towards them; the last man at the table wins) are held as well.
16. Holt Cemetery, New Orleans
New Orleans is often regarded as one giant necropolis, and rightly so. A town with most of its dead buried above ground, Holt Cemetery, a burial site filled with hand-made graves and grave markers, sets itself apart by being one of the very few which has 99% of its deceased buried underground.
Unofficially used as a potter’s grave for several years, the Cemetery was formally established in 1879 by Dr. Joseph Holt. As long as the family members and next generations of the deceased manage and maintain the site, the Cemetery remains with them. Mostly used by African Americans, the departed are buried in wooden caskets which decompose faster than usual and allows for the sites to be reused.
Unlike the eerie vibe that a place of such kind reflects, the handmade tombstones, teddy bears, plastic flowers, and other such touching decorations make the Holt Cemetery a rather loving place for the dead to rest.
17. Avery Island Tabasco Museum and Factory, New Iberia
Avery Island in New Iberia, Louisiana is known for two things – one, that the island is made of salt, and, two, that it is home to the McIlhenny Company, a family-owned business that has been producing Tabasco for the last five generations!
The island, also known as a “salt dome” due to its distinctive geological formation, has fields full of a one-off red pepper which is used to create the popular hot sauce. And, since 1868, the founders of the McIlhenny Company have been doing just that and much more.
Originally, just a factory where gallons and gallons of Tabasco were produced, the family business now manages a restaurant, a museum, and a country store. A recipe that has been used for over 150 years, Tabasco is not only a household name in the United States but the whole world.
Avery Island also houses the Jungle Gardens, a wildlife reserve founded by Edward McIlhenny who is the son of Edmund McIlhenny, the creator of Tabasco.
18. Bonfires on the Levee for Papa Noel, Lutcher
Come December, the locals of St. James Parish in Lutcher, Louisiana come together to build innumerable pyres of different shapes and sizes, sometimes designed to signify a historic moment of that year, which are burnt every day throughout the month until the finale on Christmas Eve.
Essentially, the pyres mostly resemble a teepee or a pyramid, but, quite often, they have been designed in the shape of trains, beer bottles, or other such markers of Louisiana. One pyre is lit every day until Christmas eve when all the remaining pyres are ignited, followed by fireworks.
Though it is hard to tell why and when the traditions started, a recent explanation entails that the celebrations are hosted by the region’s populous French population in honor of Papa Noel, the legendary Santa Claus of France and other French-speaking countries.
19. Cottage Plantation, St. Francisville
For southern America, much like the rest of the country, a lot changed during the Civil War period. The tension was so much and so deep that it caused a ripple effect for many years even after the war ended. Consequently, much of America changed and is now divided into two eras – pre-War and post-War.
Very less remains from the pre-war period now, except for the occasional war memorials, battlefield stories, museums, and a few relics here and there. But, in Cottage Plantation, St. Francisville, not much seems to have changed. A common plantation as it seems at first glance, the striking feature of this plantation is its ability to remain intact – lands, constructions, furniture, slave cabins, greenhouses, and even the cemetery.
Once home to Thomas Butler, the notable local Judge, Cottage Plantation claims to have hosted Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, who reportedly recovered here after being injured in the Battle of New Orleans.
Now a Bed and Breakfast, the property allows you to stay in his room as well as explore the plantation that still looks like it’s stuck in the 1800s.
20. Fort Livingston, Grand Isle
There are several pirate stories haunting the barrier islands of Louisiana and the Grand Isle is no different. Once inhabited by pirate captain Jean Lafitte and his group, Fort Livingston was built into what it is in 1834 after the government freed the land from under the control of the pirate community who lived there.
Construction at the Fort couldn’t be completed due to the outbreak of Civil War, nonetheless, much of the structure was already built and used by the Confederate soldiers who took refuge within the unfinished walls of the citadel. The soldiers left after New Orleans was taken, and, it was given over to a small group before being completely abandoned after a hurricane in 1872.
Even after a century, Fort Livingston remains more intact than you could imagine. Accessible only by a boat or a kayak, explorers can visit the fort and observe the wildlife living in and around it.
21. Bayou St. John Confederate Submarine, Baton Rouge
While workers cleared the Bayou St. John in 1878, they stumbled over something strange, a Submarine with no clear history.
Allegedly, the “supposed” Confederate Submarine was built sometime in 1862. After several years of being left stranded at the shore, the submarine was exhibited at the Spanish Fort park museum, where it was mistakenly identified as the Pioneer, another Civil War Era Submarine.
The 20-feet-long watercraft is constructed out of riveted iron and has a hand-cranked propeller.
Though the origin and story of the submarine remain unidentified till date, it is now on display at the Louisiana State Museum.
22. Rayne Frog Festival, Rayne
Among the many names that are attributed to Louisiana and its towns, Rayne’s is perhaps the strangest one. After all, where else do you think you can find a town known as the “Frog Capital of the World?”
Louisiana was known for its flourishing frog industry since the 1880s when a Frenchman named Donat Pucheu started trading frog legs in New Orleans. Home of the Louisiana Frog Company Plant at the time, Rayne is known to have exported around 500,000 frogs in 1937, some of which weighed as much as three pounds.
When the industry faced a substantial decline in the 1970s, the locals of Rayne decided to throw a Frog Festival. Since the first carnival in 1973, the town has been hosting the festival every year in November.
Themed pageants, long parades, and kissing of live frogs are some of the events that take place during the festival. The concluding finale, however, is a night full of gorging on frog leg delicacies!
23. Touchstone Wildlife and Art Museum, Haughton
Touchstone Wildlife and Art Museum is a family-owned collection of curious collectibles that has been entertaining visitors in the United States since it was first established in 1981.
A roadside attraction, the Museum houses over one thousand stuffed animals and mounted animal skins which are displayed against a painted simulation of their natural habitats.
Some of the animals on exhibit are zebras, gorillas, tigers, deer, snow leopard, and a skulk of foxes.
Among other non-taxidermy related demonstrations are war memorabilia and a collection dedicated to pop-culture miscellanies like Star Trek and Bonnie and Clyde.
A section on American Indian dioramas are under construction, but, they have already been put on display so visitors can observe the artists as they create the artifacts.
24. Ignatius J. Reilly Statue, New Orleans
Outside the Hyatt Centric in New Orleans, Louisiana is the statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, a character who is known for his lead role in John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer-prize winning comic novel, A Confederacy of Dunces.
In Toole’s story, Reilly wanders around the streets of a slightly-fictional New Orleans in search of employment. The novel’s and the novel writer’s strong ties to the city led to the erection of the statue outside the former D.H. Holmes Department Store, where, as per the story, Reilly waits for his mother.
The novel was published 11 years after the famed author committed suicide (of depression and paranoia that stemmed from the rejection his literary work during his lifetime). A joined effort of Toole’s mother and Walker Percy, another American author, A Confederacy of Dunces became an instant hit and a cult classic and earned Toole his first and only award, a Pulitzer!
25. Manchac Swamp Bridge, Ponchatoula
Manchac Swamp Bridge, a 22.8-mile-long concrete overpass constructed over the Manchac Swamp, is as striking a construction as the stories that haunt the area it is built around.
The second largest channel of its kind in the world, Manchac Swamp Bridge was erected in 1975 to serve the traffic in the area. Crafted out of concrete, the overpass sees a substantial number of passers-by daily. While most of those are only here to cross the swamp, some arrive following the legend trails surrounding the area.
Several rumors are associated with the Manchac Swamps, but, two of them stand out. The first tale is that of Aunt Julia Brown, a voodoo priestess and an alleged Oracle, who once predicted that the town she lived in, Laplace, would perish with her on the day she was buried. And, so it did. A hurricane took over the town in 1915 on the day she was being buried.
Reportedly, the original bridge from 1975 collapsed only a year later, but, thankfully the new construction has been able to keep away from the hex so far.
Another tale involves a Rougarou, a shape-shifting Cajun werewolf monster who roams around the swamp and infects others. Believers say that if you are infected by the beast or look into his eye, you will turn into a werewolf on the next full moon, and, the curse will stay with you for as long as you don’t pass it on. The easiest way to get rid of it, however, is to stay quiet about it for 101 days!
Whether the above stories are true or not is up to your imagination, but, the green-eyed, man-eating alligators traversing the swamps are very, very real.
26. House of Broel, New Orleans
Louisiana, especially New Orleans, knows how to perfect the art of “weirdness,” and, there is barely any other place in the world which can master the strangeness as well as the city does. Doubt us? Well, could you name anything that weddings, dollhouses, and canned frog legs may have in common?
House of Broel, owned and managed by celebrated fashion designer Bonnie Broel, is a Victorian mansion located on the streets of St. Charles Avenue which is dedicated to the artist’s lifelong admiration with weddings, dollhouses, and her father’s role in the creation of Louisiana Frog Farm.
Allegedly claimed to be the largest miniature exhibition in the world made by a single person, the “Dollhouse Museum,” found on the second floor of the mansion, is Broel’s private collection.
There are over 60 pieces in the collection, each significantly different from one another. What stands out the most about the dollhouses are their extraordinary detailing and historical precision.
Housed on the same floor is also Broel’s compilation of exhibits devoted to Louisiana’s frog trade. Inspired by her father’s work, the artist has skilfully displayed several frog-themed memorabilia such as vintage canned frogs.