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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lepers in Louisiana: The Story of Carville

I was recently in a bookstore looking for a couple books to bring on a trip, when a book called In the Sanctuary of Outcasts caught my eye. The book, written by Neil White, promised to discuss the last leper colony in the U.S., which I had heard was located in the town of Carville, LA. White was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to serve time in a low-security federal penitentiary. At the time he was sentenced he didn't realize that he would come to meet, and later accept as friends, those with Hansen's Disease - more commonly known as leprosy.

The book, of course, spends a lot of time talking about White's redemptive journey from being a selfish, serial check-kiter to someone who is somewhat less selfish and very understanding of those who suffer from Hansen's Disease. (It's a fine book overall, but I was a little unconvinced of any deeper transformation.) More interesting to me were the bits he included about the facility itself.

The colony welcomed it's first patients in the 1890s. Unfortunately for the patients, moving to Carville was usually not their choice. Many were ripped from their homes as children, and lived their entire lives at the leprosarium. The stigma of Hansen's Disease is strong – a stigma that dates as far back as the Bible or beyond. In the beginning, most residents faced mandatory quarantine at Carville. Decades later, residents were given the option to leave. Most chose to continue to live at Carville – perhaps knowing that the outside world would not be accepting.

In 1921, the U.S. Public Health Service took control of Carville, and it became the National Leprosarium of the United States. In 1986, the facility became the Gillis W. Long Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Center, named after a U.S. Congressman who advocated for those with Hansen's Disease. In the late 1990s, the center officially moved into Baton Rouge, although a museum remains. The rest of the grounds, as I understand it, are now primarily used by the Louisiana National Guard.

In the airport on the way home, I decided to look at a map. I had heard of Carville, and knew it was fairly close to Baton Rouge, but for some reason I thought it was on the other side of the river. I was surprised to see that not only is Carville on the same side of the river as me, but it was shockingly close to my house. In fact, when I recently rode the White Castle ferry, I needed only to take a left turn to see the compound. I knew immediately that I needed to do a blog post about it.

After doing some research the last couple of days, I decided to set out toward Carville this evening. Unfortunately the pictures are not my best work. The compound is completely fenced in and there is virtually nowhere to stop and take pictures. I was also a little flustered by the military police around. Nevertheless, here is what I saw.

Getting close.

industrial plants, gillis w long center

These photos are of Indian Mound Plantation, the sugar plantation that became the leprosarium.

indian camp plantation

indian camp plantation home

gillis w long center building

White discusses the Catholic Church located on the colony several times. I assumed this was it.

church at gillis w long center

Note the covered walkway on the right. At one time, it was thought that avoiding sunlight was helpful to those with Hansen's Disease. Thus the covered walkways throughout the compound.

covered walkway at gillis w long center

This appeared to be one of the dormitories. It may have been home to Hansen's Disease patients, federal convicts, or both.

live oak, covered walkway, dormitory

Although it was almost chilling for me to see these buildings in person, I know that these photographs may not satisfy your curiosity. More photos of the colony can be found here, if you'd like to learn more.

I've been jotting down ideas for more posts lately, just need to find time to get out and do the photography. Hope to do another post soon.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day on False River

In prior posts, I've mentioned that my in-laws have a camp in Jarreau, LA, on False River. False River is an oxbow lake – formerly part of the Mississippi River that cut itself off in approximately 1722. Today, in addition to the many people that live on the lake year-round, it is also home to scores of “camps.” The term “camp” was a new one for me when I moved to Louisiana. I was used to “cabins” or “cottages” in the Midwest. Pretty much the same concept.

Each year on Independence Day, False River holds a boat parade. In many ways, it's similar to a Mardi Gras parade, in that there's an over-arching theme, plenty of music, and things being hurled from the floats. Oh, and lots of booze. The things being hurled are typically water balloons. More on that during today's photo exposition. The theme this year was “What Does BP Mean to You?” Here we go – happy birthday, America!

These first few picture the boats as they were staging a ways down the lake. Note the two people floating in the water in the first picture. This is a key part of the strategy – you put swimmers in the lake to collect any water balloons that didn't reach the pier.

boats assembling

preparing for the parade 1

preparing for the parade 2

One of the BP-themed boats.

tony haward 1 boat back

watching the boats

false river boat 1

“Miss Oily 2010.”

miss oily 2010

This was my favorite one of the day.

plug bp's hole

deepwater horizon boat/float

false river boat 2

false river boat 3

Boat-to-boat combat.

boat to boat combat

false river boat 4

false river boat 5

false river boat 6

false river boat 7

false river boat 8

These flags were flying at a nearby camp. The dixie flag is rendered in LSU colors.

american and lsu dixie flag

lonely pierdrops

false river boat 10

false river boat 11

false river boat 12

Take note of this boat. Many of the boaters carry nets so that they can catch incoming water balloons, or fish unbroken balloons from the water.

false river boat 13

false river boat 14

false river boat 15

father and son on jetski

This young man is pictured launching a water balloon toward my beloved family.


Two direct hits below.

watch out

direct hit

false river boat 16

false river boat 17

These guys were keeping things safe.

on patrol

This party barge was built from pure Cajun ingenuity. It looks like more fun than a barrel full of monkeys – it has a bar, ceiling fans, a killer soundsystem and a bathroom. However, it definitely looks like it's testing the limits of buoyancy.

party barge

Your scribe and photographer.

shady self portrait

This is “Deuce.”



false river boat 18

Things were starting to settle down, all the water balloons had been used.

contemplating the lake

patriotic pier

Finally, some time to relax.

swing, water