As we toured the home at Oak Alley in Vacherie, LA, we tried to imagine what the people were like who lived here.
As we toured the home, we learned more about the contents of the home than the residents. Combine that aspect with the knowledge that the wealth of the plantation was built on the backs of slaves and our reaction to the tour is one of discomfort.
Even learning that the medallion surrounding this chandelier was a gift from the plantation's slaves did not reduce this feeling.
In the lavish dining room, the object that, to me, looked like a lyre was a fan that a person had to keep in motion by continuously pulling and releasing the rope that you see extending to the upper left hand corner in the photo.
The spoon and fork at each setting were placed upside down to display the family's crest which was engraved on the back of each.
The strip just above the fireplace opening is marble. The rest of the mantle is made of wood and painted to look like marble.
One of the most interesting stories coming from the plantation's slaves is that of a field slave named Antoine. His claim to fame occurred during the winter of 1846 with the development of a new variety of pecans that could be cracked with one's bare hands. The shell was so thin that it was dubbed the "paper shell" pecan. The formal name given the new pecan was the Centennial Variety--named in honor of its later entry into competition at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where the new variety won a prize" (wikipedia.org/Oak_Alley).
It would take one slave one hour to smooth the mattress each morning. The person would use the roller (shown on the bed) to rearrange the moss used to fill the mattress.
The plantation had a shortened life. Completed in 1839, it flourished until the Civil War. Though not physically damaged during the War, the end of the War and the end of Slavery sent the plantation into financial ruin, and the plantation was sold at auction for $32,800. Through several owners, the buildings were left to go into disrepair, due to the cost of upkeep.
The Stewart family, the last live-in owners of the plantation, repaired the Mansion in 1925 and donated it and the historic grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation, which maintains and manages the mansion today. The main house has been restored to its previous beauty, and the Foundation is in the process of restoring the Slave Quarters, the historic gardens, and other buildings.
On oakalleyplantation.com: "Certainly, (slavery's) role in the development and maintenance of the predominantly agricultural antebellum south impacted on an entire nation, and the reality of slavery in 19th century plantation life can be neither denied nor condoned, but was an integral part of the times and must be dealt with honestly and with candor."