Tourists welcome, sort of
Archaeologists have recently been looking all along Bayou Teche for the grave of Joseph “Beausoleil” Broussard, one of the early Acadian leaders, but a century ago, the search was for the grave of another Acadian of note — Longfellow’s heroine, Evangeline.
The Weekly Messenger in St. Martinville reported in the late summer of 1914 that Southern Pacific railroad officials had come to town in search of her burial place.
The newspaper said railroad promoters were “looking for historical points” that might be of interest to visitors from the North, and that they “were particularly interested in finding the spot where Evangeline is buried, which is generally believed by our people [to be] in back of the Catholic Church.”
According to the report, “The Southern Pacific Co. expects to run several tourist trains next year, for northern people who will visit the San Francisco Exposition, and these people are generally interested in the Story of Evangeline.”
Hopefully, the newspaper said, “all tourists on the Southern Pacific will be taken here as one of the side trips.”
The official name of the big world’s fair in San Francisco was the Panama–Pacific International Exposition because one of its themes was celebration of the completion of the Panama Canal.
It was also a chance for the city to show the world how well it had recovered from the 1906 earthquake that left the city devastated.
Southern Pacific apparently took a special interest in the expo; one of the exhibits was the first steam locomotive used by the line.
Louisiana also had a big exhibit at the fair and the New Orleans Picayune reported in mid-July that the state won 105 prizes for its exhibits of “mineral, agricultural, and manufactured products.”
That was more than any other state, and included four medals of honor — the highest award given — and 15 gold medals, 69 silver and bronze, and 17 honorable mentions.
One of the gold medals went to Edmond Bulliard of St. Martinville, maker of the Evangeline brand of hot sauce for “superior quality, neat packaging, and general attractiveness.”
That appears to be about the only benefit to St. Martinville from the big fair. A scan of the newspapers of 1915 uncovers no reports of trainloads of Northerners flocking to Evangeline’s grave, or any other place in St. Martinville or south Louisiana.
I’m not sure what the tourists would have seen at the “gravesite,” anyway, Evangeline being a fictional character who would not have actually been buried there.
Also, the expo was nearly 15 years before that famous Acadian, María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete, better known to the world as Dolores del Rio, played the movie role of Evangeline and found it so fetching that she donated the statue of herself that now sits near the church (and which some tourists are still allowed to believe marks Evangeline’s burial site).
It was also a decade before raconteur and shopkeeper Andre Olivier began putting together his private museum of mementoes of French Louisiana and telling to anyone who would listen the story of “the romance and beauty of the Evangeline country.”
In fact, a special promotional edition of The Messenger in June 1915 pointed out that the romantic story of the Teche country was still largely untold.
According to that article, “No such wealth of material for the romanticist remains anywhere in the country untouched by novelist or poet as awaits them here.”
The headline on that article was, “Ideal for the Tourist,” and, the newspaper said, poets, novelists, tourists, and dreamers of all sorts “will be welcomed.”
But, the article cautioned, “It is not the transient we need, but … clean, sound, trained men from the agricultural and manufacturing centers, with initiative and a little capital, to build on solid earth those castles people of the South are too much inclined to build in the air.”
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.