Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Life of Jean Lafitte (told with marionettes)

Yes, my tale "The Mercy of Jean Lafitte" is still playing over at BEAT to a PULP, and I'm still in a Lafitte state of mind.

I took these thrilling almost-live action pics  at the Lafitte Museum in the tiny bayou town of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. Though the figures look static here, they are actually in continuous motion, moving arms and legs and sometimes cutlasses.

This mechanical marionette show was built in the 70s and was for years a popular attraction in New Orleans. When Katrina approached, the building was thought threatened, and the puppets quickly auctioned off. High bidder was the mayor of this bayou burg.

Here's Jean at home with his pet pelican on the isle of Grand Terre, south of New Orleans on Barataria Bay. In 1812, when our story begins, this was HQ for his lucrative smuggling and privateering operation.

Jean's older brother Pierre (left) and pal Dominique You (whom some believe was an even older brother) row ashore to get instructions for their next voyages.

One of Jean's more bloodthirsty rogues in a fight aboard a Spanish galleon.

Same fight, different angle. Note the cool blood on the pirate’s hand, the deck and the shoes. Who knew marionettes could bleed?

Rene Beluche, who may have been Jean's uncle, and two of Lafitte's men split the booty.

Jean goes to the theater with a rich friend. The society babe with him is not advised of his identity, and later tells everyone he’s the most charming gent she ever met.

Pierre Lafitte is arrested and tossed in Cabildo prison.  (Don't fret, he'll soon be sprung. The Lafittes have influential friends.)  See that wanted poster? Governor Claiborne was offering $500 for Jean. On the wall at left is Jean's response - a poster offering $5000 for the capture of the governor.

The British come calling, offering Jean big bucks if he'll join their attack on New Orleans. Instead, he warns the governor and offers to help the Americans.

When the Gov refuses Jean's help, Jean drops by to reason with him.

Laftitte’s Blacksmith Shop (now a tavern and tourist trap), where legend has it that Jean met Andy Jackson. Legend is wrong, but Jackson did accept Jean’s offer of help and the two planned the defense of the city. Lafitte provides cannons, expert gunners and an enormous stockpile of ammo for the cause.

The Battle of New Orleans, later immortalized by Johnny Horton.  That’s Dominique You in the pirate hat, commanding one of the big guns. It’s said that one particular shot from this gun killed over 200 redcoats. The pirate with the do-rag is not Jean, who was toiling behind the scenes. And that guy at far right is NOT Davy Crockett.

Acclaimed as the savior of New Orleans, Jean reveals he is the same height as Godzilla.  He’s given a pardon for past crimes, but discovers honesty doesn’t pay and returns to privateering. He soon moves his headquarters to Galveston Island, scene of "The Mercy of Jean Lafitte".

Historical Note: Had Lafitte joined the British, they surely would have won the battle and been poised to sweep into the heart of the country. Though the Treaty of Ghent had officially ended hostilities weeks earlier, neither side knew it at the time. Had the British succeeded in taking New Orleans and gaining control of the Mississippi, they likely would have repudiated the treaty and continued the war - and won.

Tomorrow: The Many Deaths of Jean Lafitte
Friday: The Memoirs of Jean Laffite
Saturday: The Legacy of Jean Lafitte


Charles Gramlich said...

That's just downright weird.

Evan Lewis said...


David Barber said...

Wierd but great! You story on BTAP was an absolute cracker, Evan. Very well done.

Deka Black said...

"- a poster offering $5000 for the capture of the governor." ---> Sure Lafitte was a man with a strange sense of humour.

A said...

Love it!

David Cranmer said...

I would have got a kick out of this. In all my years, I've never seen a live puppet show.