Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Life of Jean Lafitte (told with marionettes)

Yes, I'm still under the influence of my story "The Judgment of Jean Lafitte" in the new anthology ACTION: Pulse Pounding Tales Vol. 1 (available HERE), and can't resist rerunning this post about the Lafitte marionette show.

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 jail.  (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. Some sources say Lafitte offered only $500, others $1500.

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 operations to Galveston Island, scene of my earlier tale, "The Mercy of Jean Lafitte."

Historical Note: Had Lafitte joined the British, or even sat out the battle, the Brits surely would have won and been poised to sweep into the heart of the country. As Cap'n Bob Napier pointed out in a comment yesterday, the Treaty of Ghent had officially ended hostilities weeks earlier, but neither side knew it at the time. But, 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 stood a damn good chance of winning.


Dan_Luft said...

Wow, great stuff! I once saw a marionette production of Don Giovanni in Prague. The singing was from a CD. Fun to be drawn into something so artificial as opera AND puppets.

Cap'n Bob said...

Interesting speculation on what the British would have done had they won at New Orleans. You may be right, at that.