What I “Borrowed” From a Creole Mourning Tour

A few years ago, I impulsively signed up for the Creole Mourning Tour offered by St. Joseph Plantation in Louisiana. (Not everyone would be intrigued by a tour revolving around death but I’m quirky that way.) I wrote a Chicks post about the experience that made for a fun blog post. But what I didn’t know at the time was that the tour would inspire an entire book: MURDER IN THE BAYOU BONEYARD, my sixth Cajun Country Mystery, which officially launches September 8th.

The St. Joseph tour offered fascinating insights into the Creole (and Cajun) customs and superstitions surrounding death. I wound up incorporating whatever I could into my book.

The basic plot of MURDER IN THE BAYOU BONEYARD revolves around an AirBnB-type of app that’s come to the small town of Pelican, Louisiana, and is stealing business from the local B&Bs. Maggie Crozat, my protagonist, has a marketing brainstorm. She invites all her fellow hoteliers to offer their guests “Pelican’s Spooky Past” weekend packages through the month of October. Each B&B will offer Halloween-themed activities ranging from a play performed in an abandoned cemetery to a pet costume parade. Guests at one location are invited to enjoy the activities at all of them.

On the tour, I learned about immortelles, the funereal decorations mourners made to decorate their loved ones’ tombs, as well as a typical meal a grieving family might offer to visitors who come to pay their respects. I chose those activities as the ones the Crozats offer their guests: a crafting session making immortelles and a traditional Cajun/Creole mourning repast. (Not in costume, like the St. Joseph “cast.” Those 19th century outfits were cumbersome. And hot!)

Esme, the eight-year-old best friend of Maggie’s soon-to-be stepson Xander, goes on a tour similar to the one I went on, and comes back with creepy facts she shares with enraptured guests, such as the fact the deceased were loaded into the horse-drawn hearse feet-first so that the spirits couldn’t make eye contact with the mourners – thus dooming them – and every mirror was covered with black cloth because shiny surfaces attracted spirits.

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Even the historic site of Doucet Plantation where Maggie works as an Art Restoration Specialist gets into the act, selling doll ornaments portraying children’s – and yes, dolls’ – 19th century mourning attire.

It’s pretty fulfilling when an activity you pretended was “research” actually turns out to be. Not only that, I sent the original post to the staff at St. Joseph and they liked it so much, it’s been on their website ever since.

By the way, when I first shared about this tour on Chicks, I wrote, “Of all these rituals, I think the only one I’d embrace is covering the mirrors with black cloth – at least until I hit my Weight Watchers goal weight.”

I stand by that statement.

Readers, tell me about a favorite tour you’ve taken! And here’s the fabulous cover for MURDER IN THE BAYOU BONEYARD!

9781643854601

PURCHASE LINK

47 thoughts on “What I “Borrowed” From a Creole Mourning Tour

  1. That tour sounds fascinating! I think it’s safe to say any quirky obsessions about death are appreciated in this circle. And I LOVE the cover of your upcoming book. It might be my favorite one yet.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. The spooky graveyard, the expression on the pumpkin…all of the little details just work so well together. Plus I like Halloween stories, so that doesn’t hurt either!

        Liked by 3 people

  2. I still need to buy this book.
    Anyway, I love all kinds of tours. My favs? Philly ghost tour. Seattle underground tour. Vegas mob tour was definitely #1.
    I love learning about history.
    BTW. Ellen’s story made me think of something. Have any of the chicks thought about doing at least a stand alone with the amateur sleuth being a professional mourner? That might be interesting. The possibilities! I might have to write a short story in that vein, just for the heck of it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hestia, go for it! It’s funny you bring that up. In the draft of my third Catering Hall Mystery (written as Maria DiRico), I put in some women my mother told me about who always went to funerals in the Astoria neighborhood. They called them The Weepers. BTW, all those tours sound GREAT!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. That is fascinating, Ellen. I missed the cemetery tour when Bouchercon was in NOLA a few years ago. Maybe next year. I think my favorite tour was the Allegheny Cemetery here in Pittsburgh – who knew there were so many famous/notable persons buried here!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Robin and I have been visiting cemeteries together since we met (one of the things that made us realize we were right for each other, I think). Near our old house was a huge one, and we’d walk our dog there every evening with cocktails and say hello to all the dead folks we’d gotten to know from past walks.

    But my favorite gravestone is the one we saw in Key West which says, “I told you I was sick.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. When we lived in England the cemetery was how you got into town! The only time it was scary was coming home after the pubs closed and you got all the way to the other side and the gate was locked! Oh, did I say scary? I meant infuriating.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. So fascinating! The fact that the dolls are dressed in mourning clothes is especially interesting to me. Such a glimpse into the attitudes surrounding death.

    I love that your tour inspired book #6. And I ADORE this cover!!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. That sounds fascinating! And it’s so cool that the tour inspired your book.

    My favorite tours were at Green Gables in Prince Edward Island (hello, Anne Shirley fans) and at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park (which inspired Stephen King to write The Shining). I love tours, but especially *bookish* tours. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, both those tours sound amazing. You know what’s #1 on my bucket list. Touring the Bronte parsonage and walking the moors they walked. I’m an “bookish” tour fan, too!

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  7. I’m all in favor of covering mirrors! I’ve done the cemetery and ghost tours, so the mourning customs tour sounds like fun (Says someone who spends her days making up ways to kill people)! Ellen, I’d love to hang out in NOLA with you — doing anything!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Well, I’ve never been on an actual ghost tour, because I know I’d see/imagine at least one spirit and who knows if it would be friendly. My next ms. on deck features a ghost tour, though, so guess I’ll have to research in person. My favorite tours? Hemingway’s house in Key West and Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. (Self-guided. In broad daylight, thank you.)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m drawing a blank on a favorite tour at the moment. I’ll plead sleeping so poorly last night.

    I’ll look forward to seeing how you incorporate all of this into the new book.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Denver has a lot of haunted mansions and every so often we go on the tours led by a historian from the area. Fascinating and fun. We also did a very cool architecture tour where you got to go in all these out-of-the way places the public usually can’t go. They called it “Doors Open Denver.” Among other things, we went up to the tippy-top of the D&F Tower (very scary), in the curator’s area of an art museum, saw the backstage and basement of the Paramount Theatre where they have one of the only three remaining Wurlitzer organs with 1600 pipes (!!!), which they played for us. It rises up out of the floor. Love that kind of stuff!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Oh, and don’t forget about the catacombs. Y’all know there’s a tour of the catacombs beneath st Patrick’s cathedral in nyc, right? Never been there, but did extensive research for a flash fiction piece

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  12. The mourning tour sounds fascinating, El! So glad it inspired a book! (I don’t know if I could take one of those tours since I’m a wimp. I’m getting chills just reading about yours.)

    I can’t think of any official tours I’ve been on, but I really like self-guided ones, like when I went to Alcatraz and to Walt Disney Concert Hall (totally different vibes, by the way). I also really liked exploring The Magic Castle in Hollywood, though I’m not sure if that’s technically a tour…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Loved exploring Magic Castle! that totally counts in my book. Jen, when Eliza was little, I took her to a concert at Disney Hall. When we were leaving, she whispered to me, “Mommy, this house is crooked.” LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I think the most fascinating tour I ever took was in Hamburg Germany with my young cousin. She had arranged for us to go on this “Blind” tour which meant the entire tour was pitch black. You couldn’t even wear a watch or anything that might reflect or display any light. We were taken through several scenarios including identifying different types of food at a market, dealing with money, walking in a crowded city – in short almost any normal activity you might do as a sighted person on any given day but in total darkness. It was one of the most fascinating experiences I ever had. Our English speaking tour guide was blind (found this out after it was over.) You had to identify sounds, smells, and objects.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh Diana, that tour sounds absolutely fascinating! I remember reading about a restaurant in France that did something similar. You ate in the dark. I always wondered if that had an effect on your taste buds.

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  14. Ellen,

    First, congratulations on your new book! I was fortunate to read the ARC via Netgalley and it is definitely up to your usual high standards. You did a wonderful job of incorporating the rituals you discovered and keeping them both interesting and fun!
    Best tour – so many (thank you to my advanced years & being military!) to choose from. Silliest was going back to Westminster Abbey now that you get a self-guided audio tour thingy and discovering after I’d finished that they’d given me the children’s version with a talking lion(!). Be aware! So much more fun are almost any at the National Trust properties (Petworth comes to mind). Finally, for those interested in the rituals of death, Ken Burns’ brother, Ric, did a superb documentary on how the American Civil War changed death dramatically (embalming, anyone?) entitled Death and The Civil War. Highly recommend it. Ruth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ruth, that is hilarious re: the children’s version! Dang, where’s a laugh emoji when you need one?!! And I really want to watch the Civil War doc. I missed it the first time. I just watched the most extraordinary doc on WWI, Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old.” Highly, highly recommend it.

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      1. Yes, we saw that in the theater. The British War Museum commissioned it for the 100th anniversary of WWI. Equally fascinating is the half hour documentary that follows on what the team had to do – imagine converting hand-cranked camera footage to a modern standardized format! 😊😊. I added an emoji for you 🦁 if the lion! Ruth

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  15. Fascinating post, Ellen. The strangest cemetery experience I had was during my Navy days when I lived on Fort Myer, which backs up to Arlington National Cemetery. As it was in my back yard, I spent many evenings walking among the graves. One evening, I said to my friend, “I believe Audey Murphy is buried at Arlington.” He had recently been killed in a plane crash. I looked down only to discover his tombstone at my feet. Strange experience.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. The tour you described sounds fascinating and I look forward to reading Boneyard!
    Two favorite tours are of NYPL and GCT, 2 of my favorite NYC landmarks. And as a baseball fan, I’ve enjoyed tours of Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deb, as a native NYer, you just named three of my favorite places! (Fenway in Boston? Not so much. #YankeeFan, lol)

      And the tour was fascinating. It was done as a living history tour, something I wrote into A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING… before I even went on this tour.

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      1. Ellen,
        I’m a New Englander (CT) by geography, a New Yorker at heart.
        When I toured Fenway, I may or may not have brought a mini Yankees helmet- the kind you get ice cream in at the Stadium, and posed it around Fenway. My favorite picture is of the helmet atop the monstah seats 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  17. What an intriguing tour! And it’s so cool that you were able to work it into your new book. When I was in D.C. with my daughter’s class, we took a “haunted” tour of Williamsburg. It, too, was fascinating. The kids got to learn history in a fun (and spooky) way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbara, I LOVE Williamsburg. It was one of my favorite vacation spots as a kid and I was so excited when we got to take our daughter there. I never took a haunted tour, though. Putting that on my bucket list!

      Liked by 1 person

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