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.
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!