1850 - 1900
All his life Jacques Roman had lived in the shadow of his brother-in-law, Valcour Aime. Valcour was richer, more successful, and more powerful. His plantation was bigger and much more magnificent that Jacques' modest home. And Valcour's gardens were known all over the country. Many guests passed by the Roman plantation on their way to visit the Aimes; often they never noticed the smaller house.
Throughout Valcour Aime's journals he mentions his brother-in-law, usually to compare himself favorably to Jacques. 'My cane is higher than Jacques'," he would say; or "my oranges are much tastier than his."
Jacques Roman never complained about the fame of Valcour or seemed to worry if he did not measure up to the other man. In one respect, though, Jacques outdid his next door neighbor. He created a home that would become well-known throughout the United States for its beauty and charm, some 150 years after every trace of Valcour Aime had disappeared.
It all started with an unknown Frenchman who had tried to recreate the straight rows of trees he had seen on European estates. He had planted two rows of live oaks, 28 in all, and spaced them well apart so that they had room to grow. However, he did not stay around to see the result of his planning.
Live oaks grow very slowly. When Jacques Roman bought the land, they were probably not much taller than he was. But they were healthy looking and pleasant in their neat rows, each facing one another.
So Jacques and his wife, Marie Therese, built their house at the end of the avenue of oaks. It was a lovely house, but relatively small, not very imposing for a plantation. Madame Roman was a lady of good taste; it was she who designed the soft pink two story house surrounded by 28 columns. She named the house Bon Sejour (Good Rest).
Time was as kind to the Romans as it was cruel to their relatives. The house mellowed and became even more beautiful with the passing years, and the oaks started to grow to a more impressive height.
When steamboats, began to travel the Mississippi regularly, passengers would stand by the rails to stare at the beautiful sight as they passed it, the magnificent oak alley framing the house. Riverboat captains started calling the plantation Oak Alley, and the name stuck. Bon Sejour was lost forever.
Today the house is as beautiful as ever. It was restored after World War I so that it looked as much like the original as possible. It is the alley of oak trees, though, that provides the kind of beauty which man could never create.
The trees are lined up in a perfectly straight line. They have grown now to their full height, and the branches soar into the sky, intertwining to create a canopy over the alley. The trunks are huge, over 20 feet in circumference.
It is a sight familiar to movie and television viewers because many films and commercials have been made at Oak Alley.
Another interesting fact about the plantation is that Oak Alley is the setting for a very rare actual photograph of a ghost!
It happened when a Mr. Bemard, who was touring Oak Alley, took a number of pictures of the various rooms of the house. Like most people, he forgot to develop his vacation photographs until months later. When he did, he saw an image of a young woman in an old-fashioned dress, sitting in a bedroom that was empty when he took the picture. Her face and long blonde hair are clearly visible in the picture.
The ghost may be the daughter of Jacques and Marie Therese Roman, a girl named Louise. Louise had a suitor, it seems, who was not altogether a gentleman. He came calling on her one night in a state of intoxication, and she ran away from him, like a proper Creole lady should do.
While she was running, she flipped over her own hoop skirt and cut her leg on the wire. In those days, antibiotic drugs were unheard of, and she became very ill as a result of the cut. Gangrene set in, and she had to have her Ieg cut off. Naturally, she was considered unable to marry and run a household with only one leg, so she decided to become a Carmelite nun. She lived out the rest of her life in a convent in New Orleans.
The ghost who showed up in the photograph was a young, beautiful girl. Perhaps Louise is trying to return to that time in her life when she had everything to look forward to, before the tragedy that made her unhappy and bitter.