Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The buried leg of John Bell Hood

Gen. John Bell Hood
Alongside the road in the woods of northwest Georgia lies a grave containing only a leg.
It’s a limb left behind by Confederate General John Bell Hood, a Kentucky resident known as a brave but sometimes reckless soldier. He served with Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet in the Civil War, but his left arm was badly wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. He moved south with his troops and was injured again at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, this time with a leg wound that needed to be amputated.

The wound was so severe that after the amputation four inches below the hip the surgeon placed his leg in the ambulance so that leg and man would be buried together in the likely event they did not survive.

john hood's legBut Hood did survive and returned to active duty, fighting in the Atlanta Campaign of 1864 and other skirmishes until he was defeated at the Battle of Nashville. Legless and with a useless arm, the general spent the rest of his life working as a cotton broker in Louisiana until he, along with his wife and oldest child, died of yellow fever in New Orleans.

His leg, however, was buried on Sept. 20, 1863, near the Western and Atlantic Railroad Tunnel in what is known as Tunnel Hill, Georgia, just outside the city of Dalton.

georgia train tunnelIf you visit the leg of the Gallant Hood, be sure and walk through the old train tunnel, completed in 1850 and the site of the Great Locomotive Chase. In 1862, several Union Civil War spies stole a locomotive known as the General and headed toward Chattanooga with the aim of damaging the railroad and telegraph lines, therefore cutting off Confederate lines with Atlanta. The Confederates, however, chased them with everything they could get their hands on and stopped the spies before their destination. You can watch the 1956 movie starring Fess Parker to get a more dramatic idea of what went down in Georgia.

The train tunnel, by the way, is rumored to be haunted. Maybe it’s the ghost of John Bell Hood’s leg.

Chere Coen is a travel and food writer who loves weird Southern stories, not to mention a ghost or two.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Catch the buzz: Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium celebrates Chocolate Covered Insect Day

Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium Director
of Animals and Visitor Programs Jayme Necaise.
Once again, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium has grossed us out. But there’s chocolate involved!

On Saturday, Oct. 14, the New Orleans attraction celebrates Chocolate Covered Insect Day, where “executive bug chefs” let guests dip edible critters in a fountain overflowing with melted chocolate and enjoy campfire fudge, tarsal toffee or chocolate “chirp” cookies.

“We’re happy we can offer this unique opportunity to guests,” said Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium Director of Animals and Visitor Programs Jayme Necaise in a press release. “People may not realize this, but the FDA allows 60 or more microscopic insect fragments for each 100 grams of chocolate – so it’s not a huge leap to just go ahead and add the whole bug! Besides, bugs are good for you – they are surprisingly nutritious and a major food source for many people across the globe.”


The tastings are included with Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium admission (while supplies last). 

Necaise added, "If guests are lucky, there may even be some leftovers yummies on Sunday.”

Cheré Coen is a food and travel writer who loves a fun Southern story, even bugs.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

'Crafting the Louisiana Sound,' an exhibit on innovation

Double key accordion by Randy Falcon
Necessity is the mother of invention, but in Cajun Country, the necessity to perform spurs the need to create.

Craftsmen have building musical instruments  in South Louisiana for decades, with some instruments invented from items around the house and workplace and others works of art. It’s the reason why Anya Burgess and Chris Segura, both violin crafters and musicians, pulled together the exhibit, “Crafting the South Louisiana Sound” as part of this weekend’s Festivals Acadiens et Créoles in Lafayette, Louisiana. The exhibit of instruments and photos are on display at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Diamond lapel pins
Take Milton Guilbeau for instance. The 90-year-old has been crafting guitars for years while working for Coburns, a supply company that sells plumbing parts. On display is a steel guitar Guilbeau created from items such as toilet flushers and sink parts — even the diamond lapel pins Guilbeau received from the company (see photo, right).

Nearby, a lap steel guitar consists of a simple 2 X 4 board. “All of the markers on the fingerboard are nails,” Segura said. 

Norman Curtis of Arnaudville, Louisiana, crafted a guitar from sinker cypress, wood derived from bald cypress trees that have sat dormant and preserved for years underwater. Curtis accented the instrument’s front panel with the image of an armadillo, a cut-out from a serving tray. The guitar rests on tree limbs.

Norma Curtis guitar
“The best part of putting together this exhibit is that most of these instruments were built using materials found at home,” said Segura, who works as an archivist at the university’s Center for Louisiana Studies.

A vital part of the Cajun sound is the diatonic accordion, a small, three-key little brother to the larger Lawrence Welk variety. These accordions sprung up in Germany around 1850, Segura explained.

“They quickly became popular because they were portable,” he said. “Around 1870, 1880s they came to Louisiana and became popular here.”

During World War II, Louisiana musicians couldn’t send diatonic accordions to Germany to be repaired, so folks began repairing the instruments themselves. In Lake Charles, Sidney Brown started making his own.

“What he did was open up one of those German accordions and reversed engineered it,” Segura explained, adding that Brown used shipping pallets and Purex bottles for materials. “Another situation where he used what he had around the house.”

Violins created by Milton Vanicor

Violins take up one half of a museum floor, instruments that range from a one-string fiddle over a Prince Albert can by Milton Vanicor to sophisticated pieces crafted by Segura and Burgess. There’s even a work station and a display case of violin parts and tools used by Lionel Leleux to give visitors an inside look at the endless hours that go into building these violins.

Other instruments on display include triangles, spoons, amplifiers, drumsticks and drums.

Crafting the South Louisiana Sound” will run through Sunday, Oct. 15, at the conclusion of Festivals Acadiens et Creole.

Segura will moderate the panel, “Luthiers Playing Their Own Instruments: Matthew Doucet, Anya Burgess and Ed Poulard,” at 3:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, on the festival's Atelier Stage.

Want a taste? Check out the impromptu performance Segura offered a recent tour through the exhibit on our Weird South Facebook page.

Cheré Coen is a Louisiana food and travel writer who loves Cajun and zydeco music.