Oak Alley, an hour’s drive west of New Orleans, is the most famous of the river plantations along the Mississippi River. Opened in the early nineteenth century, Oak Alley was a thriving sugar plantation with a huge number of slaves who lived on the property.
Oak Alley is an expansive plantation, with gardens, reconstructed slave quarters, the “big house,” as it was called, is the most popular one in the state. It also is featured in the major video game “Red Dead Redemption 2.” In the open-world game, a Greek Revival mansion identical to the manor at Oak Alley is the ancestral home of the Braithwaite family, a troop of Confederate hillbillies. In one of the best sequences in the game, Arthur Morgan and the other cowboys storm the manor and burn it to the ground. I had a blast in that level, shooting lanterns and setting things on fire, but even better, I wanted to see the real location.
The tour brought us past the reconstructed slave quarters, wooden cabins illustrating the servants’ difficult lives. The main tour brought us into the big house, which was decked out in elegant rooms, though not made of real artifacts from the home, made a convincing replica. One of the few authentic fixtures here was in the dining room, which was a D on its side and attached to the ceiling with hinges. A rope ran from this to the corner of the room. This was an early ceiling fan, used in the stifling Louisiana heat before air conditioning. The rope was pulled by a slave boy in the corner, who pulled it and flapped it back and forth.
The Roman family owned the plantation and all the slaves here in Oak Alley, until the father of the family died and the mother squandered their fortune. Their descendant declared it a museum, and nowadays we can tour it. The gardens are well-tended, and delicious virgin mint juleps are served behind the big house.
The eponymous Oak Alley goes from the plantation house to the ridge adjacent to the river. There are two rows of live oaks, like in the game, which give the house a symmetrical feel, like a man-made structure tied to nature. There were kids climbing on the trees, which I found disrespectful, but overall it provides a perfect ambiance of the antebellum south.
Oak Alley Plantation does a fantastic job bringing the era of slave labor in the south to life, as well as the lavish lifestyles of their masters. They do a splendid job representing the perspectives of both the enslaved and the owners, as well as decorating and theme. The highlighting of slavery in the South allows the visitor to look back in the injustices of slavery and how far we’ve progressed, and it’s something we should not forget because there are many lessons to be learned from this era. As a result I give Oak Alley a 4/5.