Carl the Roving Ram Cuts Up in St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
Sometimes in the country you’ve got to make your own fun, and little St. Francisville, full as it is of creative souls, sure knows how to do that.
Take Carl. Poor Carl. He was a regal Dall Sheep, inhabitant of the alpine ridges and steep slopes of the frozen Yukon Territory and Alaska, cavorting among the rocky crags in death-defying feats of agility. Carl had thick curling horns and must have presented a tempting target for the trophy hunter who apparently took him down and then took him to a taxidermist to be stuffed. A fine trophy, indeed.
So how did Carl end up climbing mountains of junk instead of Northwest Territory mountainsides? Even Bubba, the proprietor of the popular flea market on Commerce St. in St. Francisville, can’t remember where Carl came from or who brought him in, although you’d think he’d have made an impression (not every day do you get a stuffed goat). But Bubba has such a passion for used treasures that his wares overflow his crowded house and spill out into the yard; he can’t possibly remember everything.
So Carl happened to be out there sunning in full view of passersby, and that’s when he entered the twilight zone known as the Court of Three Sisters. Sister One sped by one morning and spotted Carl. Sister One immediately saw possibilities and called Sister Two, who enthusiastically hired the local plant nursery’s van to pick up Carl, who was too big to fit in her car. Sister Two remembers paying Bubba $15 to relieve him of something he never thought he’d sell. And poor Sister Three, the more serious and particular one of the family, soon freaked out to find Carl in her front yard on Ferdinand Street for all the world to see, decked out in a big red velvet bow and magically transformed into Carl the Christmas Ram.
That third sister, the practical one, not wanting Carl to greet guests at her own house forever, hung a list of instructions around Carl’s neck regarding length of stay (just a night), location (in town, or close by), and the requirement to post images, and then she quickly deposited him in someone else’s front yard. And thus Carl acquired a life of his own, honored guest at Christmas parties and family reunions and all manner of gatherings.
Sometimes he was decorated with shining Christmas lights, sometimes with a glowing red nose like Rudolph. There were Mardi Gras beads and mistletoe. At one home he wore red plaid flannel pajamas, and when it rained he often had an umbrella to protect him from the downpour, although he seemed to have less of his own hair after every soaking. And that wet-dog smell every pet owner knows and loves…imagine wet mountain goat!
One image shows Carl stretched out on the local veterinarian’s examining table, the vet sorrowfully declaring there was no help for Carl. A modest hostess even suggested knitting a pouch to hold Carl’s family jewels, the ram being what vets call “intact” and hardly a Hallmark moment.
Everybody in St. Francisville delighted in being able to boast, “We’ve been rammed!” And it was fun. Carl the Christmas Ram confined his perambulations to the period around the Christmas holidays; now he awaits his next appearance in that third sister’s storage unit.
There had been precedents, of course, and not so seasonally dependent. Magnolia Café, everybody’s favorite little local casual place, has for years had a lifesize painted pig, named Gustav for the hurricane, greeting folks dropping by for pita-bread sandwiches and homemade soups and sensation salads. Periodically Gustav the pig would wander. This was not on its own, of course, being made of aluminum; there were nefarious kidnappers who carted him off to different locations, not only private homes but even the Louisiana Marathon. He has also been known to ride atop a float in St. Francisville’s popular Christmas parade.
And then there was grey-haired Granny Francis, resurrected from a garbage pile a few years back. Some three feet tall and plump with a winsome grandmotherly grin, Granny Francis was a real social butterfly. She visited around to all the local stores and tourist attractions, properly attired and escorted by town employees or Main Street staff, played the drums with the local dance band, participated in popular events like the Audubon Pilgrimage and Polos & Pearls (yes, she wore pearls and was pictured beforehand in spa robe getting a beauty treatment with debatable success), went Trick-or-Treating in her witch costume, and attended the local elementary school where she was confined mostly to the principal’s office. Granny Francis was a favorite both in person and on Facebook during her active social life, but now she seems to have retired to a spot in the town mayor’s office where she can try to keep him in line.
Obviously St. Francisville, which is a Main Street community as well as a National Register Historic District, has a well-established sense of place, preserving significant elements of its 19th-century history and architecture along its two main streets that run down to the Mississippi River; they call it the little town that’s two miles long and two yards wide, without much exaggeration. It is full of restored tour homes and gardens, great restaurants and shops, beautiful historic churches, great B&Bs, and unsurpassed recreation in the surrounding Tunica Hills. Tourists love to visit. But St. Francisville residents love living there as well, for the little town also has an appreciation for creative characters and a well-honed sense of fun.
April of course brings the ever-popular annual Angola Prison Spring Rodeo on April 27 and 28, pitting determined inmates against ferocious Brahman bulls and bucking broncos; grounds open at 9 a.m. for the Craft Show and rodeo starts at 2. For tickets and information, telephone 225-655-2060 or www.angolaprisonrodeo.com. Also on April 27 the LSU Ag Center sponsors its fascinating Spring Stroll Garden Tour (for information, contact email@example.com).
Earlier in the month, on April 13, Audubon State Historic Site presents a fun and educational return to the Regency Period, with dance and etiquette lessons, a duel and an explanation of the intricate language of fans, plus a glimpse into the life of a soldier in the War of 1812 (225-635-3739 or 888-677-2838).
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).