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Historical Gumbo

Louisiana’s Bicentennial this year will showcase the state’s singular blend of cultures, cuisine, and music through exhibits and events.
By Kathie Sutin

Bicentennial anniversaries usually score a special celebration, and rightly so. But when it’s Louisiana doing the celebrating, you can expect a party like no other. After all, this is the state that made Mardi Gras famous. 

Ft. St. Jean

Above: Louisiana is filled with historical treasures that shine a light on the state’s early days, including Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site near Natchitoches, where occasional living history events bring the past to life. Louisiana Office of Tourism photo

Below: The state Capitol will host a celebration on April 28 to showcase the state’s five tourism regions, allowing visitors the chance to sample each region’s music, arts, culture, and food, like boiled crawfish and shrimp from south Louisiana. photo


Think food, music, and festivals. Throw in some history and don’t forget to add the unique blend of people that makes Louisiana possibly the most diverse of all states. These ingredients promise to make the 200th anniversary of Louisiana’s entrance into the Union a memorable experience.

“All 64 parishes will have some type of event during the course of the year,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. The Louisiana Bicentennial Commission, operating through his office, has planned a year filled with commemorations, exhibits, and celebrations with many local festivals having tie-ins marking the Bicentennial.

Celebrate with events

On April 28, the Louisiana Family Homecoming in Baton Rouge will allow visitors to experience the entire state. Louisiana’s five tourism regions will be re-created in miniature on the state Capitol grounds so visitors can sample each region’s music, food, culture, and arts. This official event, which is free to the public, will feature regional cooking demonstrations and food samplings from each region, including something sweet to mark the birthday, Julie Vezinot, director of the Louisiana Bicentennial Commission, said. Food also will be available for purchase.

“So you can enjoy sampling a meat pie from Natchitoches or a dish from New Orleans,” she said.

Also leading up to the anniversary date, Union Pacific’s historical locomotive No. 844, dating from the 1800s, steams into Louisiana over the weekend and will be open for tours in New Orleans on April 29.

On April 30, the day Louisiana was admitted to the Union as the 18th state, the Legislature will issue a Bicentennial proclamation. The U. S. Postal Service will issue a new stamp commemorating the Louisiana Bicentennial, and a giant birthday cake tops off the event.

Through March 2013, Capitol Park Museum, A Louisiana State Museum, hosts “Our Louisiana: Celebrating 200 Years of Statehood,” which features artifacts from the museum’s collection that “are not on display but that we think are significant,” said Charles Chamberlain, museum historian.

Some events, though not commission-produced, will have Bicentennial tie-ins. “OpSail,” a tall ship event in New Orleans April 17–23, will bring four tall ships from around the world to the Louisiana port city. The non-profit Operation Sail, Inc. and the U. S. Navy are sponsors of OpSail, which includes ship tours, cooking competition, and events marking New Orleans’ participation in the War of 1812. OpSail returns in January 2015 to mark the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, the last battle of the War of 1812. Officials are hoping a million people attend OpSail.

“That’s going to be a huge draw for us during that week that immediately precedes the actual Bicentennial celebration,” Dardenne said.

The road to statehood

In 1692, Robert Cavalier claimed Louisiana and named this new area for Louis XIV of France. In 1714, Natchitoches was founded as the first permanent settlement in what would become Louisiana Purchase territory.

A few years after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, there was a bid by the Territory of Orleans for statehood but it was challenged.

“The people of the U.S. were somewhat hesitant to embrace the territory because it was the first majority Catholic, majority French and Spanish speaking territory,” Chamberlain said. Opponents feared residents lacked experience in democracy.

President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 chose William C.C. Claiborne to govern the new Territory of New Orleans, and in 1812, voters elected him to be the state’s first governor.

A “human gumbo”

While history and culture will be celebrated throughout the Bicentennial with a myriad of events, officials recognize the state’s diverse population and the role it plays in Louisiana’s story.

“It’s a human gumbo of cultures that came to Louisiana primarily through the Port of New Orleans and fanned out to all of our 64 parishes,” Dardenne said.

The cultural mix includes a unique Creole population (those who were French Catholic and Spanish, African, Native American or any mixture of those) and the largest African-American population in the country. German and Irish influences also help create a distinct mix not seen in most other states, he added.

“That’s what makes Louisiana’s politics and Louisiana’s food and Louisiana’s history and culture so spicy. We’ve got this unique mix, and that’s going to be a big part of the celebration that’s going to take place throughout the year,” he said.

And because we’re talking about Louisiana, there’s a “lagniappe” (a little something extra) with this celebration.

“The lagniappe is the hospitality people will feel when they come to Louisiana to share in our anniversary celebration,” Dardenne said.

Kathie Sutin is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

Mar/Apr 2012 Issue


Visit for information on these and additional Bicentennial events. For more details about OpSail 2012, click on

Travelers interested in visiting Louisiana during its Bicentennial can contact the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism at (800) 99-GUMBO (800-994-8626) or

To visit Louisiana, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.


Beyond the Bicentennial

While not part of the Bicentennial, these events will add to any visitor’s experience in Louisiana. Whether you’re a sports nut, music lover, or a festival fan, there’s a good time waiting in Louisiana.

The NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship will be at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans March 31 and April 2. Tickets may be hard to come by, but for details, click on With or without a ticket, sports fans will have a good time watching the game and celebrating in the French Quarter.

“It’s great that it’s in Louisiana during our Bicentennial celebration year,” said said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

The Zurich Classic Golf Tournament happens April 23–29 in New Orleans at TPC Louisiana, one of the courses that comprise the Audubon Golf Trail. For tickets or more information, visit or call (504) 342-3000.

“It’s a major golfing event that comes every year but it will have a special flavor this year because of the Bicentennial,” Dardenne said.

Music is a huge part of Louisiana’s culture, and these annual events offer dozens of opportunities to see the best regional and national performers.

Indeed, a melting pot of music, food, and culture comes together each year in downtown Lafayette for a free festival. April 25–29 are the dates for Festival International de Louisiane, which includes six music stages, food court areas, street musicians, arts and crafts boutiques, art galleries, beverage stands, cultural workshops, international cooking demonstrations, and a world music store. For details, call (337) 232-8086 or visit

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this year is April 27–May 6. Two significant milestones will be part of the fun: Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s 50th Anniversary Jam and the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Reunion. The impressive lineup also includes Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pete Fountain, Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, Al Green, and more. Visit for details.

Country fans might consider spending time in Baton Rouge over Memorial Day weekend for Bayou Country Superfest. LSU Tiger Stadium is the place to hear national artists such as Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban on May 26 or Rascal Flatts on May 27. A free Fan Fest is part of the fun. For more information, visit

– Kathie Sutin


Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette features performances, food, crafts, and more. Louisiana Office of Tourism photo

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