Sunday, May 24, 2015

Walker Percy Weekend a big ol’ block party in downtown St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
The inaugural Walker Percy Weekend was so successful last year that they’re holding a second annual one this June 5, 6 and 7 in St. Francisville, LA, with promises of just as much fun---a memorable celebration of the acclaimed novelist’s life and work with good food, craft beer and bourbon, boiled crawfish, live music and a great time discussing books and southern culture under the moss-hung live oaks. Lectures and panel discussions, readings and films, progressive front-porch bourbon sipping, twilight cocktails in the ruins garden of one former Percy plantation home and other guided tours of area sites readers of Percy’s works will recognize.

What, you may ask, does the late acclaimed Covington author Walker Percy have to do with West Feliciana Parish? Plenty, as it turns out. He used some iconic sites including the state pen at Angola and the River Bend nuclear plant in his famous works, as well as a somewhat fictionalized version of the whole parish. Not to mention all the family connections, because in the St. Francisville area, from the 19th century on, there has been a Percy under practically every bush---sheriffs, farmers, cattlemen, even one cattlewoman who famously drove a herd of cows to LSU in Baton Rouge to pay her tuition during the Great Depression. Percy family associations with many of the historic plantations are legendary—Afton Villa, Greenwood, Ellerslie, Retreat, Rosale, etc., all the way back to Beech Woods Plantation, where the mistress of the house hired Lucy Audubon to tutor neighborhood children in the 1820s. Several decades earlier, the very first Percy to arrive in West Feliciana, while it was still part of Spanish West Florida, established the family foothold and then drowned himself in a fit of despondency in Percy Creek, foreshadowing the sad propensity toward suicide that seemed to run through the generations of the author’s family as it did in Hemingway’s.

percy posterCalled “intellectually serious but high spirited,” the Walker Percy Weekend features lectures and panel discussions on topics including “Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy: Catholics in the Christ-Haunted South,” “Walker Percy and David Foster Wallace: Losing it at the Movies,” “From Gone With the Wind to Garden & Gun: Walker Percy at the Crossroads of the Old South and the New,” and “Mississippi Woman, Louisiana Man: Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, and the Southern Imagination.”

There’s also a Twilight in the Ruins cocktail party in the spectacular gardens of Afton Villa Plantation, former Percy home that burned in the sixties; guided tours of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the River Bend Nuclear Plant, plus self-guided drive-bys to notable Percy family properties; and Craft Beer and Crawfish in oak-shaded Parker Park with live music by Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys.

And in tribute to Percy’s memorable essay called “Bourbon, Neat,” there will again be progressive bourbon-tastings on front galleries throughout St. Francisville’s downtown Historic District. As he explored in his works the search for meaning in an increasingly materialistic society, Percy applauded the application of a few shots of bourbon daily to “warm the heart, to reduce the anomie of the late twentieth century, to cut the cold phlegm of Wednesday afternoons.” What, he wondered, “if a man comes home from work every day at 5:30 to the exurbs…and there is the grass growing and the little family looking not quite at him but just past the side of his head, and there’s Cronkite on the tube and the smell of pot roast in the living room, and inside the house and outside in the pretty exurb has settled the noxious particles and the sadness of the old dying Western world, and him thinking: ‘Jesus, is this it? Listening to Cronkite and the grass growing?’” Hoist the bottle.

Freyhan High SchoolProceeds benefit the Freyhan Foundation’s ongoing efforts to restore as a community cultural center the area’s first public school building, a stately brick structure overlooking the Mississippi River with a grand third-floor auditorium and an outdoor amphitheater down the hill. Nancy Vinci, Freyhan Foundation head, calls the Walker Percy Weekend the group’s biggest fundraiser and appreciates the national exposure the restoration project receives. “Hopefully,” she says, “in a few years we will be having Walker Percy Weekend events in the restored Freyhan building.”

For tickets and schedule of events, visit or email Contributions are deductible to this 501 © (3) arts organization.

day war stoppedJune also brings The Day The War Stopped in St. Francisville, Civil War re-enactment of a moment of civility in the midst of a bloody conflict when Masons in blue and grey joined the Episcopal rector in burying a Union gunboat commander and fellow Mason from New York. Free events are scheduled June 12, 13 and 14th around Grace Episcopal Church and the Masonic Lodge; for information,

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, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation 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 (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

funeralThe 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 St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit, or (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).