Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
“How the hell you’d get all this?”
—Micheal Kelly upon first seeing the Boggs’ plantation
“Fore I been dead, I haint ‘ave a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out off. But ’den, I fucked da whole town, so much a hootin’ and a’hollerin’, it was as hot as a ‘undred rabbits screwin’ in a wool sock! But now ya’ll be lookin’ at how ma garden’s done grown’d. Now, I’m so rich I buy a new boat when ma old one gets wet.”
—Cletus Lee Boggs’ reply to Micheal’s query
Exterior of the Boggs’ Plantation Mansion
The Bayou Bonfouca gleams in the night like a thousand shattered mirrors. Slash pines and cypress conceal its edges, a dark border that breaks suddenly, revealing the land the Boggs Clan calls home: a plantation, seemingly plucked from the antebellum past, yet jarringly, almost irreverently infected by the present.
At the dark heart of the twelve-thousand acre plantation, the maison principale flashes pale and salacious as a fanged smile. It rises high above the domineering mount, the early nineteenth century, four-story mansion gleaming with Greek Revival architecture and subtle undertones of Italianate and Gothic influence. The cypress superstructure is inlaid with briquette-entre-pôteau, locally fired brick plastered inside and stuccoed outside, with a brightly painted pearl exterior.
Surrounding the house are twenty-nine columns of molded scarlet brick and plaster built twenty feet high, set on paneled stiles. Massive cast-iron Corinthian capitals are placed atop each column with elaborately scrolled balustrades. Eight chimneys break the roofline, their two dozen fireplaces with imported marble mantels as cold and dead as the plantation’s master. A belvedere crowns the antebellum masterpiece and monument to an age drunk on prejudice and oppression. Its balconies provide a supernal view of the remaining plantation that bows before it.
To the southwest, a bend in the Bayou Bonfouca swells, creating a gentile harbor. Several piers allow docking for boats of all sizes. Along the riverbank, a levée runs, its aegis against the vernal flooding swallowed by the hurricanes of decades past. A primitive road follows the levee, fenced by a large orchard of pecan trees that part to create an allée, an unbroken vista from the mansion, and more importantly to its once mortal inhabitants, a funnel for the bayou breeze.
To the northeast, fields of cotton sway in the nocturnal air, the humid dew like sweat from the chain-gangs that pluck their secret, pallid treasures under the merciless gaze of gun-bulls. To the east are eighteen acres of pleasure gardens groomed to rival Versailles. Bougainvillea hang in huge clumps from the iron grillwork and bloom as brightly as drops of blood in the starlight. Palmettos, plantain trees, and rattlesnake watermelons stand fat and fecund.
To the southeast, a grand galley of live oaks form a canopy of twined boughs draped with Spanish moss. This spectacular approach to the mansion captures all that is the heart of southern heritage: the promise of hospitality and the false shame of racial sins.
Yet, the grandeur of the scene suffers from the raw juxtaposition of decay, neglect, and the devolution of a once-proud race. Beside fanboats, creole piroques, and multiple amphibious planes, a steamboat, or what remains of one, lies beached on the bank of the bayou. The vessel has been reduced to a charred skeleton of a craft, its beams blackened, its pilothouse an incinerated stump. It looks like anything of value that might have been found in the boat has long been stripped. Detritus and modern-day rubbish rudely bob in the water around the vessel. Beneath the soot and burn-marks, keen eyes can just make out the name of the boat: The Federation Sempiternal.
Almost hidden behind the pleasure gardens, former slave cabins are grouped in a kind of village. The dozen wooden houses are small, little more than shacks; many have had their doors and windows boarded up and spray-painted with racial slurs and Neo-Nazi iconography. Hypodermic needles, used condoms, porno mags, blown tires, and vomit litter the muddy grown that snakes around the old slave shacks.
A small house only a little larger than the slave cabins sits at the edge of the slave’s quarters. Its condition is only slightly better than some of the other structures here, but fungus still mottles the wooden walls, and the chimney has collapsed. Its windows have all been boarded up.
Bursting from the pecan trees is a two-story octagonal tower of stone, a pigeonaire with a steeply angled roof. Masses of black ivy strangle the tower and obscure the solitary entrance. Small holes in the side of the building would allow pigeons to enter or exit, but none fly or coo. Bullet holes from automatic rifles, shotguns, and military-grade mortars riddle the pigeonaire like morbid pox.
The cemetery is a muddy, overgrown expanse, the grass nearly waist height. Dozens of rotting wooden grave-markers protrude from the damp earth, along with a handful of stone slabs, mostly hidden by vegetation. Many of the graves have been disturbed, some dug up, others clawed open. Splinters of coffins and gnawed bones are scattered about the desecrated graveyard.
A dilapidated chapel stands nearby, as well as a long, low building from which an awful stench emanates. Perched on a low hill at one end of the cemetery is a stone mausoleum, its stern, graven doors violated. The rickety old clapboard chapel looks thoroughly disused, the paint peeled, windows dusty and cobwebbed. Despite its decrepitude, the chapel is strangely peaceful, like the eye in a hurricane of sin and depravity.
Cluttering the St. Augustine grass like white-trash boils are what appears to be hundreds, maybe thousands of double-wide trailers and homes in worse states that the two-hundred year old slave-shacks. Cheap antennae stab the sky like polio legs, weak and slanting. One of the trailers located nearest to the grand galley of oaks has a massive, sixteen-foot high ‘bonfire’ made of dozens of TVs, blaring white static-snow of lost transmissions. A tangle of power cords and strips snake out from the ‘fire’ and its flickering, static illumination that announces the site of the Boggs latest midnight revelry. ATVs, choppers, and pickup trucks surround the roughly cleared ground like a redneck cavalry. Oddly, so too do a number of tanks, some dating back to Vietnam, others looking as angular and modern as stealth bombers. Often, a gourmand orgy commences, bringing with it the odious, savory mélange of blood, slow-charred flesh, unwashed bodies, booze, and the madness of an incestuous, hillbilly mob.
Interior of the Boggs’ Plantation Mansion
Upon entering the maison principale, visitors are swallowed by its antebellum charm and genteel opulence. Medallion ceilings soar, supported by towering Corinthian columns. Broad staircases, elegant archways, and massive wooden doors with hand-painted porcelain doorknobs and matching keyhole covers provide access to the manse’s labyrinth of uniquely-tailored debutante ballrooms, formal banquet halls, beautillion card-parlors, and other epicurean leisure-chambers. Above such entrances and along the ceilings are exquisitely-detailed plaster-frieze moldings and modillions interspersed with paterae made from bayou clay, human hair, and Spanish moss. Handsomely-curtained windows guard against sunlight while glittering, globed chandeliers fashioned of imported Baccarat crystal and brass engulf the luxury-replete interior with pale-golden radiance.
In contrast to the locally predominant French or Early Louisiana design, the Boggs’ mansion follows the colonial English floor-plan of a massive central hall running the house’s length. The main hall, which aligns with the seasonal breeze, is decorated with block-printed wallpaper imported from Venice, its delicate black and gold pattern depicting a stately, if disturbing, danse macabre. Twin elliptical staircases of Honduran mahogany rise to the second and third floors, each carpeted in dark green velvet carpeting. Over an acre of floor-space spreads out over three floors and a basement, with a total of 61 rooms, 165 doors, and 200 windows. First- and second-floor rooms that branch off the main hall include richly appointed parlors, ballrooms, offices, guest chambers, a conservatory and library. A three-story wing on the rear comprises a kitchen, pantries, and formal and informal dining halls. The basement holds laundry, dairy, and wine cellars, quarters for the house-servants, and chambers used for less savory purposes. The third floor is dominated by the Ancestral Hall, which is used as a family parlor by the Boggs’ Kindred, as it provides a central thoroughfare to many of the adjacent bedrooms and access to the third-floor belvedere and its breath-taking view of the plantation’s grounds and the adjacent Bayou Bonfouca.
Although bereft of many modern conveniences, the house enjoys 19th-century novelties such as a bathroom located on each floor with cistern-operated showers, flushing toilets, hot and cold running water, gas lighting throughout the house, and a complex servant-call bell system. Its few renovated concessions to modernity include electric lighting, industrial freezers, and tastefully sequestered telecommunications and surveillance.
Although an exhaustive tour of the mansion’s manifold rooms is unlikely to be given, the following locations are more frequently used by entertaining Boggs:
The Incarnadine Parlor
This room’s eponymous color suffuses the well-appointed salon like the rose of blushing flesh. Its walls, flooring, plaster-frieze molded ceilings, Corinthian columns, rococo-carved marble mantles, upholstered divans, and hand-cast archways are all the same fecund shade of pink. The overwhelming hue, and its ritualistic use to deliver the Proxy Kiss, gives the chamber its second name: the Hymen Room. Its multiple, floor-length mirrors are responsible for its other, less-frequently used sobriquet: Lasombra’s Woe. Despite this nickname, the room is clearly dedicated to Clan Giovannini, as evidenced by the two gold-framed paintings that hang over the room’s mantles. The first depicts Cletus’ sire, Padrona Alegraza Giovannini, while the second depicts his great-great-grandsire, Augustus. Both paintings have an eerie vitality to them -particularly in their eyes, which always seem to follow the parlor’s occupants.
The Beautillion Salon
A grand entrance spills into the Beautillion Salon. Carved doors, spindles, casings, and moldings bow to British Gothicism. The salon features black marble mantles, hand-carved and imported from the Old World. Their fireplaces and bronze grates stand unblemished by burnt coal. Instead, precisely-cut blocks of dry ice rest inside the hearths, creating heatless plumes of ‘smoke’ that rise up the glazed-brick flues. The salon is filled with authentic period furniture. Furnishings include a small sofa, settee, and love seat with velvet and floral upholstery trimmed in dark wood. All three button-backed beauties are traditionally fashioned with wooden dowels, jute, hessian hair, silk thread, and pure cotton wadding originally picked by local plantation slaves. Further accents include a stuffed, conjoint-headed black bear; a bone-lacquered skeleton dressed in a bullet-ridded Confederate uniform; a Scottish-spun tapestry that depicts the Dunsirn’s induction into Clan Giovannini; and an upright WWI artillery canon manufactured by Textron’s predecessor. A single globe chandelier hangs from the frieze-bordered tray ceiling. The former’s dusky-ocher light casts soft shadows against the dark green walls.
Doppio Sanguee Studiolo
Entrance into the Doppio Sanguee Studiolo, otherwise known as the Dunsirn Study. is guarded by (among other things) a wide, door of dead-black wood carved with panels of negro slaves flensing away their own skins, embalming their own organs, and finally casting their own bones into flames, as if to transcend the last vestiges of mortality –though not slavery, as the panels depict hooded overseers with whips, chains, and stranger implements of subjugation. Inside, the studiolo’s floor is entirely inlaid in intarsia of ebony and aged ivory, rendered in striking trompe-l’oeil. Resting atop this cold, complex foundation are chairs, footstools, portable desks with slanted surfaces for writing, tables bearing book-rests with weighted ribbons of black silk, and a pair of golden-globed chandeliers that cast strange, roving shadows into the corners. Shelving runs around the room at the length of the fine plaster-frieze that incorporates the Giovannini seal. On it, are curiosa, specimens blurring the lines among the botanical, zoological, geological, and the supernatural. A massive grimoire, clad in black-stained manskin, rests open atop one the tables. Other tomes lay within the shelves. Oil paintings adorn several walls, depicting the ‘ascendancy’ of Dunsirn cannibalism, the clan’s immigration to the Americas, and the founding of Slidell and the Boggs’ dynasty. However, one wall is bereft of paintings, consumed by several towering, open-faced cabinets of black-stained hardwood. Within these furnishings, glass-encased fetuses and infant cadavers float in alchemical preservatives, their deformed features further marred by repeated dissections and experimentations.
Grand Mascine Banquet Hall
Inside the mansions’ largest banquet hall, floor-length velvet window treatments reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress are pulled back to revealed a triptych of large, handsomely proportioned stained-glass windows. The central picture depicts Caine slaying his brother Abel with a jawbone, then speaking with Jehovah whilst proclaiming his infamous line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” To its left is a rendition of Augustus and his son Claudius diablerizing Cappadocius and the Antediluvian’s own ‘son’ Japheth, respectively. To the right is a bayou-fought skirmish between Confederate and Union soldiers, both sides’ features bearing eerily strong familial resemblances. Dominating the center of the dinning hall is a prodigious banquet table crafted of walnut solids and beautiful bands of mahogany, with inlays of maple and ebony and gold trim finishing. Its mirror-polished surface is large enough for a thoroughbred to race down its length. Unlike the mansion’s primary use of hardwood, red-marble tiles form the dinning hall’s floor. On the column-supported ceiling, frieze plasterwork showcases pink debutante camellias blossoming around delicately half-hidden skulls. Six crystalline chandeliers bask the room in brilliant light.
The Cottonwood Porch
Nearby the Grand Mascine Banquet Hall is a walnut staircase that curls up the rear wing’s three flights of stairs. Indirectly connecting to the top floor’s Ancestral Hall, the staircase also provides access to the northeast-facing portion of the mansion’s belvedere, more commonly known as the Cottonwood Porch. Its vantage provides a resplendent view of the plantation that bows before it, particularly its night-swaying fields of cotton and eastern pleasure gardens arrayed and manicured into elaborate geometric designs. The balcony’s namesake is a large, six-foot wide, two-foot tall slice of a cottonwood trunk. Its matte finish is enriched by the texture of its brass base and aged patina veneer. Mason jars with chilled, sweetened iced-tea and wax-sealed moonshine jugs rest atop the arboreal centerpiece. Antique rocking chairs flank the table, their varnished wood carefully carved with the scrolling initials of deceased kin. Behind them, a steel-string banjo and cigar-box slide-guitar rest gently against the wall. Above, beautifully-colored, sand-polished liquor bottles dangle from the gable; the bucolic glass chimes seem to sing independently of the bayou’s breeze.