Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Bittersweet Dreams and Broken Hearts

 Once again we turn to the fascinating articles of Polly Morris of Lacombe, a prolific writer of human interest feature stories for the News-Banner newspaper in the mid-1970's. 

This article tells the story of several men who had big dreams for St. Tammany, and right on the verge of success, fell upon hard times. Break out a box of Kleenix for these are heart-rending stories spotlighting some historical figures we know and some unknown dreamers of which we may be unaware.

Here is the text of the article from 1976, some forty-four years ago.

Bittersweet Dreams and Broken Hearts

By Polly Morris

Somewhere in St Tammany there should be a small cemetery for shattered dreams and broken hearts, a quiet place where blighted hopes could be laid to rest.

Pages of history praise the men who lived or died courageously for a Cause, and there are monuments and memorials in their honor. But even more valiant are the men who lived day after long day when all hope was dead. The bravest of men must be those who kept smiling beyond a broken dream. Or who died just before their dream became reality.

These men could be called star-crossed, for there was something in their destiny that denied them the full measure of success. In St. Tammany there were seven men who had the bitter-sweet satisfaction of seeing their dream come true for a brief time before Fate
cruelly intervened. Perhaps their story could be best told by beginning at the end.

The Black Robe

In Hotel Dieu in New Orleans, an old man lay dying. His dim old eyes did not see the sterile walls of his hospital room They were seeing a meandering bayou that flowed through a heavily wooded land fragrant with pines and magnolia and jasmine. He saw a tiny chapel with a crape myrtle growing beside the entrance. Indians were coming quietly from the forest, and he held up a cross as a welcoming gesture.

Father Rouquette

Father Rouquette had lived with a broken dream for years. He had left the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral and a promising priesthood for the wild wooded area of St. Tammany. His dream was to bring the Faith to the Choctaw Indians who still worshiped gods of a pagan religion.

It was for them that he lived like an Indian. It was for them that he built his tiny chapels in the wilderness. They learned to love him as he loved them, and he hoped to bring the other savage tribes into his little flock.

When the Civil War came to Louisiana, Father Rouquette's dream began to die. His beloved Indians left their villages in fear, and a little church was burned to the ground. Many of them died from exposure, starvation, and sickness, and when the war ended a few straggled back to Father Rouquette's remaining chapels. His dream was only a pitiful remnant, but he stayed on in St Tammany for many years tending his tiny flock of converts.

When his health and memory finally failed, he was hospitalized in New Orleans. On his deathbed he still retained a very small dream. He wished to be buried on the banks of Bayou LaCombe, among his Indian friends. At the last, they were unable to help him and followed silently as his wasted old body was put into a cold tomb in a city cemetery. Not even in death did the Black Robe realize his last dream.

The Lily Man

In Abita Springs a man named Peter A. Chopin stood shivering in an open field. He was too heartsick to cry. All around him lay the wilted remains of what had been a half-acre field of 250,000 healthy plants.  Not a single one had survived the freeze of 1915. Had they lived they would have produced the most beautiful Easter lily in the world... a hybrid variety like no one had ever seen before. Chopin grimly turned away.  It had taken him ten long years of cross pollination to produce this beautiful flower. It had taken only one night of bitter cold weather to destroy his dream lily. He was too weary and wretched to start all over again.

The No-Ghost Town

Theodore J. Fischer looked at the Pearl River-Bogue Chitto bottoms where his town was marked off in streets. The church here... the school there... a fine hotel across the tracks. He envisioned a blacksmith shop, a general store, and a sign saying Fischerburg on the new depot. He saw it all clearly, but there were no tracks leading to the depot.

There never would be Fischer's little dream, for it had never been built. The railroad that was supposed to have gone to Fischerburg simply did not ever go that far, so the town had died before it was born.

Taken By Storm

The Yankee school teacher's jaw sagged in astonishment. He was looking at an organ and a writing table sitting out in the open They looked strange indeed, for they were definitely out of place there. Only a few minutes ago they had been suitably housed in a cypress building.

The school teacher was stunned by the strange circumstances that had hounded him since he left from Up North with an organ, a writing table, and a noble purpose. He had been sent to Mississippi to teach the newly-freed unfortunates to read and write, and he was fired with ambition for his worthy mission.

To his utter amazement, the prospective pupils were not interested in being confined in a schoolroom. Now that they were free, they resented any restrictions on their activities. The disillusioned teacher done an about face. If pursuit of pleasure was the thing, then he
would willingly oblige with a tavern. The towns people were not willing, however, so the teacher-tavern keeper crossed the river into Louisiana.

He felled a large cypress and made it into lumber. Then he single-handed built a tavern and moved in the organ and table. He would put in a stock of hard likker the next day. But before the day was over, the gods frowned down on his sinful establishment and sent a tor­nado that neatly lifted the saloon and took it aloft and away. The organ and table were kindly spared.

How Sweet It Was

In New Orleans an old man stumbled and fell...and died. He was not a clumsy old man, for in his youth he had been cat-quick, nimble, and as lithe as the slender reeds on Bayou Castine. Perhaps he fell because he was not looking down at his feet but was gazing at the shimmering horizon to the North where he saw an Etheral City not unlike his own dream town. 

Bernard de Marigny not only had a dream. He had everything it took to make it come true. The dashing and debonaire Frenchman was perhaps the wealthiest man in the Louisiana of his time. Moreover, he had plenty of influence and plenty of friends.

His fabulous plantation of Fontainebleau was a showplace set beside the sparkling lake, and his sprawling villa was open to all of his friends and associates. It was a fun place for everyone, but de Marigny wanted even more. Spacious as was the villa, it could not accommodate all the guests he wanted, so he decided to build a town.

Not just any town, but a model city populated by happy people. He planned it all down to the last detail. Wide streets, large lots, quaint bridges, and a strip of land along the lake front that would never be occupied by buildings that would obstruct the lovely view.

De Marigny loved all people, even the poorer ones, and he kept the prices on the lots as low as possible to enable them to buy, if they were his friends. Profit was not the objective, and money was no problem for the founder of Mandeville. He was a generous man, to others and to himself.

His generosities and the depression of 1837 ruined his rainbow-hued dreams. Lots were reclaimed, and creditors cried for payment on overdue bills. The huge plantation was sold, and de Marigny kept only a small house for himself in Mandeville. His dream had not died completely, but it was badly deformed.

Yet the old man lived to be 83 years of age, without bitterness. He had enjoyed life and love and luxury, and no man can ask for more. He had held his dream in his hand, and its memory cheered him until the day he died.

Collins Disappointment

In 1817 a lead coffin was brought across Lake Pontchartrain on a mail packet. Inside the casket was the body of a young man who was returning for the last time to his dream town, and to the spot that he had chosen as his final resting place. John Wharton Collins was coming back to Wharton. . . except it was no longer Wharton, but Covington.

Collins had bought a tiny town of four buildings for $2300 and had named it after a worthy ancestor. Like de Marigny, Collins planned his town with care. It was dedicated on July 4, 1815 and many lots were sold to some very important people. But he had only a few months of happiness in Wharton.

The next March the town was incorporated, and the name was changed to Covington. Collins deeply resented the change, which was both political and personal. Collins' health had been failing since the battle of New Orleans, in which he had served as Captain. His great disappointment about Wharton could not have helped any.

He died two days after Christmas, age 29 years. Collins had founded the town, and now he founded the cemetery. The exact location of his grave was forgotten, and he too was not remembered for long. About six months after his death, his widow married his nephew who had been living with the Collins family.

Dream Ranch

Then there was the dream of Joe Hanberry who so loved children that he dedicated his life to them- especially to children who desperately needed someone to care about them. Joe Hanberry had a home for children who came from homes where there had been an unfortunate domestic situation, but he wanted to fulfill an even greater need.

He wanted to get them out of the city where they could enjoy a freer life. He found the perfect spot in St. Tammany. Between Lacombe and Slidell was a Kiwanis Camp that had been used only in the summer months. The Kiwanis Club members listened to Joe's dream of a children's ranch, and assented.

Joe worked hard to help get the rather dilapidated building fit for year-round habitation. At last the K-Bar-B Ranch was ready. Governor Edwin Edwards came from Baton Rouge to dedicate it, and later the children began to be sent to the beauty and bounty of St. Tammany.

Joe would have loved to have seen all of his children gathered at the pavilion, or swimming at the pool. Joe Hanberry said, "Children who have been hurt by life desperately need help and attention. They need someone to listen to them." But Joe had little time left to listen.

Two months and five days after the dedication of K-Bar-B Ranch a small aircraft crashed into a field at Clinton, La. Joe Hanberry died on the brink of a dream.

One of Joe's former children said, "I cried... not for him or for myself, but for the hundreds of children who would never receive what he gave to us." 

There is indeed a sadness about a man who has held a dream, however briefly, and seen it fade away. But there is an even greater sadness for those men who have never had a dream at all.


Polly Morris joined the writing team at the Mandeville Banner in February of 1974.