On the Other Side of Mardi Gras

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Once you've enjoyed the Mardi Gras festivities what else is there to see in Lake Charles? Here are four attractions year round, from traveling art exhibits to historic museums.

Once you’ve enjoyed the Mardi Gras festivities and visited the largest museum of Mardi Gras costumes in the world, what else is there to see in Lake Charles? What stays there year round? And what, to a degree, is unique, close by and a great visit even if it’s not raining?

Here are four attractions worth visiting.

The DeQuincy Railroad Museum

Just 26 miles northwest of Lake Charles, DeQuincy is a small town of about one thousand families. That’s small, but DeQuincy has had residents who played for the Harlem Globetrotters and the Milwaukee Bucks, songwriters whose songs were recorded by Elvis and Fats Domino and a town celebrity, Freddy Fender, who had the number one song on pop and country charts in 1974 — and in the Robert Redford film The Milgro Beanfield War played the part of the mayor of a small town.

Gary Cooper, the former mayor of DeQuincy, shows us around the Mission Revival train station that was a terminal for the Kansas City and Union Pacific Railroad. This is home for Cooper; he used to work for the railroad, which was necessary for the area’s timber industry to grow.

The museum is beautifully maintained with exhibits that recall those earlier days. It has been restored to its authentic 1923 look with its tiled and timbered waiting rooms, a Spanish barrel tile roof, arched windows and exposed rafters.

The building was scheduled for demolition in 1974 when the mayor realized it would make a great railroad museum. The city bought it for a dollar!

Mary Jane Barbery, the curator, shows us a telegram sent to all northward trains on Dec. 7, 1919. It instructed Missouri Pacific Lines to use local authorities to arrest all Japanese train travelers and turn them over to the FBI. A replica of George O. Martin is on view, the man who for many years kept the company’s railroad watches and the trains on time.

George Martin designed his own section of the museum including the life-sized model showing his testing a watch. A poem he wrote, Remember, is framed beside him. It refers to a time when the only special way to travel was by train. An excerpt from it seems to have a message for all who travel.

You may have traveled the world over,

You may not have traveled far.

You must do your best with what you have

Just take pride in being who you are.

All Saints Episcopal Church

DeQuincy offers another glimpse into the past. The All Saints Episcopal Church was originally built in Patterson, La., by a lumber baron as a wedding present for his son. The Gothic Revival church was constructed from local cypress trees at a cost of $2,800 in 1885. In 1946 the chapel was sold for $200, dismantled, relocated and assembled at its present site.

A search of the record of the State of Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation has found a total of 62 late nineteenth/early twentieth century churches in the 13 parishes that comprise southwestern Louisiana. This church is thought to be one of the three best and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

1911 Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center

Megan Hartman, our amiable guide and the senior marketing manager of the Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, by now knows our interests include photography. She brings us to the Lake Charles old city hall which is now converted to the town’s Arts and Cultural Center. Opposite sits the old court house and guarding it (and pointing right at the former city hall) is the World War II German 15Cm sFH18 howitzer donated by the U.S. War Department in 1948. The howitzer was a replacement for the Civil War cannon that previously graced the site but was taken for its iron during the war effort.

And inside we find, to our pleasure, one of the Center’s many traveling exhibits, the magnificent National Geographic display of its 50 Greatest Photographs. The magazine has put this up online as an iPad feature.

The 50 images on display show the story behind the photograph including one taken in 1993 by Gerd Ludwig, who photographed, with their mothers’ permission, eight children in a Moscow school whose left forearms were malformed by the pollution in the former Soviet Union. He wrote that he wanted to show how “innocent children suffer from something society as a whole can be blamed for.”

The first image to catch visitors’ eyes is Steve McCurry’ s famous shot that graced the June 1985 cover when Sharbat Gula, an Afghan refugee (sometimes called the Afghan Mona Lisa as a result of this photograph) was approximately 12 years old. McCurry is almost as interesting as his “Afghan Girl.”

McCurry won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his war photographs, the National Press Photographers Association award as Magazine Photographer of the Year and, the same year, an unprecedented four first place places in the World Press contest. He was given the honor by Kodak in July 2010 of shooting the last roll of Kodachrome the company made.

His Afghan photograph has been named “the most recognized photograph in the history of the National Geographic Magazine.” McCurry went back 17 years later and found her again!

Imperial Calcasieu Museum

This museum chronicles the history of a sprawling region and has traveling displays. At the time of our visit the exhibit was from the New Orleans Museum of Art on Matisse, Miro and Picasso. This is a museum that justifies a protracted visit as there is a lot to see.

The backyard has the famous 375-year-old Sallier Oak. (Lake Charles was named after an early settler, Charles Sallier. The city got his first name and the tree his last.) Exhibits are scattered throughout the museum — a walk around is like a fun treasure hunt. Not much fun, however, for the Confederate patients under Dr. J.A. Ware’s knife on the battlefield.

All historic museums seem to have their old drug store and this one is no exception.

The drug store display is almost cluttered, but that’s how it probably was in real life. To remind us that its military artifacts go back to times before the Civil War replicas of several dueling pistols used by a buccaneer hang crossed on the walls — although they were actually forged by a local mechanical engineer in the late 1940s.

Walking around this museum is an escape into earlier times in America’s South, where life-sized dioramas demonstrate the way it was.

Displays show the role of women in those times, the finery, the gentility and the relationship between mother and daughter. A hand-wound record player, which reminds us of the advertisement For His Master’s Voice, has everything except the listening dog. A barber’s shop and the village store are so realistic you want to step into them.

The exhibits show an era that has passed, an era of elegance, an era when life had, what would be the word? Culture?

But as Mary Pettibone Poole (1930s author of all those magnificent and funny quotations who used hallucinogens and practiced free love before others seemingly had heard of the idea) once said: “Culture is what your butcher would have if he were a surgeon.”

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator and Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.