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“Let him who wishes continue.”

Louisiana abounds with tales of antebellum sugar kings and their baronial estates. For extravagance and tragedy, few eclipse Valcour Aimé, the “Louis XIV of Louisiana” and his home, Petit Versailles. Wondering what remained, I drove up the Great River Road some years back and found lush cane fields crowding the bones of what had been the grandest private garden in the Americas. The big house had been lost to a fire in 1920, but old photos and journals gave a glimpse of the grandeur that was. François-Gabriel “Valcour” Aimé was born into wealth in St. Charles Parish in 1798 but never rested on his lofty laurels. After buying a string of sugar plantations, he experimented with refining methods and developed a vacuum pan system revolutionizing the...

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Whistling “Dixie” in Brazil

When I was traveling across Brazil some years ago, a Rio lady noticed my Southern accent and asked if I’d heard about an old Confederate colony somewhere below Sao Paolo. I thought she was kidding until a little homework confirmed that, sure enough, thousands of former confederates, or confederados as they’re called in the local Portuguese, immigrated to Brazil in 1866, following the South’s defeat in the Civil War, and founded a town called Americano. The colonists came at the invitation of Emperor Dom Pedro II, a far-thinking monarch interested in promoting agriculture throughout his empire. He appealed to the bruised dignity of Southern cotton planters who had lost everything in the war and were chafing under Union domination. The emperor’s trump card, albeit...

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Dubai in Dixie

“Why was Atlanta so different from the other Georgia towns? Why did it grow so fast? After all, it had nothing whatsoever to recommend it—only its railroads and a lot of pushy people.” Anyone visiting this astonishing boomtown, as I did recently, might wonder the same thing, but the question was posed in 1936 by Atlanta writer Margaret Mitchell in her novel…well, you know. She expressed more such views through her heroine Scarlett O’Hara who, “had always liked Atlanta for the very same reasons that made Savannah, Augusta and Macon condemn it. Like herself, the town was a mixture of the old and the new in Georgia, in which the old often came off second best in its conflicts with the self-willed and vigorous new.” Mitchell’s presentiments may seem eerie, but it’s...

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