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Hiding In Plain Sight

Among New Orleans’s more elegant and enigmatic homes is the Luling Mansion on Esplanade Ridge. Completed in 1865, the last year of the Civil War, and deeply touched by tragedy, it emanates mystery in a city celebrated for ghosts, vampires and other things that go bump in the night. Stashed on Leda Court, a half block off busy Esplanade Avenue, the house is easily missed unless you’re looking for it. This was hardly the case in its mid-nineteenth century heyday when it was showcased on eighty acres alongside Bayou St. John. Designed by legendary New Orleans architect James Gallier, Jr. for Florence Luling, a wealthy German cotton merchant, the plastered brick structure was three-and-a half stories of Italianate opulence taking two years to build. It topped a...

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Lost & Found

At first glance, the 1854 house flying the French flag at 2306 Esplanade Avenue is unremarkable in a town teeming with antebellum homes trimmed with cast-iron galleries, but its story is far richer than most. Events within these walls rocked the international art world after a visit from Edgar Degas, the only nineteenth-century French Impressionist to ever work in America. “He drowsed in the vibrant sunlight until the carriage halted before the Musson home. Through bleary eyes, he admired a handsome, three-storied house with generous galleries and dependencies and, here and there, cousin Désirée’s promised sweet olive trees.” –Creole Son Degas (1834-1917) was born in Paris to a French father, Auguste Degas, and a New Orleans-born mother, Célestine Musson. In...

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Game of Thrones

My favorite perk of writing historical fiction is exploring sites for my plots and characters. More often than not, the search leads to serendipitous flights of fancy that are great fun despite having nothing to do with the book. For example, when I started researching Creole Son about painter Edgar Degas’s visit to New Orleans, I needed a scene at a sugar plantation to introduce his inventor cousin Norbert Rillieux whose invention for refining sugar revolutionized the industry. The Millaudon plantation Degas actually visited was no longer standing, but since I lived in the French Quarter there were others nearby to provide the ambience I needed to write the scene. Lots of old homes line the Great River Road paralleling the Mississippi, and after some homework I...

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