The gray monkey is as French as any of the people represented in the exhibit.
No, that?s not saying people of French descent have special traditions set aside for commemorating gray monkeys. Then again, some of them do.
The French of Iberville have been honoring the gray monkey with its own parade since 1946.
Now, the honor doesn?t go to just any gray monkey but that once owned by Lolita Daigre. You can see it inside one of the large, glass cases in the Iberville Museum?s exhibit The French of Iberville.
The exhibit is the second-to-last in the museum?s continuing People of Iberville series, which has been commemorating Iberville Parish?s different cultures since 2008. The final exhibit in the series will focus on the Native American culture and is set to open in the fall of 2012.
So, the French are taking the stage right now, and Lolita Daigre?s gray monkey doll sits in one of several spotlights.
?This is the actual gray monkey,? Rita Lynn Jackson said.
She?s the series? project director, and her comment is significant, because the doll inspired a community tradition.
That?s another series goal, not only to highlight cultures but cultures within the local community. Local people, families and traditions are part of Iberville Parish?s ongoing history.
So, the gray monkey doll is important.
Daigre was one of the French of Iberville, a culture which makes up 47 percent of the parish?s population. The parish is named for Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d?Iberville, known as the ?Founder of Louisiana,? who governed the Louisiana colony from 1699 to 1763.
?Successive waves of European French and Acadians (French-speaking refugees exiled from Canada) settled throughout Iberville Parish,? the museum?s exhibit brochure said. ?Acadians arrived in St. Gabriel around 1767 ? This group and the Acadians who settled Bayou Pigeon brought with them a unique culture ? Catholic heritage, language, food and customs ? which influenced the lives of parish residents at that time. Their descendants have become the French of Iberville.?
Daigre was among those descendants, and was a kindergarten teacher in the parish. She purchased the gray monkey in a candy store on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. This spurred the first Gray Monkey Children?s Parade.
That was in 1946. The children?s parade continued until 1977, and the gray monkey was donated to the Iberville Parish Library, which revived the Gray Monkey Parade in 1985.
The library has since loaned the monkey to the Iberville Museum?s permanent Mardi Gras exhibit, but the monkey has temporarily found a home with The French of Iberville.
In fact, most of the pieces in this exhibit are temporary, on loan from local families. Walls and cases are filled with documents, photographs, paintings and artifacts.
Each piece tells a story.
And Richard Trepagnier is here to tell his.
?That?s my grandfather?s pocket watch, and that one belongs to my father,? he said.
The two watches are enclosed in the center of a large, glass case dedicated to the Trepagnier family. A binder containing the family?s genealogical history researched and created by genealogy library workers at the museum accompanies the exhibit.
In fact, each family display is accompanied by such a binder.
?Fifty-two families brought in items,? Todd Cooper said. ?And we have close to 100 families represented in this exhibit.?
Cooper is the museum?s director, as well as the show?s curator. He decided where everything would be placed.
Trepagnier?s father, Richard S. Trepagnier Sr.?s photo stands behind the pocket watch.
?He was the assistant lockmaster at the Plaquemine Locks,? Trepagnier said. ?This was back in the 1930s and 1940s, and no one had cars. We lived in a house just down the street from the locks. It was on the same block as the lockmaster, and we all knew each other.?
Before Trepagnier?s father began working in the lock house, the Trepagnier family ancestors had moved from France to Quebec. Then from Quebec to Louisiana.
?That was in 1627,? Trepagnier said. ?In the 1878 census of Iberville Parish, my grandfather, Aristide, is 12 years old. He made his living laying tracks for the Texas-Pacific Railroad in New Orleans.?
Aristide also worked in the crew that laid tracks for the streetcar line in New Orleans.
?Dad moved here in 1932,? Trepagnier said. ?The glasses you see here came from F.L. Trapagnier and Bros. jewelry store in Donaldsonville.?
The glasses are small spectacles that have been placed between the two watches, and the spelling is correct ? Trapagnier with an ?a? at the beginning instead of an ?e.?
?That happened sometimes,? Jackson said. ?Family names were spelled differently in different places. But the families are the same.?
She?s right. There are other cases of different spellings in family displays throughout the gallery. But again, the families are the same.
?There was also a Trepagnier jewelry store that was already established in Plaquemine when we moved here,? Trepagnier said.
That?s Trepagnier with an ?e.?
?Gilbert Cyr owned it, and people would walk in with a broken watch or piece of jewelry and say, ?Mr. Trepagnier, can you fix this??? Trepagnier said. ?He would just take it and say, ?Yes,? but he never told them that his name wasn?t Trepagnier.?
He laughs. That?s just the way things were, the way some things still are. Plaquemine has always been one of those small communities where everyone knows everyone.
And the People of Iberville series has a way of bringing everyone together.
Many museum patrons will remember getting their hair cut while sitting in the barber chair in the shop owned by Henry Hebert and his son Wayne. They may even remember the barber tools that were used, most of which can be found inside the glass case next to the chair.
They?ll remember the whistle from the Golden Gate Syrup Mill. They?ll reminisce about Price LeBlanc?s first car lot, which stood across from his Iberville Parish home.
Though many may not have seen the original, handwritten papers for the incorporation of the City of Plaquemine in 1835, they?ll certainly be able to relate to it. This is their hometown, after all.
A hometown where visitors are welcome to stop by and learn more about the city?s history.
A history made up of a collection of cultures.
And, of course, a gray monkey.