The incessant din of modernity along the I-10/Essen Lane corridor can suddenly be muffled by an unlikely source - rural whispers of our past.
Nestled inside our lifestyle choices and modern, industrialized environment, a rural enclave thrives, preserving 18th-19th century Louisiana. Experiencing it requires a simple turn from Essen Lane. The LSU Rural Life Museum cannot be captured in any one building or artifact. It represents an essence of the state’s rural heritage, ironically set in the middle of spawned modern urbanity.
The museum’s 15th Annual Harvest Days celebration, Sept. 24-25 at the 450-acre Burden Plantation, is a culmination of the Rural Life Museum’s mission and objectives.
Visitors attending this year’s festival can expect living history re-enactments and demonstrations that interpret real life as it appeared on Louisiana farms and plantations during harvest times in the 19th century.
Domestically, daily life required tools, materials and social assumptions rooted in an agricultural age. Twenty-five artisans will demonstrate common activities found on plantations and farms in 19th century Louisiana.
Average Louisianians back then made essential items such as soap; built their own boats from nearby forested resources; hunted and harvested food with non-mechanized tools, and secured essentials of survival, which further marked their era of life.
Visitors can view various museum exhibits spread over 25 acres of the Burden Plantation land, which additionally serves as an agricultural research and experiment station.
During Harvest Days, visitors soon will come upon 19th century army encampments as 150 actors prepare to re-enact the 1862 Battle of Baton Rouge. Military ordnance demonstrations also will be featured, and they will include musket and cannon fire under military maneuvers, providing a foil of realism to the nostalgia.
Harvest Days includes plenty of fun and activities for the entire family to enjoy. A children’s program is offered which includes wagon rides, and hands-on experiences with 19th century recreational games enjoyed by youths and families during the era.
“Harvest Days educates and preserves,” Rural Life Museum marketing director Elizabeth McInnis said. “The fall festival kicks off everything, and is a great community and educational experience for everyone,” she said.
A new wrinkle included in this year’s Harvest Days event will be the first Scarecrow Festival competition.
“The Scarecrow Festival is an over-arcing (fun) program and competition that encompasses the rural life theme, and fits very well into Harvest Days,” museum education curator Steve Ramke said.
“It’s supposed to represent a ?small town,’ community watch event. And everyone knows the influence scarecrows have had in rural life,” Ramke said.
Children, schools, community groups and businesses are encouraged to participate in the construction of scarecrow figures tied to the rural life theme of “Swamp Things.”
“We are using the Scarecrow Festival to kick off Harvest Days activities,” Ramke added.
“Our swamp theme has such a tie to rural life in Louisiana. With the Atchafalaya Basin, fishing, hunting, and logging activities can provide great ideas for figures that can be created,” Ramke said.
Scarecrow materials - twine, hay and stands - will be provided by the museum. Since the Scarecrow Festival is in its inaugural run, the museum waived all entry fees to the competition for any category.
“Just bring your overalls, and your ideas,” McInnis said.
Scarecrow renditions and figurines can take almost any form in human, animal, or any other combination so long as it adheres to the theme of life in a Louisiana swamp.
Competitors may work on their scarecrows on the museum grounds during operating hours, Sept 16-24, Ramke said.
Judging commences Oct. 2, but all entries remain on display through Oct. 30.
In conjunction with the Oct. 2 awards ceremony, other activities include a barbecue sale, country music, and family activities and interactive educational exhibits.
Competing brackets are divided among children/schools, family/groups, clubs/organizations, and businesses. Entries will be limited so participants must register by contacting the Rural Life Museum at (225) 765-2437.
“We desire to get the community more involved and aware of what we are doing here,” McInnis said.
“And we thought of this (scarecrow) program as a fun activity, strictly for the local community,” McInnis said.
The interpretive programs at the museum examine ancestral family interactions in the 19th century, which include the educational aspects of the past to families and young people today, the marketing director added.
“Harvest Festival has become extremely popular, especially with mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers.
“It transcends the recent past to people who might have had some similar experiences with a rural way of life,” McInnis said.