If you’ve seen the movie Interview with a Vampire, then you’ve seen Oak Alley Plantation. It was the home of the vamp, Louis, played by then-hunky Brad Pitt, but it’s also been in numerous other video productions like Beyoncé’s music video for Déjà Vu, and the movie also named Déjà Vu starring Denzel Washington. Located at 3645 Hwy 18, Vacherie, LA 70090, it’s open daily from 9am to 5pm, and admission costs $25 per adult, $10 for youth aged 13 to 18, and $7 for 5 or younger. You can either pay the admission and walk the grounds, or you can dine at the Oak Alley Restaurant & Inn, stay the night in one of the numerous cottages, or even get married there, if you so choose…
We decided to just walk around on our own and meandered towards the exhibits, mainly the “Slavery at Oak Alley Exhibit”. These were various reconstructed cottages and huts that resembled the ones slaves had to live in while being enslaved at Oak Alley. There was information about the lives of the slaves and the artifacts inside the cottages, located on signs posted throughout. It was a very sobering moment, to say the least, to stare in the face of how slaves used to live and what they had to endure. While slaves at Oak Alley were generally treated “well” (based purely on how slaves were generally treated during this time), they were still slaves, and treated as a slave would have been treated.
There were several informative signs posted throughout, like; “Why would a slave visit the sick house?”, information about the laundry kettle and how the slave women were forced to hand wash countless loads of laundry for the entire plantation, “Expectations: Life as a House Slave”, and emancipation. One of the cottages was dedicated to the clothing, identity, and life of the average slave. Another was dedicated to the kinds of tools they’d be made to use while attending to the various grounds of the plantation.
One of the cottages was the “Post-emancipation Quarters”, which had a wall with names of numerous slaves that were forced to live and work at Oak Alley. Here is where we learned that over 220 men, women, and children were enslaved at Oak Alley during its history as a plantation. We learned about the hierarchy that existed among slave ranks, and how entire families could be demoted to the bottom of the barrel for the sins of one family member. It was eye-opening and depressing. You read or hear about slavery in history class, but it’s quite another thing to visit a place completely drenched in it.
We eventually made our way up an oak-lined alleyway towards the Main House. Not the famous alleyway from where the plantation gets its name, but its smaller, less-known cousin. We arrived about 5 minutes before the next tour of the Main House was set to begin, so I was able to run down the famous oak-lined walkway and snap the obligatory picture that everyone snaps at Oak Alley. If it weren’t for the soul-crushing history, Oak Alley would be a beautiful place to live or get married, from an aesthetics point of view. It is very picturesque and somewhat enchanting, and you feel it the most while standing at the end of the famous oak-lined walkway, looking towards the Main House.
Tours of the Main House are included in the price of admission, you just must wait for the next tour to begin and cannot wander the house by yourself. Unfortunately, photography is strictly forbidden inside the main house, so I have no pictures of that. However, almost all the inside décor and furniture is not original anyway, save for a few pieces like a set of china and an original 19th century ceiling fan in the dining room. Our guide explained the history of the Main House, how it came to be built, the various owners, the history of the plantation, and of course, the slaves who worked here. The house is rather small on the inside, but one can easily imagine how grand and opulent it must have been in its heyday. Not all of the areas inside the home are accessible, but she took us around to most of it. After the tour of the inside was complete, the guide took us to the upstairs balcony where we were greeted with a great view of the oak-lined walkway. After the tour of the Main House, we decided to call it a day (you can only visit for a max 2 hours anyway… still not quite sure how they enforce that).
Overall, I did enjoy visiting Oak Alley Plantation, mainly because I enjoy historic places and learning about history, and had never toured a legitimate southern plantation before (if you’re not that into history, this may not be the place for you). It was humbling and eye-opening to learn about the past of Oak Alley, the South, and Louisiana, and that was my goal – to learn. Of course, in America, we grow up learning about slavery within the United States, but it’s rare to face it so up-close and personal. It’s an experience I think everyone should have. It puts it into a different perspective that I don’t believe can be achieved through textbooks or Google. Please give Oak Alley Plantation a visit if you’re ever in the New Orleans or Baton Rouge area.