25 Fascinating Facts About Louisiana
From funeral parades to breakfast beignets, life in Louisiana is all about celebrating the good times. Below, a few things you might not know about the Bayou State.
1. The Louisiana Territory was claimed by Robert Cavelier de La Salle in 1682 and named for King Louis XIV. In French, “La Louisiane” means “Land of Louis.”
2. Tasked with negotiating the purchase of French land on behalf of the U.S. government, James Monroe and Robert Livingston initially offered $5 million and then $10 million for New Orleans and what was then called West Florida. Napoleon countered by offering all of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million—$233 million when adjusted for inflation. Once the government had paid back the loans required to make the purchase, the 828,000-square-mile land mass had cost a total of $23 million—and doubled the size of the U.S.
3. At one time, the state of Louisiana was divided into counties. These units of local government were replaced in 1807 with 19 parishes, the borders of which generally corresponded to areas that had previously been administered by local churches. Today there are a total of 64 parishes in Louisiana.
4. Louisiana has plenty to boast about: Breaux Bridge, a city in the St. Martin Parish, is known as the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” Dubach is called the “Dog Trot Capital of the World” for its many breezeway style houses, Rayne is the “Frog Capital of the World,” Mamou is the “Cajun Music Capital of the World,” Gueydan is the “Duck Capital of America,” and Crowley is the “Rice Capital of the World” (though Stuttgart, Arkansas would dispute those last two titles).
5. The town of Rayne, which one Depression-era report described as "the center of the Louisiana frog industry," celebrates with an annual Frog Festival. There's a pageant (for high schoolers), races and jumping competitions (for frogs), and lots and lots of frog legs on offer. The frogs, for their part, show up dressed to impress, in frog-sized tuxes and top hats.
6. We have a Louisiana-bred chef to thank for the meat monstrosity (or masterpiece, depending on your perspective) known as the Turducken. Paul Prudhomme of Opelousas claims to have invented the three-bird rollup—although meat-stuffed meat dishes have had a place at holiday feasts dating back to at least the 16th century.
7. The highest point in the state is located east of Shreveport at Driskill Mountain. It is only 535 feet above sea level. Louisiana’s lowest point (and the second-lowest point in the country) is the city of New Orleans, which is eight feet below sea level.
8. Because of the state’s low elevation, the dead are often laid to rest above ground instead of being buried. Mausoleums replace crypts and markers in cemeteries in New Orleans and other cities. Actor Nicolas Cage has already purchased his mausoleum in New Orleans. It's shaped like a pyramid.
9. The popular phrase “Laissez les bons temps rouler” is a word-for-word translation of “let the good times roll,” and thus not a grammatically correct French saying. (To get the party started in France, they'd tell you to Prenons du bons temps!)
10. The world’s longest bridge over a body of water is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. The bridge, which stretches nearly 24 miles, has two parallel spans, the first of which opened in 1956 and the other in 1969. It also has its own website, where drivers can check for traffic and weather updates, view live feeds, and learn what to do in case their car sinks into the lake.
11. The state bird of Louisiana is the Brown Pelican, which was considered endangered from 1970 to 1990. The species had to be reintroduced to the so-called Pelican State from 1968 to 1980 because the pesticide DDT had caused reproductive failure. Recovery efforts have resulted in an estimated 40,000 brown pelicans currently living in Louisiana. The bird has been adopted as the mascot of both a minor league baseball team and a professional basketball team.
12. The first opera performance in the United States was held at the Théâtre de la Rue St. Pierre in New Orleans on May 22, 1796. The production was André Ernest Modeste Grétry’s Sylvain. The theater where the play was staged burned down in 1816, along with the Orléans Theater and other nearby buildings.
13. Louisiana has one of the highest alligator populations in the country, with an estimated two million in the wild and another 300,000 on alligator farms. The hide and raw meat industries collectively bring in around $57 million a year.
14. There are two historical references for the New Orleans nickname “The Big Easy.” The first is written into a 1987 Times-Picayune article, which reported that “The Big Easy” was the name of a music venue (or several venues) where musicians played. Going to play “The Big Easy” became synonymous with going to the city, and the name stuck. The other reference comes from a 1970s columnist named Betty Guillard, who used the phrase to describe the relaxed NOLA lifestyle.
15. Roughly 1.4 million people attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans every year. The population of New Orleans for the rest of the year is only slightly more than a quarter of that, at just over 384,000, according to the United States Census Bureau.
16. There are approximately half a million king cakes sold in New Orleans every year around Mardi Gras, with another 50,000 shipped out to customers in other states. The treats are a part of an Epiphany tradition that has been around since at least the 1300s. The official Mardi Gras colors on the cakes served today (purple, green, and gold) signify justice, faith, and power; the person who finds the plastic baby inside is said to have secured good luck for the coming year (but is also tasked with buying next year’s cake).
17. Canal Street, the iconic road where Mardi Gras revelers throw beads and enjoy the lack of open container laws, was named after a project that never happened. An actual canal was supposed to be dug, connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.
18. The town of Gibsland is home to a Bonnie and Clyde museum, managed by the son of one of the men who killed the infamous duo during a shootout. (Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed about eight miles south of Gibsland.)
19. The official state bear of Louisiana, the Louisiana black bear, is endangered. There are about 600 of the bears left, and while some experts say that there is no danger that the bears will be extinct in the next century, most would like to see the population grow substantially.
20. The capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, supposedly got its name (which translates to "red stick") in 1699. French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville wrote that he saw a pole covered in animal blood along a Mississippi River bluff. The pole served as a marker signifying the division of land between the Bayougoula and Houmas Indian tribes.
21. The world records for “the most people twerking simultaneously” (406) and the “most volunteer hours worked” (77,019, by one Viola Cocran) were set in Louisiana. These honors were in no way related.
22. Several popular cocktails were invented in New Orleans, including the Sazerac and the Hurricane. The Sazerac’s claim to fame as the first cocktail ever made has been disputed in recent years, but that did not stop the Louisiana House of Representatives from making it the official cocktail of the city.
23. Despite its boozy history, the official state drink of Louisiana is … milk.
24. A Six Flags amusement park in Louisiana that was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina was used as one of the shooting locations for the blockbuster film Jurassic World (2015). The park was also used to shoot scenes for Killer Joe (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), Stolen (2012), and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013).
25. Jazz was born in Louisiana, though the exact year is unknown. Some say it originated in the late 19th century, while others argue that the first jazz song recorded was “Livery Stable Blues” by Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band.