In 1960, we came over to Morgan City on a Sunday for the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet. It was the 23rd Blessing of the Fleet that they had in Morgan City. Back then, they had the decorated boats motoring up and down in the river in front of the city docks. I went up on the bridge and walked half way out to take photos. In the early days of shrimping, "You could have gone boat to boat to boat and walked all the way to the railroad bridge," according to an old resident.
It is now the the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival and it celebrated its 75th year as a Harvest Festival in 2010 In 2010, they also celebrated the 150 year anniversary of Morgan City. The fest's schedule of events includes parades, live music, fireworks, glitzy balls and a swim relay meet. Among the food and crafts booths that overtake Lawrence Park and Greenwood Street you will find an encyclopedic survey of coastal Louisiana shrimp cookery: shrimp etouffee, shrimp po-boys, shrimp on a stick, shrimp patties, shrimp fettuccine, bacon-wrapped shrimp.
This is a September event
Morgan City lays claim to the first offshore oil rig that produced oil out of the sight of land
Nov. 14, 1947 -- The oil well was brought in by Kerr-McGee in the Gulf of Mexico about 45 miles south of Morgan City in the Ship Shoal Block 32 Field, marking the birth of the offshore oil and gas industry.
This model (which has Christmas lights on it because it was mid December) in the center of the highway commemorates that event.
From Ocean Marine Services website
The oil or more properly, the petroleum products industry is of extraordinary importance to the economies of the community, the state, and the nation. Local origins of the industry may be found in the discovery of oil on Belle Isle by A. F. Lucas in 1896. In 1914, oil wells were drilled on Avoca Island. Morgan City's "black gold rush" did not truly begin, however, until November 14, 1947, when a Kerr-McGee experimental offshore oil rig struck oil. This event marked the founding of the offshore oil industry, an industry vital to the security and well-being of the United States. At present, “offshore" drilling produces approximately sixteen percent of the free world’s total of oil and over six percent of the world's natural gas.
Morgan City also has an "authentic" oil rig that can be toured. (See Mr. Charlie tip)
In 1937, Morgan City became known as the "jumbo" shrimp capitol of the world. A "blessing of the fleet" was held each year to insure a safe return and a bountiful harvest. One of the few places we went when we lived in Louisiana in 1960 was to Morgan City for the blessing of the fleet. We walked out on the old bridge and watched the boats parading underneath of us.
Following the blessing, the celebration traveled to Egle's Place for a fais-do-do, a Cajun dance. This was the inception of the Louisiana Shrimp Festival, the state's oldest chartered harvest festival.
While there was damage to the shrimp boats and shrimp industry in the Biloxi MS area, Hurricane Katrina went mostly to the east of Morgan City, so hopefully this boat and the spirit is still there.
I was interested in hearing the bell tower, and the park was said to be free. It was indeed free, but it had been closed after the hurricanes, and had just recently reopened. According to the visitor's book, we were the first visitors in 2 days, although we met two ladies with big cameras on the way back to the visitor's center.
The carillon is in an 106 foot tower and has 61 bronze
bells - it is one of the largest cast-bell carillons in the world. Each of the bells has to be 'tuned' so that they sound not only the main tone, but also the upper and lower tones in harmony.
However, when we talked to the guy at the visitor's center and asked him if he sounded the bells from the keyboard behind him, he answered that they are played by a machine in the corner which looked something like an organ with foot pedals as well as hand levers and apparently they need someone who is very athletic to do it. They have no one to play the bells now and the
quarter hour sounding was done on a tape that they had made of the bells at a time when they did have someone to play them. This was disappointing.
The man in the visitor's center apparently walked with canes, and had difficulty speaking - possibly due to cerebral palsy. .
We walked out to the tower and then went back to town.
According to the website:
The Brownell Memorial Park and Campanile is the gift of Mrs. Claire Horatio Brownell, a member of one of Louisiana's pioneer families.
The 9.5 acre park shows the many various plants and trees that grow abundantly wild along the ridges of these swamps - palmettos, elephant ears, cattails, fern, many varieties of iris and other flowers, moss-laden oaks, berry vines, cypress, and tupelo..
Cypress Manor is a two-story house which contains antiques and Mardi Gras costumes from 1928 to the present.
Open Tuesday-Saturday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Admission was $3 and we decided not to go in. It is part of the historic downtown district. Walking tour maps can be obtained from the information center on Myrtle Street (which I never found)
The International Petroleum Museum and Exposition is billed as "The Only Place in the World Where the General Public can Walk Aboard an Authentic Offshore Drilling Rig!"
Tour Times Monday - Saturday
10:00 AM and 2:00 PM
Adults -- $5.00
Children under 12 -- $3.50
Children under 5 -- Free
Seniors -- $4.00
We were here about 1:45, but I wasn't sure that I really wanted to wait nor that I wanted to climb on an oil rig. So we didn't actually tour this. The rig was named after the father of Charles Murphy of Ocean Drilling and Exploration company.
The Short Story from the website says:
"From 1954 to 1986 "Mr. Charlie" drilled hundreds of offshore wells off the coast of Morgan City, Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. He was the first transportable, submersible drilling rig and an industry springboard to the current offshore rig technology.
"Mr. Charlie" was built in 1952 and finished in 1953. In 1954 he went to work for Shell Oil Company, drilling a new field in East Bay, near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Despite skepticism from offshore industry professionals, "Mr. Charlie" performed up to expectations and went on to drill hundreds of wells for every other major oil company operating in the Gulf, with a cumulative depth of 2.3 million feet.
His barge is approximately 220 feet long and 85 feet wide. Under the living quarters pontoons extend the width to 136 feet. The barge is 14 feet deep, with a 4 foot skirt extending below its bottom on both port and starboard sides. The floor of the platform is 60 feet above the barge, supported by the massive legs that serve to connect the barge and platform. These legs also serve as conduit for connecting services such as: electric, water & air lines, elevator access and other services needed to operate an independent facility, out of sight of land
There's not much to the oil town of Morgan City, Louisiana but there's a few nice area spots which showcase the local semi-tropical wetland scenery. Peaceful Brownell Memorial Park is one of these.
Just north of Morgan City, right off Highway 70, is a nice 10-acre site adjacent to Lake Palourde.
A gravel driveway leads the visitor to a small cypress information center. Sometimes raccoons show up to be fed here.
Close by is a nice sculpture with a cypress lined backdrop of Lake Palourde.
From the parking area is a short nature trail which leads to and from a clearing containing a chiming bell tower over 100 feet tall.
Admission is free and the park is open from Wed.-Sun. from 9AM-5PM.