Historical characters come to life at annual fundraiser

The museum’s characters will be support players this year as food takes the spotlight at the fourth annual “Night at the Capitol Park Museum.”

And food has a way of breathing life into any situation without the aid of supernatural powers. Think back to the 2006 Ben Stiller comedy, “Night at the Museum,” where magical tablets at the tomb of Ahkmenrah brought Brooklyn’s Museum of Natural History’s exhibits to life each night.

Ahkmenrah was the mummy in the museum’s Egyptian exhibit. The Capitol Park Museum doesn’t have a mummy, but it does have its Friends of the Capitol Park Museum support group. This group will spin its magic on Saturday to stage the festivities which begin at 7 p.m.

“Last year, the theme was Louisiana music,” Lana Venable says. “This year it’s ‘The Flavour of Louisiana.’”

Venable is president of the Friends group, which was inspired by the Stiller comedy in creating this event where, for one night, the museum’s exhibits come to life as local actors and re-enactors take on the roles of the state’s historical characters.

In past events, Huey P. Long made the rounds, while Gabriel expressed his love for Evangeline beneath the museum’s reproduction of St. Martinville’s Evangeline Oak. Filling in the spaces in between were members of the Mardi Gras Krewe of Yazoo dressed in their traditional chicken outfits and pushing lawn mowers.

This year’s music headliner will be the Michael Foster Project, performing its brass jazz.

The personalities among the exhibits will include Earl Hebert, who captained the shrimp boat “Coca J.,” now part of the museum’s permanent display.

“Earl came last year, and he was so popular,” Venable says. “He tells about things that happened while he was on the boat, and they’re great stories.”

Other presences drifting about will be Ken Dixon, portraying his ancestor, Pushmahata, known as the Choctaw “Indian general;” Baton Rouge actor Oneal Isaac as the New Orleans Creole plaintiff Homer Plessy in the 1892 U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson; and The Advocate columnist Smiley Anders as the hotdog vendor at the Lucky Dog stand in the museum’s permanent display.

“There will be others,” says William Stark, the museum’s director. “We’re still working on a few things.”

In the midst of this action, Heirloom Cuisine will man stations highlighting foods representing the state’s regions, prepared by Chef Jason Roland.

Visitors will be given a passport at the front door, which will be stamped while they sample the foods at each station.

The foods are as varied as Louisiana’s population. North Louisiana is represented by a pig and peach appetizer featuring Ruston’s peaches, along with black eyed pea cornbread with jalapeno sour cream.

Then there’s Central Louisiana with its crispy fried Franklin Parish catfish with homemade tartar sauce and hushpuppies, Mardi Gras coleslaw and mini Natchitoches meat pies.

Next up is Plantation Country with a selection of green onion sausage, venison sausage, tasso and boudin. Finally, there’s Cajun Country represented by alligator bites and fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade.

“Once you have your passports stamped at each of these stations, you can turn them in at the end to be entered into a drawing for a $100 gift card,” Venable says.

Meanwhile, visitors will be able to bid on a wide range of Louisiana-themed items in a silent auction, including a weekend in the Pontalba Apartments in New Orleans’ Jackson Square and a painting created on the spot by Donaldsonville artist Alvin Batiste.

“The Pontalba Apartments package is something specially drawn up by the Louisiana State Museum system,” Venable says. “You won’t get this anywhere else.”

Venable has only words of praise for Batiste’s work.

“Alvin Batiste is so wonderful,” Venable says. “He’s a wonderful artist, and he’s so humble. He’s appeared at the event every year, and the painting he creates on the spot always gets a great price at the auction. We’re excited to have him back.”

The Capitol Park Museum is part of the Louisiana State Museum and was once known as the Louisiana State Museum at Capitol Park.

“Our name has officially been changed,” Venable says. “This is our identity.”

Proceeds from the event will fund the Friends of the Capitol Park Museum’s educational and volunteer programs, as well as its financial support for the museum.

“And for $60, you won’t get a better party,” Venable says. “You get food and musical entertainment. We’ll also have a bar. It’s a great deal, and our party is different from others in that we open the whole museum. We want people to walk through the exhibits and see what’s there while having a great time at the party.”

“Night at the Capitol Park Museum is one of Baton Rouge’s newest and best annual events,” adds Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, whose office directs the Louisiana State Museum system. “The Friends group does an excellent job bringing Louisiana’s colorful history to life. This year’s event celebrates one of our state’s most popular assets — our food.”