Bonfires take shape

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2013


LAPLACE – Mark Anderson’s family farmed Welham Plantation. It’s where he grew up.
And while Welham was torn down amid controversy in 1979 after Marathon purchased the land on which it stood, he’s done something to make sure it’s not forgotten.
As bonfire season in St. James gets ramped up, Anderson and some friends recently put the finishing touches on what will assuredly go down one of the more unique and impressive bonfires in the area, built in Convent, along River Road across from Poche Plantation and St. Michael Church.
“We want to do one every year,” said Anderson. “We want to honor the plantations of the past that are no longer here.”
Anderson said the bonfire took two weeks to build and is built 25 percent to scale of Welham.
“It fits all the guidelines. It’s all burnable,” he said. “The windows and door are handcrafted from wood.”
He said the tearing down of the original plantation created “a tragic memory” for himself and many of the area’s residents.
“My grandmother was a Gravois. I grew up on it,” he said. “When you’re talking about the Gravoises, the Kellers, the Poches, that’s a lot of people. There was a lot of sadness over it.
“We think building one of these replicas every year can bring some honor to it.”
He’s already received plenty of positive comments on it.
“The good thing about it is it was here as recently as 1979, so not so long ago that people don’t remember it,” he said. “Some have already come up to me and told me it looks just like Welham.”
While Anderson honors a fond childhood memory, 25-year-old Corey Zeringue honors the memory of his grandfather through his bonfire, an LSU-themed construction in Paulina.
The bonfire displays the letters LSU with a painted “eye of the tiger” on the grass out in front, reminiscent of the midfield design at Tiger Stadium.
Zeringue said he started building bonfires with his grandfather, who taught him how to do so.
He and his friends had built a similar LSU bonfire in 2008, the last one his grandfather saw before passing away.
“He told us to keep up the good work,” said Zeringue.
That he has. Zeringue, along with friends Phillip Chauvin, Schyler Beck, Timmy Blenk, Dustin Jenkins, Kyle Jenkins and Jonathan Zeringue, began working on the bonfire the first weekend following Thanksgiving and just finished Wednesday.
“We always try to do something different that represents Louisiana,” said Zeringue.
Its already attracting attention, as LSU is extremely popular around these parts.
“All week people have been stopping in to look and take pictures,” he said.
Both of these bonfires, along with the other 120 or so that line the Mississippi River levee in St. James and St. John the Baptist parish, will be lit at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but the celebrations surrounding this local tradition typically begin earlier in the day.