This article was published in the Teche News (St. Martin Parish weekly paper) Wednesday, May 26, 2010. It was written by Jim Bradshaw and titled "Durand wedding one of fanciest ever".
One hundred forty years ago this month, on May 21, 1870, Gerome Charles Durand staged a wedding that has become the stuff of legend in Acadiana-so much so that it is sometimes difficult to tell how much of the story is true and how much of it is embellishment that has grown with each telling.
Durand was supposedly one of the wealthiest of the wealthy in St. Martin Parish in the days when aristocrats fleeing the French Revolution supposedly transformed St. Martinville into Petis Paris. According to the stories told about him, he traveled in gold-ornamented carriages drawn by horses bedecked in the fanciest harnesses he could find. His home was at the end of a three-mile oak and pine alley between St. Martinville and Catahoula and was filled with the finest furnishings Europe could offer.
It is said that he gave standing orders that he and his family were to be awakened each morning with delicate sprays of perfume. He wore the fanciest clothes he could find.
It was only to be expected that he would throw the finest wedding ever when two of his daughters decided to get married on the same day. Marie Louise Heloise Durand announced her engagement to James E Mouton at the same time as her sister, Corine Marie Philomene Durand, became betrothed to Zachary Fournet.
The proud poppa promised that they would have the most beautiful, elegant, and unusual wedding ever seen in Louisiana.
To fulfill that promise, as the romantic legend is told, he ordered a million spiders imported from Chinaand sent couriers to California to fetch hundreds of pounds of silver and gold dust. (A less romantic version of the story says the spiders came from nearby Catahoula Lake, but I like the China version better.)
Shortly before the wedding day, the spiders were set loose to spin millions of yards of delicate webs amoung the limbs of the oak and pine alley. On the morning of the wedding, servants armed with bellows filled with the silver and gold dust sprayed the cobweb canopy to set it glittering in the sunlight like something from a fairy tale.
Other servants placed fancy carpets beneath the trees, creating a colorful pathway to the open-air altar where the ceremonies were to be performed. Tables set beneath the trees were filled with food and drink. Musicians played from hidden spots up and down the avenue.
Two thousand guests attended the marriage ceremony. Toasts, dancing, laughter and song lasted until dusk, when a steamboat chugged up Bayou Teche to take the newlyweds to New Orleans honeymoons. Fireworks filled the air as the boats departed.
The wedding proved to be Durand's last grand gesture. He died Nov. 26, 1820, just months after the remarkable festivities.
Over the years his grand manor fell into disrepair and eventually tumbled down. The 1927 flood washed away its last remnants. The only reminder today of his opulent life is a stretch of oak and pine trees brandhing away from Highway 96 northest of St. Martinville.
A plaque near the highway tells the story of the famous wedding. There is little else there but cane fields.
But, once in a while, in the early morning when the dew is still bright on the trees and golden sunlight strikes them just right, there is a fleeting glimpse of just what it might have been like on that festive day nearly a century and a half ago whend Charles Durand created a legend that has become symbolic of the glories of Petit Paris, real or imagined.