Carville, Louisiana is a beautiful area located 16 miles south of Baton Rouge on the Mississippi River and secluded from much of society that encompasses so much history that I could learn about it for days and days. Once a hospital for Leprosy patients and for a few short years, a minimal security prison for white collar and sick inmates.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to visit the National Hansen’s Disease Museum and Public Health Service Hospital, which treated Hansen’s Disease patients (also known as Leprosy patients) for over a hundred years. I have learned that calling the patients “lepers” is very offensive so I will not use the word much. The hospital is now closed, but a small amount of buildings still remain open, where a few patients still live because Carville has become their home.
The area is now known as the Gillis W. Long Center and is operated by the Louisiana Army National Guard.
The tour of the museum starts out with a fantastic video interviewing Hansen’s Disease patients, their caretakers and goes gives some history of the disease. You truly learn what these individuals went through when they were first diagnosed with the disease. Many were quarantined and sent away from their families who some never saw again. The patients still living in Carville, their home, have not seen their family since they were adolescents and are now in their eighties.
When the video ended, we were free to look around the museum. The museum has old medical tools, pictures of patients, records of names, x-rays, mock set-up of the rooms they lived in and much more. It is like walking into a history book. All of it is very interesting. Every once in a while they will have a patient who still lives there to speak to everyone.
After looking around at the museum, we went on the driving tour. There are not many places to walk around due to respecting the privacy of individuals residing in Carville. The tour brings you up to different buildings with explanations of each. One of the last stops is the cemetery. You are able to get out and walk around at that stop. People go to Carville in search of relatives who may be buried there. Many patients changed their name upon arrival to Carville so their families did not acquire the stigma of having a relative with leprosy, so their name may be difficult to find. The museum has record of all names that will help you find out if you have a relative buried in the cemetery.
I know you see I mentioned that Carville also served as a prison. From 1991 to 1994, Carville served as a minimal security prison. Check out the next blog post coming soon to hear about a former inmate of Carville that will be speaking at the Lt. Governor’s Tourism Summit that I will be attending!
Christy Chachere, Visit Baton Rouge
Christy Chachere is the Communications Coordinator for Visit Baton Rouge. Born and raised in Louisiana, LSU grad and now promoting our great city day after day! You can find her tweeting, facebooking, blogging, instagramming and much more for us!