For years, I’ve wrestled with the many stories that I wove together for this single article. Two of them in particular stay on my mind, but in very different ways. More on one of them in a moment…
But first, a bit of personal anecdote. For a long time, I thought I discovered The Cottage on a Sunday drive down River Road the first year we lived in Baton Rouge. In truth, my mother had first mentioned it to me years ago, while she read from Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novel, mentioned above. It seems my paternal grandfather’s late first wife had purchased a copy and kept it in her private Texas hill country library for my mom to discover decades later. After the story came out, my mother reminded me that she’d read the book and told part of the story to me as a child. In retrospect, I wonder how much of those stories of the Deep South compelled me to respond so strongly to the ruins upon first seeing them? The book is in my possession now, a reminder of how we’re all connected.
Back on track…Since I tend to find that people with whom I tell this story are interested in updates–especially with regard to the late Margaret Rosamond McMillan, here are a few:
– The McMillan murder case is receiving a bit of press again, thanks in part to Malcolm Shurman‘s new book, The Levee: A Novel of Baton Rouge (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008). He’s also giving an interesting series of public lectures regarding how this case brought Baton Rouge into the ’60s. I’d be curious to know what he says, given that he’s an anthropologist by training. (I’ve ordered the book.)
– It seems that television-generated interest in old murder mysteries led to a revisiting of the story in 2005. That April, Chris White, a writer for the LSU Legacy, published an article, “Cold Case Files: Mickey and the Mysterious Murder.” There are a few interesting morsels in the story.
– An old article from 1960, The Dean and the Professor, is up now on the Time magazine site.
– Life Magazine now has a few photos online from the investigation. Note that in the caption to the image of police inspecting the accused’s car, Mickey is referred to as “Dr. George Mickey” but Margaret Rosamund McMillan is not afforded the same respect. While retyping my story, I noticed the opposite is true here. It’s probably trivial and unintentional in both cases… and yet a telling clue as to how different people bring their own perspective/bias to stories.
Although I do not profess to know who killed McMillan, I do confess to feeling empathy for her plight as a young female academic at the dawn of the ’60s. Given the nature of the attack–a blunt instrument (perhaps a tire iron) was used to strike her head and there was no evidence of theft, it seems to have been a crime of passion. Or was it a premeditated act designed to look like a crime of passion? Hmmm… This was long before DNA tests. Just because blood matching her type was found on Mickey’s car doesn’t mean it was her blood–though it’s certainly provocative. Then again, who knows if he was anywhere near the car when the blood got on it.
– On a separate tangent and not so much an update as a footnote… A friend with whom I shared the ruins’ secrets once–long before this article was published–sought to encourage me and sent along a beautiful book, Vestiges of Grandeur: The Plantations of Louisiana’s River Road, by Richard Sexton. In it, the author/photographer includes this quote opposite a photograph of The Cottage:
“The scale of civilization and, indeed, of American frontier topography, was changing beyond the capacity of a temple form to control it…. [W]here those demands were least felt or most resisted, the old classic ideal could be longest retained in its romanticized form. The late Greek Revival plantation houses of the Deep South best embodied that condition and intention. Their softly gleaming column screens furnished the symbolic image around which Southern apologetics of the immediately pre-Civil War period and Southern mythology of the interminably postwar period were both to be fashioned. The more in ruin, the more Greek they seemed.” – Vincent Scully, American Architecture and Urbanism