About twenty minutes later, a voice over the intercom announced, “Baton Rouge Depot” as the train squealed to a stop.
Van stood up, pulled me close to him, and exited the train on the west side of the station. He walked across the tracks and made his way up South River Road. My father could not help but notice the Old State Capitol, a neo-Gothic structure located on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River that is so memorable Mark Twain once wrote, “It is pathetic enough, that a white- washed castle, with turrets and things—pretending to be what they are not—should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place.”
A light wind began to swirl as Van turned right onto North Boulevard. My thin blanket did little to shield me from the cool air. Looking for the perfect spot, my father passed by the State Library of Louisiana and then the police and sheriff’s departments, housed together in one building. Fallen leaves and acorns from the plentiful live oaks that decorated downtown Baton Rouge crunched beneath his feet as he walked. Reaching the top of a hill, Van could see a needle-like structure that resembled the spaceship NASA was planning to send to the moon one day. Built by Huey P. Long, the Louisiana State Capitol stretched upward 450 feet and housed thirty-four floors, making it the tallest state capitol building in the country. To his right, the Old Governor’s Mansion, home to Louisiana’s singing governor, Jimmie Davis, who had risen to fame with his song “You Are My Sunshine,” bore a strong resemblance to the White House.
Bells sounded out a chorus of the traditional Westminster chime from an old Anglican church. It was 11:00 a.m.
Just a little farther up North Boulevard stood an apartment building bordered by St. Joseph and Napoleon Streets. Built in a Georgian Colonial style, the redbrick building housed eight single-family dwellings. White-tile steps with the number 736 inlaid in blue tiles led the way to the front door. Crepe myrtles and azalea bushes decorated the yard with brilliant splashes of color.
It was perfect. Because there were no spots allotted for parking on the busy street, Van knew there must be a back entrance. He carried me around the corner to St. Joseph Street, searching for the gate in the wrought-iron fence that he guessed would be there. Opening it, he stepped into a courtyard behind the building that featured beautiful oaks, an old sugar kettle with a fountain, and seclusion. He scoured the parking lot to the left to be sure he was alone and unobserved.
Climbing up two steps, Van turned the knob on the back door and walked into the building unseen.