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In all of Acadiana, St. Martinville is the spot where you can sense most vividly the tragic aspect of the Cajun story, whether in the tiny cemetery behind the main church, or at the bayou-side Evangeline Oak. Henry Wadsworth Longellow's epic poem "Evangeline" (1847) is based on historic documents that chronicle a couple's tragic separation, a result of the British expelling Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755. Evangeline Bellefontaine and Gabriel Lajeneusse were taken from each other on their wedding day. Once Evangeline arrives in Louisiana, she finds out Gabriel had been there, but left to live in the Ozarks. After years of searching for him, Evangeline finds Gabriel on his deathbed in Philadelphia.
Many believe the two represent real-life counterparts Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, though those names themselves are based on another fictional version of the legend. According to the oft-told tale, the real-life lovers met for the last time under the Evangeline Tree at Evangeline Boulevard at Bayou Teche. Louis arrived in St. Martinville, a major debarkation port for the refugees, but it was many years before Emmeline came. Legend has it that the two saw each other by chance just as she stepped ashore. He turned deathly pale with shock and told her that, having despaired of ever seeing her again, he was betrothed to another. The Romance of Evangeline was filmed in St. Martinville in 1929. The movie was never distributed, but clips from it are incorporated in the film presentation at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette. Its star, Dolores Del Rio, posed for the bronze statue of Evangeline that the cast and crew donated to St. Martinville; it's in the cemetery behind the church of St. Martin de Tours, near the final resting place of Emmeline Labiche.
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