Frenchman loves LaGrange

Published 6:07 pm Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Julien Icher loves America. He is not hesitant to say so. He visited LaGrange this week.

Julien is from France, south of Toulouse and far from Paris. Julien is an energetic member of the American Friends of Lafayette, an organization whose origin dates back to 1932.  It is conceivable that some members join so they can boast about knowing its Chief Executive Officer Alan Hoffman or its Chief Operating Officer Chuck Schwam; or maybe because they like the lapel pin. Julien, on the other hand, has immersed himself in the history and lore of the Marquis de Lafayette. At first, he was charmed by Lafayette’s courage, loyalty and honor; but then he became captivated by Lafayette’s Farewell Tour to America, 1824-1825.  Lafayette was celebrated everywhere he visited, including here in Georgia where between March 19 to March 31, 1825, he visited the cities of Savannah, Augusta, Warrenton, Sparta, Macon and Milledgeville.

Julien had an idea, which he called The Lafayette Trail Project.

He put his master’s degree in geography and history to good use by mapping out Lafayette’s journey through the 24 states then constituting the United States. He created an interactive display and posted it on the internet. Click on any city Lafayette visited and a pop-up describes when Lafayette came and where he stayed. What’s more, Julien is working with state legislatures to provide historic markers. Rep. Randy Nix is helping craft such a resolution for Georgia.

Two companies, one French and the other American, found The Lafayette Trail Project compelling and agreed to fund Julien’s time in America. The French Consulate in Boston provides emails of introduction to local dignitaries and magistrates. True, the Marquis de Lafayette never lost a lock of hair in LaGrange. He crossed into Alabama where Lawson Field, Fort Benning, intersects the Chattahoochee River at what is now called Engineer’s Landing. But no self-respecting geographer could let pass the chance to visit the town named after the Marquis de Lafayette’s home and designated by a magnificent statue of his likeness.

The day we met we walked LaGrange. We stood in front of the statue. I took his picture. We talked about how Lafayette’s story could give impulse for serious talk about relationships in the community. We talked about how LaGrange might be a destination to discuss honor, loyalty, and courage, to say nothing of liberty, equality and justice and how Lafayette’s story gives the occasion. We had a late afternoon latte, facing Lafayette. 

“I love this place,” Icher said.

Richard Ingram is the Lafayette Alliance president