Reconstituting the Vanished (1994-1998) was an image/text project that explores the lives of four remarkable Louisiana women. Gelatin-silver prints made after visiting the places they lived were scanned and combined with archival images and documents from the Louisiana State Museum. The historical interpretations were a 4 year collaboration project which traveled widely. Text by Barbara Allen and digital images by Lynda Frese.
Micaela was born in New Orleans in 1795 to Louise de la Ronde and Don Andres Almonester y Roxas, clerk and notary for the Spanish government of Louisiana. An early developer and philanthropist, Don Andres died three years later leaving extensive income and property to be administered by his wife and daughter. At the age of fifteen Micaela entered into an arranged marriage with Joseph Xavier Celestin Delfau de Pontalba, a cousin living in Senlis, France. Soon after, her father-in-law, Baron Joseph Pontalba, dissatisfied at not receiving the entire Almonester fortune, set about acquiring control of the vast holdings of Louise and Micaela. By the time she was seventeen, Micaela had reluctantly relinquished all control over her properties and possessions to the Pontalba men. Upon her death in 1825 Louise willed all of her property in France and Louisiana to Micaela alone. The enraged Pontalbas insisted she sign over all rights in exchange for Micaela being allowed control of her mother’s houses in Paris. Micaela’s move to Paris to administer her properties allowed her more freedom in business and personal matters. However, she discovered that to make repairs she needed loans and could not obtain them without her husband’s signature. In 1830, her funds depleted, she boarded a ship for New Orleans. There she successfully reclaimed her rightful inheritance in an American court. Then, under order of a French court, she was remanded to Senlis, France upon Pontalba’s request. On the morning of October 19, 1834, the Baron entered her bedroom and shot her four times in the chest. Later that same day, after amending his will to exclude her three sons, he turned the gun on himself. Micaela survived but lost most of her left hand and lung in the attack. After her recovery, she built an elaborate house for herself in Paris near the mansion of Louis Napoleon. Several years later Micaela returned to New Orleans to realize a project that she had been planning: the building of the Pontalba Apartments(1849-51) and the renovation of the dilapidated Place d’Armes, soon re-dedicated as Jackson Square. Her intention was to revitalize the decaying French part of the city in the glorious Parisian style. She died in Paris in 1874. Formally separated from Pontalba, she was never able to legally divorce him.