It is a strange, sometimes disturbing tale, this story of the Arlonne Family. There are pirates, blockade-runners, beheaded Queens, doomed conquistadors, poets, writers, b-movie film makers, and generations of eccentrics, but all of them--all of them--are the cursed subjects and champions of the Tomato. Yes, the tomato.
My name is Brandon Herndon and I am a somewhat distant relative of the Argonne Family. Because they are an incredibly secretive and private bunch, I am their spokesperson, their confidante, and their historian, though some members of the family deny that. Mainly though, I am the Guardian of their famous Bloody Mary Recipe, which for legal reasons that most of them agree with, is now named "Bloody Brando". I stand by its authenticity.
The name of the Arlonne Family is, and has always been and forever will be entertwined with the Tomato. The prickly vines of the fruit even wraps around their family crest, trapping them almost within the confines of their castle. Don Fenando de la Cota Ornataga Espinizia was a Conquistadore, but his squire and man-servant was a spindly French boy named Henri, who took the last name of Argonne because that is the only place he remembered his father ever talking about. It was Henri, a teen-aged boy, who was the sole survivor from Don Fernando's expedition and brought back the diary of Don Fernando, which detailed their quest for the Fountain of Youth. Unlike Ponce de Leon, Don Fenando chose to explore south of the Yucatan, but like Ponce de Leon, he and his doomed men found no life-giving waters. What they mostly found was death, disease and starvation, but what they did discover was the Tomato. Henri never forgot the taste of the drink the Indians made for their guests, how it tingled on his tongue and seemed to enliven him, that is before the slaughter began.
But this is a story for another time. I simply want to introduce you to what the Arlonne family--my family!--has created. It is a recipe of spice-up tomato juice and spirits, famous world-wide for many years before it was negligently set adrift like a scuttled sailor. This juice was tasted by Kings and Queens, Emirs and Concubines and Far-Eastern Emperors, but always and mainly by the Common Guy; all of them sipping away at a healing red elixir that was made to smooth over a Sunday morning hangover.
We hope to bring you this Life-enriching juice with all of its history and worldly flavorness from here on out...no more keeping secrets! Think of this website as an extended hand, a big "Howdy-do!"...an invitation to get know us, the Arlonnes and our wonderfully historic and utterly legitimate Bloody Brando!
Gustav Argonne, considered the modern patriarch of the Argonne Family, was born in 1838 just outside of Charleston, SC. The eldest of six children of Mary and Emile Argonne, he grew up hearing the terrible stories of his familiy's Huguenot past, their journey to the America and the importance of the family business, which at the at time was cotton, rice and tomatoes. Gustav is the first Argonne to recognize teh practical and financial import of the tomato. He was also the first to realize that an old recipe for a gin and crushed tomato and spice drink might prove to be a huge money-maker.
There are many things that Gustav Argonne is known for (at least in secret society and herbalist circles), but chief among them is his championing of his family's spicy, tomato elixir. Gustav is also notable for fighting in the American Civil War--on the Federal's side, not the Confederate's. He was a staunch opponent of slavery and wrote quite a few editorials and articles railing against the Southern institution. This did not put him in good terms with some members of his immediate family, mainly his brother Armen Gustav (see "Armen Gustav" in the Argonne Family tree).
During the war, both brother stood on opposite sides during the Battle of Cold Harbor. Armen died in one of the first Union bombardments. Gustav did not learn of his brother's death, or even that they had faced each other on the same battlefield until months later when a letter from his mother arrived.
Gustav somehow survived the multiple frontal charges that day, but he was shot through his upper thigh and spent the night on the battlefield in a bloody mud puddle. He later wrote very eloquently in his memoirs (see A LIFE WELL-LIVED, G. Argonne) that the groans and tremors of the wounded and dying, fading away nearby in the fields, would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Gustav himself barely evaded the surgeon's saw. The bullet had torn through his right thigh and lodged just above the groin area. His right leg tormented for the rest of his days, but he never talked about the wound, the war, or the death of his brother, until much later when he was in his eighties. Then, talking to his great-granddaughter, Christine, he spoke of Armen's love of swimming and hunting, how they had run off together in the woods for days and barely spoke, though each of them seemed to know what the other one was thinking. It was what the old folks called, "other sense", how they could sense a deer off in the brush and move without a word, together, to finish the deed. That day Gustav also told Christine that he had come to name his wounded leg, which throbbed painfully everyday but especially the rainy ones, "Armen".
"The house, it was very large, with all of these rooms they always wanted kept dark. Black curtains over the windows. It could be a frightful place sometimes.
They paid well, gave holidays now and then, a good bonus at Christmas, but it was hard work.
Wasn't much contact with the older ones, mainly just the kids when they would be playing on the weekends. Sometimes no talking is a good thing with some folks you work for, and most of the time it was with the Argonnes, but I have to say it did start weighing on me in a bad way.
I would get to work in the morning, walk in that house when the day was just starting new, the sun about to shine, then not see the outside world 'til after dark, 'round 10 pm. They ate so late. I don't believe I ever left that house in the daylight. I was always walking back into the darkness with that family. Don't believe I ever saw the sun shine in that old place. I believe it aged me.
But I'm retired from all that now. Don't matter anymore."
- Agnes Townesby, House-Maid in Charleston for the Argonne Family, 1955-1986