Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Madame Lalaurie - 1895

In 1892 a former attorney by the name of Henry Castillanos began a series of historical articles for The New Orleans Times-Democrat detailing life in Old New Orleans, "back in the day."  He was born in New Orleans in 1827 and many of his sketches are from personal memory and experience.  In three years time he had amassed enough material to have a book published.  The book is called "NEW ORLEANS AS IT WAS - EPISODES OF LOUISIANA LIFE" published in 1895.  Among the many vignettes in the book is a detailed account of the infamous Madame Lalaurie incident.

As a tour guide, one of my most difficult challenges is undoing the damage from stories told to entertain, versus stories told to inform.  Costumed tour guides have take the Lalaurie story to such extremes that the modern telling of it has spiraled out of control.  Broken bones, dead children, the "Crab Lady" and many other additions (many of which are positively stomach churning) are nothing more than embellishments added for the purpose of churning stomachs and are simply untrue.  I am often called upon to tell the story of Madame Lalaurie.  I dread doing it because the story we told thirty years ago is radically different from the inventions of current variations and people are often disappointed that I don't regale them with...well....to spare us a case of nausea, I will refrain.

My solution to the problem is to tell the story as Henry Castellanos told it in 1895.  I bring the book with me and show it as my source and invite people to read the tale for themselves.  To make it easier I present it on this forum.  In his account he includes the deposition of one of the participants at the official inquest as well as his personal memories.  American Horror Story aside - here is one of the earliest tellings of what happened at the Lalaurie Mansion on April 10th, 1834.


A TALE OF SLAVERY TIMES.

It was on the morning of the l0th of April, 1834, that from the comer of Royal and Hospital streets, crepitating flames were seen to burst forth, threatening the entire destruction of a spacious brick mansion that adorned that locality. It was an imposing family residence, three stories in height, and the resort of the best society of New Orleans. Within its walls, European notabilities, including the Marquis of Lafayette, had been housed and entertained with that munificence, easy grace and cheerful hospitality peculiar to a Creole generation, now so rapidly disappearing. Its furniture and appointments—exquisite and costly gems of Parisian workmanship — were cited as  chefs - d'œuvres” [masterpieces] in a city where objects of “vertu” [virtue] and princely elegance were by no means rare. (It is a mistake to say that the Orleans princes were ever guests in that residence, as their visit to our city had occurred long before its construction. The Marignys were their hosts.)

Postcard, 1920's
Around this house were congregated a dense and excited throng, apparently feasting their eyes on the lambent and circling streams of fire that with forked tongues were rapidly enveloping the upper portions of the aristocratic abode. Their frowning brows and fiercely glistening eyes bespoke the terrible passions that raged within their breasts, for, that house, according to common tradition, was a hot-bed of cruelty and crime, and bore upon its frontispiece the curse of God.

The entire width of Hospital Street was literally wedged in by a compact, surging tide, overflowing even adjacent thoroughfares. The pent-up blaze had burst forth from the kitchen above the basement, and from thence was rapidly ascending the story occupied by the family. The firemen, with their inadequate hand engines and equipments, were manning their brakes with might and main against the devouring element with only partial success, and were finally compelled to cut their way through the roof. On penetrating into the attic, and while ranging through the apartments, their blood curdled by the horrid spectacle which struck their view — seven slaves, more or less mutilated, slowly perishing from hunger, deep lacerations and festering wounds. In describing this appalling sight, Jerome Bayon, the proprietor of the New Orleans “Bee,” wrote: “We saw where the collar and manacles had cut their way into their quivering flesh. For several months they had been confined in those dismal dungeons, with no other nutriment than a handful of gruel and an insufficient quantity of water, suffering the tortures of the damned and longingly awaiting death, as a relief to their sufferings. We saw Judge Canonge, Mr. Montreuil and others, making for some time fruitless efforts to rescue those poor unfortunates, whom the infamous woman, Lalaurie, had doomed to certain death and hoping that the devouring element might thus obliterate the last traces of her nefarious deeds.”

When every door had been forced open, the victims were carried off and escorted by an immense crowd to the Mayor's office, where their irons were immediately struck off. Among those piteous blacks, was an octogenarian whose tottering limbs barely supported his emaciated frame. Among them, a woman confessed to the Mayor that she had purposely set fire to the house, as the only means of putting an end to her sufferings and those of her fellow captives. From nine o'clock in the morning until six in the evening, the jail yard was a scene of unusual commotion. Two thousand persons, at least, convinced themselves during that eventful day by ocular inspection of the martyrdom to which those poor, degraded people had been subjected, while the ravenous appetite with which they devoured the food placed before them fully attested their sufferings from hunger. None of them, however, died from surfeit, as it has been erroneously alleged. Numberless instruments of torture, not the least noticeable of which were iron collars, “carcans,”[1] with sharp cutting edges, were spread out upon a long deal table, as evidences of guilt.

While these prison scenes were being enacted, supplying aliment to public curiosity, the excitement around the doomed building was increasing in intensity. As soon as the fact became generally known that Mrs. Lalaurie, with the connivance of the Mayor, had eluded arrest and effected her escape to a secure place of concealment, the howling mob, composed of every class, became ungovernable. They demanded justice in no uncertain tones, and had the hated woman fallen into their hands at that particular moment, it is impossible to say what would have been her fate. Actæon-like, she in all probability would have been torn to pieces, not by a pack of ravenous hounds, but by men whom rage had converted into tigers. During the whole of that exciting period, the populace awaited with anxiety, but without violence, the action of the authorities. It was the lull that precedes the coming storm. It was said that Etienne Mazureau, the Attorney General, had expressed his determination to wreak upon the guilty parties the extreme vengeance of the law. But when the shadows of night fell upon the city, and it was ascertained beyond a doubt that no steps in that direction had been taken and that powerful influences were at work to shield the culprits, their fury then knew no bounds and assumed at once an active form. At eight o'clock that night, the multitude having swollen to immense dimensions, a systematic attack upon the building was organized and begun. Their first act was the demolition of one of her carriages, which happened to be standing in front of Hospital street, and the same, it was said, that had borne her away. The sidewalk was literally strewn with its “débris.” Next came the onslaught on the main entrance on Royal street, the portals of which had been previously barred and fastened and seemed to bid defiance to the shower of stones and rocks hurled against it. Abandoning this attempt, they obtained axes and battered down the window shutters, through which a wild horde of humanity poured in. No earthly power at that moment could have restrained the phrenzy of the mob — people resolved on exercising their reserved rights. Their work was no child's play. Everything was demolished; nothing respected. Antique and rare furniture, valued at mote than ten thousand dollars, was mercilessly shivered to atoms. The cellars were emptied of their precious contents, and wines of choicest vintage flowed in copious streams, even into the gutters. Gilt panels, carved wainscots, floorings, carpets, oil paintings, objects of statuary, exquisite moldings, staircases with their mahogany banisters and even the iron balconies were detached from their fastenings and hurled upon the pavements. As crash succeeded crash, yells of delight rent the air. When Royal and Hospital streets became obstructed with the accumulating wrecks, the latter were heaped together in monticules and set on fire, which, together with the glare of the blazing torches, offered a sad and weird-like appearance. This first outburst of popular retribution, notwithstanding the efforts of our local magistrates, continued not only during the entire night — “noche triste” [“sad night”] — but long after sunrise on the following morning. Then came a calm, a deceitful calm. The fire had only partially destroyed the building, and to obliterate the last vestiges of this infamous haunt became now the object of the rabble. The work of demolition lasted four days, and only the charred partition walls remained standing, as a solemn memorial of a people's anger. Tacitus says:  Solitudinem faciunt, pacem vocant.” [“They make a desert, they call it peace”]  In the instant case, the work of destruction only ceased when there was nothing more to destroy. The story that human bones, and among others those of a child who had committed self-destruction to escape the merciless lash, had been found in a well, is not correct, for the papers of the day report that, acting under that belief, the mob had made diligent search, even to the extent of excavating the whole yard, and had found nothing. When, on the subsidence of this unwonted spirit of effervescence, reason had had time to resume her sway, the local troops, with U. S. Regulars to support them, were called out, headed by Sheriff John Holland, who proceeded to the scene of disturbance and read the “riot act” to the crowd of curiosity mongers who were loitering in the neighborhood.   Slowly and peaceably the people dispersed. Their anger was allayed and their verdict carried into effect. They now determined to wait and see what the constituted officers would do in furtherance of public justice.

In the meantime, thousands had been repairing to the police station to witness the condition of the slaves, and as the sickening sight only excited and increased their resentment, our denizens were not slow in expressing their contempt at the apathy and inaction of their municipal worthies. Judge Canonge, a man of strict integrity, and sound judgment, had not escaped the insults of the enraged populace on the night of the first attack, and while in the act of expostulating with them upon the impropriety of their course several pistols had been leveled at his head. Much, therefore, was yet to be feared from the general discontent, as it was reported that bodies of men had banded together for the purpose of looting several residences, where similar barbarities were said to have been commonly practiced. In fact, this report proved no idle rumor, for a gentleman's house in close proximity to Mrs. Lalaurie's was partially sacked, for which act the city subsequently was mulcted in damages.

To repeat what I have previously mentioned, nearly the entire edifice was demolished, the bare walls only standing to indicate the spot where the God accursed habitation had stood — walls upon which had been placarded inscriptions in different languages, conveying anathemas in words more forcible than elegant. The loss of property was estimated at nearly forty-thousand dollars. Says a contemporary:

“This is the first act of the kind that our people have ever engaged in, and although the provocation pleads much in favor of the excesses committed, yet we dread the consequences of the precedent. To say the least, it may be excused, but can't be justified. Summary punishment, the result of popular excitement in a government of laws, can never admit of justification, let the circumstances be ever so aggravated.”

At last the wheels of justice were set in motion and Judge Canonge proceeded to the office of Gallien Préval, a justice of the peace, and furnished under oath the following information. The facts therein stated may therefore, be relied upon as strictly true, and furnish data of a reliable character, of which some future historian of Louisiana may avail himself.

“Deponent (J. F. Canonge) declares that on the l0th inst. a fire having broken out at the residence of Mrs. Lalaurie, he repaired thither, as a citizen, to afford assistance. When he reached the place, he was informed that a number of manacled slaves were in the building and liable to perish in the flames. At first he felt disinclined to speak to Mr. Lalaurie on the subject and contented himself with imparting the fact only to several friends of the family. But when he became aware that this act of barbarity was becoming a subject of general comment, he made up his mind to speak himself to Mr. and Mrs. Lalaurie, who flatly answered that the charge was a base calumny. Thereupon, deponent asked the aid of the bystanders to make a thorough search and ascertain with certainty the truth or falsity of the rumor. As Messrs. Montreuil and Fernandez happened to be near him, he requested those gentlemen to climb to the garret and see for themselves, adding, that having attempted to do so himself, he had been almost blinded and smothered by the smoke. These gentlemen returned after a while and reported that they had looked around diligently and had failed to discover anything. A few moments after, someone, whom he thinks to be Mr. Felix Lefebvre, came to inform him that, having broken a pane of glass in a window of one of the rooms, he had perceived some slaves and could show the place. Deponent hurried on, in company with several others. Having found the door locked, he caused it to be forced open and entered with the citizens who had followed him. He found two negro women, whom he ordered to be taken out of the room. Then some one cried out that there were others in the kitchen. He went there, but found no one. One of the above negresses was wearing an iron collar, extremely wide and heavy, besides weighty chains attached to her feet. She walked only with the greatest difficulty; the other, he had no time to see, as she was standing behind some one whom he believes to be Mr. Guillotte. This latter person told him he could point out a place where another one could be found. Together they went into another apartment, at the moment when some one was raising a mosquito bar. Stretched out upon a bed, he perceived an old negro woman who had received a very deep wound on the head. She seemed too weak to be able to walk. Deponent begged the bystanders to lift her up with her mattress and to carry her in that position to the Mayor's office, whither the other women had been already conveyed. At the time that he asked Mr. Lalaurie if it were true that he had some slaves in his garret, the latter replied in an insolent manner that some people had better stay at home rather than come to others' houses to dictate laws and meddle with other people's business.”

In support of the above statement, which is merely the recital of the discoveries made by the Judge personally and does not purport to include the result of the investigations of others, the names of Messrs. Gottschalk and Fouché were appended as witnesses.


What was the final issue of the affair ? the reader will naturally ask. Nothing, absolutely nothing. From the l0th to the 15th of April, the day on which the riot was finally quelled by the intervention of the Sheriff, the inactivity of the government officials had been glaring.  The criminals, wife and husband, had been deftly smuggled through the unsuspecting throng, driven up Chartres street in a close carriage which I saw speeding at a furious gait and, after remaining in concealment some time hurriedly departed for New York. From that point they had continued their flight to Paris, which they made their permanent residence. There I shall not follow them, nor relate the effects of the ban under which refined society placed them, nor of the hissing and hooting with which the “parterre”[2] assailed her once at the theatre when their misdeeds became known. The woman, it was currently reported in New Orleans circles, finding every door closed against her, had subsequently adopted a strictly pious life and, spending her time in works of practical charity, was fast relieving her character from the odium that attached to it. A characteristic trait in this singular woman's history is, I am positively assured by persons who lived in her intimacy, that, at the very time when she was engaged in those atrocious acts, her religious duties, in external forms at least, were never neglected and her purse was ever open to the hungry, the afflicted and the sick, like Doctor Jekyl's, her nature was duplex, her heart at one time softening to excess at the sight of human suffering, while at another it turned obdurate and hard as adamant. In manners, language and ideas, she was refined — a thorough society woman. Her reunions were recherché affairs, and during the lifetime of her former husband, Mr. Jean Blanque, who figures so conspicuously in Louisiana’s legislative history, and whose important services to the State during a long series of years should be gratefully remembered, her home was the resort of every dignitary in the infancy of our state. There the politicians of the period met on neutral ground, eschewing for the nonce their petty jealousies, cabals and intrigues, to join in scenes of enjoyment and refinement; among whom I may cite Claiborne, the Governor; Wilkinson, the military commander ; Trudeau, the Surveyor General ; Bosque, Marigny, Destrehan, Sauvé, Derbigny, Macarty, de la Ronde, Villeré and others, all representatives of the “ancien regime;” Daniel Clarke, our first delegate to Congress; Judge Hall, Gravier, Girod, Milne and McDonough, destined to become millionaires, and hundreds of others whose names now escape my memory.

But “revenons á nos moutons.” [“Let’s go back to the point.”] There is a class of females, few in numbers it is true, the idiosyncrasies of whose natures are at times so strange and illogical as to defy the test of close analyzation, and to that class Mrs. Lalaurie, with her sudden contrasts of levity and sternness, melting love and ferocity, formed no exception. Whence proceeded this morbid spirit of cruelty? we ask ourselves. Was it a general detestation of the African race? No, for, of her large retinue of familiar servants, many were devotedly attached to her, and the affection seems to have been as warmly returned. All the theories, therefore, that have been built upon this particular case, from which deductions have been drawn ascribing exclusively the wrongs which I have just narrated to the baneful and pernicious influence of the institution of slavery, as some writers will have it, rest upon no better foundation than mere speculation. Slavery was a social device, replete, it is true, with inherent defects, but by no means conducive to crime. The system was patriarchal in its character, not essentially tyrannical. The master was not unlike the “pater familias” [“head of the family”] of the Roman Commonwealth, but more restricted in power and dominion. Hence, it is more rational to suppose, and such is the belief of many, that looking into the nature or “indoles,” as the Latins had it, of the woman from its different points of view, she was undoubtedly insane upon one peculiar subject — a morbid, insatiate thirst for revenge on those who had incurred her enmity. Our lunatic asylums, it is said, are filled with similar cases, all traceable to similar causes. 
 
Circa 1880's before the third story was added.
Upon the site of the old building, a fine structure, entirely new, was erected, noticeable in its design and architectural proportions. A belvedere was added to it. It has been named by some the “Haunted House.”  There is no reason for the appellation, and if several of its occupants, with whom I have often conversed, are to be believed, there is nothing therein to haunt its inhabitants save ghastly memories of a by-gone generation. No spirits wander through its wide halls and open corridors, but in lieu thereof there rests a curse — a malediction — that follows every one who has ever attempted to make it a permanent habitation. As a school house for young ladies; as a private boarding house; as a private residence; as a factory; as a commercial house and place of traffic, all these have been tried, but every venture has proved a ruinous failure. A year or two ago, it was the receptacle of the scum of Sicilian immigrants, and the fumes of the malodorous filth which emanated from its interior proclaimed it what it really is, 

 A HOUSE ACCURSED.




[1] An iron collar and chain, placed around the neck and attached to a wall or post.
[2] The part of the ground floor of an auditorium in the rear and on the sides, especially the part beneath the balcony.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Charles Gayarré...and son.



Who's ready for a little Créole dirt?  Here are a few interesting tidbits about Charles Gayarré.  
Charles Gayarré

Ok, for those of you who don't know, Charles Gayarré was the grandson of Etienne DeBoré, sugar pioneer and first American Mayor.  Gayarré wrote a History of Louisiana (very detailed and a total snooze) and he is buried in the Boré tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1 along with his wife, Sarah Anne Sullivan Gayarré whose “tribulations were her glory.”  (The Boré tomb is a stop on pretty much every cemetery tour.)  The marriage of Charles Gayarré and Anne Sullivan is quite an interesting love story.  He was a confirmed bachelor until he was 51 years old.  She was a wealthy widow from Mississippi.  She moved to New Orleans with her husband and 2 children and lived next door to Grace King.  In 1851 their son fell off the balcony and died (it made the papers) and later that same year her husband died.  According to Grace (whose romantic view of history is far from trustworthy) Gayarré saw Anne at the opera and he fell in love with her at first sight.  “Who is that enchanting woman?  Present me to her."

The ever moonstruck Grace King
The story goes (as told by the poetic Grace King) he had been told by a fortune teller in Paris that he would marry a wealthy widow.  Opera, fortune tellers, tragic deaths – La!  Histoire!  Here are few things Mrs. King leaves out.  Although they married in Mississippi, their marriage contract dated January 28, 1856 stipulates that their marriage will fall under Louisiana law.  It also contains a very interesting note:  “the following terms and conditions and stipulations, (shall) be forever binding on themselves, their heirs, successors and all other persons whatsoever who may pretend to derive any claims or rights from said parties.”

Gayarré's Marriage Contract*
Did you get that?  “...all other persons whatsoever who may pretend to derive any claims or rights from said parties.”  What is up with THAT?  Well, you see – Charles Gayarré had a natural (read: illegitimate) son.

With a slave.

Her name was Delphine LeMaitre, she was an octoroon and she was owned by Gayarré.  Together they had a son named Charles Nicolas Arthur Gayarré.  He was born August 3, 1825 and baptized March 5, 1826 in St. Louis Cathedral by Pere Antoine.  Apparently, Delphine had a violent temper and was sold to a planter in Mississippi by the name of Cerf where she allegedly set fire to the plantation house and burned it to the ground.  (What is it with women named Delphine and house fires?)  By 1850, however, she is listed as a Free Woman of Color (how that happened is anyone’s guess) living in New Orleans with an Edward Marc, F.M.C. (presumably married, since she took his name) and her son, Charles Gayarré, age 25.

As for Charles, fils, a couple of interesting little bits of info – according to Gayarré biographer, Earl Saucier, there was a letter written in 1844 by some unknown person in Paris to Gayarré stating that "pauvre Charles" (poor Charles) is very ill.  If this is true then Gayarré sent the kid to Paris and he was 19 at the time of the letter.  There is no known response from Gayarré.  We do know that the son was alive and well and living in New Orleans with his mom and stepdad by 1850.  Ok, ready for this? There is a letter in the Louisiana State Museum written in 1859 from Gayarré, the father, to Gayarré, the son, in which he acknowledges Junior as his natural son but (take a deep breath – here it is...) he challenges the lad's attempt to passé blanc.  (Pass for white.)  Let's keep in mind that Mama, as an octoroon, was probably very Caucasian in appearance, therefore little Charlie would have been even more so.

Hmmmm....  this brings us back to that 1856 marriage contract and concerns over “pretenders.”

One can only wonder about the relationship Gayarré had with his son.  He cared enough to send him to Paris (to be educated or to get him out of the way?) but when it came to the young man's passin' for white  – well – as a white natural son he may have tried to claim more of his legal share of Daddy’s estate than he would have been entitled to as a Free Man Of Color.  This is interesting considering that Charles Gayarré Jr. was Charles Gayarré Sr.’s one and only child.

*Special Collections, LSU Library, Baton Rouge; the quoted passage is at the end of the first paragraph.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Cemetery Ordinances, 1822




Prior to Walter Reed’s discovery in 1900 that the Ædis Egypti mosquito was the vector for yellow fever, the prevailing medical theory taught that yellow fever (and, in fact, diseases in general) were spread by the foul odors from decaying matter, be it rotting vegetation, human and animal waste lying in the streets and gutters or decomposing corpses.  The cemeteries, in particular, were help up to intense scrutiny because the “miasma,” often referred to as “noxious fumes,” emanating from the soft soil of in-ground burial as well as from tombs, was particularly severe.   Add to the mix the fact that the cemeteries were breeding grounds for flies and mosquitos which, unbeknownst to the city, were the real culprits in the spread of disease, over and above the smells.  In 1816 there was a "crevasse" - a break in the levees.  The rear of the city, including St. Louis Cemetery, was inundated with water.  Much of the emphasis on the role of water and burial began at this time, as people from outside came, saw the flood, saw the cemetery and published accounts of floating coffins.  Did coffins float?  Yes.  Was it an annual occurrence?  No.  (Nor has water ever been mentioned in any official capacity as an obstacle to burial.)  The effect of the crevasse was not the floating coffins but the months of standing water.  Because of it, there was a high mosquito population the following year and in 1817 the City of New Orleans suffered a terrible yellow fever epidemic.  In 1819 came a second yellow fever epidemic.  At that time, several city appointed committees (The Board of Sanitation, The Board of Health, and others) demanded that the city take action against the "outrageous nuisance...of such loathesome sights and disgusting smells.”[1]  Demanding that the City fathers take action to clean up the cemeteries, the city – in true New Orleans fashion – responded by doing…

Nothing.

In 1822 came a second yellow-fever epidemic which was nearly as severe and now the demand could no longer be ignored.  So, the State appointed board of health made the following recommendations to the New Orleans City Council:

BOARD OF HEALTH

   At a meeting of the Board of Health on Thursday the 10th of May, 1822, C. CARRABY, esq., Vice-President, pro tem. the following resolutions was adopted and ordered to be published;
   That the Board of Health consider the deposit of filth in the back parts of the city, as well as the saturated and infected wood of the banquettes and gutters of the city, as most prejudicial to public salubrity.[2]  In order to prevent their putrid emanations, so destructive to the health of the citizens, the Board are of the opinion that it is indispensable – First, to throw hereafter all the filth into the current of the river – Second, between the months of November and January next, to cut away and replace with stone all the wooden gutters throughout the city, giving the banquettes the same breadth as in Chartres street – Third, that it would be dangerous at this season of the year, to have earth dug up in any of the streets, in order to carry on the paving.
   Also, that the present resolution be submitted to the city council.
   I certify the foregoing to be a true copy from the minutes.

                                                                        H. K. GORDON, Sec’ry.
New Orleans, June 12th, 1822                                                   

The BOARD of HEALTH
To the Physicians of the City
 
   To enable the Sextons, when reporting the interments, to give at the same time a correct account of the diseases of which the subjects die, the Physicians are respectfully solicited to leave with the friends of the deceased, a memorandum in writing, to accompany the corpse, of the disease of which the patient died.

June 12.                                                            H. K. GORDON, Sec’ry
Extract from the Code of Health
   “Art. 7  It shall be the duty of the Board of Health to publish in at least two of the gazettes printed in the city of New Orleans, every day during the months of May, June, July, August, September and October, and once every week during the rest of the year, a detailed account of the deaths in the said city and its suburbs, designating the name, age, place of nativity and mode of the deceased, the time of his residence in the city, and nature of his sickness, and, if possible (in cases of the fever which my be supposed infectious,) the place at which the infection is supposed by his attendants to have been taken.”
                                                                                                 June 14.

BOARD OF HEALTH

   The season has recurred when it becomes the duty of the Board of Health to execute with rigor the provisions of the “Code of Public Health,” intended to prevent the introductions of pestilential disease from abroad, and to guard against its cosmetic occurrence by strict attention to the removal or correction of local causes within the city.  Referring with pleasure to the happy issue of their labors during the last year, they call with increased confidence upon the inhabitants of every description to co-operate with the Board in their efforts to effect a similar result.  While a rigid quarantine will be enforced where danger is apprehended from a foreign source, a system of police measures for the cleanliness of the city has been digested, which the Board, with the enlarged means placed at their disposal, are determined to carry into operation.

BOARD OF HEALTH

   AT a meeting of the Board on Tuesday, the 2d of July, 1822, the following resolutions were adopted: –

   Resolved, That the Board of Health consider the burying ground of the Roman Catholics a hot bed of infection, injurious to the health of the inhabitants of this city, in consequence of the digging of graves too often repeated, on a space of ground too small, and infected by the putrefaction of bodies buried thereon, and that said burying ground is quite too near the city.
   The Board of Health are of opinion, that in order to remove the nuisance occasioned by the said burying ground to the said inhabitants, it would be proper to discontinue as soon as possible the interments therein – and, pending the execution of the measures which the City Council may deem proper to this effect, that the ground be dug in the parts least infected of the said burying ground.
   Resolved, That the Board of Health consider the method pursued by the negroes employed to clean out the gutters of the city, is extremely dangerous to the health of the inhabitants of this city – that this method tends to develop and spread with more force the emanations of the putrid and infecting water of the gutters of this city.  The Board of Health are of opinion, that instead of permitting the said infected waters to be thrown into the streets from the gutters, it would be more proper to order, that the said water should be pushed on to the draining canals behind the city, and that the said gutters should be swept and washed every day by the means of fresh water taken from the river, or from the wells of the citizens.
   Resolved, That the present resolutions shall be transmitted immediately to the city council of New Orleans.
   Resolved, That hereafter it shall be the duty of the health wardens, to mention in the report which they are required to make every day, the names and sirnames (sic), the name of the street, and the number of the house of every person contravening the law entitled “An act to provide against the introduction of infectious diseases,” and the titles established by the Board of Health.  It shall also be the duty of the said wardens to hand in personally their reports at the Assembly Room in the Custom House, and at the hour of the meetings of the Board of Health.
   I certify the foregoing to be a true copy from the Minutes.
                                                                            H. K. GORDON
   New Orleans, July 5, 1822

These were the board’s recommendations.  The City responded with a complete cemetery overhaul and passed a series of ordinances and resolution governing funerals, cemeteries and burial – none of which involve water as an obstacle to in-ground burial.  (NOTE: I have only included the ordinances that specifically address interment.) 

City Council of New Orleans
An ORDINANCE respecting the Burial Grounds.
The City Council decrees as follows : –
  ARTICLE 1st. – From the 1st of September next no interment shall take place in the present Burial Ground situated between Conti and St. Louis Street but under a penalty of one hundred dollars to be imposed on the sexton of the said Burial Ground.
   ART. 2d. – From the above date all persons, dying in the city of New Orleans and its environs, shall be buried either in the burial ground of the fauxbourg[3] St. Mary, or in the new burial ground formed by the reunion of the islets marked upon the plan of the City Surveyor, No. 38, 39, 40 and 41 – two thirds of the said burial ground being apportioned for Roman Catholics, and the remaining third for the burying of Protestants and other persons not profession the Catholic religion.
   ART 3d. – Persons dying after the 1st September, next, shall be carried to their respective burial grounds, and deposited in graves which shall not be less than four feet deep[4], and dug three feet apart, following the line which will be designated by the City Surveyor.
   The Sextons shall have the authority upon application of the proper owners or heirs of graves to open the same, but no graves shall be opened before one (1) year for an adult and six months for a child, where human bodies were interred, unless by a special permission from the Board of Health; provided that grave shall be opened by any sexton where death has resulted from any contagious disease, until two (2) years shall have elapsed from the date of such death and burial.[5]
   It shall be the duty of the Sextons to obey the orders given them from time to time by the Mayor, and they shall keep for their respective burial grounds a register, in which shall be inserted the proper and Christian names, ages, and professions, of all person who shall be buried or placed in tombs;  to watch that no injury or damage be committed on the tombs or graves entrusted to their care; to prevent cattle from entering the said burial grounds[6]; to render every day to the Commissary General of Police a certified copy of the interments borne upon their registers; to produce at all times their registers when they shall be demanded by the Mayor or City Council; and to hand over the said registers to such persons as shall be appointed to succeed them in case of their dismissal; and every Sexton who shall neglect to conform with the above dispositions, shall pay a fine of twenty dollars, and shall be dismissed from his office.
   ART. 5th. – It shall be the duty of the City Surveyor to visit the burial grounds once every week, to mark out the lines for the formation of the graves and tombs[7], reserving all round the said enclosure places sufficient for the construction of tombs.  It shall be the duty of the Commissary of Police to visit the burial grounds every day, to insure the execution of the present Ordinance; to receive from the Sextons their respective certificates of interments, and to cause the same to be given into the office of the Mayor, together with his report of the Police of the said burial grounds.
   ART. 6th – The tombs which shall be hereafter constructed, must be of brick, the walls twelve inches thinks, cemented with good mortar in all their joints, within and without; – and all persons constructing tombs and neglecting to comply with the present regulations, shall cause said tomb to be demolished at their own expense, and shall besides pay a fine of fifty dollars, one half being for the benefit of the informer, and the other for that of the corporation.
   ART. 7th – All free persons who shall destroy or damage the tombs or fences of the burial grounds of the said city, or the places hitherto used as such, shall pay a fine not exceeding fifty dollars, nor less than twenty; and all slaves so offending, shall receive twenty-five lashes, without prejudice to the claims of the persons injured, on their respective proprietors or owners.
  All the Ordinances contrary to the regulations of the present, are, and remain repealed.
   A. Peychaud, Recorder.
Approved the 5th Aug. 1822
                                                                   J. Roffignac, Mayor
               [Certified]                                        Jules Davreac. (?)
Aug. 16.                                                     Secretary to the Mayor


[1] Report of the Board Of Sanitation, 1819.
[2] Salubrity – Public health and sanitary conditions.
[3] Also spelled “faubourg,” meaning suburb or outlying neighborhood. The Faubourg St. Mary was across Canal Street in the American Sector.
[4] In 1854 this was amended to three feet deep.
[5] This disproves the “Year And A Day” claim.  In 1854 the ordinance was amended to include “tombs, vaults and grave.
[6] CATTLE!!!!!!!
[7] Graves = in-ground burials, Tombs = above-ground interment.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Paul Morphy, Paris, 1858

From The New York Times, Oct. 19, 1858

Paul Morphy, Café de la Régence, Paris, 1858


The astounding performances of young Paul Morphy have brought the excitement in the chess playing world of this city up to white heat. Last Monday he played against, and beat, blindfolded, eight of the best players of Paris at one time! The Cafe de la Regence, at which this extraordinary feat occurred, has two large rooms on the ground floor. In the first room, which is full of marble tables, were seated the eight adversaries of Mr. Morphy. in the second room, in which are two billiard tables, was seated the single player. A large portion of this room, including the billiard tables, was shut off from the crowd by a cord, and behind the tables, in a large arm chair, sat Mr. Morphy, with his back nearly directly to the crowd. Two gentlemen, reporting for the press, kept the games, and two other gentlemen, Meesrs. Journoud and Arnous de Riviere, cried out the moves, or rather carried them from one room to the other. THe adversaries of Mr. Morphy were Messrs. Baucher, Bierwith, Morneman, Guibert, Lequesne (the distinguished Sculptor), Potier, Pret, and Seguin.

They were all either old or middle-aged men, and superior players, while Morphy is but twenty-one years of age. The boards of the eight players were numbered 1, 2, 3, etc., in the order in which I had given the names of the gentlemen. At 12:30 the games commenced, Mr. Morphy playing first, and calling out the same move for all the eight boards.... 1. e4. The games were conducted in French, Mr. Morphy speaking French perfectly. At 7pm #7 was beaten with an unseen checkmate. Soon after 8pm, No 6 abandoned the game as hopeless, and half an hour later, #5 played for and gained a drawn game. Numbers 1, 2, and 3 were soon after beaten. At 10 pm, #4 made the player accept a draw game, but it was 10:30 before Mr. Seguin, #8, a very old gentleman, who contended with great desperation, was beaten. Thus he beat #6, while #2, who acted on the defensive and only sought a drawn game, effected their purpose, but a drawn game under such circumstances, ought to be considered equivalent to a win.

During the entire exhibit, which lasted ten hours, Morphy sat with his knees and eyes against the bare wall, never once rising or looking toward the audience, nor even taking a particle of drink or other refreshments. His only movements were those of crossing his legs from side to side, and occasionally, thumping a tune with his fingers on the arms of the chair. He cried out his moves without turning his head. Against 1, 2, 3, and 6 and 7, who were not up to the standard of the other three players, he frequently made his moves simultaneously after receiving theirs. He was calm through out, and never made a mistake, nor did he call a move twice.

It must be collected, moreover, that Mr. Morphy played "against the field" - in other words, that around each of the eight boards there was a large collection of excellent chess players, who gave their advice freely, and who had eight times longer to study their play in than the single player. He played certainly against 50 men, and they never ceased for a moment making supposed moves and studying their games most thoroughly during the long intervals that necessarily fell to each board. And yet Morphy, who out of sight of these eight boards, saw the game plainer on each than those who surrounded them! I could scarcely have thought the thing possible if I had not seen it. At the end of the games there was shout from the three hundred throats present , which made one believe he was back again in Tammany Hall! The fact is there was a considerable number of Englishmen and American's present (among the latter was Prof. Morse, who took a deep interest in these extraordinary games), but much the larger number were French. Morphy did not seem at all fatigued, and appeared so modest that the frenzy and admiration of the French knew no bounds.

He was shaken by the hand and complimented till he hung down his head in confusion. One gray-haired man, an octogenarian chess player, stroked his hair with his hands, as he would a child of his own, and showered him with terms of endearment. Morphy had no beard yet, and looks more like a schoolboy than a world's champion. He escaped from the excited crowd as soon as possible, and left with some friends, to get something to eat. It is not necessary to point out to chess players the immensity of this intellectual feat; every one will admit that it borders upon the miraculous, and, as was remarked by one of the antagonists, Lequesne, such a mind never did exist, and, perhaps, never will again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Oldest Building In New Orleans

THE OLDEST BUILDING IN NEW ORLEANS

Believed to have been built in the 1740's, predating the Ursuline Convent, demolished in 1927
The loss of this building was one of the many impetuses toward French Quarter preservation.


Just prior to demolition - note damage to roof
Under Demolition

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Table Tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1

The table tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.  I grow so weary of hearing our visitors be told that this was designed for a.) picnics, b.) voodoo ceremonies, c.) a slab upon which vampires lay their victims and drain them of their life blood or d.) God knows what!  Here are a few facts about the table tomb:

1.) IT IS A BELOW GROUND GRAVE!  The very people who just told their group that it is impossible to bury below ground now stand and point out this monument without telling their listeners that buried beneath it - in the soil - is a coffin.

Benjamin Latrobe's table tomb design


2.) Once upon a time there was an architect by the name of Benjamin Latrobe.  If you are an architect or a student or fan of architecture, you know him very well.  He designed the Capital Building in Washington, D.C.  He also designed grave monuments.  Among his concerns were ground caving in as wooden coffins deteriorated and collapsed, exacerbated by the weight of monuments pushing down on soft soil.  In his notebook he addresses this and sketches his design for this very table tomb. He says of it:

“But as if ingenuity had been employed to invent a monument still more caduceous [sic], there has been of late a new fashion introduced.  A thin slab is supported sometimes by 6 sometimes by only 4 balustres, or small stone or marble posts.” [1]
 
Middletown, CT

3.) In the early part of the 19th century table tomb was a common monument and is absolutely not unique to New Orleans.  Here is a gallery of table tombs from around the country.


(All of these pictures were found on the internet and
are not the property of Tour Creole.)


Philadelphia, PA
Richmond, VA
 
Raleigh, NC


Unusual coffin-shaped version from Somerset, OH
 

[1] Impressions Respecting New Orleans, Diary & Sketches 1818-1820, Benjamin Latrobe.  Latrobe, by the way, is buried below ground in the protestant section of St. Louis Cemetery #1.  His headstone having been lost many years ago, the exact location of his grave is unknown.