50@50

In honor of our 50th anniversary, we bring you 50@50: a look at some of the favorite archival objects of THNOC staff members, students, and volunteers. The descriptions that accompany each 50@50 item are not meant to replicate the formal curatorial reports in the online catalog; instead, they demonstrate the diversity of perspectives on what makes historical objects important to members of our community. Each 50@50 entry features a description, image, and link to our online catalog. We hope you’ll check back each month, as we will be adding new items for you to explore. Along the way, you’ll discover some of the most unusual, significant, and interesting items in The Collection—including Leila and Kemper Williams’s coffee table, a Mardi Gras ball gown, and Depression-era clothespin dolls that were made and sold in the French Quarter.

Click on the items below to reveal more information.

by J. O. Davidson, from Harper’s Weekly
December 8, 1883
1989.87 i-xii

By the mid-1800s a serious problem had formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the centuries, the Mississippi River deposited sediment at the mouth of the river, creating sandbars that eventually prevented ships from sailing in and out of the Mississippi River basin. The Corps of Engineers proposed to Congress that a canal be built between the river and Gulf to bypass the sandbars. However, engineer James Buchanan Eads said that jetties, not canals, were the solution to the problem.

If anyone knew the Mississippi River, it was Eads. He first experienced the Mighty Mississippi as a youth in St. Louis while salvaging wrecks on the river. His diving bell invention allowed him to walk along the bottom of the river with an open-ended barrel that had a hose connected to the top, allowing air to be pumped down from a boat; and once at the muddy bottom, all senses relied on touch. He knew the river more intimately than any other engineer, so it seemed odd when Congress rejected his proposal for jetties. After a few years of persuasion, Eads finally made a deal with Congress: he would build the jetties at his own expense, and if they maintained a 30-foot channel, Congress would then pay for the jetties.

Eads wanted to build two parallel piers far out into the Gulf, which would narrow the river and increase its current. The concentrated current would then cut its own channel through the sandbar. So in 1875, two lines of pilings were driven to extend the east and west banks of South Pass, and Eads used willow “mattresses” to build up each jetty wall. These were made of trunks of willow trees that were bound together and stacked. The mattresses were held down with stones and topped with concrete. The crevices were eventually filled with sand and mud as the river flowed past them, rendering the jetties impermeable.

Eads’s jetties were completed in 1879 and maintained a 30-foot channel, eliminating the silt buildup, and opening up the mouth of the Mississippi once again to ships. New Orleans went from ninth largest port in the US to the second largest, just behind New York. This illustration from Harper’s Weekly, published in 1883, shows several views of Eads jetties at the South Pass.  The top and center scenes show ships bustling in and around the jetties. Two scenes on the left show cross section views of the 30-foot channel, and several scenes in the lower portion display various perspectives of the willow mattresses.

—Katherine Dunn / Collections Processor

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between 1725 and 1750; walnut, cypress, and poplar
EL3.1990, extended loan courtesy of Robert Edward Judice

The Ursuline refectory table, the oldest documented piece of Louisiana-made furniture, has more than a religious meaning; the table is a shared space representative of the nuns' dedication to impart their knowledge and educate young women. The drawers open from both sides of the table, meaning that two women seated across from each other would have used the same drawer for silverware, table linens, and personal objects. This table allows us to see the meek and communal lifestyle of the religious order. In addition to sharing with each other, the Ursulines also shared their vision of an educated colony with the community. They focused on educating young women and children, but they also took in orphans and other community members, regardless of wealth, social status, or race. The nuns believed that education starts in the home with mothers, and if mothers were to be entrusted with the task of teaching their children, they too had to learn; so, women and young girls learned how to read and write, regardless of their background.
To me, this table is more than an artifact from the early years of New Orleans. It is a teaching tool used to remind the Ursulines of their commitment to helping others and educating the community. The Ursulines used the table within their living space, but its effects were felt beyond the convent walls. It is because the Ursulines shared their space with each other every day that they were able to go out and share their time, religious views, and knowledge with a community in need. The entire populace, not just the women and children, benefitted from the Ursulines' dedication to literacy, education, and public service. I see this table as a visual reminder of both the power of education and the power of women working together toward a common goal.

—Sarah McKenney, Education Assistant

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Between 1920 and 1950; photographic negative
by Joseph Woodson Whitesell
92-48-L.9

Joseph Woodson "Pops" Whitesell (1876–1958), famous for his photographs depicting the wealth and beauty of the French Quarter, was also an important figure in the French Quarter Renaissance, an effort by artists, authors, and architects to preserve and reinvigorate life in the historic neighborhood.
The Collection's holdings of Whitesell's photos include images of Mardi Gras kings and queens and debutantes, but also those of his that capture scenes of everyday life, devoid of obvious signs of wealth or luxury. His photos document the relationship between the city and its people. He photographed the highs of Mardi Gras, he highlighted women and children outside on balconies and in courtyards, and he captured the strength and size of the buildings towering over the people of the French Quarter. He showed the city and the people together, his photos preserving emotions, buildings, and events. Although the streets of the French Quarter have changed since Whitesell last photographed them, the spirit he preserved remains the same. The artists still create, the buildings are still monumental, and the Mardi Gras floats still roll on.
Art show behind Cathedral exemplifies Whitesell's skill as a photographer and his role in the Renaissance. This moment presents men and women crowding the streets of the French Quarter admiring art, walking past historic architecture, and generally enjoying the neighborhood, not unlike visitors to the Quarter today. This photo shows the city weaving its way into the lives of its people while at the same time depicting people weaving their way into the city’s life, rebuilding and revitalizing the French Quarter one piece of art at a time.

 

 

—Sarah McKenney, Education Assistant

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Between 1825 and 1830; wood, Damascus steel, sterling, and platinum
by Lewis and Tomes, gunsmith
1999.74.1

This dueling pistol, one of a pair owned by Daily Picayune reporter Jose Augustin Quintero (1829–1885), exemplifies the history of New Orleans’s dueling culture.
The art of the duel, governed by a set of rules known as the code duello, was once viewed as a noble method for settling personal disputes. According to the code, it was customary for the challenger to choose the location and the weapon, usually a sword or pistol. One of the preferred sites in New Orleans was an area known as the “dueling oaks,” under the large trees in City Park, located near where the New Orleans Museum of Art stands today. Although the practice fell out of favor by the mid-eighteenth century in most parts of the United States, dueling prevailed in New Orleans well into the 1880s, until it was officially outlawed in 1890.
When Quintero moved to New Orleans sometime after the Civil War, he already held a substantial résumé as an intellectual, political columnist, poet, Cuban revolutionary, and former Confederate spy who was tasked with smuggling cotton through Mexico. Quintero also admired the code duello. In 1873, he wrote and published a second edition to John Lyde Wilson’s 1838 book, Code of Honor, which listed all of the rules and regulations for a proper duel. In the foreword of his book, Quintero defended the custom as a deterrent to more “needless” violence.
Much like dueling culture itself, the style of Quintero’s pistol is an artistic and romanticized representation of what, ultimately, was a device designed to kill. Manufactured by the Lewis and Tomes gunsmith company, the gun features a waterproof pan, platinum touchhole, adjustable trigger, engraved lock plate, and silver trim. It is four and a half inches in height by seventeen and three-quarters inches in length, and its components are made of wood, Damascus steel, sterling, and platinum. While it is unknown whether Quintero used this particular pistol in a duel, his affinity for the practice is well documented, and the item stands today as a reminder of a raucous time in New Orleans society.

—Brett Todd, University of New Orleans

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ca. 1851; lithograph
by John Bachmann
bequest of Richard Koch, 1971.54

I have always appreciated the power of cityscapes. These lofty views can reveal the sprawl of a metropolis at a glance, orient the observer within the broader geography, and¬—as unique markers of a place, like fingerprints—inspire civic pride. Before the advent of aerial photography in the late 1850s and early 1860s, however, producing such images required considerable ingenuity from artists. John Bachmann (active 1849–85) was one of many nineteenth-century printmakers who used the bird’s-eye view to illustrate New Orleans’s growth. The perspectives in these artists’ pieces varied: some looked upriver, some downriver, some focused on a narrower slice of the city, and some pulled out for broader vistas. What stands out about this work by Bachmann, who made similar lithographs of many other cities, including New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, is its particularly ambitious scope. Many other panoramic views of New Orleans were cast from realistic vantage points—the top of St. Patrick’s Church was a popular spot—but Bachmann’s gazes out from a contrived position somewhere high above the West Bank, showing most of urban New Orleans along a sweeping curve of the Mississippi River and extending all the way to Lake Pontchartrain on the horizon. Accuracy, understandably, was an issue with many of these bird’s-eye views, though Bachmann’s work is considered relatively faithful for its time. Its most notable distortions can be seen in his emphasis of iconic buildings: St. Louis Cathedral, one hundred seventy feet tall in reality, would be seven hundred feet tall if this image were to scale. Bachmann’s dramatic portrayal of the busy port town, complete with intricately detailed steamboats chugging up and down the river, captured public interest and was reproduced many times in the United States and abroad. Today it provides a fascinating glimpse at the way many people would have imagined the breadth of New Orleans during its rapid expansion in the mid-nineteenth century.

—Nick Weldon, Assistant Editor

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1850; lithograph
by Landaluze, draftsman; Marq, lithographer
1978.123 a,b

In the first half of the nineteenth century, notions of Manifest Destiny inspired a phenomenon known as the filibuster, whereby private citizens organized irregular military ventures into Latin America with the aim of fomenting insurrection. Though now forgotten, New Orleans used to be a known hub of filibuster activity, its port well-suited for launching filibuster expeditions.
Narciso López was one of these so-called filibusters, also known as freebooters. Born in Venezuela in 1797, López made a career in service of the Spanish Empire, first as an army officer and later in Cuba’s colonial government. When an 1848 regime change deprived him of his position, the disgruntled López conspired to overthrow the imperial administration and establish Cuban independence. A failed insurrection forced his flight to the United States, where López found overwhelming public support, despite garnering Washington’s disapproval.
When a federal interdiction foiled his plot to invade Cuba from New York, López relocated to New Orleans. The local press, spearheaded by the New Orleans Delta, celebrated his cause as an affirmation of republican ideals. López sold millions in bonds out of New Orleans as soldiers-for-hire flocked to join his ranks. His second-in-command, William L. Crittenden, was the nephew of US Attorney General John J. Crittenden; another, Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, went on to found the Louisiana Tigers battalion of the Confederate Army.
López left New Orleans for Cuba on two separate expeditions, in May 1850 and August 1851. During the former, López’s troops captured Cárdenas, raising the flag he designed in 1849 over the city, then retreated before Spanish reinforcements could arrive. The second time, Spanish troops utterly routed the filibusters, and Crittenden and fifty-one survivors faced a firing squad. The summary execution of American citizens ignited anti-Spanish passions in New Orleans, causing a riot on August 21, 1851, that culminated in the sack of the Spanish consulate on Bourbon Street. López himself was captured and publicly garroted in Havana in September, but his legacy lived on in his flag, officially adopted at the first Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Cuba in 1869.

 

—Ashton Robinson, Williams Scholar

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New Orleans: New Orleans (La.) Sanitary Commission, 1854
60-69-L.3, gift of Sue Price

The summer of 1853 was a dark time in New Orleans, as yellow fever spread like fire throughout every corner of the city. Physicians and city officials scrambled to find a cure as people quickly succumbed to the effects of an epidemic that had killed 7,849 people by autumn 1853, making it the deadliest epidemic in New Orleans history. After much debate among city officials on how to deal with the outbreak, a sanitation commission headed by Dr. Edward Hall Barton was assembled to investigate the spread of the disease. This report, published by the sanitation commission in 1854, gives us an in-depth look into the history of the 1853 epidemic through testimony given by local physicians; statistics tracking the disease’s spread; and a series of sanitation procedures to be implemented.
We know today that yellow fever is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito found throughout tropical climates in the Americas, a fact that was unknown to physicians until it was discovered by Dr. Walter Reed in 1900. The sanitation commission believed that the spread of yellow fever could be attributed to poor atmospheric conditions and improper hygiene. Barton’s disappointment at the state of the city’s hygiene is evident in the report: "New Orleans is one of the dirtiest, and with other conjoint causes, is the sickliest city in the Union, and scarcely anything has been done to remedy it."
To combat the city’s hygiene crisis, Barton and his team outlined a series of sanitation procedures that called for the proper disposal of all forms of waste, rigid street cleaning, new drainage methods to prevent stagnant pools from forming in populated areas, and the development of a quarantine system in the event that the city was faced with another epidemic. While yellow fever continued to be a nuisance for New Orleans in the years to come, the sanitation procedures outlined in the 1854 report are credited with better preparing the city for the disease and preventing another epidemic like that of 1853 from ever happening again.

—Brett Todd, University of New Orleans

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1800s; hair on glass
1957.124.30, gift of Harold Schilke
2008.0052

Victorian culture was romantically fascinated with death, giving rise to an entire transatlantic culture dedicated to death and the art of mourning. In New Orleans, more widespread Victorian practices complemented pervading local customs for the observance of death. This item is one product of that cultural synthesis.
In the nineteenth century, the rise of the middle class stimulated material culture, leading to the proliferation of “fancywork,” handmade items used to decorate home parlors. It became a point of pride for Victorian housewives to produce fancywork for their homes or as gifts, although they could also be purchased from artisans. Many items were made from the hair of the creator or intended recipient, taking the sentimentality and intimacy of fancywork one step further.
Naturally, the Victorian preoccupation with death also inspired fancywork. These handmade commemorative items, known as immortelles, were left at gravesites or kept in the home as a memento mori. Immortelles were particularly popular in New Orleans, where they could be purchased in local markets, either from local craftsmen or imported from France. Hair immortelles were made from the hair of the deceased and glued to a glass background, to be hung in the home. The hair was carefully arranged to spell out a name or depict an allegorical image, as in this piece, which shows a tomb with a symbolic weeping willow in the background. The French inscription, “ici repose mon père,” translates to “here lies my father,” indicating the subject of the dedication and most likely the owner of the hair.

—Ashton Robinson, student, Tulane University

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between 1863 and 1867; oil on canvas
by Mauritz Frederik De Haas
1974.80

This oil painting by Mauritz Frederik De Haas, created sometime between 1863 and 1867, depicts the culmination of the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, when David G. Farragut led his Union fleet past the two Confederate forts on April 24, 1862. Prior to the battle, Forts Jackson and St. Philip were the major obstacles preventing the Union from capturing New Orleans, since they defended the naval approach to the city on the lower Mississippi. The battle thus was immensely important because Farragut’s success left New Orleans undefended and directly led to its capture.
De Haas beautifully and hauntingly illustrates Farragut’s fleet engaged in conflict during the night with the two powerful forts. The dark color palette, realistic techniques, and striking shading and patterns together bring the battle scene to life. Through these measures and the overall foreboding tone of the work, De Haas excellently illustrates the significance of the battle’s outcome. This painting is truly important not only for its beauty as a piece of art but also because it illustrates a moment that profoundly influenced the course of the Civil War and the history of New Orleans, by way of the Union occupation of the city that followed.

—George Weber, student, Tulane University

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ca. 1795; oil on canvas
by José Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza
1981.213

José Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza was a renowned Mexican artist in Louisiana in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who was sought after for portraits of prominent or wealthy Louisianans. Most of his work that survived his move to New Orleans in 1782 was lost or damaged in 1788, in a fire that destroyed most of the French Quarter. But demand for Salazar’s portraits over the next two decades provides an enormous visual record of his reputation and talent.
This nearly life-size portrait of Clara de La Motte, which hangs in THNOC’s History Galleries, was painted in New Orleans in 1795, after the death of La Motte’s first husband, Benjamin Monsanto. The Jewish couple had been married in New Orleans, where Monsanto’s brothers lived. The exquisite portrait, which was sold out of the country and rediscovered in the 1960s, is a typical representation of Salazar’s style. He dressed de la Motte in a blue gown featuring lace trim, set against a dark background. She is wearing gold jewelry, has her hair in bouffant style, and holds a sprig of grain in one hand while a bird is perched on the other.

—Valeria Rodriguez, student, International High School

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New Orleans: World’s Music Publishing Company, 1919
2008.0052

This piece of sheet music is a reminder of the reign of terror that gripped New Orleans from May 1918 through October 1919, when reports of a series of grisly murders filled local newspapers. The victims, mostly Italian grocers, were attacked at night by a mysterious ax-wielding intruder who escaped, leaving almost no clues. At least six people were killed, and those who were wounded but recovered could describe their attacker only as a heavyset dark man. The axman usually broke through the doors of his victims’ homes with a chisel, and he often perpetrated the crime with an ax found on premises.
On March 16, 1919, the Times-Picayune published a letter to the editor from an individual claiming to be the axman. The writer boasts, “They have never caught me and they never will. . . . I am not a human being, but a spirit and a fell demon from the hottest hell.” He announces a plan to attack again at 12:15 a.m. on Saint Joseph’s Day—but notes that he is fond of jazz music and will spare anyone playing jazz music or with a jazz band in full swing that night.
Jazz parties were quickly organized, and cafés and bars all over town were crowded that evening. On Wednesday, March 19, the Times-Picayune ran a cartoon showing a frenzied attempt to accede to the axman’s request and an article describing the after-midnight jazz soirees. It was noted that the axman did not strike that evening.
Inspired by the axman’s letter, Joseph John Davilla, a local composer of popular music, wrote this piece “while he waited for the axman” and had it published, using the Times-Picayune cartoon on the cover. Although a suspect emerged—a man subsequently murdered in broad daylight, in Los Angeles, by the widow of his last New Orleans victim—no one was ever arrested for these crimes.

—Pamela D. Arceneaux, Senior Librarian / Rare Books Curator

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by John Kennedy Toole
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980
80-299-RL

Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, is a picaresque comedic novel set in New Orleans in the early 1960s. By any measure a classic novel in the realm of contemporary southern literature, its chief protagonist is the slovenly and vainglorious Ignatius J. Reilly. The plot focuses on his bumbling adventures around the city and the colorful and eccentric characters he meets, and it is often considered to be the finest depiction of New Orleans in a work of fiction.
Although the book was written in 1963, Toole was unsuccessful in getting it published. This failure, combined with an increasing sense of paranoia, produced a deteriorating mental state which culminated in his suicide in March 1969. After his death, his mother, Thelma, made repeated attempts to get her son’s novel published. Eventually she found her way to the office of renowned author Walker Percy, who was teaching in the English department at Loyola University New Orleans. She forced him to take a copy of the manuscript and made him promise to read it. As he recounts in his foreword to the published work, initially he read with great hesitation, but “in this case I read on. And on. First with the sinking feeling that is was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good.” With Percy’s help, the book was eventually published by Louisiana State University Press in 1980, and quickly became a classic, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.
The first print run was only 2,500 copies, so a first edition of the book is relatively rare. But what makes this specific copy even more special is that Thelma Toole signed it and dedicated the inscription to THNOC. It reads “May 9, 1980. A merited contribution to The Historic New Orleans Collection John Kennedy Toole’s mother, Thelma Ducoing Toole.”

—Bobby Ticknor, Reference Assistant

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1850s; tiger-stripe maple, steel
by Jean-Baptiste Revol, gunsmith
2007.0079

This unusual gun—made for indoor use—was manufactured in New Orleans by French native Jean-Baptiste Revol. Zimmerstutzen “parlor rifles” are Swiss in origin and are essentially small-bore, light caliber target rifles with low muzzle velocities. They feature short rifled barrels and fire a small spherical lead ball via a priming charge triggered by a long firing pin. Though used only for short-range target shooting, they are extremely accurate, able to group shots tightly at fifty feet. Enthusiasts in Alpine countries once used them for indoor target shooting during the long winter months, when outdoor shooting was impractical. While known to late-nineteenth-century European sportsmen, Zimmerstutzen rifles became much less common after World War I and are now hard to find; some antique firearms dealers mistakenly classify them as air rifles. Jean-Baptiste Revol worked in New Orleans as a gunsmith from about 1850 until his death in 1886. Revol’s last business and residential address was 400 Chartres Street, the Perrilliat House, a building now owned by The Historic New Orleans Collection.

—Jason Wiese, Curator / Associate Director, Williams Research Center

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created for 1955; textile with rhinestones and sequins
2014.0515.1.5, gift of Tina Freeman

This gown from the Mystic Club is what a typical queen would wear to a Mardi Gras ball during the 1940s and ’50s. The floor-length gowns were made of satin, often with beading from top to bottom. The Mystic Club was known for its extravagant stage settings that depicted literary romances as well as historical events.
Mrs. Richard West Freeman wore this gown to a ball on February 19, 1955, with the theme “After the Battle of New Orleans.” The material is silver satin with a pattern of golden leaves. The bodice is neatly designed with rhinestones and sequins that are carried out in a geometric pattern down the front. The most exotic and outstanding features—the capped sleeves with shoulder pieces of stiff wire—also are embellished. Crisscrossed beaded straps on the back are anchored with a large flower of rhinestones, matching the one in front.
Although this dress doesn’t truly go with the style of the “after the battle” era, it is said that Mystic Club queens almost always dressed according to theme.

—Valeria Rodriguez, student, International High School

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ca. 1880; albumin photoprint mounted on board
by John Hawley Clarke
1981.369.65, gift of Mrs. Ashton Fischer and Mrs. Carl Corbin

Around 1880, a little white mixed-breed dog sat patiently in John Hawley Clarke’s photographic studio on Canal Street, between Chartres Street and Exchange Place. His mismatched features reflect diverse heritage: a Chihuahua’s eyes look out from a bearlike face with tippy ears on a spaniel’s rough-coated body. He is not beautiful in the physical sense, but his world-weary gaze conveys a sense of dignity and wise old age that compels the viewer to look into his eyes. Looking at his nearly 140-year-old portrait, I understand what prompted the grief-stricken owner to write about her dog’s unusual gaze, which “looked at me so wistful and so wise. Trying to know.” This is Mat.
For many years, Mat was journalist Eliza Jane Nicholson’s steadfast confidant and companion. Through good times and bad, Mat was there for Eliza Jane, who wrote under the pen name Pearl Rivers. Her poem “Only a Dog,” written after Mat’s death, in 1885, memorializes the canine friend whose name was her child’s first word.
I first learned of Mat soon after I began working at THNOC in January 1998. A colleague had shown me Mat’s collar and a brooch made from one of his front paws. However, it is Mat’s photographic image, not his disconsolate owner’s grisly keepsake, that conveys to me his inner spirit and preserves this faithful little dog’s memory for posterity.

—M. L. Eichhorn, Senior Reference Associate

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1986; lithograph
by Carl D. Vought, draftsman
gift of Carl D. Vought, 1991.156

This map of German submarine operations in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II demonstrates how close the war really was to home. In the summer of 1942, U-boats in the Gulf sank fifty-eight ships, forty-one in May alone. Of the twenty-four U-boats that passed through the Gulf of Mexico during the course of the war, only three failed to make it back into the Atlantic. One such submarine, designated U-166, sank just forty-five miles from the Louisiana coast on July 30, 1942, to remain undiscovered until 2001.
In 1986, Carl D. Vought made this facsimile map, charting the paths of U-boats operating within the Gulf of Mexico during the war. As the map shows, the Port of New Orleans served as a point of convergence for U-boat activity. The list at right details the ships sunken as a result of U-boat activity; black crosses mark the locations of the sunken U-boats.

—Ashton Robinson, Tulane University

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2007; acrylic on canvas
by Rolland Golden
acquisition made possible by the Diana Helis Henry Art Fund of The Helis Foundation; joint ownership with the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Fund, 2008.0109.11

Rolland Golden’s 2007 opus, The Spirit Returns, echoes both the trauma and the resilience of New Orleans, perhaps the brightest and most culturally complicated city in the United States. By delineating the buoyant mood of a traditional second line in bold and exacting colors and marrying the characters thereof with the specter of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and aftermath, Golden succeeds in presenting a liminal visual text rife with the dichotomy of tragedy and recovery.
The Spirit Returns depicts a scene to which many New Orleanians, as well as those personally unaffected by Katrina, may relate. Joy radiates from many of the painting’s subjects as they strut to the music of the Olympia Brass Band, yet some figures appear introspective or downright pensive. Golden captured on a single canvas the range of moods and emotions present in survivors in the days and years following the storm, illustrating that—despite the positive messages scrawled on some of the umbrellas held by the revelers—healing is not complete.
Once-stalwart homes stand broken and defeated behind the second line, their shingles missing, windows knocked out like boxers’ teeth, muddied flood lines scarring wooden siding. They are roughed up, yet still they stand, a metaphor for the people of the Crescent City. Above the second line and the wreckage, ghostly figures of rescue efforts and stranded residents recall the chaos and misery of the time immediately following Katrina, yet the mood of the painting overall is one of hope and return. The eye lines created by the houses’ roofs and the concrete overpass compel the observer to double back to the jubilance of the second line—a rite that reinforces the spirit of an irrepressible people in an unsinkable city.

—Heather Szafran, Reference Assistant

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1947; linocut print (printed 1989)
by Elizabeth Catlett
acquisition made possible by the Laussat Society, 2013.0222.5

I Have Given the World My Songs is one in a series of linocuts depicting the struggles, achievements, and resilience of African American women in the United States. Each image in the I Am the Black Woman series is accompanied by a phrase—and when viewed as a collection, these phrases present a narrative on the contributions of black women. This history is one the artist, Elizabeth Catlett, personally embodied, as she wrote from the first-person perspective.
I Have Given the World My Songs features an anonymous woman sitting on a bench strumming a guitar. She is surrounded by a burning cross and the violence inflicted upon African Americans, yet she is steadfast in her ability to have her voice, and the voices of oppressed people, be heard.
Catlett, a Washington, DC, native, was head of Dillard University’s art department from 1940 to 1942. Her prints and sculptures focused on the African American experience and reflected the political tensions and social changes occurring in the United States. In 1946, Catlett moved to Mexico, where she would live and work until her death in 2012. Her art is on display in museums around the world.

—Heather Green, Reference Assistant

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ca. 1950; etching
by James Carl Hancock
partial gift of Dr. James W. Nelson, 2008.0216.61

This circa 1950s etching shows off the simple elegance of a classic French Quarter courtyard. In 1726, 613 Rue Royale was built as a private residence, but in 1886 Bertha Angaud and Emma Camors turned it into The Shop of the Two Sisters. They sold Mardi Gras ball gowns and other finery imported from France and served tea and cakes in the courtyard.
Even before the sisters moved in, the courtyard was renowned for its legends: Marie Laveau practicing voodoo at its well (aptly named Devil’s Wishing Well), Queen Isabella blessing its gates to charm whomever touched them, and Jean Lafitte dueling and killing three men in one night under the courtyard’s willow tree.
In 1963 Joe Fein Jr. leased 613 Rue Royale and created the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. Today the Fein family still runs the restaurant and pays for the upkeep of the Camors sisters’ graves. The courtyard is the site of daily brunches with live jazz music.

—Carina Gleason, Tulane University

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made for January 1, 1981
by Tress-Up of New Orleans, manufacturer; Sugar Bowl, distributor
2001.61.2

This is a square, printed, blue cloth souvenir bandanna with text that reads “Sugar Bowl ’81” and an image of the trophy that is printed obversely. The Sugar Bowl is an annual college football championship game played in the Superdome in New Orleans. On January 1, 1981, the University of Georgia Bulldogs played against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Georgia was undefeated, untied, and—slightly unbelievably—seeking a national championship that year. As ESPN observed of the contest, “The Bulldogs, before former President Jimmy Carter and 77,894 other fans, sought their first national championship.” The Bulldogs won the Sugar Bowl with a final score of 17–10 to finish the season with a record of 12 wins, 0 ties, and 0 losses; Notre Dame finished the season with a record of 9 wins, 2 ties, and 1 loss.

—Lucy Roemer, student, Tulane University

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1803; printed map
by George Gauld, surveyor; William Faden, publisher; Benjamin Baker, engraver
2015.0330.1-4

From 1764 to 1771, Scottish-born surveyor George Gauld (1731–1782) devoted his professional life to exploring and charting the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Following the British acquisition of West Florida, in 1763, officials recognized the need for better intelligence concerning the “Isle of Orleans” and adjacent waterways—areas they thought might one day be navigated by British merchants or ships of war. Gauld was commissioned to map the coastal areas of newly Spanish Louisiana and British Florida and spent eight years surveying them firsthand. After hostilities erupted between Britain and Spain, Gauld was captured in Pensacola, in 1781, by Spanish forces under the command of Bernardo de Gálvez. He was eventually freed and allowed to return to England, where he died in 1782.
The quality of this survey and others by Gauld attracted the attention of geographer and publisher William Faden (1749–1836), who issued the surveyor’s work posthumously. Gauld’s monumental chart of the coasts of West Florida and Louisiana, which was issued in 1803, was engraved and printed on four large sheets. The entire chart, when assembled, measures over ten feet long. It is the crowning achievement of Gauld’s life’s work, encompassing over 850 nautical miles of the northern Gulf Coast and delineating bays, rivers, and lakes, whose depths and bottom characteristics are included in the rare admiralty chart. Commanders of the 1814 British expedition against New Orleans used the chart to plot their route to the city via Bayou Bienvenue.

—Jason Wiese, Curator / Associate Director, Williams Research Center

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1984; oil on linen
by Douglas Bourgeois, painter
2012.0299

This large-scale oil painting by Louisiana artist Douglas Bourgeois depicts a diverse collection of nearly one hundred people on two levels of a graffiti-covered club interior. I love this painting because of the rich detail. Bourgeois, who is from St. Amant, Louisiana, represents people from every walk of life in this 1984 work. There are so many fine points about each individual that a viewer could easily make up a life story for each one.
Bourgeois’s paintings fall into the realm of magical realism and fantasy, often portraying musicians and other pop culture figures in fanciful scenarios and always chock full of exciting and interesting detail. Bourgeois is represented by Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans and was a participating artist in the recent Prospect 3 exhibition. He also designed the 2008 Irma Thomas Jazz Fest poster. Burning Orchid Nightclub was a gift to The Collection by UNO Professor Emeritus Jerah Johnson, a frequent donor of important African Americana.

—Becky Smith, Head of Reader Services

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between 1913 and 1915
attributed to William Struve, compiler and publisher
77-2346-RL

Directories to houses of prostitution in New Orleans's infamous Storyville red-light district are collectively called Blue Books. Storyville—named for Alderman Sidney Story, who sponsored legislation to confine prostitution to a designated part of the city—occupied an area just north of the French Quarter, the site of today's Iberville public housing development. During Storyville's twenty-year existence, from 1898 to 1917, many editions of the Blue Book were issued, listing prostitutes by race and address; however, the guides among The Historic New Orleans Collection’s holdings contain no descriptions of specific sexual services and no fees. They do contain advertisements for other services and products, such as restaurants, quack cures for venereal diseases, liquors, and cigars. Most editions also include a warning that the guides “must not be mailed” because regulations banned the distribution of suggestive materials through the United States Postal Service. Blue Books were sold to men as they stepped off trains at Basin Street or were available in barbershops and saloons. Although many were distributed, authentic editions are scarce today.

—Pamela D. Arceneaux, Senior Librarian / Rare Books Curator

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ca. 1918
by Charles L. Franck Photographers
Charles L. Franck Studio Collection, 1979.89.7579.14

Charles L. Franck Photographers was a commercial photography studio founded in 1905 by Charles L. Franck Sr. For most of the first half of the twentieth century, the firm photographed the face of New Orleans for a variety of clients. Construction, demolition, and existing condition photographs of buildings were a significant part of the firm’s production.
This photograph is from an album of several dozen images commemorating the opening in 1918 of the Public Grain Elevator on the Mississippi River at the foot of Bellecastle Street in Uptown New Orleans. Franck’s approach to photographing this massive structure combined the precise documentary evidence that his eight-by-ten-inch view camera was capable of recording with the visual acumen of a seasoned photographer in selecting a stunning composition.
After Franck's retirement in 1946, the studio was purchased in 1955 by Albert Bertacci and resumed operation as Franck-Bertacci studios. It operated under that name until the early 1990s, when the business closed.

—John H. Lawrence, Director of Museum Programs

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ca. 1952
by Wiley Sylvester Churchill
1981.268.3

Overflowing with groggeries and brothels in the mid- to late nineteenth century, Gallatin Street in the lower French Quarter notoriously found itself center stage for all forms of rioting and debauchery. Wiley Sylvester Churchill’s sarcastically titled ink-on-board depiction of these everyday mass outbreaks identifies the confusion and violence experienced by both patrons and producers. Churchill expressly pairs the wild fervor of the rioters with his own ink strokes and shading, having each pen stroke give ferocious, distinct physicality to the rioters and simultaneously shaping the group as one violent outbreak. While almost none of the subjects’ facial features can be understood, this only emphasizes the brutish nature of certain characters and the unassuming demeanor of the defeated ones. In the center of the image are two assumed prostitutes tugging at each other’s hair and clothes, while just to the right is another woman standing squarely over what appears to be her defeated, male combatant. Just to the left, a man appears to be restraining an oncoming blow from a weapon. Throughout the image’s backdrop, raised and clenched fists shoot up, ready to strike. These images pair humorously with characters such as the man to the far right, sitting with a hand resting upon his cheek, befuddled by the riot behind him. Churchill’s image powerfully displays the wide spectrum of emotions expressed by rioters, both instigators and victims alike, towards prostitution in Gallatin Street.

—Peter Jahnig, student, Tulane University

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January 3, 1815
64-2-L; MSS 200 f.4

Few figures have a legacy as complex as our seventh president, Andrew Jackson. Always a polarizing figure, Jackson claims a pendulous legacy that has swung back and forth between admiration and condemnation in the two hundred–plus years since he rose from obscurity.
The man is often lost in the legacy. But in this 1815 letter to the war office, we can see the man. Of particular note is Jackson’s handwriting. It is not the clear, elegant, looping script of a nineteenth-century gentleman with a long, formal education. It is a scrawl more befitting a grocery list. While Jackson was well-educated, he had minimal formal schooling, and this, along with his rough, frontier ways, distinguished him from many of his political adversaries. This was particularly evident during Jackson’s campaign against Harvard-educated President John Quincy Adams, who lost re-election to Jackson in 1828. Jackson—the fish out of water, the self-made man surrounded by the elite—could not hide the lack of schooling evident in his handwriting. However, one need only look to the end of the letter to see an individual who knew how far he could rise. The man who would, for good or ill, redefine the American presidency during his two terms in office, finished with a large, brash, ostentatious signature that cannot be ignored.

—George Schindler IV, Docent

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ca. 1940
gift of Robert Brewster James, 2004.0094.2

The first streetcars ran in New Orleans on April 23, 1831. Spectators looked on, not knowing just how important this transit would become to the city. Later, in the 1890s to 1920s—what is known as “The Golden Era” of streetcars—they were built and put onto growing street lines and belts across the busy city. Of course there were advances in technology that led to shuttle buses being put on the streets, which many people preferred. Private forms of transit were also becoming common, leading to the decrease of streetcar ridership by the late 1920s.
This roll was placed on the side or front of a streetcar around 1940. The rolls showed the main lines that streetcars traveled on, and they were made out of canvas material and covered to make them waterproof. The lines listed were So. Claiborne, Magazine, Napoleon, St. Claude, Desire, Canal, Gentilly, West End, City Park, Freret, Jackson, Tulane, and St. Charles. Although these are very common street and place names now, not all still hold lines for streetcars to proceed. Currently New Orleans is attempting to rebuild these forms of transportation, keeping its rich history in transportation alive.

—Valeria Rodriguez, student, International High School

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1836–39; mahogany, poplar, pine, chestnut, brass, velvet
by J. & J. W. Meeks (New York), retailed in New Orleans
acquisition made possible by the 2014 Laussat Society, 2014.0381

This sofa—with its gondola shape, serpentine base, and stylized scroll and cornucopia carving—was the height of fashion in the late 1830s. It is signed with a printed maker’s label under the seat: “[J. & J. W. M]EEKS / [CABINETMAKE]RS, / [No. 14 VESEY STREET, sec]ond door below the / [ASTOR HOU]SE, / [NEW Y]ORK. / [AND 23] CHARTRES-STREET, / NEW-ORLEANS.” Makers’ labels aren’t often found on antique furniture, in which case curators must rely on stylistic similarities to put pieces into context, so a signed work like this one is especially important. Labels can reveal a great deal about a piece’s origins and help attribute unlabeled pieces to particular makers. This label reveals that the sofa was produced in New York and sold in New Orleans sometime between 1836 and 1839. Although this is the only known piece of seating furniture with the Meeks’s Chartres Street label, this sofa is representative of the type of fashionable northern furniture that filled elite homes in New Orleans and the Gulf South.
The Meeks cabinetmaking firm was established at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Joseph Meeks in New York City and began operating a warehouse on Chartres Street in New Orleans by 1820. Joseph Meeks & Sons established its place at the top of the American furniture market when, in 1833, it published a color lithograph broadside advertising its fashionable furniture—one of the first illustrated style guides of American furniture. In 1836 the company changed its name to J. & J. W. Meeks and moved to a new site near the Astor House in New York City. It closed its New Orleans warehouse in 1839, but J. & J. W. Meeks continued to market its fashionable furniture through retailers in the city and remained a popular designer throughout the antebellum era.

—Lydia Blackmore, Decorative Arts Curator

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between 1945 and 1949; papier mache, mother of pearl, gold leaf, cypress assembled in the shop of Marc Antony (New Orleans)
The L. Kemper and Leila Moore Williams Founders Collection
72.18 WR

The focal point of the living room in the Williams Residence is the large circular coffee table. Situated near the middle of the pink and green room, the table—with its dark top, bleached bottom, and glittering gold accents—draws the eye of the visitor. The table was created in the 1940s in the shop of Leila Williams’s designer, Marc Antony, by combining two old objects to make a modern piece of furniture. The top of the table was originally part of a papier-mâché breakfast table. The tabletop, which was made in England around 1850, exhibits all the popular elements of Victorian design. Papier-mâché was a popular material used to make moveable household goods in the mid-nineteenth century, including wine coasters, trays, and breakfast tables. The lightweight pieces were decorated with gold leaf, mother of pearl inlay and painted scenes derived from popular artworks. The central scene on this tabletop shows a queen in renaissance clothing on horseback, surrounded by squires and hunting dogs. It is reminiscent of the popular 1840 romantic painting of Queen Victoria by Edwin Henry Landseer. Depictions of Victoria’s eight castles are featured on the outer rim of the tabletop. The base of the amalgam coffee table is an inverted Corinthian capital that came from a pair of cypress columns salvaged from a nineteenth-century house in New Orleans. The use of cypress is a reminder of the eighty thousand acres of cypress swamps that were the source of the Williamses’ lumber and oil fortunes. The Victorian tabletop and New Orleans capital, two nineteenth-century objects, were melded together to make a piece of twentieth-century furniture. As separate pieces, the papier-mâché tabletop and the cypress columns are reminders of wealth, art, and history, but together they create a modern form emblematic of preservation and mid-nineteenth century design.

—Lydia Blackmore, Decorative Arts Curator

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by Lafcadio Hearn, author
New York: W. H. Coleman, 1885
77-288-RL; gift of Ralph Pons

Eccentric traveler and writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) became fascinated with local culture during the decade he lived in New Orleans, between 1877 and 1887. He wrote numerous articles for the Item and the Times-Democrat newspapers, as well as “Gombo Zhèbes”: Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs, in 1885, and Chita: A Memory of Last Island, in 1889, the latter about the devastating 1856 hurricane. His 1885 collection of recipes, La Cuisine Créole, was published the same year as the Christian Woman’s Exchange’s Creole Cookery Book. Although neither cookbook was the first to feature Creole recipes, they, along with a section of Will H. Coleman’s 1885 Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans and Environs—which contained loving descriptions of Creole cuisine—introduced Creole cooking to a wider audience. The books (the publication of which coincided with the 1884–85 World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, held in what is now Audubon Park) established Creole cuisine as a genuine regional treasure.

 

 

—Pamela D. Arceneaux, Senior Librarian / Rare Books Curator

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between 1905 and 1929
Walle and Company, Limited (printer); The Dr. G.H. Tichenor Antiseptic Co. (manufacturer)
1979.369.32

Dr. George Humphrey Tichenor was a Confederate surgeon during the Civil War. In 1863 his leg was wounded in battle, and for fear of an infection setting in, army doctors wanted to amputate. Tichenor refused, insisting the wound be treated with an antiseptic he had formulated years earlier. Composed mostly of alcohol, with some peppermint oil and arnica, the formula healed the wound and saved Tichenor’s leg, allowing him to revolutionize medical treatments and subsequent surgeries during the war. By 1905, the Dr. G. H. Tichenor Antiseptic Co. was founded in New Orleans. The bottled antiseptic is still sold in drug stores to treat ailments ranging from cuts to sore throats.

—Elizabeth Ogden, Docent / Project Specialist

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by the United States Army, Department of the Gulf; 1862
99-276-RL

Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler commanded Union troops in occupied New Orleans for seven months during the Civil War, beginning in May 1862. Inhabitants of the fallen city, especially women of society who felt themselves immune to retribution, took every opportunity to insult and ridicule Union officers and soldiers. Exasperated, Butler issued General Order No. 28, popularly known as the “Woman Order.” The decree charged that any woman caught disrespecting one of Butler’s men be treated as a “woman of the town plying her avocation,” implying prostitution. Although the harassment ceased, Butler was denounced by President Jefferson Davis, Confederate generals who read the order to their men, and newspaper editors in the North and the South. Harper’s Weekly printed a cartoon that depicted the situation both before and after Butler’s proclamation. Great Britain’s prime minister, Lord Palmerston, commented in a letter to US Foreign Minister Charles Francis Adams denouncing the order that he could not fully express the “disgust which must be excited in the mind of every honorable man.”

—Pamela D. Arceneaux, Senior Librarian / Rare Books Curator

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