|Exhibits in Cabildo take you
back to the early days
New Orleans is filled with museums.
Some have been there for time immemorial. Others pop up as
interest in their special subject grows. This is just a small
sampling of what New Orleans has to offer.
Anyone interested in the history of New
Orleans should start at the Cabildo. Built between 1795 and 1799
to replace the original building that was destroyed by a fire in
1794, the Cabildo Is one of the most historically significant
buildings anywhere in the country.
served as the seat of government for the Spanish rulers of New
Orleans. Later it was where the Louisiana Purchase deeding the
entire Louisiana Territory from France to the United States was
signed in 1803. Over its long life, it served as a city hall,
courthouse and prison before becoming a museum in 1908. I have visited it many times and am
always struck by the feeling of history that shrouds the old
building. It's first floor showcases the inhabitants an history
of New Orleans from the native people thought it's French then
Spanish period and brief French re-rule when it then passed to
the United States. It covers this history
down to the modern era
with wonderful artifacts and art.
One of the most unique
artifacts there is one of Napoleon Bonaparte's death masks.
There are only four genuine death masks in existence today. Of
course the connection to the Cabildo is evident. Napoleon was
the person who sold Louisiana to the United States under
President Thomas Jefferson thus almost doubling the size of the
|Fats Domino's Piano
"Living with Hurricanes: Katrina
and Beyond," the exhibit on the first floor of the Presbytere is
one of the most moving ones in the city. As I entered, my eyes
were drawn to a single object in the center of the hall. Fats
Domino's massive Steinway grand piano sitting on its side with
the internal workings exposed. This is how it was found after
it was washed out of Fats Domino's lower ninth ward home.
Looking up I saw the ceiling was covered
with bottles with messages in them and glass in the shape of
hands. The unusual art piece is called “Messages of
Remembrances” by Mitchell Gaudet. The bottles represent the
death toll of Katrina and the hands represent the help offered
the citizens of New Orleans during its darkest days.
The exhibit is so poignant. It almost
brought me to tears as I read the messaged on the garage door.
"Dead dog do not remove owner wants to bury."
That says a lot about the spirit of the
citizens of New Orleans and their resolve to struggle onward no
matter what. The sign notes two dead cats too. Of course, the
human toll may never be confirmed or made public. So much was
happening that those of us not there can never imagine. My
family lost cars and had terrific damage to their homes as well.
Even worse, I recently learned a former in-law had a nephew go
missing during Katrina. He has never been heard from since.
|This says it all about the
spirit of New Orleanans
Another highly moving section shows a
diary written on a wall by Tommie Elton Mabry, a resident of the
Cooper Housing Project who remained through the storm and
afterwards with only his dog, Red, for companionship.
The diary, written with a black sharpie pen, filled four
walls and covers the eight weeks from
the day prior to
Katrina's strike onward. In it Mavbry related the everyday
occurrences of life in a mostly abandoned and desolate New
Orleans. Mabry survived his ordeal and died January 30, 2013.
The Cooper development was torn down three years later
but the Louisiana State Museum managed to salvage the walls with
the diary inscribed on it. It tells just of everyday events
including his will to live on beyond this tragedy and help
return his life to something approaching normal although, he
states in one entry "…It will never be normal."
The exhibit ends on a positive note as
the city, which still and probably always will, struggles to
return to a semblance of normal.
The second floor exhibit relates to the
more resilient side of New Orleans and chronicles the history of
Mardi Gras. Incidentally, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New
Orleans the year after Katrina. Nothing could stand in the way
of the city's joyous celebration of their favorite holiday. Many
of the costumes were made of blue tarps in honor of the many
roof coverings throughout the city.
Old U.S. Mint
|One of the mints huge machines
When I visited, the Old Mint was a busy
place. The Satchmo
Summerfesti was in full swing there. For those of you not in the
know, "Sacthmo" is Louis Armstrong, New Orleans favorite Jazz
The courtyard was filled with venders and there was a
great jazz band playing.The venders were seling typial New
Orleans favorites like hot sausage po' boys, gumbo and sno
balls. the bands were playing spirited jazz.
I bought a po' boy and a sno ball and
watched as a few couples danced and the crwod swayed in time to
the music. It was hard to tear myself away from
the outside fun but eventually I did.
As I entered the into the old mint I
reflected that this was truly a historic place not only
in the content of New Orleans but the entire country. It
was the only mint to produce American and Confederate coinage.
The mint was built in 1835 and used continually first by the
United States and then for a short time by the Confederacy as a
|Listing to a tribute to Satchmo
After the Civil War, control passed back to the Federal
government and it resumed minting coinage for the United States
until 1909. It was the only southern mint to reopen after the
Downstairs, the exhibits show the tools
and techniques used to produce coins.
On the second floor, there
is a great music exhibit very in keeping with the Satchmo Fest
devoted to New Orleans jazz greats. Fats Domino's piano and
Louis Armstrong's cornet were
the highlights for me. I was and am still a fan of both.
Irish Culture Museum
|Luke explains the importance of
the Irish Cultural Museum
This great little museum is a treasure
trove of the history of the Irish in New Orleans. It's
Ahearn, the manager,
who explained how the museum came to be. "It's been a lifelong
dream of my father who is passionate about his Irish heritage."
They were shocked when the father, Mathew
Ahern, a contractor, applied for permission to open the museum in the French Quarter
at 933 Conti Street and was told by some bureaucrat, "I don't
see that the Irish had any influence on the Vieux Carre."
Fortunately wiser heads prevailed and the
museum opened in October 2012. The museum uses the latest
technology, interactive kiosks; static displays and exhibitions;
archival photos, maps and newspaper clippings; a portrait
collection; and a library.
|Part of the Steinbeck exhibit
Be sure to watch their award-winning
documentary "Irish New Orleans" it is a real eye opener for
those who are not familiar with the tremendous influence the
Irish had on New Orleans. So many of the Irish became involved
in the area of politics, an always colorful "sport" in New
Orleans. For anyone from New Orleans, it is a nostalgic trip in
time. For anyone not from there, it is a lesson in the art of
politics, New Orleans style.
The Art of Fiction" was running as a temporary exhibit and I
found it fascinating. I had not realized, Steinbeck was half
Irish. His people came from a tiny hamlet in Derry County,
Ireland called Mulkeraugh.
In 1052 he went back in search of his roots. In his novel,
East of Eden published in September of 1952, one of his
major characters, was based on his maternal grandfather who
migrated from Ireland to American in 1949 and eventually set up
a ranch in California. He used his grandfather's real name,
Samuel Hamilton, in the story. The exhibit included sculptures and photos of objects,
text and characters from Steinbeck's most popular works.
Another museum that features one of my
favorite writers from years past as co-occupant of the home is
The Beauregard-Keys Home on Charters Street. This is one of the
city's older museums and I had visited it many times when I
lived in New Orleans.
Built in 1826, the square American style
home stands out from its closed courtyard style French neighbors
in the Vieux Carre. It was built on land purchased form the
Ursuline nuns who owned it along with the property across the
street by Joseph Le Carpentier then moved on through a sucession
of owners until author Francis Parkenson Keys purchased it in
1945. Upon her death, it became property of a foundation she
founded to protect the historic home.
It's most famous resident, Pierre Gustav
Toutant Beauregard, never owned the home. He lived in it after
the war from 1865 to 1868 and spent his honeymoon with his
second wife, Caroline, in the home in 1860.
In her book,
Madam Castel's Lodger,
my personal favorite of all her works, Ms. Keys tells a
fictionalized biography of Beauregard. Another of her books,
The Chess Players, is
a fictionalized biography of Paul Morphy, whose grandfather once
owned the house. Morphy was a world chess champion who visited
and stayed in the historic home during his childhood.
|In the parlor of
The parterre garden begun by Anais
Mearle, wife of a Swiss conciliate, who lived in the home in the
1830s, is also part of the tour.
It's a fascinating place on many levels:
historic, architectural, botanical and even cultural as the
furnishings reflect both the period during which General
Beauregard lived there and the mid 1900's
when Ms. Keys lived in it. The back apartment where she
spent her later years is preserved as it was at the time of her
It's a good place
to get acquainted with a lot of New Orleans history
|One of the machines used in WWII
National WWII Museum
This is one of the city's most impressive
museums. It opened its doors on
as The National
D-Day Museum. The mover and shaker behind this museum is none
E. Ambrose, author of the bestseller Band of Brothers
and producer of the
miniseries. In 2003, Congress named it America’s National WWII
This museum, along with the D Day Museum in Roanoke, Virginia,
and the Lincoln County Historical Museum
is going to be a feature
article in History Trail in the Spring issue so I am just
going to tell you a tidbit about it here. Believe me that from
the moment you step aboard the "train" that transports you into
the museum until you step into the US Freedom Pavilion: The
Boeing Center filled with trains, jeeps, and all the machinery
that supported the fighting men, you will be mesmerized.
Civil War Museum
Separated in time by almost three
quarters of a century was another war that impacted the country.
In distance the New Orleans museum commemorating this war is
just across the street
from the WWII Museum.
The Civil War Museum is housed in Memorial
Hall which was built in 1891. It's the oldest continuously operating museum in
The museum is filled with all kinds of
Confederate artifacts from the lowliest private's uniform to a
large portion of Jefferson Davis's personal possessions. Davis
died in New Orleans on
December 6, 1889
60,000 people came to pay their respects. Afterward, his widow,
Varina, donated the current collection of her husband's things
to the museum.
While the guns and swords are impressive,
there are lots of other interesting items like the display of
medicine as practiced during the Civil War.
A set of surgeons tools includes one item that looks a
lot like a modern hack saw. Ouch! Then there are the personal
papers and photographs. One exhibit is devoted to Katherine
Walker Behan and her husband, William
J. Behan. Katherine was personal
Lee, Robert E. Lee's oldest daughter, and Varina Davis and has
letters and papers relating to the war and later years. William
fought with the Washington Artillery during the war and went on
to become mayor of New Orleans after reconstruction.
|Personal exhibit in Confederate
If you are a history buff, this place is
|Marie Laveau's portrait
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
Some things are unique to New Orleans. I doubt you will find
another museum dedicated to the history of Voodoo anywhere else
in the country. The museum was founded in 1972 by Charles
was a good friend and a remarkable person: perhaps the
most knowledgeable expert in the United States on the practice
and its most well known queen, Marie Laveau.
His brother, Jerry, also an expert on the subject, runs the
museum and offers other services such as cemetery tours and
this museum so important is not its size or setting. It is small
and a bit dingy but it is authentic. This is not a tourist trap.
It is a place where those seeking true knowledge of a religion
that had been defamed by Hollywood and literature and shrouded
in mystery since its emergence in this county, can go to learn
what Voodoo really is all about. The artifacts are real. The
knowledge behind the exhibits is extensive.
Be sure to note the
painting of Marie Laveau that hangs in the front room of the
museum. It is an original painted by Charles "Voodoo Charley"
Gandolfo as a young man.
|Example of a Voodoo altar
Ironically, like Marie Laveau, Charles
was a multi-talented person. He was a hairdresser as well as an artist before he founded the
No visitor to New Orleans
can ever hope to understand the complete culture of that
mysterious city without a knowledge of what Voodoo is and how it
evolved from the religion early Africans brought from their
homeland and mingled with Catholicism.
|Pharmacy Musuem sign
After visiting the Voodoo Museum, it's just a short walk to the
Pharmacy Museum and it is amazing how much the two have in
common. The downstairs portion of the museum is filled with old
medicine bottles sitting on counters protected by curved glass
covers. It really feels like I wondered into a time warp here.
The building is on the site of America's First Licensed Pharmacy
Dufilho, Jr. was the first to pass the states exam.
I am so glad they still
don't still use all these "medical" items like leeches and those
cute little metal cups to collect blood from bloodletting. Some
of the hypodermic needles are huge. Opium, coca (as in cocaine)
and whiskey was regularly prescribed as medicine.
from the Voodoo Museum told me this little tidbit."The pharmacy
sold potions as well as medicine and some people didn't want it
known what they were purchasing. So the potions were all
designated by number. The love portion was number nine."
|Pharmacy Museum filled with
interesting potents and bottles
The building itself is worth the admission. Be sure to go
upstairs and into the shady courtyard.
Mardi Gras World
Say "Mardi Gras" and everyone thinks of
New Orleans. Not many people think of the work and effort it
takes to put on a world class spectacular event each year. One
place represents that year round part of Mardi Gras more than
any other in the world, Blain Kern's Mardi Gras World. This is
where you can see Mardi Gras in action year round.
Since 1947, Blaine Kern
Studios has built those stunning parade floats for Mardi Gras
and lots of other events as well.
I just visited Rock Ranch (see article)
and loved the Chick fil A
there. Blain Kern also built the four-story-tall cow that graces
the Atlanta Braves baseball stadium. They build for such well
known names as Universal Studios,
Walt Disney World, Toho Park in Japan and many other
entertainment centers. But Mardi Gras is where it all began and
the first focus of the company. No wonder Blain Kern is known as
"Mister Mardi Gras."
This is a "living museum" as well as
attraction rather than a classic museum but I am only giving you
a sneak preview here as I am going to feature Mardi Gras World
in Museum Row for the
Winter Issue in January, 2015.
Irish Cultural Museum
Civil War Museum
Voodoo Museum http://www.voodoomuseum.com/
Mardi Gras World