Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Orleans: A Brief and Quirky History

St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square

Dear George,
Our family members live in or near lots of special places, e.g., New York City, Seattle, Santa Cruz, Philadelphia, Princeton, San Francisco, Saranac Lake.  But none is more extraordinary than New Orleans.  Our son and daughter-in-law, J and K, moved there in the mid-1990’s, and now our sweet grandchildren draw us there as well.  We’ve gone down at least once a year for quite a while.   I plan to visit in a few weeks, and, as part of my psychic preparation for taking in the city, I’ve assembled a potpourri of informative and fun historical facts.  Here’s a short account of NOLA from its beginnings: 

1541: The region was first visited by Europeans when a Spanish exploration party led by Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River.
1718: New Orleans (Nouvelle-Orléans), just a trading camp at the time, was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville on the first crescent of high ground above the Mississippi’s mouth (a hundred miles from the Gulf).
1718: The first St. Louis Cathedral building was erected, and now it’s the oldest continually operating cathedral in the U.S.
1721:  Priest-chronicler Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix described New Orleans as “a place of a hundred wretched hovels in a malarious wet thicket of willows and dwarf palmettos, infested by serpents and alligators.”
1727: The Urusuline nuns braved five months of high seas, pirates, shipwreck, and sickness to come to New Orleans.  Their convent was finally completed seven years later.
1762 and 1763: France signed treaties ceding Lousiana to Spain, making New Orleans a Spanish city for the next 40 years, trading heavily with Cuba and Mexico and adopting Spanish racial rules that allowed for a class of free people of color.
1765: Following the French and Indian War, Acadian immigrants from Canada (Cajuns) began settling in French-colonized Louisiana, including New Orleans.
1788 and 1794: The city was ravaged by fires that destroyed 80% of its buildings, then was rebuilt with brick buildings and a cathedral that are still standing today.
1789: New Orleans' earliest cemetery, St. Louis No. 1 at 3421 Esplanade Ave., was established.
1791:  With a population nearing 10,000, New Orleans had twice as many tavern keepers as it did merchants. 
1796: The first opera in the U.S., Ernest Grétry's Sylvain, was performed in New Orleans on May 22.
1803: To gain control of the vital Port of New Orleans, Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon I of France for $23 million, thereby doubling the land area of the United States. 
1805: New Orleans was incorporated as a city.
1805:  A New Orleans census (probably under-counted) showed a population made up of 3551 whites, 1556 free blacks, and 3105 slaves.
 1806: Named for its showy gardens, the Garden District was laid out by Bathelemy Lafon as an open, semi-urban system of interrelated parks with basins, fountains, and canals. 
1813: Governor Claiborne offered a $500 reward for the capture of legendary pirate Jean Lafitte, whereupon Laffitte countered with a $1,500 reward for the capture of Governor Claiborne.
1815: Colonel Andrew Jackson led a coalition of free blacks, pirates, and Tennessee Volunteers to defeat a British force outside the city in the final battle of the War of 1812.
1815: Charity Hospital was built.
1823:  The first permanent theater in the U.S., the American Theatre, was established in New Orleans by James Caldwell.
1823: What is now the oldest existing pharmacy in America was built at 514 Chartres Street in the French Quarter.  
1827: New Orleans'  first Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday" in French) was celebrated. 
1830: Most New Orleans residents still spoke French. 
1834: Tulane University was founded in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana. 
1835: The New Orleans & Carrollton Line opened and remains the oldest street railway line still in operation in the country.
1837: The Picayune newspaper began its publication.
1840: Antoine's Restaurant opened for business.
1850s:  New Orleans was the third largest city in the nation with a population of 166,375.
1853:  City Park was established. 
1862: The city was captured and occupied by Union forces during the Civil War.
1862: Cafe du Monde opened for business at the French Market. 
1866: New Orleans successfully operated a racially integrated public school system during the Reconstruction era.
1871: Santa became the first Mardi Gras thrower when he rode in the Twelfth Night Revelers parade and passed out gifts to the children in the crowd. 
1872:  In order to entertain Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia, Rex became the city's first krewe to stage an elaborate daytime parade. 
1873: The first parade constructed entirely in New Orleans was Comus 1873, built by George Soulé.  Earlier New Orleans parade floats in the 1860s were built partially in Paris and finished in New Orleans.
1874:  Armed forces led by White League segregationists defeated the racially integrated metropolitan police and their allies in an intense battle in the French quarter and along Canal Street, forcing the temporary flight of the governor and his administration.   
1877: Buddy Bolden was born, an early jazz musician who music historians credit as the inventor and first bandleader of jazz from 1895-1907.
1881:  Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau died at age 98 after influencing tens of thousands of multiracial followers since the early 1830s through her legendary rites.
1884: The city hosted the 1884 World's Fair, called the World Cotton Centennial. Though a financial failure, the event marked the beginning of the city's tourist economy. 
1886:  New Orleans philanthropist Josephine Louise Le Monnier Newcomb created Newcomb College, the first degree-granting university for women in the U.S.
1897: City alderman Sidney Story wrote legislation setting up the legalized red-light district known as Storyville in order to limit prostitution to one area of town.  Storyville's black and white brothels, venues for many of the era’s great jazz musicians, flourished until shut down in 1917.
1919:  Louis Armstrong, age 18, replaced King Joe Oliver in Kid Ory's jazz band.
1933: Pat O'Brien's Bar opened on St. Peter Street at the end of Prohibition. 
1934:  The Live Oak Society was founded.  Composed entirely of trees with the exception of an honorary human chairman, each member tree is required to pay dues of 25 acorns per year.
1938: Tennessee Williams arrived in New Orleans, and less than a decade later "A Streetcar Named Desire" became the most famous New Orleans literary work.
1950:  Fats Domino Jr., born in New Orleans in 1928, had his first major hit with “The Fat Man” (Imperial Records).
1953: Café Lafitte in Exile opened on Bourbon Street, the oldest gay bar in the country.
1956:  LSU-New Orleans was established.
1960: The school desegration crisis branded the city as a stronghold of racism, and whites began relocating to the suburbs in huge numbers.
1967: The New Orleans Saints football team was formed. 
1970: Jazz Fest had its first season.
1975: The Superdome opened, the largest fixed dome structure in the world. 
1977: Tipitina’s music club, which has hosted the likes of the Neville Brothers, Kermit Ruffins, James Brown, Bonnie Raitt, Pearl Jam, and innumerable other artists, opened on Napoleon Ave. in Uptown.   
1978:  City Councilman Ernest N. Morial became New Orleans’ first African-American mayor. 
2005: Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, 80% of the city was flooded after the city's levees failed, and total economic losses in the region were estimated at $100 billion. 
2010: The city's population rebounded to 343,829 after a post-Katrina low of about 223,000 in 2006. 

All in all, New Orleans’ history offers a portrait that testifies to its uniqueness among American cities: ethnic and cultural diversity, European heritage, extremes of wealth and poverty, Deep South elegance mixed with cosmopolitanism and tolerance, abundant nightlife, jazz, booze and drugs, sex, crime and corruption, racial conflict, Catholicism, voodoo, gay-lesbian culture, literature and the arts, theater, international commerce, ghost and vampire stories, and a legendary past.  I’m eager to be off on my trip and will file a travel report when I get back.

Selected Sources:  www.answers.com (“New Orleans”); www.encyclopedia.com (“New Orleans”); www.experienceneworleans.com; www.funtrivia.com ("New Orleans"); www.history.com (“New Orleans”); www.neworleans.about.com;  www.neworleansonline; www.wikipedia.org (“History of New Orleans”; “Timeline of New Orleans History”) 

G-mail Comments
-Donna D (5-1): david, this is great!  as your psychic compadreista i can't wait to hear about your adventures!   donna
-Linda C (4-23): Thanks , send pics and have a great time.

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