Archive for the ‘New Orleans’ Category

Presqu’ile: Almost an island

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Presqu’ile is a Creole word meaning “almost an island.”

For decades, it was the name of a gathering spot for the Murphy family of El Dorado at Henderson’s Point on the Mississippi Gulf Coast near Pass Christian.

Hurricane Katrina hit in late August 2005 and wiped Henderson’s Point clean.

In honor of that part of their family heritage, the Murphy family named a winery in the Santa Maria Valley of California after the Gulf Coast compound.

Many of those who attend the Nov. 21 Arkansas food and wine gala at the Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock will be sampling Presqu’ile wines for the first time. The event will raise money for the new Arkansas exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Tickets are $125 each. Those desiring more information should call (501) 661-9911 or email

A bit of background on the Murphy family and Henderson’s Point is in order.

First, the Murphy family.

Charles Murphy Sr. already had extensive timber and banking interests in south Arkansas when oil was discovered in 1907 in the Caddo Field north of Shreveport.

“Murphy decided that his timber company should purchase land on a scattered, noncontiguous pattern to provide more exposure to any oil development,” John Ragsdale wrote in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “When the large Smackover Field in Ouachita and Union counties was discovered in 1922, Murphy had oil royalty interests in it. He and joint operators owned about 100,000 acres in the Union County area. In 1936, Phillips Petroleum discovered a small oil field at Snow Hill in Ouachita County, but the area’s extent was limited. Murphy preferred to spread drilling and production risks. He did not have an extensive operating company but rather owned interests in different operations.

“In 1937, an abandoned Phillips Petroleum well in western Union County, where some Murphy acreage was located, was re-entered by the Lion Oil Refining Co., which discovered deeper multiple zones between 5,000 and 8,000 feet below the surface in the Shuler Field. This included the Smackover limestone, which led to development of fields in the Smackover limestone throughout south Arkansas. Then, in 1944, Murphy land was included in the development of Louisiana’s Delhi Field, a major oil producer. This was the largest field for Murphy.”

Charles Murphy Sr. had moved to El Dorado in 1904 to operate a bank. By 1907, he owned 13 banks. He built a sawmill at Cargile in Union County and later established a railroad to supply the mill with timber from north Louisiana and south Arkansas.

Charles Murphy Jr. took over the family businesses in 1941 at the age of just 21 after his father suffered a stroke. Murphy Jr. had attended Gulf Coast Military Academy at Gulfport, Miss., at age 16 and had learned to love yachting. Much later in life, he would write two books on the sport, “Yachting Smart” and “Yachting Far.” He received expert tutoring, especially in French. Murphy Jr. graduated from El Dorado High School in 1938 and got married in October of that year.

Murphy Jr. spent three years in the Army during World War II. In 1946, he and his three sisters — Caroline Keller, Bertie Deming and Theodosia Nolan — pooled their interests to form C.H. Murphy & Co. In 1950, that company was transformed into the Murphy Corp., with Murphy Jr. as its president. He would serve as president until 1972 and as chairman of the board until 1994.

Murphy Corp., which had gone public in 1956, became Murphy Oil Corp. in 1964. The first foreign exploration for the company occurred in Venezuela in 1957. That was followed by production in Iran in 1966, the North Sea and Libya in 1969, Spain in 1979, Ecuador in 1987 and the Gulf of Mexico in 1988. Deltic Farm & Timber Co. was spun off from Murphy Oil Corp. in 1996 to form Deltic Timber Corp. Deltic is the developer of the Chenal neighborhood in west Little Rock and has timber holdings in Arkansas and Louisiana. Earlier this year, the Murphy USA subsidiary was spun off to form a company that focuses on retail sales, primarily at stores associated with Walmart.

Murphy Jr., an erudite man, served on the state Board of Higher Education and on the boards of Hendrix College at Conway and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. He established the Murphy Institute of Political Economy at Tulane University in New Orleans. He died at his home in El Dorado in March 2002.

Murphy Jr.’s son Madison would go on to become chairman of the powerful Arkansas Highway Commission.

Next, Pass Christian and Henderson’s Point.

Henderson’s Point on the Gulf Coast was named for John Henderson Sr., a U.S. senator from Mississippi from 1839-45. Along with several partners, Henderson acquired 15,000 acres and developed the coastal community of Pass Christian. He died in 1857. In 1903, descendants of Henderson formed the Mexican Gulf Land Co. to promote Henderson’s Point as a planned community. It was advertised to wealthy New Orleans residents as the only remaining undeveloped tract between New Orleans and Mobile with easy access to rail transportation. There would be parks, big lots and a streetcar line to Gulfport and Biloxi. Located at the western tip of the Pass Christian peninsula, Henderson’s Point had homeowners who were known for fighting annexation to Pass Christian, and the area thus remained unincorporated.

U.S. Highway 90 west of Pass Christian now separates Henderson Point from the Pass Christian Iles, a 1,400-acre development that began in 1926. Seven miles of canals and lagoons were dug while the marsh areas were filled with the dredged material. The Isles are totally residential while Henderson’s Point has a small commercial district.

The Murphy family compound consisted of 14 acres that stretched in the shape of an isthmus.

The family bought almost 200 acres in California in 2007 to establish the Presqu’ile Winery. The first estate grapes were planted in 2008. A San Francisco architectural firm was hired to design the winery and tasting room, which are connected by a cave that was built into a hillside.

“That the Murphy family’s new Santa Maria property is shaped a lot like an isthmus smacks of serendipity,” Gabe Saglie wrote last year in the Santa Barbara News-Press. “‘We were looking for a great piece of pinot noir-growing land with a little bit of soul,’ says vinter Matt Murphy with a distinct Southern inflection. His family find off East Clark Avenue in 2007, which came after a year’s worth of hunting through pinot hot spots like Carneros and Lompoc’s Santa Rita Hills, fit the bill for clear viticultural reasons. The plot’s pervasive sand-like soil drains extremely well, and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean (the Murphy’s property is the second western-most vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley) creates ideal maritime growing conditions.”

Matt Murphy, the son of Madison and Suzanne Murphy of El Dorado, says of the Mississippi compound: “It was home to us. And it will never be the same.”

The family compound in Mississippi was given its name by Charles Murphy Jr., who loved to use his French. It’s pronounced “press-keel” with the emphasis on the second syllable.

“Presqu’ile is led by president Matt Murphy, and features his wife, Amanda; his brother, Jonathan, and his wife, Lindsey; his sister Anna; and their parents, who still reside in Arkansas,” Laurie Jervis wrote in the Santa Maria Times. “Matt Murphy and winemaker Dieter Cronje, a native of South Africa, lead the winemaking and are vocal believers in the potential of the Santa Maria Valley to lead the West Coast in terroir-driven wines.”

The new tasting room opened in June.

In addition to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and now the California Pacific Coast, the Murphy family long has had close ties to New Orleans.

“New Orleans is, in essence, our second home,” Madison Murphy said recently. “This place is special to us.”

So it’s natural that the Murphy family — and its winery — is playing a leading role in the Nov. 21 Little Rock event to fund an Arkansas exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

Matt Murphy moved to California to learn the wine business.

“During the wine grape harvest of 2006, Matt found himself working at Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara wine country,” Saglie wrote. “He’d already spent previous vintages in Napa, learning the business of growing grapes and selling wine. This was the year he’d get to know an increasingly renowned region called Santa Maria.

“The 2006 harvest had also brought Dieter Cronje to Bien Nacido. He’d already been trying his hand at winemaking for four years in his native South Africa and had developed a zeal for pinot noir. ‘I love to make it because it’s tough to make,’ he says with a Southern accent of a totally different kind. To stretch his wings, ‘it was either Burgundy or the United States for me, and since I knew my lack of French would make Burgundy tough, I came to the United States,’ he says with a laugh. The weather helped set his sights on Central California instead of Oregon.

“When Matt and Dieter met at the height of the grape-picking season, the unlikely duo quickly realized they shared a passion. And not just for pinot noir. The two will tell you they are fiercely focused on making wines that are balanced, not just big.”

The land purchased by the Murphy family in 2007 previously was being used to grow gladiolas.

Saglie wrote: “The promise for growing great grapes was palpable. And the fact it looked a heck of a lot like an isthmus was good fortune at least. They named their new property, for purely sentimental reasons, Presqu’ile.”

Matt and Amanda built a home on the property.

“Presqu’ile’s new, state-of-the-art winery and hospitality building — connected by a unique cave system — and the nearby residences could easily grace the pages of Architectural Digest,” Wendy Thies Sell wrote in the Santa Maria Sun. “The award-winning, San Francisco-based architectural firm Taylor Lombardo Architects designed the project. The design aesthetic is contemporary, sleek and elegant, incorporating stone, wood, concrete, glass and metal. Interesting modern art adorns the walls. They paid attention to every detail — just as Presqu’ile does in winemaking. Many of the building materials are sustainable and sourced from the West Coast. The sandstone used for the exterior and interior of the winery complex were harvested from a quarry in Lompoc. A local artisan labored for seven months hand-cutting and laying each stone.”

The newspaper describe Cronje as “a wine rock star — literally. Cronje not only handcrafts vibrant, complex wines, but he actually has a rock band, The Tepusquet Tornadoes, made up of wine industry friends.”

“We really do want it to be an easy rapport and a place where people can interact,” Madison Murphy said of the winery. “As they say on the Gulf Coast, ‘pass a good time.”’

From the pine woods and the oil patch of south Arkansas and north Louisiana to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to New Orleans and now to the Pacific Coast, the Murphy family of El Dorado has made its mark.

It all comes together on the evening of Nov. 21 at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock.

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The decline and fall of Brennan’s

Monday, July 1st, 2013

My love of New Orleans is such that I had determined at a young age that if I ever got married, the honeymoon would be in the Crescent City.

Fortunately, I was able to convince Melissa of just such a honeymoon in the fall of 1989.

We ate our way across the city for a week. While the restaurant is viewed by some as a place for tourists, the famous breakfast at Brennan’s was de rigueur.

Through the years, I would take Gov. Mike Huckabee and other friends to their first breakfasts at Brennan’s. Melissa and I took our two sons there following Sunday morning mass at St. Louis Cathedral. Hurricane Katrina hit just two weeks later.

It’s hard for me to believe that the restaurant closed last week as a long-running family feud continues to play out.

“The thing that gets me most about it is that when the brothers took over from their aunts and uncles in 1973, Brennan’s was the most profitable restaurant in the world,” Tom Fitzmorris writes in his online New Orleans Menu Daily. “It has never done badly. A waiter told me that the place had a thousand people on the reservation books for this past weekend. At its lofty prices (the highest in town, except perhaps for tasting menus at places like Stella!), open seven days a week from morning through night, Brennan’s was a money machine. What the hell happened?”

The current management of the restaurant was evicted from the Royal Street property at 2:15 p.m. last Thursday by the corporation that had purchased the building at auction in May. The most recent manager of the restaurant was Owen “Pip” Brennan Jr., the son of founder Owen Brennan Sr.

It was learned Friday that one of Pip’s cousins, Ralph Brennan, is a partner in the company that now owns the property.

Ralph Brennan said in a statement: “The closure of Brennan’s restaurant is regrettable and sad but could have been averted many times over the past two years. For the last two years, I have been in repeated contact with my cousins in an effort to help avert the financial crisis that Brennan’s Inc. finds itself in today. Several offers to inject capital into the company were made and rejected.”

Ralph Brennan said that he and business partner Terry White “look forward to bringing the building back into commerce soon.”

Employees weren’t informed of the impending closure. Some arrived late Thursday in uniform to find the doors locked and everything turned off, even the gas light out front.

The restaurant’s roots date back to 1943 when Owen Brennan Sr. bought the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. He opened Owen Brennan’s Vieux Carre three years later. The elder Brennan died suddenly at age 45. Following his death, the family moved the restaurant to 417 Royal St. in the 1950s and renamed it Brennan’s.

Owen Brennan Sr.’s sons — Ted, Pip and Jimmy — would run the restaurant. Jimmy Brennan died in 2010.

In early June, Pip overthrew Ted as manager in a contentious shareholder vote. Ted and daughter Bridget Brennan Tyrrell had run the restaurant since 2006, when they had ousted Pip.

Are you following all of this? It’s, at best, byzantine.

On Friday evening, Ted Brennan issued a statement saying that if he and Bridget had not been ousted, they might have been able to avoid eviction.

“Despite the defamatory statements made by others about my family’s management, we have built this restaurant from the ground up since Katrina, only for their encroachment eight years later,” Ted Brennan said. “Times have been tough, but we always put our employees first. We are sick that the staff was not told of the eviction notice Pip and his sons received. Our efforts to communicate with our employees the past three weeks have been prohibited by Pip and his agents.”

An April 26 board meeting at the restaurant, orchestrated by Pip Brennan to unseat his brother and niece, ended when the police were called.

The shareholder meeting last month at which Pip and his sons — Blake and Clark — took over was held in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. The late Jimmy Brennan’s daughters and Pip Brennan combined their votes to unseat Ted Brennan as Brennan Inc.’s board president and restaurant manager.

The Brennan family tree is a large one.

“In the years before all of this legal action, the Brennan brothers were suing their cousin Dickie Brennan over whether he had the right to use his name on his steakhouse,” Fitzmorris writes. “It was another eruption of the long-running feud between the Brennans on Royal Street and the Brennans of all the other restaurants (including, confusingly enough, Brennan’s in Houston).

“The expense of litigating that matter was not insubstantial and that may have triggered the cash issues at Brennan’s. It’s one of many ironies that have come to light.”

And what about cousin Ralph Brennan, who already owns five restaurants in the New Orleans area?

“Ralph’s presence in this mix give a good idea of where all this is headed,” Fitzmorris writes. “Ralph is not only an astute restaurateur but a well-trained businessman. He was a CPA before joining the family’s restaurant business. And unless more surprises come out, there shortly will be a new restaurant in the superb location that has been Brennan’s since 1955.

“In order to go on, Pip and Ted Brennan will now have to find a new location pronto or somehow make a deal with the building’s owners. They also have to come to an understanding between themselves. None of this will be easy.”

Fitzmorris, who does a three-hour daily radio show on food (only in New Orleans would that much radio time be devoted to food), says this could be the restaurant story of the decade in New Orleans.

Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Ralph Brennan, was asked by The Times-Picayune if Ralph planned to reopen Brennan’s.

The spokesman answered: “Not the same restaurant. But it’s safe to say that a new restaurant is high on the list of possibilities.”

He said the eviction gives “the new ownership a clean opportunity to create a profitable, productive enterprise that continues to do justice to that iconic location.”

I head to New Orleans early next month. I had hoped to dine in the famous pink building on Royal Street one morning, enjoying oysters Benedict and bananas Foster.

The courts aren’t known for acting quickly. I have a feeling that breakfast will have to be eaten elsewhere.

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New Orleans roars back

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

College basketball teams will continue to battle tonight, Saturday and Sunday for the right to head to New Orleans for the Final Four.

As the Crescent City prepares to host college basketball’s premier event, there’s a remarkable story that needs to be told. It’s the story of New Orleans’ recovery just more than six years after Hurricane Katrina delivered a blow that many Americans thought would permanently cripple the city.

Writing in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Douglas McCollam noted: “Katrina certainly gave New Orleans the opening to remake its failed institutions. Today about 80 percent of the city’s public schools, formerly among the nation’s worst, are charter schools competing on performance to attract students. The city’s antiquated Charity Hospital will soon be replaced by a state-of-the-art medical center, part of a larger, 2.4-square-mile medical corridor anchored by a new cancer research facility and BioInnovation Center.

“Thanks to aggressive tax incentives, this year New Orleans is on pace to supplant New York as the biggest feature-filmmaking center outside of Los Angeles, a successful model the city is seeking to replicate in both music and software design.

“These and other initiatives are changing the city’s commercial culture. Once viewed almost exclusively as a booze-soaked destination for debauchery, New Orleans was tabbed last year by Forbes as the No. 1 brain magnet in the country for college graduates, and Inc. magazine dubbed it the ‘coolest start-up city in America.’

“Last month the city beat out a dozen rivals for a new GE Capital technology center that will bring about 300 high-end tech jobs.”

I was on vacation with my family at Mexico Beach in Florida when I received a call from the White House on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2005. I was informed that I had been appointed by President Bush to the regional economic development organization known as the Delta Regional Authority.

On the way back to Arkansas, we spent two nights in New Orleans. Melissa and I took our boys to mass at St. Louis Cathedral on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 14, followed by breakfast at Brennan’s. It was a wonderful day.

As we pulled out the following morning, we had no way of knowing that two weeks later, Katrina would hit, the levees would fail and 80 percent of New Orleans would be flooded.

I began my work for the DRA soon after the storm — our area included land on both sides of the Mississippi River down to its mouth in Plaquemines Parish — and made a number of business-related trips to New Orleans during the next four years.

I vividly remember those early days after the storm when the few restaurants that were open were devoid of tourists. One night, Chef Paul Prudhomme sat on the sidewalk outside his K. Paul’s in the French Quarter just to thank people for being in the city.

For those of us who love New Orleans, those were sad days in late 2005. I already could sense the change in the city by the time I left government service in 2009. Young entrepreneurs were flocking to New Orleans by then. They were attracted by the city’s food, music and other aspects of its culture. They also were attracted by the idea of being a part of the rebirth of one of the world’s unique port cities.

For decades, NOLA’s stale, cliquish business leadership had watched as other Southern cities took off — Houston, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, Charlotte and others.

New Orleans stagnated. New people and new ideas simply weren’t welcome. In New Orleans, you literally needed to be a member of the club.

In “Rising Tide,” his classic account of the Great Flood of 1927, John Barry writes: “As exclusive as the Carnival balls were, membership in the clubs of New Orleans marked the real insiders, for the krewes had a larger membership than the clubs.

“The city’s first club was formed in 1832, four years before New York’s Union Club. In 1842, the Boston Club, named after a card game, was founded, and several men, including Louisiana senators John Slidell and Judah P. Benjamin, subsequently a Confederate cabinet officer and then adviser to Queen Victoria, belonged to both the Boston and Union clubs.

“Then came the Pickwick Club and the Louisiana Club. All were exclusive, but the Louisiana Club has been called the most exclusive club in the country; only members were allowed within its walls.

“In 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt visited New Orleans during a yellow fever epidemic. It was an act of heroism that won the city’s heart — in the preceding century, the disease had killed 175,000 people in Louisiana alone — and the Louisiana Club gave a luncheon in his honor. But before even the president, himself from one of the nation’s grandest families, could enter the club, he had first to be made an honorary member.”

Now, the once inbred business culture of New Orleans pulses with energy.

And Americans are taking note of what’s happening there. In addition to hosting the Final Four, New Orleans hosted college football’s national championship game earlier this year. Next year, the Super Bowl is in what’s now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“New Orleans will be front and center on the world stage for much of the next decade, hosting a series of national and international sporting events,” says James Carville, who has turned into the city’s most high-profile booster. “In 2015, the nation will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. And in 2018, New Orleans’ tricentenary will focus not only on the founding of New Orleans but also its successful rebirth 300 years later.

“You see, the effort to rebuild and recover has been not just an engineering feat to save a city, an entire culture has been at stake. We have our own cuisine, music, architecture, funeral traditions, literature and cultural structure. And as of late, it looks like it will be preserved. More restaurants are in operation than before the hurricane. … As challenging a decade as the 2000s were for New Orleans, the 2010s may prove to be the brightest time in the city’s nearly 300-year history.

“The momentum is building. New Orleans is not just coming back and not just on its way back. New Orleans is storming back.”

The development of the medical corridor, officially known as BioDistrict New Orleans, is among the largest current construction projects in the world. The 1,500-acre district in downtown and Mid-City neighborhoods is expected to create up to 22,000 jobs during the next decade.

The developments in the corridor include:

— The Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Last month, contractors began unloading sand at the construction site to push water out of the ground. That’s the last major step before construction crews start driving piles and putting up buildings. The $995 million project will create 1,100 jobs.

— The University Medical Center. State lawmakers approved funding for the $1.09 billion project in September. The medical center will cover 34 acres and will have the only Level 1 trauma center in south Louisiana. It’s expected to create or save 5,280 jobs during its first five years.

— The Louisiana Cancer Research Center. The 10-story facility is being developed at a cost of $90 million by a consortium that includes the LSU Health Sciences Center, Tulane University, Xavier University and Ochsner Health System.

— The New Orleans BioInnovation Center. Completed last June, the $47 million structure houses biotech and life sciences entrepreneurs while supporting research at four area universities. At full capacity, up to 80 start-up companies will call the center home.

Other developments are taking place down the street near the Superdome, as those who attended the recent Southeastern Conference basketball tournament at the New Orleans Arena can tell you.

Last week, the New Orleans Hornets and the state of Louisiana reached an agreement that will keep the NBA club in the New Orleans Arena through 2024 and pump almost $50 million in improvements into the facility. The agreement includes a provision for the NBA to award New Orleans an NBA All-Star Game.

Next door at the Superdome, more than $336 million has been spent since 2006. From January through June of last year, an $85 million renovation expanded the concourse, added restrooms and concession areas, provided two premium clubs at field level for big spenders, added high-speed elevators and put in an additional 3,100 seats.

An outdoor entertainment area known as Champions Square has been built adjacent to the Superdome. Brick pavers, stages, trees and benches have been installed to create a place for concerts, corporate parties and other special events.

The owner of the New Orleans Saints, Tom Benson (at least the NFL can’t suspend an owner), bought the old Dominion Tower in 2009 and has transformed it into the gleaming Benson Tower. Ochsner Health System is relocating 750 employees to the top four floors of the 26-story building, meaning it’s now more than 90 percent leased.

Also in the neighborhood, the Hyatt Regency became the last major New Orleans hotel to reopen last October. It now serves as an anchor for Champions Square and the downtown sports district. The Hyatt Regency renovation cost $275 million.

The reopening of the Hyatt Regency with its 1,193 guest rooms brought the city’s hotel room inventory to almost 36,500 rooms. Prior to Katrina, the city had 39,525 hotel rooms.

Well-known chef John Besh has opened a restaurant named Borgne in the hotel, and it’s receiving rave reviews. If you want a touch of Arkansas, the hotel even has a Whole Hog Cafe.

From the medical corridor to the sports district, there’s construction and progress.

“We’re not going to be like Atlanta or Houston,” says Michael Hecht, the president of the business development group Greater New Orleans Inc. “But in the long run that’s a competitive advantage.”

McCollam writes in the Journal: “In its focus on building a creative economy, New Orleans sees its competition not in buttoned-down regional rivals but in San Francisco, Austin, Boston — other offbeat cities focusing more on home-grown job creation than on Fortune 500 benefactors.”

For once, I find myself in agreement with James Carville. New Orleans is storming back.

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Tide vs. the Tigers in NOLA

Monday, January 9th, 2012

For those of us who love Southern football and its history, it doesn’t get much better than tonight: Two of the region’s traditional powers meeting for all the marbles. And they’re doing it in New Orleans, not in some outpost outside the region.

Last week, Ted Lewis of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans (which still does as good a job covering sports as any newspaper in America) had a fascinating story on how the state of Alabama’s self-image was closely tied to the Crimson Tide during the civil rights era.

“To the white citizens of the state, Bear Bryant’s undefeated 1961 national champions, his first of six at his alma mater and the school’s first in 20 years, were a source of esteem and self-respect in ways that went far beyond what transpired on the football field,” Lewis wrote.

Of course, the same was true across much of the South in those days.

Consider the 22-game winning streak posted by the Arkansas Razorbacks that included several versions of the national championship in 1964 and an undefeated regular season in 1965. Many of you have seen the film footage that KATV sometimes shows of the end of the Jan. 1, 1965, Cotton Bowl victory over Nebraska.

An Arkansas fan is on the field waving a large flag.

It’s not an Arkansas state flag.

It’s not a flag with a Razorback on it.

It’s a Confederate battle flag.

In his story, Lewis quoted from a letter Congressman Frank Boykin of Mobile wrote to Bryant the day after Alabama concluded its 1961 season with a 10-3 victory over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl: “The Alabama football team showed the world, the whole wide world, what our men could do. There was so much joy, there was so much pleasure that you gave all of the home folks and people all over the South, and people all over the nation that want us to keep some part of our way of life.”

“Our way of life”: We know what that was code for.

U.W. Clemon, a retired federal judge from Birmingham and a civil rights activist, told Lewis: “Black teams didn’t get a chance to play at Legion Field, and it was located right in the middle of the black community. That stadium and the Alabama football team were symbols of segregation, and you would have to say they were very bitterly resented.”

Lewis wrote: “Just in that spring of 1961, the Freedom Riders had been attacked in Anniston, Ala., and Birmingham en route to their planned ultimate destination of New Orleans. State troopers and the National Guard were required to escort the buses to the Mississippi state line where most of the Freedom Riders were arrested, never making it to New Orleans. And fairly or not, events like that, as it turned out, contributed to the reasons why Alabama’s season ended in Louisiana instead of California and the Rose Bowl, where a rare opportunity for the Tide’s participation had occurred. Unfortunately for the Tide, that opportunity coincided with a time when the national perception of the state couldn’t have been much worse.”

Alabama has played six times in the Rose Bowl, more than any school outside of the Big Ten or what’s now the PAC 12. It was, in fact, Alabama’s success in the Rose Bowl that first put the Crimson Tide — and to a certain extent Southern college football — on the national radar screen.

On Jan. 1, 1926, Alabama shocked Washington, 20-19, in the Rose Bowl.

The Crimson Tide returned a year later and tied Stanford, 7-7.

On Jan. 1, 1931, Alabama defeated Washington State, 24-0, in the Rose Bowl.

The Crimson Tide was back on Jan. 1, 1935, to defeat Stanford, 29-13.

Alabama fell to California, 13-0, in the 1938 Rose Bowl.

The Tide won the 1946 Rose Bowl, 34-14, over USC, making them 4-1-1 in the game.

In 1961, the faculty council at Ohio State voted 28-25 against allowing the Big Ten champion Buckeyes to play in the Rose Bowl. Sports Illustrated headlined the story in its Dec. 11, 1961, issue this way: “Agony Instead of Roses in Columbus.”

Here’s how the story began: “Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes did not hear the news until he arrived at the Hollenden Hotel in Cleveland to make a speech. When reporters told him, he dropped his bag and walked out. For an hour and a half, he roamed the Cleveland streets, trying to compose himself. But back on the campus, the Ohio State students were making no such effort to count to 10. They burned members of the faculty in effigy, snake-danced down the main street, surrounded the Capitol building, broke windows, besieged and insulted their professors and generally raised the most hell that has been raised in Columbus since V-J day. Over what? Over a faculty decision not to permit the football team to go to the Rose Bowl.

“Such matters are not taken lightly in the capital city of Ohio and the home of the finest grind-it-out college football team in business. The local TV and radio stations, without exception, joined in denunciation of the anti-Rose Bowl faculty members, some of them in violent terms. The Columbus Dispatch, in an act of dubious public service, printed a list of those professors voting against the joyous trip to California, complete with addresses, salaries and amounts of money spent this year on out-of-state travel at state expense. The result was that the offending professors were jeered, scowled at, browbeaten, telephoned day and night and greeted with messages in Anglo-Saxon monosyllables on blackboards all over the campus.”

The story went on to note that Ohio State was “ripped and torn by an internal battle over football, a battle which has been going on for several years and will most likely continue for many more years. Ultimate control of the athletic program rests, by Big Ten law, with the faculty, and more and more the faculty has become exercised.”

Faculty members felt football had become the tail wagging the dog at Ohio State.

This created a rare opportunity for Alabama to return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1946. Bryant, as a lanky kid out of Fordyce High School, had played on Alabama’s 1935 Rose Bowl team. He always considered it a highlight of his playing career.

He began to lobby hard to secure an invitation for the Crimson Tide.

But lobbying just as hard against him was one of the nation’s top sports columnists, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times.

“The University of Alabama just about wrapped up the all-white championship of the cotton picking world,” Murray wrote after Alabama beat Georgia Tech during the regular season.

He also wrote this: “In Alabama, evening wear is a hood with eyeholes.”

Students at UCLA, which would be the Rose Bowl opponent, planned a massive protest if the all-white Alabama team were invited. Bryant decided not to subject his players to such criticism, choosing to go to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

The Alabama president, Frank Rose, explained that “the boys voted to go to the Sugar Bowl.”

Lewis wrote, “Uncharacteristically, Bryant had no comment, but a half-century later, Paul Bryant Jr., said: ‘I think he kind of told them how to vote.’ So Sugar Bowl president George Schneider, former president Sam Corenswet and his son, Sam Corenswet Jr., who was the bowl treasurer that year, attended the Alabama-Auburn game at Legion Field in Birmingham to make the official invitation after the Tide’s 34-0 Iron Bowl victory.”

Alabama and LSU had not played each other during the regular season that year. Sugar Bowl representatives wanted No. 4 LSU to battle No. 1 Alabama. There was a problem: The LSU coach, Paul Dietzel, was still bitter about being forced into a Sugar Bowl rematch with Ole Miss two years earlier. He decided that the Tigers would instead go to the Orange Bowl to play No. 7 Colorado.

Dietzel told LSU athletic director Jim Corbett: “If you want this team to play in the Sugar Bowl, you’re going to have to take ’em.”

With LSU out, members of the Sugar Bowl committee wanted to invite No. 5 Ole Miss, which had lost to LSU, 10-7. Rebel Coach Johnny Vaught, who had taken teams to the Sugar Bowl the previous two seasons, instead decided to play No. 3 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

“The remaining choices were limited,” Lewis wrote. “In 1956, the Louisiana Legislature, over the opposition of the Sugar Bowl, had banned racially mixed sporting events. That severely limited the Sugar Bowl’s options, and Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl, plus the new Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, with no such restrictions, were challenging the Sugar Bowl’s primacy.

“It was another three years before the Supreme Court, in a case argued by future New Orleans Mayor Dutch Morial, would declare the Louisiana law unconstitutional. In 1973, Morial became one of the Sugar Bowl’s first African-American members. No. 9 Arkansas, the most attractive available team, got the invite.”

Though the Razorbacks lost 10-3, they scored the first points on Alabama in six games. The Tide had given up just 25 points all season.

Jim Murray called the Sugar Bowl “the Syrupy Sweet White Supremacy Bowl.”

He had praised the UCLA students for “announcing that under no circumstances that they were willing to waive the Emancipation Proclamation for a single New Year’s afternoon. … This hit as hard as Fort Sumter as if Sumter had retured fire after all these years.”

Minnesota ended up with the Rose Bowl invitation and defeated UCLA, 21-3.

Meanwhile, Bryant would bring Alabama teams to the Sugar Bowl seven more times, winning six of those games. Among those wins was a game against Arkansas on Jan. 1, 1980, that secured the Tide’s second consecutive national championship.

Tonight, the Tide is back in New Orleans.

Though it’s just an hour from the LSU campus, it’s a city that has played an important role in Alabama’s football history and the football history of the South.

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The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

I’ve found a book for my December reading pleasure that fits my interests perfectly.

I love New Orleans.

I love Hot Springs.

I love food.

I love thoroughbred racing.

Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, was hanging out at Square Books in Oxford, Miss., when he came across a copy of “The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak” by Randy Fertel. The book was released earlier this year by the University Press of Mississippi.

Skip invited Randy to be a part of the Clinton School’s lecture series, and the author showed up on the final night of November to speak. I’ve been engrossed in his book ever since.

My friend John T. Edge, who heads the Southern Foodways Alliance over at Ole Miss, described the book this way: “His mother was the ‘first lady of American restaurants.’ His father was ‘odd, self-centered and nuts.’ Randy Fertel leverages a raucous New Orleans upbringing, in which Salvador Dali and Edwin Edwards play bit parts, to tell the story of an uncommon American family, defined, in equal measure, by bold swagger and humbling vulnerabilities.”

Randy’s mother is the Ruth in the Ruth’s Chris chain of upscale steak houses.

His father launched a quixotic campaign for mayor of New Orleans in 1969 on the promise that he would get a gorilla for the Audubon Zoo. He received only about 300 votes.

The photo on the book’s dust jacket shows Randy’s parents during a visit to Hot Springs. The year was 1948. My father graduated from college in Arkadelphia that year. My parents were frequent visitors to Hot Springs. For all I know, they unknowingly crossed paths with the Fertels on Central Avenue.

On a visit to Hershey, Pa., this summer, I learned that Milton Hershey honeymooned in Hot Springs. It was once quite the destination for young couples.

Here’s how the first chapter of the book begins: “If we could return to the moment captured in a 1948 photo, this couple, Mom and Dad, Ruth and Rodney, might catch our eye as they stride down Central Avenue in Hot Springs, Ark. In full sunlight, Ruth holds the crook of Rodney’s right arm and gazes at the camera with self-assurance and an easy smile. While women behind her clutch their bags tight, she carries a handbag by its strap. She wears heels with bows.

“That sunny day in Hot Springs, an unseen ornate gold barrette tooled in her initials — RUF — holds her hair swept back from her high brow. The barrette is a gift from her husband, whose family is in the trade — pawnshops.

“His face in shadow and wearing sunglasses, not unaware of the camera himself, her husband gazes at her with fondness and regard. Rodney sports a tie with bold ovals and in his right hand he carries a folded paper, probably the Daily Racing Form. He wears his shirtsleeves rolled. His left arm swings forward with a watch on his wrist, the first of many gold Rolexes, and a cigarette in the tips of his fingers — he has yet to give them up.”

Ruth was 21 when that photo was taken.

Rodney was 27.

A decade later, Ruth was speeding down Gentilly Boulevard in New Orleans on her way to the Fair Grounds (she was the first licensed female thoroughbred trainer in Louisiana) when she was pulled over by police officer Salvador J. “Joe” DeMatteo.

Soon, Ruth and Joe were an item.

By May 1958, Ruth and Rodney were separated.

Ruth married Joe in 1964.

“Joe was dark and wiry, a man’s man, a grunt who had survived the Italian campaign in World War II, a motorcycle cop, small plane pilot and gas station owner,” Randy writes. “Like him, Mom began to smoke filterless cigarettes, Pall Malls. In Joe’s presence, I heard curse words from my mother’s mouth for the first time. Surely not her first, they bothered me and I imagined Joe was their cause.”

Randy, who has a doctorate from Harvard, has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and the University of New Orleans. He’s a lover of food and fine wine who once was the marketing director for the Ruth’s Chris chain.

A March 2007 New York Times feature on his wedding to Bernadette Murray began this way: “The chatter among the 175 guests gathered under the live oaks of Audubon Park in New Orleans for the wedding of Bernadette Murray and Randy Fertel was upbeat but also circumspect. They gushed about the setting and marveled about the beauty of the bride. And barely a word about the tough times the couple had just been through.

“Less measured were the bride’s grade-school-age nephews: ‘Don’t tell,’ one said in a stage whisper. ‘Aunt Bernadette is wearing a wig!’

“Aunt Bernadette has been wearing a wig since shortly after she began treatment in May 2005 for acute myeloid leukemia, several months after Ms. Murray began dating Mr. Fertel.

“Early on, Ms. Murray tried to let Mr. Fertel off the hook, telling him that she didn’t expect him to endure what appeared to be a long illness. Mr. Fertel responded by returning to the hospital with a big diamond ring in a blue Tiffany box.”

Randy, who was 56 at the time of the wedding, met his wife in late 2004 when he was working at the New School in New York as an adjunct instructor who specialized in the literature of the Vietnam War. They met through a dating website. She’s eight years younger.

In an October story for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Judy Walker wrote: “The eccentric streak in Rodney Fertel ran deep. In the Rampart Street community of Orthodox Jews, where the Fertels owned a pawnshop and property, the Fertels were by any measure an unusual family. Rodney Fertel’s mother, Annie, shoplifted so regularly that store detectives in D.H. Holmes and Maison Blanche were detailed to follow her around; later, her accountant would quietly pay her debts. Family members also sued each other repeatedly.”

Randy told the newspaper writer: “My dad enjoyed a grudge. My family left a trail. They were litigious people; that was very helpful” in researching the book.

Randy ends the foreward of his own book this way: “The Empress of Steak reserved all the glory for herself. Her appetite for winning excluded everyone, even her offspring. Nearly all the key players in the global empire of Ruth’s Chris Steak House ended up suing her, to get what they felt they deserved. I must confess that I was among them.”

When Ruth saw a for-sale ad for a steak house at 1100 Broad St. in New Orleans, she took it as a good sign that the restaurant had been established on her birthday — Feb. 5, 1927.

She bought Chris’ Steak House in 1965 after borrowing $22,000. Almost a dozen years later, fire destroyed the original restaurant. She reopened a few blocks away at the intersection of Broad and Orleans and called the place Ruth’s Chris. It became the top political hangout in New Orleans.

Ruth sold the chain in 1999. In 2002, she died of cancer. By then, there were more than 80 restaurants in the chain.

In her will, Ruth made Randy the president of the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. Among its projects, the foundation is working to establish the Fertel Culinary Arts Center at Nicholls State University. Randy put his own money into the Fertel Foundation, which focuses on education and the arts.

As someone who has long been fascinated with the history of Hot Springs, I’m drawn back to the first of the book and Randy’s description of the Spa City: “In this year, 1948, Hot Springs is a wide-open town, dominated by the Southern Club, a gambling house in operation since 1893. In Las Vegas, Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel is only two years old and ‘the Strip’ still but a dream. The mineral baths and the gambling tables draw Rodney and Ruth here from their home in New Orleans for long stays. Rodney enjoys independent means inherited from his pawnbroker grandparents: no job pulls him home.

“The horses bring them, too. In 1948, the Fair Grounds in New Orleans celebrates its diamond jubilee, 75 years of continuous thoroughbred racing. Hot Springs’ Oaklawn Park is almost as old. This very summer, Louisiana Gov. Earl Long, Huey’s brother and inveterate gambler, comes to Hot Springs ‘for his arthritis.’ Gov. Long begins his day with the Daily Racing Form and the tout sheets. He helped the mob install slots throughout Louisiana; they let him know when the fix is in. Ruth and Rodney Fertel share Gov. Long’s taste for racehorses. In a few years, Ruth will earn her throughbred trainer’s license.”

In one photo from that 1948 visit, there’s a sign for a Hot Springs restaurant. Randy writes of the sign: “Hammons, no apostrophe. Sea Food, two words. Inside a sign promises One Day Out of the Ocean, meaning one day up from the Louisiana bayous where Ruth was born. Rodney prefers Hammons to the Arlington’s grand dining room with its organ and white-gloved black waiters and where, at age 13, I develop a taste for watercress salad and cornbread sticks slathered in butter and honey.”

Rodney would live for a time in Hot Springs at 359 Whittington Ave.

Randy said he once asked Ruth why she married Rodney.

She replied: “He had horses. I was a country girl and a tomboy. I was at LSU. Your dad owned a stable. When I first met him, I thought he was a stable boy. We ran off and got married, honeymooned in Hot Springs, then took a trip around the world.”

Randy writes: “Which means my first sibling rivals were racehorses. Later Dad would add two gorillas to the list and Mom a restaurant.”

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Louisiana oysters, Cajuns and the flood

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Man tries his best to assert control.

In the end, though, nature triumphs.

We learn that lesson anew as the Great Flood of 2011 continues to roll south.

If we watch, listen and study, there’s much we can learn during and after a historic flood such as this one.

Take Louisiana oysters, for instance, without a doubt one of my favorite things to consume (how I wish I was sitting at the oyster bar at Pascal’s Manale — circa 1913 — in uptown New Orleans on this spring Friday).

Bob Marshall of New Orleans is among the nation’s finest outdoors writers. In 1997, Marshall was a member of a three-person team at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans that won a Pulitzer Prize for a series that examined the plight of the world’s fisheries.

Marshall’s 2005 investigations into the Corps of Engineers’ work on New Orleans levees and floodwalls was part of a package that won the newspaper yet another Pulitzer Prize.

Marshall also is an expert on Louisiana’s coastal erosion crisis.

In an article in Thursday’s Times-Picayune, Marshall outlined the effect on Louisiana oysters from the opening of the Morganza Floodway (which will begin Saturday) and the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

“When the planet acts in ways that prompt humans to claim natural disaster, ecologists calmly point out there are no disasters in nature, only events,” Marshall wrote. “Louisiana’s oyster industry is about to be the next example.

“Opening spillways to divert the rising floods of the Mississippi River away from cities and across local wetlands will almost certainly kill a significant portion of the nation’s richest oyster grounds, bringing immediate financial disaster to fishing families from Lake Borgne to Vermilion Bay still recovering from the BP oil spill, state biologists said.

“But the event is also good long-term news for the oysters, beginning as early as this fall.”

Here’s what Patrick Banks, the biologist in charge of the oyster program for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told Marshall: “This will be a terrible blow to the industry, to the fishermen, no question. But we know from records that these large freshwater events usually result in greatly improved conditions for production in the future.

“You have to remember that floods of water from the rivers originally were part of the natural cycle that helped Louisiana develop the incredible oyster resource it has. The impact of every opening is different and depends largely on the length of the opening and the (stage of an oyster’s life cycle) that they occur. Judging from these other events, we could see 100 percent mortality in some of these oysters.”

In other words, it’s going to be hard to find Louisiana oysters this summer, just as was the case last summer following the BP spill. The 2010 Louisiana oyster harvest was down 50 percent from 2009.

Marshall, however, supplies the rest of the story: “Louisiana’s oyster resource evolved not only to handle these frequent river floods but to prosper from them, thanks to a two-tiered population of estuary reefs, which grow inside the bays, and intertidal reefs, which grow along and just inside the coast.

“Estuary reefs killed by the fresh water open their shells, which become ideal attachment points for the next crop of spawn — which is provided by those intertidal reefs that are not affected by the flood.”

Banks put it this way: “The experience has been reefs that suffer mortality from these openings come back stronger than ever. The impact on the fishermen is not good, but the long-term impact for the animals is actually a positive.”

The Corps will open the Morganza Floodway north of Baton Rouge this weekend for the first time since 1973, relieving pressure on Baton Rouge and New Orleans but flooding large parts of the Cajun country of south Louisiana.

“Some 25,000 people in an area known for small farms, fish camps, crawfish and a drawling French dialect are hurriedly packing their things and worrying that their homes and way of life might soon be drowned. … Opening the gates for the first time in 38 years will unleash the Mississippi on a wild ride south to the Gulf of Mexico through the Atchafalaya River and divert floodwater from the river into the basin’s swamplands, backwater lakes and bayous,” The Associated Press reported today. “Several thousand homes will be at risk of flooding. … No one seems to doubt that a major flood is bound for Butte LaRose, Krotz Springs, the oil-and-seafood hub of Morgan City and other swampland communities in the Atchafalaya Basin.”

The story described a public meeting Thursday at the volunteer fire department at Butte LaRose.

Col. Ed Fleming, the head of the Corps’ New Orleans District, warned of a wall of water 15 feet high.

“From the ground?” one resident asked incredulously.

“From the ground,” Fleming immediately replied.

In “Rising Tide,” the classic account of the Great Flood of 1927, John Barry described the fight to save a levee on the east bank of the Atchafalaya at McCrea, a town that no longer exists.

“Now 2,500 men worked at McCrea in shifts,” he wrote. “They used every technique, shielding the levee with lumber, backing it up with sandbags, revetting it with rocks. Repeatedly, some small part of the levee crumbled into the river, but each time hundreds of men rushed to the spot with timber, rocks and sandbags.

“‘They are soldiers, every one, heroes, too,’ Herbert Hoover said of them. But at 3:30 in the morning of May 24, muddy water suddenly appeared behind the levee. A few moments later a stretch of levee 700 feet long crashed into the river. The river had just ripped open the last crevasse of the 1927 flood.

“The current near the crevasse roared past at 30 miles an hour. An Associated Press report said: ‘A wall of water 40 feet high and almost 20 miles wide tonight was … cutting a path of desolation across the length of Louisiana. … Immediately behind the advancing waters scores of residents of the lower Atchafalya were being rescued by tiny boats, which ploughed precariously through the raging current to remove them from housetops. … Further back, along the Bayou des Glaises sector, only the swishing of the water could be heard.’

“The image of a 20-mile-wide, 40-foot-high wall of water was hyperbole, but the Atchafalaya had breached levees on both its banks and was spreading still another sea across central Louisiana. The flood rose to 42 feet above sea level, while the land through which it flowed had an elevation of less than 10 feet. Another 150,000 people became refugees.”

Fast forward to 2011.

Today’s AP story described how a man named Maxim Doucet in Butte LaRose has deployed a team to erect a six-foot levee around his home on the banks of the Atchafalaya. Doucet owns a construction company called Monster Heavy Haulers.

“I figured I’d give Mother Nature a run for her money,” he said.

Down the street, Russell Calais sipped on a beer as his children loaded his possessions into trucks.

“I made up my mind I wasn’t going to leave,” he said. “After I sat down and drank about 10 or 12 Coors, I said, ‘Well, it’s time.'”

The AP story noted, “Water may drive these families out of their homes, but it’s also what will bring them back to repair and rebuild. Five generations of Pamela Guidry’s family have called Butte LaRose home. Her father was a commercial fisherman. Her brothers catch crawfish for money. She worked at a seafood-packing business.

“‘I didn’t want my kids growing up in a city. I wanted them to learn how to live the hard way,’ she said. ‘They had to learn how to survive on their own down here. Once you’re out of Butte LaRose, you’re out in society, out of our own little world.’

“Guidry said her family weathered the 1973 floods and the Great Flood of 1927 without any thought of leaving town for good.

“‘The water receded. They cleaned up. Their lives went on,’ she said.”

Indeed, in the summer that lies ahead, the waters from the Great Flood of 2011 will recede.

People from Illinois to Missouri to Tennessee to Arkansas to Mississippi to Louisiana will rebuild.

Yes, even the oysters will come back strong.

The Corps will make repairs.

And then we’ll wait. We’ll wait for the next great Mississippi River flood that inevitably will come in our lifetime, our children’s lifetimes or our grandchildren’s lifetimes.

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The rampage of the mighty Mississippi

Monday, May 9th, 2011

The Delta Council in Mississippi is a venerable (and powerful) institution.

Wealthy Delta planters organized the group in 1935 with a focus on three areas — agriculture, flood control and transportation.

During the years I worked for the Delta Regional Authority, I attended the annual meeting of the Delta Council each spring on the campus of Delta State University at Cleveland, Miss.

If you want to see a lot of people wearing seersucker suits, I direct you to two places — the downstairs dining room of Galatoire’s in New Orleans on a summer Friday and the annual Delta Council meeting in Cleveland.

Jim Barksdale, the Mississippi-born businessman who rose to the top of Netscape prior to its merger with AOL, was scheduled to speak Friday at the Delta Council annual meeting.

At the 1947 Delta Council meeting, Dean Acheson unveiled the outline for the Marshall Plan.

In 1952, William Faulkner spoke.

Other speakers through the years have included David Rockefeller, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Werner von Braun.

Changing the speaker for the annual meeting at the last minute isn’t something the tradition-bound Delta Council does lightly.

But that’s just what happened last week for the 76th annual meeting. The day still ended, as it always does, with a catfish fry outside, but Barksdale was asked to come back another year. That’s so a flood update could be given by officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The rare change in plans is a testament to the historic nature of the Great Flood of 2011.

The Delta Council president, Cass Pennington, said: “At a time when so many of our citizens and businesses are facing the greatest flood threat of their lifetime and their property and safety are compromised, it is imperative that we allow all members of the public to hear a thorough briefing from the Corps of Engineers and the emergency management agencies.”

Do you need another example of just how massive this flood is?

Consider this fact: Later this week, the Corps likely will open the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana for the first time since 1973, diverting huge amounts of water from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin.

The Morganza Spillway is north of Baton Rouge.

Today, the Corps began opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway just north of New Orleans for the first time in three years.

Louisiana officials are even planning to move inmates from the famous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Here’s how Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put it today: “If you got wet in 1973, you’ll get wet this time. If you nearly got wet in 1973, you’ll probably get wet this time.”

The governor has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to assist people from Vidalia south to the mouth of the Atchafalaya near Morgan City.

Once the floodway is opened, large parts of Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia, Iberville, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes will be covered with water. Five to even 25 feet of water will rush into some areas.

This flood leaves the Corps with little choice. If the spillway isn’t opened, the river could top the floodwalls that protect New Orleans and immense pressure could cause levees to break, resulting in a repeat of the floods we saw following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I spent part of the weekend reading a lengthy (almost 50,000 words) piece that Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John McPhee wrote for The New Yorker back in February 1987.

That story — which led to a 1989 McPhee book titled “The Control of Nature” — chronicled the Corps’ efforts to keep the Atchafalaya from capturing the flow of the Mississippi.

“By the 1950s, the Mississippi River had advanced so far past New Orleans and out into the gulf that it was about to shift again, and its offspring Atchafalaya was ready to receive it,” McPhee wrote. “By the route of the Atchafalaya, the distance across the delta plain was 145 miles — well under half the length of the route of the master stream.

“For the Mississippi to make such a change was completely natural, but in the interval since the last shift Europeans had settled beside the river, a nation had developed, and the nation could not afford nature. The consequences of the Atchafalaya’s conquest of the Mississsippi would include but not be limited to the demise of Baton Rouge and the virtual destruction of New Orleans. With its fresh water gone, its harbor a silt bar, its economy disconnected from inland commerce, New Orleans would turn into New Gomorrah.”

The Corps’ efforts to prevent this from happening are centered at Old River near Simmesport. The Corps dammed Old River back in 1963 to limit the flow of water from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya.

“The Corps would have to build something that could give the Atchafalaya a portion of the Mississippi and at the same time prevent it from taking all,” McPhee wrote. “In effect, the Corps would have to build a Fort Laramie: a place where the natives could buy flour and firearms but where the gates could be closed if they attacked.”

The Atchafalaya had already captured the Red River, which had once flowed into the Mississippi, in the 1940s.

Would the Big Muddy be next?

There remain those who believe the day will come when despite all of the federal government’s efforts, the Mississippi will have its way during a flood such as this one and change course.

Bonnet Carre (pronounced Bonny Carey in south Louisiana) was the first of the major spillways constructed after the Great Flood of 1927. It was completed in 1931 and designed to divert water into Lake Pontchartrain.

What’s known as the Old River Control Structure upstream is constantly in operation to allow 30 percent of the Mississippi’s flow into the Atchafalaya.

The Morganza Spillway, completed in 1954, extends for 20 miles  and is designed to be used far less frequently than the Bonnet Carre. The Morganza is for extreme emergencies. And this appears to be an extreme emergency.

Here’s how the news release put out by the Corps on Friday night stated it: “As floodwaters progress through the Morganza Floodway to the Gulf of Mexico, the height of the water could reach between 5 and upwards of 25 feet above ground elevation, causing widespread flooding and inundation.”

The head of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said residents should expect to see bears, deer, wild hogs and other wildlife fleeing the dense Atchafalaya swamps.

“It’s like hurricane season,” Jindal said. “You hope for the best, prepare for the worst. We haven’t seen flooding like this in quite awhile. The water will be higher and the duration will be longer.”

John Barry, the author of “Rising Tide,” an account of the Great Flood of 1927, is now the vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.

In a piece last month for The Wall Street Journal, Barry wrote: “If recent events in Japan were not enough, the news of the past week has reminded us that nature can make our efforts to control it seem like nothing more than hubris. A historic swath of tornadoes has ripped across the South, and now a potentially major Mississippi River flood is gathering. The tornadoes have done their damage already. The rising waters of the Mississippi are about to test human judgment and engineering anew.”

Barry wrote his essay just before the Corps chose to blow up a levee at Birds Point, Mo., and flood much of the Bootheel in order to protect residents on the other side of the river at Cairo, Ill.

Barry called plans to dynamite the levee “one small piece of a carefully thought-out and engineered plan to control the immense forces of the Mississippi. The river drains 31 states and stretches from Olean, N.Y., to the Rockies, from North Carolina to Taos, N.M.”

This water from much of the nation eventually finds its way to Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“A great flood can easily fill the entire 35,000-square-mile area with water,” Barry wrote. “The last time the Mississippi did so was in 1927. … The problem of protecting against river floods is complex. It requires a broad view of the river system as a whole, a narrow focus on local protection and constant maintenance and monitoring down to almost infinitesimal detail.

“Nature is perfect; engineers are not. As recent experience in Japan demonstrates, if humans make a mistake against nature, nature will find and exploit it.”

It’s evident that the Mississippi desperately wants a shorter route to the Gulf of Mexico — the Atchafalaya.

Will the works of man keep the Old River Control Structure in place and thus keep the river flowing past Baton Rouge and New Orleans?

A major test lies ahead.

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New Orleans — a racing town

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I’ve long enjoyed thoroughbred racing.

One of the many reasons I like New Orleans is because, among other things, it’s a racing town.

I hope some of the thousands of Arkansans in the city for the Sugar Bowl found time to make it out to the historic Fair Grounds Race Course. The horses run each Thursday through Monday this time of year at the Fair Grounds.

Union Race Course, which today is the site of the Fair Grounds, was laid out along Gentilly Road in 1852, making it the oldest thoroughbred racing site in the country that’s still in operation. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the Fair Grounds, but it was partially rebuilt in time to host the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April 2006.

Other restoration work was completed in time for the start of the 135th racing season that began on Thanksgiving Day 2006.

Here’s how The Associated Press began its story late that afternoon: “They hauled off soil tainted by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters and rebuilt a grandstand roof ripped free by the storm’s wind. After more than a year of renovations, costing about $16 million, a Thanksgiving tradition — horse racing — returned to New Orleans on Thursday.

“The annual winter meet has started on Thanksgiving Day in all but a few years since 1934. Until last year, when Katrina forced the Fair Grounds to move its season to Louisiana Downs near Shreveport, people like 16-year-old Joe Talamo had spent nearly every Thanksgiving in memory at the venerable New Orleans track, where live oak trees, hundreds of years old, grace the infield.

“Talamo, who grew up in suburban Marrero and is now an apprentice jockey, won the first post-Katrina race under a clear blue sky and in front of a swelling crowd.”

It was fitting that someone who had been coming to the Fair Grounds every Thanksgiving since he was a young child was aboard that first post-Katrina winner. It was also fitting that the horse was trained by a Louisiana native, Larry Robideaux. He had been running horses at the Fair Grounds since 1960 and had last won an opening race in 1968.

“Much as with the New Orleans Saints’ return to the Louisiana Superdome in late September, thousands flocked to the track simply to be part of the rebirth of what had long ago become a quintessential New Orleans experience,” the AP reported.

Patsy Rink brought 13 grandchildren that day along with a number of other relatives.

“I used to come here as a child,” she said. “We always came Thanksgiving Day, and we came as a family. We’re just thrilled to be back. I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends. … People from New Orleans love the track. It’s part of us.”

The 1,200 dining spaces for that Thanksgiving sold out in 35 minutes when they became available.

The AP noted: “Spectators — from hard-core types, losing themselves in the Racing Form, to gatherings of sharply dressed socialites sipping bloody marys — meandered from the grandstand to the flower-laden paddock. The smell of fried turkey, a Louisiana holiday tradition, wafted in the air. Crooner and actor Harry Connick Jr. was there with his dad, a retired Orelans Parish district attorney. Carolina Panthers quarterback and Louisiana native Jake Delhomme was listed as the owner of a horse named Seventy Two Reno in one of the 10 races. Delhomme’s father, Jerry Delhomme, was the trainer of the horse, which placed fourth.”

Jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins played the call to the post before being joined by regular track bugle player Les Colonello in a stirring rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

It wasn’t the first time the place had to be rebuilt. A massive fire had destroyed the grandstand on Dec. 17, 1993, but temporary facilities were erected and that year’s race meet continued. Construction began in July 1994 on a $27.5 million grandstand. Completion of the grandstand was delayed due to scandals in the gaming industry (nothing is ever boring when it comes to Louisiana politics), but the facility finally opened on Thanksgiving Day 1997.

For years, many old New Orleans families have made it a tradition to spend Thanksgiving at the Fair Grounds for opening day. Things became a bit complicated this past November when the city’s beloved Saints found themselves playing football in Dallas that afternoon. Fair Grounds management (the track is now owned by Churchill Downs Inc.) responded by moving up the races so patrons could be home in time to watch the Saints post a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Cowboys.

When Union Race Course was laid out in 1852, there were already two tracks — the Metairie and Louisiana courses — that had been operating since 1838. Unable to compete with the Metairie course, Union Race Course ceased operations from 1857 until 1859. The Metairie Trotting and Pacing Club leased Union in 1859 and renamed it the Creole Race Course. Many notable horses competed there, including the trotter Ethan Allen, who was known as the Pride of New England.

During the Civil War, the Creole Race Course evolved into the Mechanics’ and Agricultural Fair Grounds and was leased by several promoters. Among them was a notorious Mississippi riverboat gambler by the name of George Devol. There was thoroughbred racing, harness racing, quarter horse racing and even cavalry racing. There were also boxing matches and baseball games.

Soon the place became known simply as the Fair Grounds and was quite popular with New Orleans gamblers even though the quality of the horses was poor. The good horses, you see, had been confiscated by Union troops.

Down the road, the Metairie Jockey Club reorganized at the end of the war. The course was rebuilt and meets were run there from 1867-72. But a fight developed between the younger and older members of the club. In 1871, the younger members announced the formation of the Louisiana Jockey Club with plans to conduct spring and fall meets at the Fair Grounds. Plans to turn the old Metairie course into a cemetery came to fruition soon afterward.

The inaugural day of racing for the Louisiana Jockey Club at the Fair Grounds was April 13, 1872. The first race was — get this — a two-mile hurdle with eight jumps. The feature race was won by Monarchist, a son of the great Lexington, in two consecutive two-mile heats. Gen. George Custer of all people had a horse name Frogtown run second in a pair of two-mile heats. In attendance that day was Grand Duke Alexis of Russia.

Talk about history.

The first post parade occurred in 1873. The starter, who when he wasn’t at the track was described as a journalist and a manager of tragedians (I think I’ll start using that when people ask me what I do) “called the horses to walk, after the French style, up and drawn the homestretch, in procession. This new system would have succeeded admirably had it been carried out in proper spirit by the jockeys.”

That’s how a newspaper described it.

Parimutuel wagering later was introduced as an option, and the Fair Grounds was the only track in the country by 1900 to have accepted and continued the system.

Some other memorable moments included:

— Former President U.S. Grant attended part of the spring meet in 1880.

— Electric lights were used in the grandstand for the first time in 1882 and a steeplechase course was installed.

— Pat Garrett, the man who killed Billy the Kid, raced a stable at the Fair Grounds in 1893.

— The Fair Grounds was converted into an Army camp during the summer of 1898 for Spanish-American War maneuvers. That same year, one jockey had been suspended for pistol practice in the jockeys’ room.

— Frank James, the brother of Jesse James, was appointed betting commissioner in 1902. Like I said, Louisiana politics is never boring.

— Diamond Jim Brady attended part of the winter meet in 1906.

I could go on and on. Arkansans enjoy racing as well as football. I hope some of them had the chance to drop by the Fair Grounds and warm up for the Oaklawn meet that begins later this month.

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Remembering Hap Glaudi, Buddy D and WWL

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I’ve always enjoyed listening to 50,000-watt, clear channel AM radio stations at night.

Since childhood, I’ve tuned those stations in once the skies go dark over Arkansas. They allowed me to escape my bedroom in Arkadelphia and travel in a figurative sense to what seemed like exotic places.

I would, of course, listen to Harry Caray and Jack Buck broadcast Cardinal baseball games on KMOX (thank goodness the Cards are moving back to their old home at 1120 AM next season after five seasons over at KTRS, 550 AM; the Cardinals had called KMOX home from 1954-2005).

I would listen to Larry Munson call Georgia football games on WSB, 750 AM, from Atlanta.

I would listen to the great Cawood Ledford (with Ralph Hacker at his side) call Kentucky basketball games on WHAS, 840 AM, in Louisville.

Late on fall Saturday nights, as I returned home from Ouachita football games, I would listen to the Iowa Hawkeye replays on WHO, 1040 AM, in Des Moines (“Dutch” Reagan’s old station).

I would listen to various programs on the famous Chicago AM stations — WGN, WBBM, WLS.

And there’s WOIA, 1200 AM in San Antonio, “the sports leader for the great Southwest.”

But, in my opinion, the greatest radio station of them all is WWL-AM, the Big 870 from New Orleans. No station better reflects its city, its state and its region.

I would listen to John Ferguson broadcast the Saturday night LSU games (“Hi everybody from deep in the bayou country”). For a time, Ferguson broadcast both the Tigers on Saturday and the Saints on Sunday. When it turns dark and the Saints are playing, I still turn down the television sound to hear Jim Henderson on WWL.

When my father and I would head duck hunting before dawn on a Saturday, I would tune into WWL to hear Frank Davis (and later Don Dubuc) talk about hunting and fishing.

I wrote in an earlier post about that late 1979 trip to New Orleans to see the Razorbacks take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1980 (Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide won a second consecutive national championship that day). One of the thrills of the week leading up to the game was calling into WWL and talking to a man I’d been listening to for years, Hap Glaudi.

I’ll never forget making that call from my room at the Marriott on Canal.

“Hello to Rex, the king of Carnival,” Hap said as he went to my call.

Glaudi had started his career in the newspaper business at the old New Orleans Item and reluctantly moved to television when WWL-TV was in its infancy. He later added radio to the mix. The voice of this Jesuit High graduate just dripped with that old Nawlins sound.

When WWL-TV aired a program to celebrate its 50th anniversary a few years ago, morning anchor Sally-Ann Roberts remembered Hap this way: “I remember an old car. That’s what I remember of Hap. Hap was a person who didn’t have to put on any pretensions. He was exactly what he appeared to be on the air. He had a very common touch. … He drove that car, and I think that said a lot about him. He didn’t need to put on airs or try to keep up appearances. He was just naturally New Orleans.”

After Saints games, Hap would host a call-in show called “Hap’s Fifth Quarter.”

After Hap died in 1989, the station continued to call the show — now hosted by Buddy Diliberto — “Hap’s Fifth Quarter” for a time.

Then, the man they knew as Buddy D became a legend in his own right.

“Though Italian, Buddy D must have had some Cajun blood blended in there, too,” longtime New Orleans sportswriter Bill Bumgarner wrote on his blog earlier this year. “Much like our imports from Acadiana, Buddy loved to laugh at himself. As any Cajun will tell you, the best Cajun jokes come courtesy of fellow Cajuns. Buddy D was no fan of political correctness. Buddy was to proper English what Bernard Madoff was to trust, what FEMA was to governmental efficiency. … Hap and Buddy lived during the era when professional boxing and horse racing thrived, and each loved them both.”

Bumgarner went on to write about returning to New Orleans after covering Saturday night LSU football games in Baton Rouge: “Following player interviews and a postgame chat with LSU’s late coach, Charles McClendon (an Arkansas native from Lewisville), the return home usually got us back to Metairie about 1 a.m., a perfect time to stop by Buddy D’s sports lounge near Clearview and Veterans. A first timer might expect to see the engaging Buddy D greeting and chatting with the fans. Some nights, yes, but not on Saturday.

“More times than not, Buddy D would be perched on the bar, his headed sandwiched between two large transistor radios, with a third radio sporting an earplug. Meanwhile, thanks to one of the area’s first satellite dishes, Buddy would also watch as many as two West Coast games. It was nothing to see him attempt to monitor five games at once. Perhaps — just perhaps — Buddy had some greenbacks riding on those games.”

Buddy D’s full name was Bernard Saverio Diliberto. He was born in August 1931 and died in January 2005. He began working as a Times-Picayune sportswriter in 1950 while attending Loyola and moved to WVUE-TV in 1966. In 1980, he moved over to WDSU-TV.

After he started hosting radio talk shows on WWL, Buddy became known for referring to callers as “squirrels” and having regular callers who went by names such as Abdul D. Tentmakur and Dr. Kevorkian. When the Saints went 1-15 in 1980, it was Buddy who began calling them the Aints and came up with the idea of fans wearing paper bags over their heads during games in the Superdome.

He said: “When you go to heaven after you die, tell St. Peter you’re a Saints fan. He’ll say, ‘Come on in. I don’t care what else you’ve done, you’ve suffered enough.'”

Buddy D vowed to wear a dress and walk down Bourbon Street if the Saints ever made it to the Super Bowl.

When the Saints did indeed make it the Super Bowl last season, the Times-Picayune ran as altered photograph of Buddy D in a dress. On Jan. 31, thousands of men in dresses, led by his WWL successor and former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, paraded from the Superdome to Bourbon Street.

Hap Glaudi and Buddy D were indeed two WWL legends. It’s too bad they weren’t around to enjoy the Saints winning the Super Bowl.

Ron Brocato, another veteran New Orleans sportswriter, had this to say about Hap on his blog: “Glaudi was a Jesuit man. He earned his tuition betting on a winning longshot at the Fair Grounds given to him by a bookie. I should have been as insightful when I had to attend a local public school because my family couldn’t afford the $13 a month tuition at St. Aloysius. Glaudi was no marginal student. He worked his way through Jesuit and Loyola. Before becoming sports editor of the Item, Hap was the featured prep writer.”

As for WWL, the station began on the Loyola campus as a laboratory for wireless technology. Before the Jesuits at the school could operate a radio station, they had to receive permission from the Vatican.

WWL-AM began broadcasting as a 10-watt station from Marquette Hall on the campus on March 31, 1922. A piano recital was the first program to air. By 1924, the station had 100 watts of power. It was up to 500 watts by 1927 and 5,000 watts by 1929.

The station reached 10,000 watts in 1932 and 50,000 watts in 1937. WWL has been affiliated with the CBS Radio Network since 1935 and has been at 870 on the dial since 1946. Loyola sold the station in 1989 in order to build up its endowment. Entercom Communications has owned WWL since 1999.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, WWL became the tie back to the entire Gulf Coast for hundreds of thousands of people who had fled the area. It gave them the information they needed to stay connected.

The station never went off the air. When announcer Garland Robinette was showered with glass after the windows blew out in the studio, he kept talking from a closet. WWL went to 24-hour coverage of the hurricane’s aftermath for weeks in what I consider one of the finest performances ever by an American radio station.

You should tune into 870 AM if you’re driving to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and keep it on when you’re in the city.

It’s truly one of the world’s great radio stations.

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Hidden French Quarter treasures

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

While hanging out in the French Quarter in the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, Arkansas fans should make it a point to visit a couple of historic gems — the Old Ursuline Convent and the Old U.S. Mint.

The Old Ursuline Convent is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. It’s amazing, though, how few people find the 1752 complex at 1100 Chartres St. It’s the best surviving example of the French colonial period in the country, and it can be toured at a cost of just $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for students.

The convent was one of those rare survivors of the fires that otherwise ravaged the French Quarter throughout the 1700s.

The Old U.S. Mint at 400 Esplanade Ave., which is now part of the Louisiana State Museum system, is the only building in the country to have served as both a U.S. and Confederate mint. It was built in 1835. President Andrew Jackson believed the establishment of a mint in New Orleans would help finance development of the western frontier.

If you love history, both facilities are well worth a visit.

The Old Ursuline Convent now houses the archives for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. You’ll enter through a gatehouse on Chartres Street and then walk through a formal garden. Entering the main building, you’ll immediately notice the many oil paintings of past archbishops and bishops. There also are bronze busts and religious statues.

The building has served at one time or another as a convent, an orphanage, a hospital and even a residence hall for bishops. The Ursulines, or Sisters of Ursula, were the first women’s religious order to come to New Orleans. The Ursulines immediately began ministering to the needs of the poor and through the years founded asylums, orphanages and schools.

Here’s how the website describes it: “The sisters arrived in the mudhole that was New Orleans in 1727 after a journey that nearly saw them lost at sea or to pirates or disease. Once in town, the Ursulines provided the first decent medical care (saving countless lives) and later founded the first school and orphanage for girls.

“They also helped raise girls shipped over from France as marriage material for local men, teaching the girls everything from languages to homemaking of the most exacting sort; laying the foundation for countless local families in the process.

“The convent dates from 1752 and is the only remaining building from the French colonial period in the United States. … The convent now functions as an archive for the Archdiocese of New Orleans with documents dating back to 1718. The sisters moved uptown in 1824, where they remain today.

“St. Mary’s Church, adjoining the convent, was added in 1845. The original convent, school and gardens covered several French Quarter blocks. The formal gardens, church and first floor of the old convent are open for guided tours. Unfortunately, the tours can be rather disappointing affairs; docents’ histories ramble all over the place, rarely painting the full, thrilling picture of these extraordinary ladies to whom New Orleans owes so much.”

On my last visit there, I found the docent who showed me around the church to be quite knowledgeable.

The order’s founder, Angela Merici, was born in Desenzano, Italy, in 1474. In 1531, she began assembling young women for regular meetings. The Company of Saint Ursula was founded in 1535, Angela was elected Mother For Life in 1538, and Pope Paul III formally approved the company in 1544.

The Ursuline Academy in New Orleans was founded in 1727 by 12 Ursuline nuns from France. It moved to the Chartres Street location in 1734 and then to a Dauphine Street location on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1824. The academy, which moved to its current location on State Street in 1912, is both the oldest continuously operating school for girls in the country and the oldest Catholic school in the country.

In addition to providing the first center of socal welfare in the Lower Mississippi Valley, the first boarding school in Louisiana and the first music school in New Orleans, the Ursulines also say they provided this country its first female pharmacist, the first woman to contribute a book of literary merit, the first convent, the first free school, the first women’s retreat center, the first classes for female black slaves, the first classes for freed black women and the first classes for Native American women.

As for the Old U.S. Mint, architect William Strickland designed the building in the Greek Revival style. Minting began in 1838. State authorities seized the property in 1861 and transferred it to the Confederate Army. Confederate currency was minted there, and troops were housed in the building during the Civil War. The minting of U.S. currency resumed in 1879. It was the only mint in the South to reopen following the war.

Minting operations in New Orleans ceased in 1909. The building was transferred to the state in 1966 and opened as a state museum in 1981.

In an article for the March 2003 edition of Numismatist, Greg Lambousy described the facility’s history since 1879 this way: “A series of political struggles ensued for the next 30 years. Many thought the New Orleans mint was superfluous and existed merely as a form of political patronage for Louisiana legislators. Given the facility’s aging machinery and competition from the Denver and San Francisco Mints, it became increasingly more difficult to justify the cost of operations in New Orleans. By June 1911, after production had been halted for two years, machinery began to be dismantled and shipped to the Philadelphia Mint.

“In 1922, a supervising architect for the Treasury Department issued a report describing the general decay into which the building and its remaining machinery had fallen: ‘The attic and building generally contain old decayed tanks, masonry furnaces, old iron, piles of paper, mud and dead pipe and gas lines and flues, etc. … Surface dirt and cobwebs exist practically throughout the building, the accumulation of years, and there is no janitor force employed. The rear lot is filthy with trash, cans, old abandoned machinery, decayed and falling wooden and sheet metal sheds and shacks and an old brick chimney.’

“At this time, the assay department still operated on the third floor. A naval recruiting station and a Veterans Bureau dispensary and dental clinic operated in other parts of the building. The architect recommended in his report that the assay department relocate to the New Orleans Customhouse, where it could share the use of a newly built bullion vault.

“His advice finally was taken in 1931 when the mint building was converted into a federal prison. In 1943, the prison closed. The building functioned as a Coast Guard receiving station until the middle 1960s, when it was transferred from the federal government to the state of Louisiana and placed under the stewardship of the Louisiana State Museum Board. … Today, the New Orleans Mint building exhibits few of the problems that plagued it during its tumultuous decades of service. It stands as a testament to man’s ingenuity — and frailty.”

Like the Old Ursuline Convent, the Old U.S. Mint is off the beaten path for most tourists and is rarely crowded. Pay it a visit when you’re in New Orleans.

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