Our plan today was to trek it from the southwest corner of downtown, to the French Quarter, winding our way up through it, then continuing through the Tremé neighborhood to some good fried chicken lunch at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a famous little chicken shack that might just have the best fried chicken in the country.
We continued through the French Quarter to the Museum of Death.
It was a tiny little museum, probably a little overpriced in hindsight. Dedicated to all things dead. The front had taxidermy animals… then a serial killer room with letters and drawings and newspaper clippings from various serial killers over the years. Then some more macabre crime scene photos of famous murders, some African and tribal rituals involving death, like shrunken heads and carved animal skulls. They even had a small area on terrorism with video of 9/11 and a theater in the back corner with a running reel of black and white images of suicides, homicides and other gruesome deaths.
The girl at the front was a bit concerned we were bringing in a 9 year old… but I told her this kid was more morbid than I was. I said, Thank you, I do appreciate you letting us know- but we killed a deer this year and she kept asking to poke its eyeball. She’s going to be fine. ha And…she was. The girl replied with “I always wanted to stick my thumb in someone’s eye socket…… if you are good with it, I’m good with it!” She looked at some photos, but she wasn’t really super interested in most of it because it was just letters and small photos on the walls.. and we gave her the cell phone to play games while we watched the film, she wouldn’t have had a clue what was playing on the TV. She walked out no more scarred for life than she was when we walked in 🙂
I thought it was a bit boring…and really wasn’t that macabre or gross. I was disappointed. I don’t know what I expected or wanted. Maybe some actual gory color photographs, a video of a live autopsy, they had an embalming table there, maybe a video of the actual body preparation process?
There was only one small set of 4x6s in a case that I was actually surprised to see and had a “ooohhh, this is taboo” feel. They had the crime scene images from the murder of a woman, supposedly a Hollywood actress named Linda Carr (but I cant find a single Google link about anything with her name) who was found bound on her bed with a bag over her head. Those photos really piqued my interest…but that was about it.
Tremé is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and was originally, in the 1700s, a part of a large plantation, but the landowner gifted land to the city and around 1810 it was founded and became the main neighborhood for New Orleans Free People of Color- a distinct class of people with mixed African, Native American and European roots- who usually had light skin, spoke French, and enjoyed full citizenship under the law if you were born free and to two free parents. The Free People of Color is a different legacy than the usual slave ship ancestry that brought most Africans to America. These people of mixed race background settled here from the West Indies or other French Territories and contributed greatly to the economy and culture of the area.
Treme is considered the oldest black neighborhood in America.
Our first stop was at a visitor center at Basin Street Station that had some historic signs and photographs
A photo of Allison “Big Chief Tootie” Montana. The man responsible for the shift from violence to pageantry for the Mardi Gras Indians. He was the “chief of chiefs” for over 50 years until his death in 2005. Originally the Mardi Gras Indians were a group of violent people- who would execute revenge during carnival to their enemies. They would dress up in carnival suits for disguise, stab or kill someone they had been waiting to seek revenge on… and then disappear into a nearby bar to change clothes. They say there were always tons of disposed of and bloody costumes found after Mardi Gras from all the events of violence. Sort of sounds like The Purge in real life. Waiting all year to carry out your violent revenge during a set timeframe. Chief Tootie was the first to say “stop fighting with your guns, and start fighting with your costumes and your minds”. Now, different tribes compete every Mardi Gras for the best costumes, with feathers and jewels, bright colors- all handmade, made over the full year leading up to Mardi Gras. Chief Tootie believed if you had to work all year on your costume, you would be distracted from other events that might lead you down a dark path…and also, you wouldn’t want to throw away your beautiful costume or get it dirty with blood carrying out revenge plots and fighting.
Wikipedia summed up the Mardi Gras Indian tradition better than I could:
The start of Carnival involves the Chief marching in the back of his tribe, while non-costumed followers trail behind the Indians, known as a second line. Ahead of the tribe is a “Spyboy” who is a block or two ahead. He will motion to the “Flagboy” if the road ahead is clear or not. The “Flagboy” will then alert the chief. The chief will then make the decision as to what road to take. Because of the ambiguous nature of the Indians, there is no telling what path they make take around New Orleans. This makes finding their exact location difficult to pinpoint each year. When two tribes meet each other on the same path, they will have a battle. This battle no longer involves bloodshed and weapons, but chanting and dancing, as well as an informal competition as to which chief has the “prettiest” suit. The chants are in a native language, and can tell a story, shared experience or taunt the opposing tribe. The relationships between the tribes have become calm since the work that Tootie did with changing the traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians.
That led us down the street to Louis Armstrong Park and to Congo Square.
Louis Armstrong is from New Orleans. Born in 1901, he got in trouble at a very young age of about 10 for firing a gun in the air on New Year’s eve and was sent to a group home. There he was given a choice to learn the cornet and then he could pick any instrument he wanted to play. He learned the cornet, tried out the drums and eventually landed on a trumpet as his instrument of choice. He grew up mastering trumpet and as a young man, followed his mentor King Oliver to Chicago to play in the Creole Jazz Band. Eventually he was recruited to New York to form his own bands and lead… and the rest is history. Records, jazz shows, television… we all know Louis Armstrong’s songs, voice and talent. He eventually settled in Queens but always reconnected with New Orleans. He was even the king of the Zulu krewe at Mardi Gras one year. He really did clear the path for all future Jazz and black musicians… they don’t call him Pops for nothing.
We continued our walk further into the Tremé neighborhood until we arrived at the Saint Augustine Catholic Church- the oldest black catholic parish in the US. Established by the free people of color, who also bought pews for slaves, back in that time there were pew fees, so they would pay extra so enslaved blacks could attend.
The church was closed when we arrived, sadly… but the pews are all originals from the mid 1800s. There is a pink stone alter that is hundreds of years old. The stained glass windows are all imported from France and depict 5 male saints on one side and 5 female saints on the other side.
Sidney Bechet was a parishioner here. So was Big Chief Tootie, So was Homer Plessy (of the famous Plessy v Ferguson court case on segregation that rules “separate but equal” was OK).
The archdioceses was set to close St Augustine in 2005, but parishioners asked hurricane volunteers to help them protest and they barricaded themselves inside the church. The catholic church decided to “reconsider” and placed the church on probation status pending they fix some falling down elements of the building, address falling attendance, etc. They made the repairs, they applied for grants, and in 2009, the building was finally removed from the probation list of potential church closures.
Our walk continued through a large portion of the Tremé neighborhood and on up into Lafitte as we worked our way toward lunch.
After lunch, we had completed our itinerary for the day until time to eat again (notice a pattern here this week? ha eat. eat. eat. ) So we sat in the room and watched the original Matrix movie with Norah because she’s been begging to watch it so she can watch the new Matrix Revolutions. She loved it.
We ventured back out after dark and walked back into the French Quarter in the direction of Antoine’s Restaurant.
Antoine’s has been a restaurant here since 1840. Owned by the SAME FAMILY. Mind blowing. That’s through the Civil War, 2 World Wars, Prohibition, Vietnam, Katrina…. they have weathered it all. They have 14 dining rooms… it is an incredibly huge operation.
From their website: Lining the walls are photographs of the rich and famous who have feasted amid the splendor … musicians, politicians, military personnel, sports figures, royalty … the list is endless. It includes George Bush, Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Jimmy Buffet, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby to name just a few!
Our last stop for the evening was Escape Room #8,054 lol. This time at a new venue called The Escape Game. We did The Playground where you have to complete your report card by completing various subjects before the deadline so you can make it to the big kickball game! We made it with 13 minutes left and our game guide said he was shocked we made it out, most people with only 3 people (because it is a big space for 12 people) only make it to the second room. He said he basically thought “whatever” when we walked in and said we didn’t want help and we had a 100% track record and it was just us 2 with a kid. But… we changed his mind. lol He gave us a discount on a room tomorrow night and he’s our guide again… so we’re looking forward to doing The Heist where we steal artwork.
We walked back to our hotel…this time Canal street was all lit up with Christmas lights. Very pretty
Tomorrow we are being proper tourists and hitting some major tourist points like Jackson Square, Cafe Du Monde, some Voodoo Shoppes… should be fun if I can keep Kegan from wanting to murder all the other inconsiderate tourists. ha