One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Day 5 – Treme, Congo Square, Willie Mae’s, Antoines

We started out today with coffee and pastries from the downstairs shop of the hotel. I shared this because the girl working put a little heart in Kegan’s cappuccino and told him he was just a pleasure to serve this morning. Kegan. A pleasure. If anyone has ever seen my husband prior to 9:30am or so, you will cackle out loud at this statement. haha He came back to the room and said “someone thinks I’m a pleasure in the mornings” LOL

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 TremĂ© 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.

Norah thought this was amazing. I just see some inadequate government services. lol
We thought the stained glass windows on this building were neat.
Our first stop was Music Legends Park, which is an open space park with live jazz every day starting at 10 am.
However, this morning, they had it roped off and it was the seating area for the Cafe Beignet in the background… so maybe since Covid they have been using the tables as an outdoor dining space? Not sure… but I could only snap a photo of a few statues and the fountain.

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.

We walked past a seemingly random statue of Benito Juarez, a former president of Mexico… but on further research, we learned that he spent two periods of exile for political reasons, living in New Orleans in this neighborhood. He worked in a tobacco factory and rolled cigars, wrote revolutionist papers from New Orleans and eventually, as part of a revolution, returned to Mexico and served on the Supreme Court. A couple years later, he was forced to leave again for New Orleans, but again returning, this time as the president in 1861. Mexico donated this statue to the city in the 1950s
Lafayette Cemetery #1 is still closed, but Kegan was tall enough to take some photos over the fence for me so I could see inside. Even the gates have a cloudy plastic over them so you cant see in. This is where Nicholas Cage purchased a pyramid tomb for his eventual death… and the famous tomb of the Voodoo queen Marie Laveau is here, although I couldn’t locate it on just a few snaps over the wall. Maybe next trip 🙂
We crossed into the historic Tremé neighborhood.

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.[11] 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.[10] 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.

Congo Square is basically the birth of music as we know it. Under French law or Code Noir (Black Code) enslaved Africans were required to be given 6 hours for recreation on Sundays. They began gathering here, playing music, selling goods, preforming healing or voodoo rituals- earning their own money- to eventually buy their freedom and the freedoms of their family. They learned French here, too, from some of the free people of color who wanted to help enslaved people escape slavery.
As we looked at a few sculptures, a guy came up to us and decided we were getting a tour from him lol just started talking, telling us the history of the square, the park, the neighborhood. He knew his stuff though! Mandela the Storytella was his name. We hung out with him for probably 20 minutes hearing about his plans for the future, the city’s history, etc before tipping him and going on about our day. I had to respect the hustle. He had printouts of historic events and people and maps, he knew a LOT about history… he knew we’d be the type he could corner and talk to. Ha but end of the day, it was a good experience.
Statue dedicated to Big Chief Tootie
The big man himself, Louis Armstrong. Satchmo the Great.

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.

A statue dedicated to Sidney Bechet. You can’t downplay the importance of Sidney Bechet either. He was a fantastic clarinet player around the time of Louis Armstrong, too. He played in New Orleans before touring the country and then eventually London and France. He was jailed in France for 11 months for accidentally shooting a woman when he was aiming for another musician who said he played the wrong chord. He eventually played at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. He never learned to read sheet music, in all his years of music… very interesting.
Statue dedicated to Charles “Buddy” Bolden. Buddy Bolden really is the father of jazz. A cornet player, he was one of the first musicians from like 1900-1910 who was know for playing loud, improvising….combining ragtime with the blues, creating the “Big Four” beat that is the basis for most early jazz. By the age of 30, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent his life in a mental institution…
Across from Louis Armstrong Park is an unassuming yellow building with a plaque on the front… this is where Cosimo Matassa opened J&M studio and recorded some very famous songs. Tutti Frutti by Little Richard was laid down inside this building, along with nearly every Fats Domino song you know. Jerry Lee Lewis saved up his money and travelled down here to record his first songs, 5 years before recording with Sun records. The studio closed for good in 1974, but is now a historic marker for its significance.

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.

Dooky Chase’s. A famous landmark restaurant in New Orleans and an icon of the civil rights movement. Thurgood Marshall, a local attorney… as well as Martin Luther King and company used to take meals here when in the area, discussing business and strategy in the upstairs dining room. Leah Chase- the wife of the owner, became known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine and ran the restaurant from the 1950s through 2019 when she died at the age of 96. Barack Obama ate here in 2008 with her and famously got in trouble for putting hot sauce in her gumbo before he tasted it. ha Even presidents have to follow Ms. Chase’s rules.
We were headed to Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Another famous establishment…and might very well be the best fried chicken in the whole United States. We waited for quite a while, placed a take out order, waited another long while… so the chicken would have had to be pretty good to make up for all that touristy waiting… and it really was. They slather the chicken with a spicy creole spread of some kind before they bread and fry it… and it was outstanding. A tad greasy if I was getting super picky… but it’s fried chicken. Their cornbread was great… their fried shrimp was great. A very satisfying 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!

For starters, we got the Soufflé Potatoes. So light and airy, the third preparation just makes them puff up like a soufflé is what our waiter told us. Norah was sold. And she ate the whole plate.
Oysters Rockefeller. Literally invented at THIS restaurant- and still a closely guarded secret for the Rockefeller sauce. Named that way because the sauce was so rich, it had to be a Rockefeller. Most places do Oysters Rockefeller with spinach and cheese- but Antoine’s says their recipe has no spinach.
We also got the seafood duo at the recommendation of the waiter. It was a crab salad and a cold shrimp cocktail in a remoulade sauce.. nothing terribly inventive… but if this was on the menu “as is” in the 1800s- I’m sure it was an incredible dining experience.
For my main, I got the Filet- I hate to say it, but it was the worst part of everything. It had no salt, no marinade. It tasted like it was cooked in a non stick skillet. It was a grocery store filet with no flavor. Terribly underwhelming.
Kegan ordered the Pompano Pontchartrain which was a pompano fish with a sweet buttery crab on top. It was very good.
Norah got the kids Shrimp and fries. And the shrimp was AMAZING.
Norah made a friend from the next table over from South Dakota. She was also 9 and talked more than Norah. They would have gotten along so great if they had more time to spend together.
The highlight of the meal. The famous Baked Alaska dessert they are known for.
It did not disappoint, and almost made up for the fact that my steak was terrible. lol Very, very good mix of pound cake, vanilla ice cream, toasted meringue and a fantastic chocolate sauce. Really regretting not finishing that as I write this…. lol

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

1 Comment

  1. Rob

    There are no tourists in Freetown, never will be. Just sayin

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