NOLA History Guy December continues with a Canal Streetcar image.
Ford, Bacon, and Davis
Alexander Allison captured four New Orleans Railway and Light (NORwy&Lt) streetcars in this image of the 801 and 901 blocks of Canal Street. The stores display red,white, and blue bunting and banners, marking Independence Day, 1906. There are several Allison images in New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line.
Three single-truck cars designed by Ford, Bacon, and Davis (FBD) roll up and down Canal Street. The streetcar on the left rolls on the outside inbound (towards the river) track. The two outside tracks on Canal enabled the lines converging on the main street to turn around. For example, a car coming up Royal Street would turn onto Canal for a block, then turn onto Bourbon Street. While the modern St. Charles line does something similar with Carondelet Street and St. Charles Avenue, St. Charles operated in “belt” service with Tulane at the time of this photograph.
The car on the left-center track also travels to the river. It will circle around Liberty Place, then proceed on its outbound run.
The third single-truck rolls outbound (towards the lake) on the outside track. It will turn either on Dauphine (by the Mercier Building), or go up to N. Rampart Street.
The fourth streetcar in the photo is a double-truck “Palace” car. It’s running on the Canal/Esplanade belt. If it’s running on Esplanade (the roll board displaying the route isn’t visible), the motorman will steer the car to N. Rampart. If the car operates on Canal or West End, it’s heading towards the cemeteries.
Most of the 801 block buildings remain the same today. The Mercier Building looms in the background, at 901 Canal Street. It’s the home of Maison Blanche Department Store. The company will replace this building with the 13-story one we all know well in a year.
Alexander Allison was an engineer for the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board. He was also a prolific photographer, taking photos all around the city. His job took him to every corner of Orleans Parish. His photo collection is maintained by the New Orleans Public Library.
New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line
The clanging of a streetcar’s bell conjures images of a time when street railways were a normal part of life in the city. Historic Canal Street represents the common ground between old and new with buses driving alongside steel rails and electric wires that once guided streetcars.
New Orleans was one of the first cities to embrace street railways, and the city’s love affair with streetcars has never ceased. New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line showcases photographs, diagrams, and maps that detail the rail line from its origin and golden years, its decline and disappearance for almost 40 years, and its return to operation. From the French Quarter to the cemeteries, the Canal Line ran through the heart of the city and linked the Creole Faubourgs with the new neighborhoods that stretched to Lake Pontchartrain.
Available at local bookstores, Walgreens stores, other local shops, Bookshop, and other online outlets.
NOLA books aren’t just gifts. They’re investments.
Give NOLA Books
I’d like to suggest two books recently released for your consideration as gifts. This is the first of several posts to give you some ideas on something New Orleans you can buy friends and family that doesn’t involve rum or powdered sugar (not that there’s anything wrong with those, mind you).
Bob Mann’s book, Kingfish U – Huey Long and LSU is a wonderful story of the relationship between Louisiana’s best-known politician and the state’s flagship university. From the back cover:
No political leader is more closely identified with Louisiana State University than the flamboyant governor and U.S. senator Huey P. Long, who devoted his last years to turning a small, undistinguished state school into an academic and football powerhouse. From 1931, when Long declared himself the “official thief” for LSU, to his death in 1935, the school’s budget mushroomed, its physical plant burgeoned, its faculty flourished, and its enrollment tripled.
Along with improving LSU’s academic reputation, Long believed the school’s football program and band were crucial to its success. Taking an intense interest in the team, Long delivered pregame and halftime pep talks, devised plays, stalked the sidelines during games, and fired two coaches. He poured money into a larger, flashier band, supervised the hiring of two directors, and, with the second one, wrote a new fight song, “Touchdown for LSU.”
While he rarely meddled in academic affairs, Long insisted that no faculty member criticize him publicly. When students or faculty from “his school” opposed him, retribution was swift. Long’s support for LSU did not come without consequences. His unrelenting involvement almost cost the university its accreditation. And after his death, several of his allies—including his handpicked university president—went to prison in a scandal that almost destroyed LSU.
Rollicking and revealing, Robert Mann’s Kingfish U is the definitive story of Long’s embrace of LSU.
As a graduate of the University of New Orleans, a book about Louisiana State University would usually leave me nonplussed. However, every other book of Bob’s I’ve read has been fantastic. Additionally, I’m the dad of an alum of the Golden Band From Tigerland, and the stories of Long and the band are fantastic. While the book is, at face value, not about New Orleans, Long and the city are intertwined.
Check it out:
Rollin’ on the River
Derby Gisclair’s sixth book, New Orleans Steamboat Stories: The Brief Lives of Mississippi Riverboats, presents the history of steam on the Mississippi. Locals know the stories of flatboats making their way down from as far north as Ohio. Those early travelers to New Orleans got here, but couldn’t return home as easily. Their boats relied on the river’s current. They lacked the power to fight that current. Until the steamboats, that is. From the early days of Fulton’s steamboat to early commerce along the river, to the post-rebellion boom in the cotton trade, Derby offers lots of detail on why New Orleans was so important to shipping and industry in 19th Century America.
From the back cover:
Great civilizations throughout history have been established along the major rivers of the world. In Africa, the Egyptians had the Nile. The Babylonians had the Tigris and Euphrates. In Europe, they had the Danube, the Rhine, the Tiber, and the Seine. And it was no different in America where the Missouri River, the Ohio River, and scores of other tributaries combine to form the Mississippi River as it twists its sinuous way south from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Steamboats shaped America’s future, its economy, and its culture while expanding trade and expanding the country’s footprint into new territories. This economic expansion was not limited to New Orleans, but also to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Louisville, Nashville, St. Paul, Kansas City, and Chattanooga. A round trip voyage from Pittsburgh to New Orleans that once took six months could now be accomplished in forty-five days. At the same time steamboats made it possible to circulate and disseminate the news and the mail, to spread the various immigrant cultures, food, and music.
Refinements in steamboat design and mechanical enhancements quickly followed, with the majority of these taking shape above the waterline. As if incorporating the massive paddlewheels either on the side or the stern of the boat with the towering smokestacks above deck with ever more powerful engines and boilers below deck were not challenging enough, increased passenger traffic required further enhancements and improvements to the amenities that came along with the popularity of travel by riverboat.
The steamboat continued to be the primary form of long-range transportation even as the railroads continued to expand their influence into freight transportation. Newer, bigger steamboats were built and by the end of the 1860s the cotton trade had recovered and had surpassed their output from a decade earlier.
New Orleans Steamboat Stories contains just a fraction of the stories of a handful of the different steamboats and the people who lived and worked on the Western rivers. They are brief in nature as the average life of a steamboat was generally short. But their impact culturally and commercially, esthetically and economically, made a lasting impact on the development of America.
One of the things that really struck me was the stories of riverboat races. We think of a race as a simple point-to-point contest. Steamboats fighting to be the fastest from New Orleans to St. Louis were anything but simple. If you enjoy the city’s history, you’ll want to know how cotton truly was king, and that means reading the Steamboat Stories.
Check it out:
Amazon (hardcover and Kindle)
More to come
Fiction, poetry, and more history to come as we explore what’s out there this holiday season. And no, you’re not exempt from hearing about my books. 🙂
History books (NOLA subjects) for Christmas.
Baseball in New Orleans by S. Derby Sinclair
From 2017, a three-part blog post on New Orleans history books that make great gifts:
The Joy of Yat Catholicism by Earl J. Higgins.
New Orleans Radio by Dominic Massa
Crescent City Snow by Megan Braden-Perry
All these books are available from your local shops, IndieBound, and the usual online suspects.
NOLA Book Club July is TOMORROW!
NOLA Book Club July
We’re gathering TOMORROW, 27-July-2021, via Zoom, to discuss Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood, by Fatima Shaik. Here’s the Zoom Info:
You are invited to a Zoom meeting.
When: Jul 27, 2021 07:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Register in advance for this meeting:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Yes, we’ve gone to requiring registration, to combat Zoom-bombing. See you tomorrow!
NOLA Book Club!
NOLA Book Club – Thursday at 6pm!
We’re approaching the time for our first book discussion! Thursday evening at 6pm CST, we’ll talk about We Cast A Shadow by Maurice Ruffin. Here’s the ZOOM info:
Edward Branley is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: NOLA Book Club – We Cast A Shadow
Time: Jan 21, 2021 06:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 504 383 5087
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Let’s get Unc and VP Harris inaugurated tomorrow, then see you for book talk on Thursday!
The S.S. Officer’s Armchair by Daniel Lee offers insight into life in Nazi Germany.
The S.S. Officer’s Armchair
This book is the story of Robert Griesinger. Griesinger was born in 1906, in Stuttgart, which was then part of the Kingdom of Württemberg. He entered the author’s life accidentally. Daniel Lee is a World War II scholar. His primary focus is the history of Jews in France and North Africa during the war.
Like many scholars, when strangers learn what they do, the stranger regales the scholar with tales they think are related to their area of study. In Lee’s case, World War II stories became second- and third-hand tales by the 2010s. The story of The S.S. Officer’s Armchair began in this offhand way.
The book pursues two tracks. One is the story of Robert Griesinger, his family history, early years, education, and how he became a Nazi. A second, and equally fascinating track, details Lee’s unraveling of the story. Griesinger died in 1945. Jutta and Barbara, his daughters, were in their seventies when Lee began his research. A chance encounter with a woman whose mother owned Griesinger’s armchair, leading to a portrait of a mid-level Nazi officer, offers insight into the Third Reich beyond the leaders and the horrors they perpetrated.
Lee discovers the armchair by accident. Instead of just a story, this time, he gains access to documents belonging to an S.S. officer. Not just an oral account of someone’s activities during the war, but primary sources. It’s no surprise he took this seriously. The armchair from the Griesinger household in Prague made its way to a woman in Amsterdam. Documents sewed into the chair were discovered when it was taken to be reupholstered.
It’s interesting to compare the attitude of the Dutch furniture upholsterer with those of the Czechs Lee encountered in Prague. While the Dutch craftsman didn’t want anything to do with people he thought were related to Nazis, the Czechs were less concerned. Czechoslovakia strained under the control of the Soviet Union for long enough that Nazi occupation was a blip on their timeline. The documents enabled Lee to learn about their owner. They provided insight into the daily life of a Nazi bureaucrat.
Lee’s initial encounter with Griesinger happened at a dinner party. A guest told him the story of how her mother discovered the papers. He verified the story, and the guest’s mother offered to send the papers to him. Things started to click when his guest’s mother explained that she was not Dutch, even though she lived in Amsterdam. She was Czech. Lee’s journey to unravel The S.S. Officer’s Armchair begins.
The New Orleans Connection
Where to begin? Lee had a name and some documents that didn’t tell anywhere near a story. Beginning with Stuttgart, he cold-calls folks with the last name Griesinger, and comes up with one of Robert’s nephews. He learns from Jochen Griesinger that, Adolf, Robert’s father, was born in New Orleans. Robert Griesinger, Sr., Robert’s grandfather (and Jochen’s great-grandfather), came to New Orleans from Germany in 1867, in the aftermath of the Southern Rebellion. Robert Sr. met Lina Johns there. Lina was the daughter of the musician Paul Emile Johns, a contemporary of Frédéric Chopin. Lina and Robert married in 1870, and Adolf was born in 1871. Robert Sr., and Lina returned to Stuttgart in the early 1880s. Adolf was groomed to be part of the military infrastructure of Prussia.
The author speculates much about Robert Jr.’s connections to New Orleans. Lina’s family owned enslaved Africans prior to the rebellion. They were friends with the author Kate Chopin (no relation to Frédéric), and her husband, Oscar, who was a member of the White League. Did growing up in a racist environment such as post-bellum New Orleans influence Adolf? Did those New Orleans attitudes travel back to Germany with him? How did they contribute to the formation of his son’s beliefs? Lee is unable to make a direct correlation between the enslavement culture of the American South and Robert Jr.’s growth as a Nazi, but the parallels are stark.
Adolf Griesinger became a loyal officer in the cavalry of the King of Württemberg. That loyalty never wavered, even after the defeat of the German Empire in World War I and the hardships of the 1920s. Robert was born into a life of middle-class/military-class privilege. He was educated at a quality Gymnasium (high school), and attended the University of Tübingen. The author guides his readers through the very-masculine culture of Prussian universities and how this had an impact on Griesinger’s relationship with his doting, over-protective mother. Robert’s membership in Corps Suevia Tübingen, a collegiate dueling fraternity, offered life-long connections and networking to Robert. This was similar to membership in a Final Club at Harvard or a social fraternity at other American universities.
Upwardly Mobile Nazi
Upon graduation and receiving his credentials as a lawyer, Robert joined the Schutzstaffel, better known as the S.S. Lee explains the structure of the S.S. when Griesinger joins in 1933, and how it evolved into the dominant paramilitary organization prior to the war. Based on his mediocre performance as a student, Robert knew he needed to leverage personal contacts to advance himself. Lee describes the balance of Griesinger’s work and his involvement in the S.S. Given his father’s dislike for the Nazis (to the extent he forbade Robert from wearing S.S. uniform in his presence), his activity in the organization was a major statement of independence. He knew which way the wind was blowing.
Jews in The S. S. Officer’s Armchair
The author’s explanations of German anti-semitism in the wake of the Great War explains how the dislike for Jews among the German people was pervasive, enabling the Nazis to exploit the issue. Even though Lee establishes that Griesinger was not a “desk killer” while in the S.S., he certainly had the ability to become one. Robert was a “gentleman’s C” student, and that carried through in his early career.
Robert runs into obstacles with the S.S. when he desires to marry Gisela Nottebohm. The social aspects of their courtship, combined with the struggles involved with securing permission from the S.S., present the complexities of being a young officer in the Reich. His superiors in the S.S. frowned upon its members marrying divorcées. Aryan purity and ability to produce children suitable to the S.S. and the Reich were paramount. It would be nice to say Lee “humanizes” the process, but it’s hard to see that side of Griesinger.
Griesinger joined the Gestapo in 1935. Lee presents Robert’s duties and routine as part of the Political Police machinery in Stuttgart. Robert leveraged his university fraternity connections while in the Gestapo, forging strong personal bonds with his co-workers. This is one of the most interesting themes throughout the book. While Robert nurtures his social and political connections, he doesn’t work them to advance within either the S.S, or the Gestapo. His friends were much more aggressive, and they leave him behind. His desire to blend in, keep his head down, eventually comes back to haunt Robert. By the time war begins, his fraternal connections are unable to keep him out of harm’s way. He is forced into joining the Wehrmacht Heer (army) unit and is sent to the Russian Front. Robert is severely wounded. This provides him the opportunity to return to a civilian position.
The Griesingers come to Prague in March, 1943. While Robert was not a hero in the sense of performing acts of valor, his status as a decorated, wounded, veteran of front-line combat enabled him to secure a position at the Ministry of Economic and Labor. He put his experience with the Gestapo to good use, assisting and advising local law enforcement on how to improve production from local factories. Griesinger’s ruthlessness fit in well, as the Reich needed maximum exploitation of resources and labor to continue the war effort.
In the end, of course, it wasn’t enough, as the Allies pressed in on both sides. Robert gets Gisela and the girls out of Prague, but is himself caught up in the reprisals at the end of the war, and never leaves the city. The author takes us through his quest to find Robert’s burial site. It’s a small amount of closure at the end of a fascinating journey for Lee.
We will never know why Robert Griesinger, Jr., chose to hide his personal papers in the armchair, rather than simply destroying them. Perhaps he knew he would not escape from Prague, so he had no concerns with respect to self-incrimination. Maybe he thought they would be discovered somewhat earlier than 2011, and would have been passed on to his daughters. If preserving his memory was the goal, Robert succeeded, at least partially.
Jutta and Barbara, grew up with no knowledge of their father, beyond the little they remembered of him before they were put on a truck and evacuated from Prague. It’s clear that they had an interest in learning more about him, as Lee updated them on the progress of his project. Addressing the issues surrounding German attitudes post-war, post-Shoah, Lee reveals the spectrum of emotions involved. Germans are still, in many ways, in denial about the war, seventy-five years later. For all that the sisters want to know more about their father, and for all that Lee appreciates their assistance, there’s still a dissonance, a desire to look at it all from the outside.
The S.S. Officer’s Armchair fills in gaps in the knowledge base of the Third Reich. Students learn about death camps, but not as much about the policies and war crimes that didn’t involve the extermination of the Jews. Squeezing the Protectorate of all it had to provide goods of war to Germany required a mindset that mid-level managers like Griesinger developed in their youth. Reading more about how Robert grew up and lived demonstrates the complexity of simply labeling everyone a Nazi.
The process of telling Griesinger’s story is as interesting as his story itself. Even if Nazi Germany is not one of the reader’s interest areas, the story of Lee’s journey makes The S.S. Officer’s Armchair a solid read.