JC Ellis Memories of my elementary school days.
JC Ellis Memories
I’ve been working on de-cluttering my home office this week. In the back of my desk drawer, I found a ziplok bag with a bunch of stuff from my childhood. Boy Scout medals and patches, assorted pins and buttons, etc. I pulled out a button from J. C. Ellis Elementary School in #themetrys. I attended J. C. Ellis (after Kindergarten at Kehoe-France in 1963-64) for grades 1-4, 1964 to 1968. Momma moved my sister and I from Ellis to St. Angela Merici for the 68-69 school year. She felt that attending Catholic school would improve our chances of getting into Catholic high schools. Keep in mind, this was peak baby boom, and acceptance into those schools (Brother Martin for me, Archbishop Chapelle for my sister) wasn’t a given.
Private to Public to Catholic
Jefferson Parish Public Schools didn’t offer Kindergarten back in the day. So, my parents sent me to Kehoe-France. While we lived in the area for Metairie Grammar School on Metairie Road, my mom, the late Anne Finicle Branley, was principal at Ellis. Therefore, she brought me to her school. I don’t recall much in the way of privilege by being the principal’s kid. In fact, I don’t remember seeing my mom much during the school day. After class ended, I went over to the library to wait for her to go home. I read encyclopedias. Yeah, I was that kid.
I don’t recall specifically why I received this award button. At first I thought it was for Safety Patrol, but I didn’t do that until fifth grade at St. Angela. So, I’m stumped on the details. Even though Ellis had a Cub Scout pack, I joined the pack at Mulholland Memorial Methodist on Metairie Road. Momma was adamant about not mixing work and family. She didn’t want to have to talk to Ellis parents outside of work. I did Boy Scouts at St. Angela.
Ellis is still there more
My JC Ellis Memories come back when I’m in the school’s neighborhood. That’s relatively frequent, since I shop regularly at Martin Wine Cellar. That store is the old Sena Mall movie theater. While many of the businesses on Veterans Blvd. changed, go one block back on Brockenbraugh Court, and Ellis is still rolling. I’ve been thinking about my mom and her years of work in the parish public school system. I don’t think she would approve of the rush to return to school in the face of the novel coronavirus.
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.
New Orleans brewing dates back to the earliest German families in the city.
ED note: This article originally appeared at GoNOLA.com in 2012. Updated with different images and some additional history.
JAX Brewery, Decatur Street, 2013, Ed Johnson photo.
New Orleans Brewing
The German celebration of Oktoberfest is defined by beer. New Orleans has enjoyed a long love affair with beer, chiefly in part because New Orleans has had a strong German community since the 1700s. Those German families built up a strong local beer industry, laying the foundation for today’s excellent local New Orleans brewpubs and craft beers resulting in serious Oktoberfestivities.
Germans have lived in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana since the 1720s, since the days of John Law’s Mississippi Company. The biggest influx of Germans into New Orleans took place in the 1850s, the result of the turmoil of the mid-late 1840s in Continental Europe. By the late 1850s, the Germans were a strong force in the community, with their own church in the Irish Channel that rivaled the one the Irish built across the street.
Maginnis Cotton Mills, originally the Fasnacht Brewery. Illustration in New Orleans, the Crescent City, as it Appears in the Year 1895.
The first commercial brewery in New Orleans was opened in 1852 by Louis Fasnacht. Fasnacht and his brother, Samuel, came to New Orleans from Switzerland in 1846. They bought the Poeyfarre’ family home, located at Constance and Poeyfarre’ streets, and built their brewery next to it. The Fasnacht brewery did not survive the Southern Rebellion’s tight economic times. The brothers sold the brewery in 1869. The location became Erath and Company Brewery. The Fasnachts re-acquired the brewery in 1872. They closed for good in 1875. The site became the A. A. Maginnis Cotton Mill in 1882. The building is now the Cotton Mill Apartments.
The re-opening of the port after the rebels surrendered the city encouraged others to open breweries, most notably George Merz, in 1869. Merz brewed lager beer. Lagers require cooling. Purchasing ice from Maine boosted the price of Merz’s beer. He operated the Old Canal Brewery in the block bounded by Villere, Toulouse, Robertson & St. Louis. (“Old Canal” refers to the Carondelet Canal, built in 1795.)
Brewing lager made Merz an innovator as well as a brewmeister. He acquired an air compression system built by a Frenchman, Charles Tellier, to improve cooling in his plant. Merz hired a local engineer, F. V. De Coppet, to install it. The Merz brewery became the first with air-conditioning with this installation. Tellier’s system ultimately did not work out as A/C, but De Coppet modified it as an ice-making machine, acquiring several patents for his work.
Brewing continued to grow in the 1870s, and by 1880s, New Orleans became the largest beer-making city in the South. Merz’s Old Canal Brewery, Southern Brewing Company, Crescent City Brewing, Weckerling Brewery, Pelican Brewery, Lafayette Brewing, and Louisiana Brewery all distributed their beverages regionally. Steamboats heading up the Mississippi River and sailing ships connecting ports along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts spread the popularity of New Orleans beer. As part of the cycle of business growth, the industry eventually grew to the point where it was ripe for acquisition. To avoid acquisition by a syndicate of Englishmen, the German brewers merged their operations into the New Orleans Brewing Company, basing their operations at the Louisiana Brewery plant at Jackson Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street, Uptown, and the Weckerling plant, located at what is now the Louisiana Pavillion of the National World War II Museum, in the Warehouse District.
American Brewing Co. truck, featuring Regal Beer ads, 29-Oct-1954. Franck Studios photo via HNOC.
The American Brewing Company opened in 1891. American acquired an old winery on Bourbon Street, between Bienville and Conti Streets. They brewed “Regal” beer. The name is “Lager” backwards! American brewed Regal until 1962.
In 1891, a group of investors opened a brewery across from Jackson Square in the French Quarter. They named their company after the famous general whose statue dominated the square. By the late 1890s, restaurateur Lawrence Fabacher acquired the Jackson Brewing Company. The company purchased the “JAX” beer name from a company in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1956. The facility closed in 1974, to be resurrected as a specialty shopping center in 1984.
Dixie Brewery. Unnamed illustration for the article, “New Brewery Opens: Magnificent Plant on Tulane Avenue Receives Guests.” The Daily Picayune 1 November 1907, p. 6
In 1907, Merz’ son, Valentine, built the brewery at 2401 Tulane Avenue, and the family began to brand their product “Dixie Beer.” Dixie grew in popularity, becoming a top-seller prior to Prohibition. The beer regained its position as one of the city’s popular brands when the 18th Amendment was repealed. In 1982, Coy International acquired the brewery. They sold it to Joe and Kendra Elliot Bruno in 1985. The Brunos filed for Chapter 11 protection in 1989, coming out of reorganization in 1992. Dixie added other beers, including Blackened Voodoo and Crimson Voodoo. The plant was severely damaged during the Federal Flooding of 2005. The Tulane Avenue location never re-opened, and the Dixie brand was farmed out to a Wisconsin producer.
The iconic Tulane Avenue location merged into the new Veterans Administration hospital, in Mid-City’s medical complex. In 2017, Tom and Gayle Benson acquired the Dixie brand from the Brunos. Tom Benson died in 2017. Gayle Benson opened a new brewery for Dixie in 2018. On 26-June-2020, Benson announced re-branding of her beer. The brewery will drop the “Dixie” name.
The German community recognized the need to control the distribution and retail aspects of the beer business, so they opened up a number of restaurants and bars across the city, outlets that would in turn sell their beer. This synergy of manufacturing and retail continued to grow through the end of the 19th Century and into the 20th, but hit a brick wall with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Most of the small breweries were unable to survive Prohibition, so the industry was quite changed until it could resume legal production in 1933. St. Louis-based Falstaff moved into the New Orleans market with its acquisition of National Brewing in 1936.
Falstaff Brewery, 2600 Gravier St, ca 1949-1950. Franck Studios photo via HNOC
By the 1950s, the incredible diversity of the industry prior to Prohibition was reduced to four brands: Falstaff, Regal, Dixie, and JAX, controlling 80% of the New Orleans market. As the Interstate Highway system expanded, it became easier for national companies to distribute their products, making it more and more difficult for local companies to compete. JAX, Falstaff, and Regal all closed their plants, leaving Dixie as the only old-line brewery left in town. Hurricane Katrina did Dixie in, the owners moving production of the beer to Wisconsin, since the storm did such horrendous damage to the Tulane Avenue plant.
Maskers prepare to board a streetcar in the Phunny Phorty Phellows parade, 6-Jan-2012, dressed as mugs of Abita Beer. Infrogmation photo.
Micro/Craft brewing came to metro New Orleans in 1986, with the opening of Abita Brewing Company on the Northshore. The last 25 years have seen incredible growth of this industry, including new breweries and several brewpubs in town. Like many industries, extreme consolidation opens up opportunities for small operators, who continue the tradition of the Germans of New Orleans.
(Thanks and a raise of my NOLA Brewery tulip glass to www.thebeerbudda.com for great background info!)
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NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020 is part two of our interview with Katy Morlas Shannon
Katy Morlas Shannon (Zooming!)
NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020
Just one segment this week, which is part two of our talk with historian and author Katy Morlas Shannon. We had such a good time talking, and I don’t want to edit any of it!
Buy Katy’s Book!
The New Orleans Bee was a French-language newspaper that began in 1827. L’Abeille (its French name) offered New Orleans’ Creole community the news for over a century. So, we spoke with author and historian Katy Morlas Shannon about her background, The Bee, and how she came to curate the selection of articles from the paper’s first year.
These are the places we talked with Katy about during our chat.
The Big House at Whitney Plantation
Fleurty Girl on NOLA History Guy Podcast 20-June-2020
Crown baseball tee from Fleurty GirlWe did our interview via Zoom, but only used the audio for the podcast. Katy had a really cool t-shirt from Fleurty Girl on!
Katy M. Shannon on Facebook.
I promise, we’ll get back to the Riverfront Streetcar Line in a few weeks! While we’ll be talking to folks, research continues. Therefore, the Riverfront segments offer lots of details.
Flixible buses that ended the Canal Streetcar.
Aaron Handy III posted this photo a while back:
“Inbound NOPSI Flxible New Look 194, assigned to Canal-Cemeteries, and a piggybacking colleague, both of the 1964 F2D6V-401-1 fleet (194 was next-to-last of the batch), waits at the corner of Canal and Carondelet Streets. May 1975.”
Those green buses are how NOPSI convinced transit riders to give up on the Canal Streetcar. In the late 1950s/early 60s, to get to downtown from Lakeview, you rode the West End bus to City Park Avenue. From there, you transferred to the Canal Streetcar. Hot or cold, rain or shine, you had to switch. In 1962-1963, NOPSI pitched the city and the public with running air-conditioned buses on West End and Canal Blvd. The commuter could board a bus near home and ride in a/c until their downtown stop. No transfer in Mid-City. No sweaty, crowded streetcar. Men in suits and women in stockings arrived ready for work. While there were activists in May of 1964 who tried to stop the conversion, they were way too late to the game. The city approved the plan, most of the ridership agreed, and all the activists could do was sacrifice the Canal line to save St. Charles (their primary goal anyway).
Going home from school
As stated in Aaron’s caption, the 1964 Flixibles were still operating in 1975. That’s when I was at Brother Martin High, 1971-1976. One of the options for getting home was connecting with the Canal Street lines. NOPSI offered the choice of taking the Carrollton line to Canal Street. The other choice was the Broad line to Canal. So, from Broad and Canal or Carrollton and Canal (next to the Manuel’s Hot Tamales stand), we connected outbound.
NOPSI operated three Canal Street lines at the time:
- Cemeteries, which terminated at City Park Avenue.
- Lake Vista (via Canal Blvd), which went up Canal Blvd, along Lakeshore Drive, and terminated at Spanish Fort.
- Lakeshore (via Pontchartrain Blvd), which went up West End Blvd outbound, returning via Pontchartrain Blvd, inbound.
We chose any of the three, since they all passed the connecting corners.
Lakefront Drive-In Theater, in 1940.
“Drive-in Theater” on Canal Blvd, 1940.
Lakefront Drive-In Theater
Last year, I presented a lecture at the National World War II Museum, entitled, Winning the War on the Lakefront. The talk started at West End and the New Canal, then moved along the lakefront to the Industrial Canal. Every time I’ve presented this lecture, folks in attendance asked about a facility in what is now the East Lakeshore subdivision. Turns out, it was a Lakefront Drive-in Theater.
The Army and Navy hospitals.
Aerial photo of Lagarde Army Hospital (bottom), and Naval Hospital New Orleans (top), 1940
The Orleans Levee Board reclaimed a great deal of land along the lakefront in the late 1920s. For reference, around 1910, the Mount Carmel Convent on Robert E. Lee Blvd had a fishing pier out front. It extended into the lake from almost the front door. The OLB reclaimed the area from there, up to where Lakeshore Drive is now.
The WPA made major improvements to the lakefront in 1938-1939. They built the seawall and Lakeshore drive. The reclaimed land belonged to the city. So, when the US Army and US Navy looked to build hospitals in New Orleans, the lakefront area appealed to them. The Army built Lagarde Army Hospital in what is now West Lakeshore. The Navy built Naval Hospital New Orleans on the other side of Canal Blvd. The breeze off Lake Pontchartrain cooled down the area at a time when air-conditioning was not ubiquitous. While the hospitals had different missions, they both benefited from the location.
What’s that thing?
Ad for the “Drive-in Theater,” 1940
I found some good aerial shots of the lakefront in 1940. They show the WPA improvements and the hospitals nicely. They also show a facility with a bunch of arcs, right behind Naval Hospital New Orleans. I dismissed it as maybe some kind of outdoor amphitheater, perhaps for concerts and other entertainment. Folks asked, “What’s that thing?” I replied with the outdoor entertainment answer.
Well, that answer wasn’t exactly wrong! I shared an Infrogmation photo of the bus stand at Canal and Robert E. Lee a couple of days ago. Arthur “Mardi Hardy” Hardy, musician, teacher, and local Carnival expert, replied to that image. Arthur said there was a drive-in movie theater, there on the other side of Canal Blvd, from the bus stand. He shared the ad (above) in the comment thread. The name of the place really was just, “Drive-In Theater.”
DING! That must be the “thing” behind Naval Hospital New Orleans. It makes sense, the quarter-circle pattern of the facility. Everything converges on the point of the right angle. That’s the screen. Public transportation to get out to the hospitals was limited (just the West End Streetcar). So, most folks drove out to there for work. Maybe stop and catch a movie before heading all the way home? Makes a lot of sense.
Movie Theater Project
I know Arthur has a book in progress on local movie theaters. So, I have yet another reason to buy it when it’s done. Thanks, Arthur!