Tombs, Ovens, All Souls, the preparation was all for today.
Tombs, Ovens, All Souls.
Illustration from the 1870s, A Cemetery Walk, (Tombs and “Ovens.”) shows the scene in a New Orleans cemetery. The tombs on the right are typical of the city’s older cemeteries, particularly the Creole/Catholic St. Louis Numbers 1 and 2 cemeteries. Both feature an outside wall. The wall surrounded tombs of many styles and designs. While St. Louis Number 2 is better planned, the older cemetery features haphazard layouts and walkways. Many people went out to the cemetery on All Saints Day, November 1st, to spruce up the family tomb.
Praying to the Saints
The Catholic Church observed a calendar full of honors to various saints. While some “saints” were fictional, most were real people, recognized by the Church to be in Heaven. Martyrs receive canonization for giving their lives to God. Other Saints require more detailed documentation. Some saints receive a sort of “fast-track” path to canonization. The cause of others may take decades to achieve the desired result. Once declared a saint, the Church designates a feast day for them. Their cult (not a derogatory term in this context) then celebrate the saint’s life on that day.
If everyone in heaven is a saint in the eyes of God, that’s a lot more saints than there are days in the year. So, the Church marks 1-November as the catch-all date. In New Orleans, offices and other businesses closed on All Saints, ostensibly so folks could go to Mass.
Praying for the Souls
Catholics pray to the Saints for intercession. (Note that the saints don’t perform miracles, etc. The faithful ask the saints to put in a good word with God for the request.) They pray for those who have passed away, in the hopes that they are in that number of saints. Families visited their dead in simple and elaborate tombs. They also prayed for those in the “ovens” — niches in the cemetery’s walls.
Freret’s Cenotaph remained on paper when the Washington Artillery chose another design.
“Front elevation design for the Washington Artillery Monument (tomb).” by James Freret. Like most architects in New Orleans, Freret worked on spec. He drafted concept drawings to accompany proposals for buildings and monuments. This drawing illustrates Freret’s concept for the Washington Artillery Association monument. The monument stands in Metairie Cemetery. So, when Freret lost the bid, he filed away the drawings. Those illustrations eventually found their way to the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University.
Washington Monument Association
The United States Army formed the Washington Artillery (WA) in 1838. The unit now operates as the 141st Field Artillery Battalion. While originally an Army unit, they’re now part of the Louisiana Army National Guard. After the Southern Rebellion, veterans of the WA formed the Washington Artillery Association. Their mission was mutual aid and remembrance of the members of the unit. In 1879, the Association decided to build a monument. It would be a memorial to fallen members of the unit. They raised funds and solicited proposals from architectural firms.
James Freret responded to their request for proposal. He submitted the concept shown above. He submitted a design for a tomb. The number of vaults isn’t clear from the drawing. Freret envisioned an obelisk. So, Egyptian pyramids and obelisks were quite popular in burial architecture in the late 19th Century. Therefore, Freret expected his design to be appealing.
Invitation to the dedication of the Washington Artillery Monument, 1880. Card features a sketch of Charles Orleans’ design, including the Doyle sculpture.
The Association passed on Freret’s design. They chose a design by architect Charles A. Orleans. Mr. Orleans represented the Hinsdale-Doyle Granite Co. of New York. The Association changed their original plans for a tomb. They shifted the specifications to that of a cenotaph. This reduced the construction costs. Orleans selected the sculptor Alexander Doyle to create a statue. Doyle produced a sculpture of a WA private, wearing the uniform of the rebellion period.
The WA moved past the direct connection of the Metairie Cemetery monument to the rebellion. So, the 141st expanded the scope of the monument. While the statue remains, they included other battle honors. The cenotaph lists honors from other. conflicts. Given the backlash against “Confederate monuments” in recent years, perhaps Freret’s design would have been better in the long run.
The Mercier Building at Canal and Dauphine Streets was the first Maison Blanche.
Mercier Building 1885
Photo of the construction of the Mercier Building in 1884. Photographer is unidentified. Source is the Louisiana Photographs Collection, Earl K. Long Library, UNO. The third incarnation of Christ Episcopal Church stood at the corner of Canal and Dauphine until the 1880s. The chapter put the property up at auction in 1884. The Mercier family demolished the church. They built this commercial structure. Christ Episcopal moved uptown. They built a new church, uptown at St. Charles Avenue and Sixth Street. In 1897, Simon J. Shwartz acquired the Mercier Building, opening the Maison Blanche Department Store there.
Church to Store
Episcopalians in New Orleans founded Christ Church in 1803. The chapter held services in various locations at the start. In 1816, they built a church on the corner of Bourbon and Canal (river side). The congregation outgrew that building by the 1830s. In 1837, Christ Church dedicated a new church on the corner. This second church was in the style of a Greek temple. Businessman Judah Touro made the chapter an offer they couldn’t refuse for the building, in 1845. He loaned the church to a Jewish congregation, but then demolished the block, to build the “Touro Buildings.” Christ Episcopal moved from Canal and Bourbon to Canal and Dauphine Streets. Rather than accept a private offer for the now-valuable property, the chapter sold it at auction.
The Merciers built their building as separate locations with shared walls. Multiple retailers leased the space. Leon Fellman split from his brother, Bernard. Leon opened a store in the Mercier Buildings, while his brother continued the original store in the Touro Buildings. When the Touro Buildings caught fire in 1892, S. J. Shwartz moved his family’s store, A. Schwartz and Son, to the Mercier Buildings. Shwartz bought the building in 1897. He terminated the leases of Fellman and other tenants. Shwartz then re-modeled the interior of the building, turning it into a single store, Maison Blanche.
Construction, not demolition
UNO captioned this as “Mercier Building being dismantled, Canal Street, New Orleans,” but the photo actually documents the construction. This photo was taken in 1885, not 1906.
The original Cotton Exchange Building was the setting for an Edgar Degas painting.
Cotton Exchange Building
Photo postcard of the Cotton Exchange Building, on the uptown/lake side of the corner of Carondelet and Gravier Streets, in the CBD. A group of cotton factors founded the New Orleans Cotton Exchange in 1871. They built this building in 1881. Structural deficiencies appeared in this Second Empire structure in the 1910s, and by 1916, the city deemed it unsafe. Therefore, the Exchange demolished the building. They built the structure that stands on the corner today. The original building featured lavish interiors and offices for the factors. Edgar Degas painted a scene set in a cotton factor’s office in the Exchange building in 1873. Postcard by the V.O. Hammon Publishing Company.
The Cotton Exchange entered the scene after the Southern Rebellion and the abolition of enslavement. So, cotton factors recognized the changes coming to the industry during Reconstruction and beyond. They leveraged technology such as the telegraph to gather data important to cotton growing. The Exchange also implemented futures trading. Col. Henry G. Hester, the Exchange’s Secretary, brought practices from the Chicago Board of Trade to New Orleans. These modernization techniques enabled factors to stabilize prices as growers addressed the challenges of employing workers rather than enslaving them.
Loss of the building
The Cotton Exchange transitioned the industry into the 20th Century. While the building was an attractive landmark, the building presented problems. The building’s structure weakened. The city forced the closure of the building in 1916. World War I and other factors enabled the Exchange to delay action. In 1920, they built a new building on the corner. Unlike the elaborate design of the original, architects Favrot and Livaudais built a much more modest replacement.
The Cotton Exchange sold the second building in 1962. The entity closed in 1964. The building became downtown office space, and is now a hotel.
In Anne Rice’s novel, The Witching Hour, the Mayfair family are the primary characters. This fictional wealthy family had numerous business interests and holdings in New Orleans. So, Rice installed the Mayfair businesses in the building at Carondelet and Gravier in her stories.
Metairie Cemetery is the site of the Washington Artillery Cenotaph.
Washington Artillery Cenotaph
George Mugnier photo (courtesy NOPL) of the Washington Artillery Cenotaph in Metairie Cemetery. A “cenotaph” is an empty tomb. They serve as monuments to people buried elsewhere. So, the United States Army formed the Washington Artillery (WA) in 1838. It is now the 141st Field Artillery Regiment. The unit is attached to the Louisiana National Guard. In 1861, the government of Louisiana took control of the unit. It was a battalion at the time. WA fought as part of the main rebel force. WA re-organized in the 1870s.
The Washington Artillery Association raised funds for a monument to the battalion in 1879. The unit consisted of four companies at the time. Additionally, a fought with the Army of Tennessee. So, the association accepted proposals from various architects, They chose the design submitted by Charles A. Orleans. Orleans proposal included a sculpture by Alexander Doyle. Doyle imagined a figure of an artillery private, holding a “sponge.” The sponge was fixed to a ramrod. Gunners used them to clean out a just-fired gun. So, the cenotaph’s price tag was $10,000. Donations ranging from $25 to $250 came in to cover the costs.
While the unit fought for twenty years in the Union Army, the monument honors the rebel years. The roll of the dead listed members of the unit killed during that period. The battle honors initially engraved on the cenotaph began with Bull Run. Mexican War honors were not listed. The list of engagements shows just how active and effective the unit was.
The Association dedicated the cenotaph on February 23, 1880. A thousand people came out to honor the unit. The unit and its veterans association updated the cenotaph, expanding the battle honors as the battalion returned to active duty with the Army. The 141st hold a memorial annually at the cenotaph, as part of the unit’s heritage and traditions.
Faubourg Marigny railroad ferry connected the East Bank with the NOO&GW railroad.
Faubourg Marigny railroad ferry
S. T. Blessing stereograph, titled, “View from Opelousas railroad ferry,” The image is essentially undated. The New York Public Library lists it as 1850-1930. The likely date is 1870s. The photographer stands at the Faubourg Marigny ferry landing, located at Elysian Fields Avenue and the river. The New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western (NOO&GW) railroad operated the ferry, connecting the east bank with their station in Algiers.
The NOO&GW railroad originated on the West Bank, in Algiers. It incorporated in 1853, with the mission of connecting New Orleans to points west. So, prior to the Southern Rebellion, the railroad grew west, to what is now Morgan City, Louisiana. The Union took control of the “Texas Gauge” railroad, from 1862 to 1865. Expansion continued during reconstruction. Additionally, we’ve written a couple of articles on the railroad. It started from a Louisiana operation to ownership by Charles Morgan, to becoming part of the Southern Pacific system.
The Marigny riverfront
Blessing captures an active riverfront scene. The vessel to the center of the photograph is an ocean-going ship. While this vessel may depart for the US east coast, like New York or Baltimore, the riverboat on the right will likely return up the Mississippi. Two mules stand in the foreground, resting after unloading barrels. Those barrels likely contain molasses. Sugar plantations processed raw sugar cane. They converted it to molasses, making it easy to barrel and transport. Longshoremen loaded those barrels on both types of ships.
In the background, a church steeple rises from the neighborhood. Given the position of the photographer, that is likely the spire of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
The ferry itself
Robinson Atlas, 1883, showing the Pontchartrain Railroad station on Elysian Fields and the ferry landing.
The NOO&GW ferry crossing enabled passengers to board trains on the east bank, cross the river, and continue westward. While Algiers was the railroad’s main station, getting passengers there was still a challenge. The railroad ferry gave passengers a more-comfortable ride, in their coach and sleeper cars.
After Charles Morgan sold the NOO&GW to the Southern Pacific system, trains crossed the river in Jefferson Parish. That ferry landing was near the location of the Huey P. Long bridge. Rather than traveling to the Faubourg Marigny railroad ferry, passengers boarded SP trains at Union Station. The departing trains headed north from there.
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