Cemetery Curses Revisited

Cemetery Curses Revisited

Cemetery curses revisited: is the Caesers Superdome really cursed?

cemetery curses revisited

Map of the area around Caesar’s Superdome. The red rectangle shows the outline of Girod Street Cemetery.

The Saints: Cemetery curses revisited

cemetery curses revisited

Portion of the Robinson Atlas of 1883 showing Girod Street Cemetery

As we approach Halloween, fans of the New Orleans Saints often return to the topic of the Superdome and the Cemetery. While much research exists on the boundaries of Girod Street Cemetery and the Superdome, the curse theory always returns. The talk always gets serious when the Saints aren’t playing well.

We’ve discussed this before and in detail: Girod Cemetery isn’t under Da Dome. Still, folks find remains in the vicinity of the stadium that are outside the perimeter of the cemetery. This happens all over the city, and there are reasons for burials outside established cemeteries.

Indigenous burials

Indigenous burial mounds in the city come as no surprise. The native tribes were here before the colonizers, after all. Most of these mounds stand on high ground. When the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority discovered human remains near Canal Blvd. and City Park Avenue as part of bus/streetcar terminal construction, it made sense. The area is on the Metairie Ridge. It’s high ground. Since cemeteries surround the intersection, those remains were a combination of indigenous people and colonizers.

Initial Disorganization

It takes years for government to green-light cemetery construction. While the wrangling takes place, families often buried loved ones in the general vicinity of the proposed site. It’s not like they could wait for things to shake out, after all. So, figuring close was better than not, they did what they felt they had to do.

Affordability

cemetery curses revisited

Section of the Robinson Atlas of 1883 showing St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, along Claiborne Avenue in Faubourg Treme

Even after a cemetery opened for business, people often couldn’t afford the price of a plot, much less an above-ground tomb. The same thinking as initial disorganization applied. Let’s get the departed close. A walk through the cemetery connected those still living with the dead, even if they couldn’t put flowers on a grave.

Cemetery Disintegration

When a cemetery falls into disrepair, things get messy. This was the case with Girod Street. The chapter of Christ Episcopal did not adequately prepare for long-term maintenance of the cemetery. By the 1950s, the cemetery was in ruins. Grave robbers discarded coffins and remains all over the cemetery, in search of valuables. Naturally some of the remains ended up outside the cemetery walls.

Consecrated Ground

This is also a complicated subject. It was important to Christians that those buried in “holy ground” were free of serious sin. For example, if a spouse committed adultery, but did not seek forgiveness for the mortal sin, the family who owned the plot might refuse that person burial. A priest might refuse to preside over the rites of burial. Those close to the deceased were told to find someplace else. Another reason for exclusion from consecrated ground was suicide. Clergy and family would reject any connection to a person who took their own life.

In most of these cases, there were relatives who disagreed with this harsh treatment. While they were unable to get the departed inside the walls, they buried their loved one close by. Therefore, numerous reasons exist to explain remains outside the cemeteries.

Leon Fellman’s Origin Story #FellmanFriday

Leon Fellman’s Origin Story #FellmanFriday

The story of Krauss Department Store has its roots in Leon Fellman’s origin story.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment in a series on Leon Fellman, and his business operations in New Orleans. Fellman’s story directly ties to both his store, Sears, Roebuck in New Orleans, as well as Krauss and Maison Blanche Department Stores. Additional installments in this series will be patron-only.

leon fellman's origin

The Touro Buildings, 1880, by George Francois Mugnier, via LSU Special Collections.

Leon Fellman’s Origin Story

Lippman Feibelman was born in 1846, in Rülzheim,Germany. Rülzheim stands near the western border of the modern German Republic, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Feibelman emigrated to the United States in 1864, following his older brother Bernard, to New Orleans. Like his brother, he anglicized his name, becoming Leon Fellman. Bernard, who came to New Orleans a couple of years earlier, helped his brother make business connections through their synagogue. They worked for a couple of Jewish-owned businesses in the city. It’s likely they worked for the Kaufman’s at some point. So many local Jewish merchants got their start there.

Fellman Brothers

By 1873, the brothers saved enough money to open their own shop. They leased space in the Touro Buildings, in the 701 block of Canal Street. These buildings, built by businessman Judah Touro, were popular storefronts for a number of businesses. Bernard and Leon leased 133 Canal Street. Their shop was in the 701 block, but the city numbered addresses by house/business, rather than block. So, Fellman Brothers, was the one hundred thirty-third address on Canal Street, when starting from the river.

leon fellman's origin

Ad for Fellman Brothers, 5-March-1833, in The Daily Picayune

Fellman Brothers were dry goods merchants, In an ad in the Daily Picayune newspaper on March 5, 1878, they declared, “We hereby tender a special invitation to strangers in our city, and the public in general, only to inspect the many novelties we are displaying, and that prices that will please the most economical buyer.”

By 1881, the brothers opened a second store in the Touro Buildings, at 129 Canal. Additionally, they retained 133 Canal, stocking it with ladies’ clothing. The store established a relationship with Red Star Shoes, which was just down Canal Street, at Exchange Alley. The Fellmans continued to regularly discount merchandise and slash prices. So, many considered their business practices ruthless. They continued in this manner, creating tension between the brothers and the larger Jewish community in the city. While the store enjoyed financial success, their standing in the community diminished.

In 1888, Leon tried to convince Bernard to move Fellman Brothers to the Mercier Building, in the 901 block of Canal Street, corner Dauphine. While the Touro Buildings were solid, the Mercier Building was newer. It stood on the location of Christ Episcopal Church. The church’s chapter auctioned off the corner in 1884. The Merciers bought it, demolished the church, and built a large retail building. The Fellmans split up. They dissolved Fellman Brothers and closed the original store at 133 Canal. Bernard continued at 129 (now 727) Canal as B. Fellman Dry Goods. Leon opened Leon Fellman and Company at 901 Canal Street.

The Touro Buildings photo

This is a 1880 photo taken by George Francois Mungier. He worked for S. T. Blessing at the time. Blessing operated a portrait studio at 87 Canal. So, Blessing also sold stereo photo cards. This photo was No. 549 in Blessing’s New Orleans series.

Pickwick Hotel 1895

800 Canal Street started as the Pickwick Club, then the Pickwick Hotel

 

The Pickwick Hotel

Pickwick Hotel 1895

Photo of the Pickwick Hotel, 800 Canal Street at Carondelet Street, from New Orleans the Crescent City, as it Appears in the year 1895. The Pickwick Club build their “clubhouse” on that corner in 1884. The “Pickwickians” operated a social club whose members formed the Mystick Krewe of Comus. Comus changed Carnival in New Orleans in 1857. They presented the city’s first “modern” Carnival parade. The building later became Leon Fellman’s department store, then Feibleman’s. It was demolished in 1948.

The Pickwick Club

In 1880, the Pickwick Club called a building at Canal and Exchange Alley home. So, they leased the corner of Canal and Carondelet Streets, just down the street from Boston Club. The club moved into their new home in 1884. They remained on the corner for about ten years. A fire broke out in the club in 1894, causing severe damage. The Pickwick Club abandoned the building, moving up the street to 1028 Canal Street.

The hotel

Col. R. E. Rivers acquired the Pickwick Club building after the fire. He repaired the damage and opened a hotel on the property. New Orleans the Crescent City… described the hotel thusly:

The beautiful Pickwick Hotel is located at the corner of Carondelet and Caral streets , in the very heart of the retail business portion of the city , near the Cotton Exchange and every place of interest . Almost every street car line passes the door . The building itself is one of the handsomest in the city. This house is a bijou resort and only caters to the very best trade. It is furnished throughout in the most elaborate manner, costing nearly S300,000 to outfit. The restaurant attached is without an equal in the South , either in furnishings or the table. The Pickwick is the property of Col. R. E. Rivers , who has succeeded in making it the most popular hotel in the South . The house is always filled with guests.

While the hotel and its restaurant enjoyed critical acclaim, it only lasted for two years. In 1897, S. J. Shwartz acquired all of the Mercier Building, just up the street at 901 Canal. He evicted Leon Fellman and his store from the building. Fellman proposed converting the Pickwick Hotel into retail space. Rivers accepted the proposal, and Leon Fellman’s re-opened at 800 Canal in late 1897.

Later changes

Leon Fellman’s re-branded to Feibleman’s in 1920, when Leon passed. So, the store remained at 800 Canal until 1931. The family re-located Feibleman’s to a new building they constructed at Baronne and Common that year. The Gus Mayer store chain bought the building in 1948. They demolished it and moved their store from the other side of Canal to that corner.

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Cemeteries Fog Mr. Bingle 1952

 

Tombs, Ovens, All Souls

Tombs, Ovens, All Souls

Tombs, Ovens, All Souls, the preparation was all for today.

tombs, ovens, all souls

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

Freret’s Cenotaph

Freret’s Cenotaph remained on paper when the Washington Artillery chose another design.

Freret's Cenotaph

Freret’s Cenotaph

“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.

Different direction

freret's cenotaph

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.

Mercier Building 1885

Mercier Building 1885

The Mercier Building at Canal and Dauphine Streets was the first Maison Blanche.

mercier building

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.