Cemetery curses revisited: is the Caesers Superdome really cursed?
Map of the area around Caesar’s Superdome. The red rectangle shows the outline of Girod Street Cemetery.
The Saints: 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Fellmans and Marks Isaacs contributed to the formation of Maison Blanche Origins.
The Pickwick Hotel, 800 Canal Street, 1895. Two years later, Leon Fellman moved his store to this location.
Maison Blanche Origins
The “Greatest Store South,” Maison Blanche Department Store, opened in 1897. These three ads, from The Daily Picayune on 16-February-1890, present a segment of the New Orleans retail scene at the time. L. Fellman & Co., operated in the 901 block of Canal Street. Leon’s brother, Bernard, continued solo in the 701 block. The Kaufmans and Marks Isaacs dominated the Dryades Street corridor. These men shaped the decisions made by S. J. Shwartz as he planned the Maison Blanche.
L. Fellman & Co.
“Dry Goods and Fancy Goods!” Leon Fellman immigrated to New Orleans in the 1870s, following his older brother, Bernard. He adopted Bernard’s anglicized surname, going from Feibelman to Fellman. After working for other established retailers, the brothers opened a store of their own in the 701 block.
In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal sold their church at the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The The Mercier family constructed what became known as the Mercier Building. They sectioned into separate retail spaces. That’s why L. Fellman & Co. lists 173, 175, and 177 Canal Street as addresses.
Leon Fellman operated a “Dry Goods” store that sold “Fancy Goods” as well. He sold fabrics and accessories for women and men. The concept of a “department store” selling ready-to-wear clothing was not yet a thing in the South. So, Leon’s advertising focused on the tried and true:
The many friends, patrons, and strangers would do well to pay a visit to our Grand Emporium before going elsewhere. Having the advantage of procuring all of our merchandise from the “Fountain Head” — the Center of Manufactory — be they Foreign or Domestic — we can with pride declare that our assortment CANNOT BE EXCELLED, OUR PRICES NOT LOWERED, this side of Mason and Dixon’s Line. We shall mention only a few prices. EVERYTHING WILL BE REDUCED!
Competition with Shwartz
Fellman occupied the lake-side of the Mercier Building, “Next to the Grand Opera House.” After the devastating fire in the Touro Buildings in February, 1892, Simon Shwartz moved his family’s business, A. Shwartz and Son, to the other half of the building. Shwartz, backed by his father-in-law, Isidore Newman, acquired the entire Mercier Building. Leon moved out in the Spring of 1897. Shwartz opened the Maison Blanche that October..
Leon moved his store across the street, to the Pickwick Hotel at 800 Canal Street. His store evolved into a department store in the style of Maison Blanche.
While Leon’s involvement with Shwartz and MB was as a competitor, his investments sparked other Canal Street retail. Fellman bought the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal in 1899. He demolished those buildings. In their place, a new, two-story store rose, in 1903. Since Fellman’s store at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet) was well-established and successful, he invited the Krauss Brothers to lease 1201 Canal. Thus began the 94-year run of Krauss Department Store.
Leon’s older brother preferred to stay in the Touro Buildings (701 block of Canal Street). Maybe it was his age, perhaps his health, but the brothers parted. Bernard operated his dry good store, declaring it, “The Pioneer Of Low Prices.” So, Bernard competed not only with his brother, but with Abraham Shwartz. A. Shwartz and Son stood at the lake-side corner of the 701 block, Canal and Bourbon Streets. This ad lists an extensive inventory of dry goods. He also advertises “over 2000 Jackets, Cloaks and Wraps, from the lowest ordinary to the best.” A half-off sale always garners attention!
Charles Kaufman’s first store opened on Poydras Street in 1877. Charles partnered with his older brother Simon in the venture. In 1889, Charles joined with Marks Isaacs in a partnership. They opened Kaufman and Isaacs. The partners encouraged shoppers to “Join the Procession of Wise and Discerning People” to their store, on Dryades, Euterpe, and Polymnia Streets. They leveraged their proximity to the Dryades Public Market.
In 1901, Marks Isaacs left the partnership. He joined S.J. Shwartz at Maison Blanche. Charles Kaufman passed in 1917. The family continued operation of the store until 1961. They closed the store and sold the building, in the midst of a great deal of strife related to the Civil Rights Movement. The Kaufman’s building is now the Ashe Cultural Arts Center. Dryades Street now bears the name of Civil Rights pioneer Oretha Castle Haley.
So many connections among the Jewish retailers of New Orleans! You’ll find more history on MB and Krauss in my books:
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store
Additionally, lots of photos of Canal Street in my history of the most important streetcar line in New Orleans:
New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line
Big changes in Canal Street Retail 1897 shook up shopping.
The Mercier Buildings, combined as Maison Blanche, 1898.
Canal Street Retail 1897
Front-page ad for S. J. Shwartz & Co, 3-January-1897
When 1897 opened, changes to the landscape of Canal Street retail were already shaping up. The year-end clearance ads published on January 3rd looked as one would expect. The ads in the first three pages of that day’s edition of The Daily Picayune tell a fascinating tale.
Simon J. Shwartz, youngest son of Abraham Shwartz, set plans in motion that brought the first true department store to town. Shwartz’s store, S.J. Shwartz & Sons, operated from the Mercier Buildings. Simon had the section of the building on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. In 1892, his family’s store, A. Shwartz and Sons, burned, along with most of the businesses in the Touro Buildings. This was the 701 block of Canal Street. The Shwartz family believed the fire was what brought on the heart attack that took Abraham, the patriarch.
Ad for D. Mercier’s Sons, 3-January-1897
While the Jewish families dominated Canal Street, the Merciers operated two blocks down Dauphine Street. “D Mercier’s Sons – The Renowned Clothiers and Hatters” purchased the property in the 901 block of Canal in 1884. They won it at auction, when the chapter of Christ Episcopal decided to move uptown. The church sold off their magnificent church in that year. The Merciers demolished it, constructing a four-story retail building.
701 to 901 to 701
Ad for A. Shwartz & Sons, Canal and Bourbon Streets, 3-January-1897
After the fire, Simon moved quickly, re-opening A. Shwartz and Sons at 901 Canal. He disagreed with his brothers on the direction of the business. So, the family moved back to the Touro Buildings. They secured the four-story building on the corner of Canal and Bourbon. This offered A. Shwartz and Sons a better location. So, back to the 701 block they went. Simon remained at 901 Canal. He gave the 901 store his name.
The Fellman Brothers
Ad for L. Fellman & Co., 3-January-1897
Bernard and Leon Fellman operated Fellman Brothers from a storefront in the Touro Buildings. When the Merciers opened their building at 901, Leon wanted to move down the street. Bernard disagreed. The Fellmans split. Leon moved, opening L. Fellman & Company. His store stood on the lake side of the Mercier Building, next to the Grand Opera House (now the S. H. Kress Building). The store in the 701 block became B. Fellman’s.
By February of 1897, S. J. Shwartz secured purchase of the entire Mercier Building. He served Leon Fellman with a notice of eviction. Fellman had to hustle to re-locate his store. Leon convinced the owners of the Pickwick Hotel (named so because the Pickwick Club met there) to close. He leased that building, across the street, at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet). Fellman converted the hotel into a dry goods store, Leon Fellman’s. So, 1897 saw major expansion, where both Shwartz and Fellman greatly expanded their stores. Meanwhile, the others kept on going in the 701 block.
Shwartz renovated the Mercier Buildings in 1897. He converted the property into a single store floor plan. S. J. Shwartz and Company became Maison Blanche in October of that year.
Ad for D. H. Holmes, 3-January-1897
Between Shwartz and Fellman stores stood D. H. Holmes, in the 801 block. Daniel Henry Holmes opened his store on Canal Street in 1842. He died in 1898. The store continued on until 1989, when Dillard’s acquired the chain. Holmes advertised a wide range of reductions on 3-January-1897. Silks to Brocaded Satin, to Opera Glasses, all on sale.
Ad for Kaufman and Isaacs on Dryades Street, 3-January-1897
Merchants on Dryades Street (now Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) presented the biggest competition to the Canal Street stores. Kaufman & Isaacs announced “Sacrifice week” on January 3rd:
The coming week will be specially devoted to clearing up old lines of merchandise which were overlooked in the Christmas crush. Every price is special–every value is noteworthy. This is, indeed, the store of the people–the store of economy.
Marks Isaacs split with the Kaufmans in 1905. At the same time, the members of the Newman family who opened Maison Blanche with S. J. Shwartz left the company. Isaacs joined Maison Blanche. He later left MB, opening his own store in the 701 block.
While the players remained, the landscape shifted significantly in 1897.
More on Canal Street
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
To learn more about Canal Street Retail 1897, check out my books, Maison Blanche Department Stores and Krauss: The New Orleans Value Store.
Patreon Note: Usually a blog post such as this would be behind the Patreon wall. I couldn’t figure out how to publish a suitable 100-word introduction to the tale, though. I’ll make it up to my Patrons. We really appreciate you and your support.
St. John the Baptist Church photo from 1933.
St. John the Baptist Church
Photo of St. John the Baptist Church from 1933. It is part of a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). While the record lists the location of the church as Dryades Street, the current name of the street is Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. So, historically, it stood on the corner of Dryades and Calliope Streets.
Here’s the description in the HABS:
Significance: The corner stone was laid in 1857, and the church was completed in 1861, Father Jeremiah Moynihan, the pastor, having supervision of the planning and building. Fifteen stained glass windows were installed in 1902. … The building was erected in a time of opulence and no expense was spared to make it one of the handsomest churches in the city, but by the time it was completed, at the outbreak of four years of war, there ensued much general financial distress. The parish was unable to meet its obligations, and was declared bankrupt in 1878. The church and the adjacent parish school building were bought by the pastor, Father Kenny, and reverted to the Congregation.
– Survey number: HABS LA-1105
– Building/structure dates: 1861 Initial Construction
– Building/structure dates: 1902 Subsequent Work
The construction of St. John the Baptist Church demonstrates the expansion of the Irish community in New Orleans. St. Patrick’s parish formed in 1833, in the CBD. The Irish in the “Redemptorist Parish” of the Lower Garden District and the Irish Channel built St. Alphonsus in the mid-1850s. (The community completed St. Alphonsus in 1857.) So, by the time the Irish finished their second church, the community needed another! The Irish moved towards the lake from the riverfront.
Pre-rebellion New Orleans
“A time of opulence…” New Orleans reached a significant growth point in the 1850s. The port handled shipping second only to New York. While the international slave trade no longer legally existed, New Orleans became a focal point in the domestic trade of enslaved Africans. Wealthy planters maintained houses in the city, as well as on their upriver properties. Cotton dominated the economy (thanks to the labor of the enslaved). Additionally, the Irish kept coming from the Old Country. They worked along the riverfront.
This 1933 photo of St. John the Baptist Church offers a wonderful perspective from a couple of blocks away. The Pontchartrain Expressway now divides the neighborhood. This barrier didn’t exist in 1933. The church stands blocks away from the train station. Streetcars on the Dryades line traveled in front of the church. So, they connected church and school with uptown and further into downtown. Additionally, Dominican nuns from Ireland staffed the school. St. John the Baptist Church formed a nexus.
Amtrak’s Sunset Limited
Sunset Limited crossing the Mississippi River, 1970s (Amtrak photo)
Amtrak’s Sunset Limited
When Amtrak took over passenger rail service in the United States in 1971, they continued the Sunset Limited service. The Southern Pacific Railroad began the Sunset Limited in 1894. It was the second “transcontinental” railroad in the United States. The train traveled over Santa Fe and Southern Pacific track, from New Orleans to Los Angeles and back.
It’s possible for rail travelers to start in the east, as far north as Maine and travel to Los Angeles. While passengers commute through the Northeast Corridor, “long haul” travelers join them to Penn Station, in New York City. There, they board Amtrak’s Crescent (#19). The Crescent takes them to New Orleans. From there, they transfer to the Sunset Limited (#1).
The Sunset Limited in New Orleans.
The Sunset Limited originally used the Trans-Mississippi Terminal on Annunciation Street. This station was uptown, close to the Mississippi River. The train pulled out of the station, then traveled across the river on a railroad ferry. When the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in 1935, the Sunset Limited operated out of Union Station, on Howard Avenue. In 1954, the train shifted operations to Union Passenger Terminal.
The Pullman Company provided sleeper cars to many of the railroads running passenger trains. Therefore, travelers could board a Pullman sleeper coach in the east, and stay on it all the way to Los Angeles. The different railroads would pass the car along as service changed. So, Southern Railroad customers would travel from New York City to New Orleans on the Crescent. Southern Pacific picked up the sleeper, connecting it to the Sunset Limited.
Early Amtrak Service
This photo (courtesy Amtrak) shows the Sunset Limited, crossing the bridge in the 1970s. When Amtrak started, the company used equipment given to them by the other railroads. So, this photo shows E-8 locomotives (A-B-B-A) from Southern Pacific. Budd “streamliner” cars make up the consist.
Modern Sunset Limited Service
Currently, Amtrak uses a pair of P-42DC “Genesis” locomotives to pull a consist of Streamliner coaches up the Huey and out to Los Angeles.