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.
St. Aloysius Band in 1946 was led by Prof Taverna.
St. Aloysius Band
Photo of the St. Aloysius High School Band, 1946. The band wears a classic corps-style uniform, with grey tunics, white trousers, and Sam Browne belts. The belt design was for military officers and NCOs who carried pistols. The shoulder strap supported the weight of the pistol on the belt. Fortunately, the BOSH didn’t issue pistols to the band, but the look was nonetheless sharpe. The band director, to the left is Joseph “Prof” Taverna. The students in white in the center were the color guard. The two young men on the right held the banner for parades. The drum majors wear bearskins on the left.
One of the distinctions about this photo from earlier years is the drumhead on the bass drum. After the war, high schools transitioned from calling themselves “colleges.” As young people came home from World War II, they took advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the “G. I. Bill.” One of the program’s benefits was financial assistance for college tuition. The high schools dropped “college” in their names to avoid confusion.
So, the band reflected this change. The drum head says, “St. Aloysius High School – New Orleans, La.” The large, vertical “SAC” is a shout-out to “St. Aloysius College.” The BOSH didn’t want to upset decades of alumni with a major name change. The band smoothed things over a bit.
Joseph “Prof” Taverna in 1931.
The school hired a new band director in 1931, Joseph Taverna. Here’s Brother Neal’s bio of “Prof,” in his History of Crusader Football:
One of the laymen was the new band director: Professor Joseph Taverna. He hailed from Turin, Italy, where he studied at the conservatory. His father was a celebrated composer who was once organist at St. Peter’s in Rome under Pope Leo XIII. Shortly after securing his degree in Turin, young Taverna came to America and settled in New Orleans. Here, “he organized the first boys’ band ever to play in the Crescent City.”
Later he became professor of music at Marion Military Institute in Alabama where he remained until the World War broke out. He led various army bands during the war. After the war, he returned to Marion. “His remarkable success drew the attention of the authorities of Alabama University. Professor Taverna accepted Alabama’s offer to head their music department. Here he trained both the Concert Band and the Military Band, taking the latter twice to the Rose Bowl.”
All that before 1931! While it may seem that taking up the baton at Aloysius was a step down for Prof, it’s not without precedent. Sometimes talented teachers need a step away from the rat race. Since he actually a professor, the honorific stuck. The reference to “laymen” BNG makes is an important one. In 1931, there were only four lay faculty at the school. All the other teachers were brothers. This expanded as the school entered the 1950s, particularly in the athletic department. While there were a lot of well-trained brothers teaching academic subjects, they didn’t coach. So, alumni joined the faculty in those roles. Band was a on-off situation. Prof took care of it for decades. By the late 1960s, Brother Virgil Harris, SC, ran the band program. Brother Virgil retired in 1973, and BMHS has had lay band directors ever since.
Prof Taverna directed a corps-style, Souza-style band. The uniforms matched the style. When Cor Jesu opened, that school opted for a less-military look for their band. Aloysius followed suit, after Prof retired in 1961. The band adopted the Navy uniform when St. Aloysius added an NJROTC unit in 1968.
Prof Taverna had a strong influence on the school’s music program, and the lives of many musicians. To honor his contribution to St. Aloysius and the BOSH, the BMHS band room in the Ridgely Arts Center is named for Prof.
NOTE: Thanks as always to Brother Neal Golden, SC, for his wonderful work documenting the history of the BOSH schools!
Southern Railway Park stood just off from the tracks leading to Terminal Station.
Southern Railway Park
Franck Studios photos of Basin Street turning towards the lake in the late 1950s. The two parking tracks inside Southern Railway Park are visible on the left. Prior to 1954, railroad tracks leading out of Terminal Station at Canal and Basin Streets followed Basin, down to just before St. Louis Street. They turned lakebound at that point, heading into Mid-City. They connected with the “Back Belt” tracks, where trains turned east to cross the Industrial Canal and Lake Pontchartrain.
The New Orleans Terminal Company (NOTC) built a railroad passenger station on Canal Street in 1908. Southern Railway assumed control of the station when it acquired NOTC in 1916. Southern shifted their operations from Press Street Station in the Bywater to Faubourg Treme. Tracks ran along Basin from Canal Street to St. Louis. Additionally, Southern built a freight station, just before the tracks curved north. That station stood at 501 Basin, just out of the frame of these photos, on the left. A private concern purchased the freight building in the early 2000s, converting it into Basin Street Station, a visitors center and event venue.
After trains for Southern Railway (or Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio, the other railroad using Terminal Station) unloaded their passengers, they pulled off to a service yard. Engines pulled the train up past the Municipal Auditorium, then backed the cars into a side yard. Additionally, Southern trains carried “business cars” throughout the system. These cars looked like open-ended observation cars. They contained offices, bedrooms, and a kitchen. Railroad executives used these cars to travel the system.
When business cars came to New Orleans, the railroad parked them next to the passenger car service yard. Those tracks terminated in Southern Railway Park. The executives got a landscaped area where they could stretch their legs, or take a car to other parts of the city.
In 1954, the city consolidated passenger rail operations at Union Passenger Terminal, on Loyola Avenue. The city ordered the demolition of the five existing passenger stations. Southern Railway relocated the business car parking tracks to the location in this photo. They also moved several of the light fixtures like the one in this James H. Selzer photo from 1975.
Thanks to Mr. Maunsel White for sharing these photos on Facebook.
St. Aloysius bonds, a private issue to finance the completion of the new building.
St. Aloysius bonds.
Advertisement in the Times-Picayune, 15-April, 1925, for St. Aloysius bonds to finance the completion of the “new” school building. The Bond Department of Marine Bank and Trust, on Carondelet Street, managed the issuance of St. Aloysius bonds. From the ad copy:
These bonds will be the direct obligation of St. Aloysius College, which was founded in 1869, and was formerly located on Chartres and Barracks Streets, and moved to its present location in 1892, where it has steadily expanded.
This $80,000 issue in 1925 works out to just over $1.2 million in 2021 dollars.
Building the iconic school
After successfully navigating the years of the Southern Rebellion, the Archbishop of New Orleans invited the Brothers of the Sacred Heart to open a permanent school in New Orleans. The Institute operated St. Stanislaus College, in Bay St. Louis on the Gulf Coast. When Louisiana and Mississippi seceded from the Union, the BOSH closed St. Stanislaus to boarders. They dispatched several Brothers to New Orleans. They set up shop at Annunciation Church, in Faubourg Marigny. Those men taught the Stanislaus students in the city. They made sure those boys completed their schooling.
The Archdiocese offered the Institute a house on the corner of Chartres and Barracks in 1869. That building originally housed the officers of the Spanish army garrison in the city during the colonial period. In 1892, the Ursuline nuns left the mansion they used as a school, on Esplanade Avenue and N. Rampart Street. The archdiocese transferred that building to the BOSH. By the 1920s, however, the always-expanding St. Aloysius College outgrew the mansion. They negotiated a deal with the city to demolish the old building, allowing the city expand the N. Rampart Street neutral ground. The Institute required cash for furnishings, equipment, etc., to open the new building. These bonds provided the backbone of the financing.
St. Aloysius closed in the Spring of 1969, merging with Cor Jesu High to become Brother Martin High School in Gentilly.
The St. Aloysius Color Guard was a military-style unit in the mid-1960s.
Aloysius Color Guard
From the book: “Color Guard. Prior to the activation of the school’s NJROTC unit, the St. Aloysius Band also included a Color Guard for presenting the American flag at football games, Carnival parades, and other events.” The unit consisted of a commander (left), two rifle escorts, and color bearers carrying the United States flag and the flag of the City of New Orleans. The 1966 Crusader yearbook staff shot this photo on the Esplanade Avenue neutral ground. Students in the unit are unidentified; if you know who these young men are, please let me know!
Band auxiliary to NJROTC
In 1967, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart announced an arrangement with the United States Navy to establish a Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp (NJROTC) unit at St. Aloysius High School. Participation in the unit was mandatory for Crusaders in grades 10, 11, and 12. The school adopted the Navy’s khaki undress uniform for all grades.
When St. Aloysius and Cor Jesu merged to form Brother Martin High, the NJROTC unit moved to Elysian Fields. The band and the color guard adopted the NJROTC uniforms for public events. The band wore the NJROTC service dress blue uniform. This consisted of navy blue wool trousers and a double-breasted wool jacket, with six buttons. Band members wore a white, long-sleeved shirt and a black necktie with the suit. Their covers were a naval officers style “combination cap” with a white cover. Ranks were indicated by insignia on the jacket sleeves. Officers wore thin stripes near the jacket cuff. Chief Petty Officers wore a CPO-style insignia on the upper sleeve. The band’s Drum Major held the rank of Cadet Lieutenant, and the commander of the color guard was a Cadet Lieutenant (Junior Grade).
BMHS kept the NJROTC uniforms for the band through the 1975-76 school year.
Gulf, Mobile, and Northern’s Rebel Route connected New Orleans to Jackson, Tennessee.
The “Rebel,” operated by Gulf, Mobile, and Northern Railroad, at Terminal Station in Faubourg Treme, late 1930s, early 1940s. It’s unclear whether this train is departing on a northbound run, or backing into the station, arriving on the southbound run. Trains approaching Terminal Station used a “wye” track on St. Louis Street to change directions. The inbound train entered the wye, then backed in. Passengers exited onto Canal Street, across from Krauss Department Store.
The Gulf, Mobile, and Northern operated the Rebel from 1935 until its merger with the Mobile and Ohio Railroad in 1942. GM&N expanded the Rebel. They purchased additional equipment, operating a split of the route, from Union, Mississippi, to Mobile. The GM&O expanded the Rebel Route further, north to St. Louis. The train’s final incarnation, the “Gulf Coast Rebel” ended service in 1958.
GM&N purchased two trainsets from the American Car Foundry in 1935. These sets used “power cars,” units which combined locomotive and coach. The Rebel also carried a buffet-coach car and a sleeper-observation. All coach seating operated following Jim Crow segregation laws.
The railroad acquired a third trainset in 1937. This trainset enabled GM&N to operate the split at Union, down to Mobile.
With the merger in 1942, GM&O discontinued the “little Rebel” trainsets. The railroad replaced them with the “Big Rebels,” Alco DL-105 locomotives and standard-style cars.
South of Laurel, Mississippi, GM&N/GM&O used Southern Railway tracks to reach New Orleans. The Rebel approached the city via Slidell, crossing Lake Pontchartrain using Southern’s five-mile bridge. The train traveled through the city using Southern’s “back belt.” The Rebel stopped at City Park Avenue, then turned towards the river, ending the journey on Basin Street. Like Southern Railway trains, GM&O shifted passenger operations from Terminal Station over to Union Passenger Terminal in 1954.