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Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot

Dear Julia,

In the early part of the 20th century, air races were a big deal, and as a native of New Orleans I often heard about them, but never saw them. Do you think it would be possible to gas up Poydras and let him take a turn around the course and give us full details? I think it would be interesting and I know, or think, Shushan Air Terminal, now Lakefront, was in the course. There was a movie about it in the 50’s starring Robert Stack. Thank you, Bill Taylor (New Orleans)

Bill, Poydras does not like to fly, especially over the lake where he once collided with a pelican and got in trouble for bumping the state bird.

In February 1934, Shushan Airport (now New Orleans Lakefront Airport) was dedicated with great fanfare that included the Pan American Air Races, at which Jimmy Wedell set a 100 kilometer speed record and won the Bendix Trophy. Novelist William Faulker, himself a pilot, attended the races and used them as inspiration for his novel, “Pylon,” which was adapted for film as “The Tarnished Angels,” starring Robert Stack.

Both races and aerobatic demonstrations took place over a triangular course that covered much of Lake Pontchartrain, but tragedies and near-misses marred the event. On February 8th, during a test flight, a seagull collided with Harold Neumann’s plane as it rounded the grandstand pylon at 240 mph; the damaged plane landed safely. Little more than a week later, Neumann had another close call when his plane crashed and he was pinned beneath it; he escaped with only scratches and walked from the scene accompanied by his wife and baby. The same day, parachutist Enis Daniels was blown off course and nearly collided with the sea wall; she escaped injury.


Hey Julia,

I live at 817 St. Philip Street in the French Quarter. Can you tell me who built this home and for whom, and when it was built? Thanks, Carlos A. Trujillo (New Orleans)

Originally a residence, the main building is believed to date from the 1850s, but it is not who commissioned or designed it. In 1892, three Salesian Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus moved to what was then a tenement at 817 St. Philip Street and established a convent.  

In December 1928, women of the Cabrini Memorial Guild opened at the St. Philip Street convent the Cabrini Day Nursery, which provided day care for young children, mostly Italian, whose mothers worked. The nursery was named in honor of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), foundress of the Salesian Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who administered the nursery.  Canonized in 1946, Mother Cabrini is recognized as a Roman Catholic patron saint of immigrants.  


Dear Julia,

On the night of February 14th, stunt pilot Capt. Merle Nelson was killed when his plane crashed and caught fire after a rocket-illuminated stunt. Three days later, parachutist Ben Grew and pilot Charles Kenily, both of Chicago, perished on February 17th when Grew’s parachute became entangled in the plane’s rudder causing it to crash into Lake Pontchartrain.  

When I was growing up in New Orleans my father loved going to the races at the Fair Grounds. He would come home with stories about Two-Ton-Tony and my favorite Pick-A-Nose Willy. My question is: Were there other such names? Also, did these colorful nicknames pre date Damon Runyon of “Guys and Dolls” fame? - Anthony J. Clesi Jr. (New Orleans)

I am not familiar with Pick-a-Nose-Willy, but there were two well-known Two-Ton-Tonys – 1930s boxer Tony “the Newark Night Stick” Galento and the Australian racehorse that movie mogul Louis B. Mayer once owned. Colorful nicknames abound in sports and gambling circles. The most famous was Allen “Black Cat” LaCombe, whose pals included characters with names like Benny Without a Penny and Meyer the Cryer. They may have seemed like Runyon creations but they also reflected local street and track culture of the time. 


HAVE A QUESTION FOR JULIA?

Send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com.

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