Charity’s Harbor

Dear Julia,

I worked at Charity Hospital starting as a volunteer at age 13 in 1952 until age 17 (I even earned a 1,000 hour volunteer pin.)  After that, during my summers as a student at Tulane University, I worked in the clinics as “summer help” and rotated through all of the clinics wherever extra help was needed.  

Every time I walked in through the lobby, I read the inscription embedded in the terrazzo tile floor in brass.  I may be paraphrasing, but, in a circle, this is what it basically said, “Within this harbor newly launched ships put out to sea for the very first time and old ships drop anchor here for the very last time.  Within these walls, life begins and ends.”

Isn’t that beautiful? I just loved how it was phrased. I›ve always wondered where that came from or who wrote it. Is there any information about the hospital that references that particular writing? I’d appreciate it if you were able to research that and come up with some answers for me.  – Lee Blotner (New Orleans)


Your paraphrase of the quote is good, Lee, but not exact. The actual wording of the quote is:

“In this Harbor weary sea-worn ships drop anchor. And new launched vessels start their outward trips. Within these walls life begins and ends.”

You are right though, it is beautiful.

Poydras used to visit Charity often. I don’t know if he is fibbing or not, but he says a parrot hatchery was once located there not far from where the humans’ maternity ward was. Poydras would visit his newly hatched nieces and nephews. While there, he would spend time in the hospital lobby where there was a 2,000 pound bronze seal of the state of Louisiana with that quote encircling it.

A replica of the seal, with the emblem of a mother pelican and chicks, is now in the lobby of the University Medical Center which continues Charity’s legacy as a teaching hospital.

In 1736 Jean Louis, a French native seaman, ship builder and philanthropist donated money to found what would become Charity hospital. According to author John Salvaggio’s book, “Charity Hospital: A Story of Physicians, Politics, and Poverty,” the nautical theme to the inscription is believed to be in honor of Louis. Also represented in the seal is the statement, “to care for the sea-worn as well as the young.” 

Curiously the Louisiana state seal, with its mother pelican caring for her chicks, fits in appropriately with the hospital’s stated mission since the pelican is a seagoing bird providing aid for the newborn. Unfortunately, Poydras thinks the state bird should be a mother parrot instead and plans to start a statewide petition drive to have the seal changed. Anyone who wants to support Poydras’ campaign should visit his GoFundMe page.

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