WITH POYDRAS THE PARROT A MONTHLY PURSUIT OF ANSWERS TO ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Dear Julia and Poydras,
I used to love going to Fitzgerald’s (last time 1992 or so). Did they move or just close, and if so, why? Does anyone have plans for another great seafood restaurant at the Lakefront?
I suppose you could say Fitzgerald’s moved somewhat unexpectedly. In October 1998, Hurricane Georges struck.
A possible storm-spawned tornado and wind-driven waves cut the restaurant apart, hurling debris into Lake Pontchartrain. Fitzgerald’s was never rebuilt. Questions of flood protection and possible land expropriation still surround West End and Bucktown, rendering uncertain the future of those waterfront areas.
I lived in the 9th Ward from my birth in 1948 until ’60. I attended William Frantz Elementary School, and somewhere in the vicinity of Frantz was a corner shotgun house painted a bright yellow. The house was located on the northeast (Lakeside/downtown) corner of Independence and N. Prieur streets. On the sidewalk, actually an extra concrete slab between the sidewalk and the curb, was carved an inscription concerning the house and the resident, who I believed was named Mother Twine. It wasn’t one of those graffiti-type inscriptions written by someone’s finger when the cement was soft, but a “professional” looking inscription like one would see at a historic or memorial site. I don’t remember what the inscription said. Being so young, the memory is kind of vague, but the house and Mother Twine always intrigued me. I never did figure out if Mother Twine was some kind of voodoo priestess or a seer of some kind. Hope you can find an answer for me.
My sister remembered the house because, before I was born, she said our parents lived in the 1900 block of Independence Street. She remembered quite often seeing a group of black ladies all dressed in white going into the house and she could later hear singing, clapping, etc.
Francis Amelia Frey, the widow Alf A. Twine, was born in Cuba, the daughter of Alfred Frey and Elizabeth Wellington. Coming to New Orleans about 1912, she owned the home at 1901 Independence St., where she resided for much of her 48 years in the Crescent City. A congregant of the Zion City Baptist Church, which was located within a few blocks of her home, Twine died in March ’60 and was laid to rest in Holt Cemetery.
Nothing in her obituary indicates that Twine practiced spiritualism or voodoo. From the funeral notice, in which parish elders from the Zion City and Evergreen Baptist Churches were invited to attend the services, it can be inferred that Twine was an active and respected member of her spiritual community.
Even though circumstantial evidence doesn’t connect Twine’s prayer meetings with spiritualism or voodoo, the 9th Ward most certainly was home to some outstanding female spiritual leaders, two of the most notable of whom were Mother Catherine Seals and Leafy Anderson. Here in New Orleans, lines differentiating traditional Christianity from spiritualism, Santeria, Yoruba, Vodou and some other religions can be blurry, making it hard to tell by which spirit a group of enthusiastic white-clad worshippers hopes to be moved.
Because parrots have such a long life, Poydras might be old enough to remember The House of the Good Shepherd.
When I was a little girl, I remember my parents and a next door neighbor always telling me if I was a bad girl I would have to go to the House of the Good Shepherd.
Well, one day I spilled a bottle of brown shoe polish on my mother’s brand new linoleum rug.
That did it! She said as soon as my daddy came home from work he would take me there.
I sat in the window, watching, waiting and crying. He put me in the car and drove to that place (it was behind a big red brick wall.) I didn’t get to go in, but I’ve never forgotten the event.
Can you and Poydras tell me anything about it? Did they really whip the children with a cat-of-nine-tails? Whatever happened to it?
Jean, wayward girls are among Poydras’ favorite things. He can even relate to your spilling shoe polish on the linoleum because he has spilled rum on my rug many times. Founded in 1859, the House of the Good Shepherd was originally located on Magazine Street but moved to Bienville Street in 1865. According to the institution’s second annual report, the refuge sought to reform women who had “deviated from the path of virtue.” Whatever horrors generations of misbehaving children were told would befall them if they were sent there, the House of the Good Shepherd provided a haven to women whose personal lives were sometimes far more horrible than anything generations of naughty (but usually innocent-minded) children may have imagined.
Writing with a simply worded brutality reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce, a reporter writing for the Daily Picayune in the summer of 1866 recounted the story of a child he accompanied to the House of the Good Shepherd. The 14-year-old girl was a prostitute and had had been one for a while. Once again, she been arrested and charged with being “lewd and abandoned.” “There was nothing out of the ordinary routine in the whole affair,” wrote the reporter, “She wore a calico dress, and was very ragged, and dirty, and wretched. No one knows that the almost child is soon to be a mother.”
Arriving at the House of the Good Shepherd, the reporter described its 80 female residents as being “outcasts by every social law, despised by men and by themselves, with no hope for the future, devoid even of the charms that appeal to the lowest of our senses.” These were broken women who had lost their looks, their spirits and nearly their lives on the streets of mid-19th century New Orleans.
As a former resident of New Orleans, now residing in Oklahoma City, I was wondering about the elementary school I attended in Metairie from 1969-’72. My school was named James Madison Elementary and is now named Harold Keller Elementary. Who was Harold Keller and why the name change? I seem to recall a classmate with that name, are they related?
Originally named in honor of the nation’s fourth president, James Madison, the suburban elementary school on Irving Street first opened its doors in 1966. Eleven years later, in ’77, the Jefferson Parish School Board approved a controversial measure renaming the elementary school in honor of deceased board member Harold M. Keller. Many parents and some school faculty expressed their objections to the School Board, noting that the petition to rename the school bore only 168 signatures. Despite some controversy, the school’s name was changed to Harold M. Keller.
Just under a century earlier, another Madison School changed names, becoming McDonogh 11. Located on the corner of Palmyra and Prieur streets, Madison served a thriving neighborhood from the late 1850s until its loss by fire in the 1870s. Educator and architect Robert Mills Lusher designed the all-girl elementary school, which was said to have been one of the most beautiful of the city schools. When a new school rose from Madison’s ashes, it was a co-educational institution known as McDonough 11. Dedicated in 1878, the William Freret-designed McDonogh 11 is among structures in the neighborhood that might be razed to clear the way for construction of hospital buildings, parking and green space.