JULIA STREET: A Monthly Pursuit of Answers to Eternal Questions
Do you know anything about the old hospital that used to be on Orleans Avenue? I think it was known as the French Hospital. I was born there in 1948 but am a little puzzled about why my mother would have gone there since we’re not French.
Before the French Hospital was torn down many years ago, it was located at 1821 Orleans Ave. Its main building was erected in 1861, and it functioned as a hospital for nearly 90 years. Major renovations were undertaken in 1913 and 1926, but the privately funded maternity hospital was unable to compete with more modern facilities. It closed on Oct. 31, 1949. The Knights of Peter Claver bought the French Hospital in 1951 to use as its national headquarters.
The hospital was later demolished.
The French Hospital began as an offshoot of a benevolent association, La Societe Francaise de Bienfaisance Mutuelle, which was founded in 1843 by the local French community. Designed to help the French-speaking population of New Orleans and render assistance to recently arrived immigrants, the society also provided medical care to its members. In 1860, the organization revised its policies, expanding to treat members of the general public.
We now know plenty about hurricanes, levees and flooding. Even though Betsy and Katrina will remain the big names in the city’s hurricane history, I know there was a lot of devastation after a big 1947 hurricane. What was the extent of the flooding in Metairie from that storm? Lourdes Rivera – Metairie
Flooding from the hurricane (they were not given names back then) that struck this area on Sept. 19, 1947, was especially bad in Bucktown and the adjacent parts of Metairie. The flooded section extended roughly from Lake Pontchartrain to Metairie Road and from Shrewsbury Road to Papworth Avenue. The deeper parts of the flooded region measured about 4 to 8 feet deep.
Although there was a break in the Hammond Highway levee between Bonnabel Boulevard and Shrewsbury, the bulk of the 1947 flooding was caused by northerly winds driving lake water over the levees. The 1947 Metairie flood was a case in which levees actually did a great job of containing flood waters. The problem was that the flood waters had already spilled onto the wrong side of the levees and could not flow uphill to return to the lake. Eventually, several relief outlets were cut or blasted through the levees, allowing the flood waters to recede.
A cousin told me that my great-great-grandfather was buried in Locust Grove Cemetery. I’d love to go there, find his headstone and take a picture of it. What do you know about the cemetery? Cressida McGill – New Orleans
Locust Grove was a city-run potter’s field that once stood on the site of the present-day Thomy Lafon School on Seventh Street in Uptown New Orleans. Opened in 1865, the cemetery was used for only 14 years before complaints about shallow burials, bad odors and generally unsanitary conditions forced the city to close it. Burials in Locust Grove ceased in 1879, when the city erected and began using a new potter’s field, the present-day Holt Cemetery, on higher ground at the edge of town, in an area near Delgado Community College.
Because Locust Grove was a city cemetery for the indigent and unidentified, it is unlikely that your great-great-grandfather had a tombstone. Burials in Locust Grove, as in Holt Cemetery, were simple in-ground burials in which the deceased were laid to rest directly in the earth.
What’s the deal with the niches on the old Custom House? During Mardi Gras, my friends and I used to take turns standing inside them to have our pictures taken. I know that wasn’t their intended purpose, and I’m guessing they once contained statues. Can you shed any light on this for me? Maybe Poydras hangs out in these little niches to conduct some covert people-watching? Audrey Lane Greig The – Woodlands, Texas
You’re right, Audrey, Poydras did at one time try to use the niches for spying (who he was spying on and for what purpose remains unclear). Unfortunately, he was a bit too conspicuous for covert activities – maybe it was the trench coat and the sunglasses he wore.
The exterior niches have never contained statues. According to Stanley Clisby Arthur’s History of the Custom House, original plans called for statues in the exterior niches, but those plans were revised, and the statue project was abandoned.
In 1878, writer Lafcadio Hearn claimed in the New Orleans Item that two dozen statues were shipped to the Custom House in the early 1850s but had been hidden away during the Civil War. At another time, however, Hearn wrote that “no living man of this generation hath a memory sufficiently strong to remember the day of their coming or the description which accompanied them.”
Meigs O. Frost, in a December 1934 article appearing in The Times-Picayune, revisited Hearn’s story about the Custom House statuary. Frost contacted the government’s Procurement Division in Washington, D.C., which in turn sent a telegram to Henry G. Richey, who had overseen the Custom House’s 1916 renovation. Richey informed Frost that Hearn had most likely heard of an 1857 shipment of statues created for the Custom House’s interior and jumped to the conclusion that the statues were intended for the exterior niches.
A May 1857 article in the Daily Picayune mentions that statues of Andrew Jackson and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, along with the Louisiana coat of arms, were being made for the “principal room of the new customhouse.” Exterior statues are not mentioned outside of Hearn’s article. Their existence is generally believed to be a myth.
I have always heard that the statue in the front of the old Falstaff Brewery is Sir John Falstaff of Shakespearean drama, but I am not sure this is correct. My grandfather said he remembered the statue was already there when Falstaff bought the brewery from another company. So who’s the guy with the goat? Poydras is not exactly a farm animal, but I also wondered if he gets along with goats. Delores Bracamonte
– River Ridge
Delores, Poydras says he does not like goats because they are too indiscriminate about what they eat. That complaint comes from a bird who likes to put rum in his breakfast cereal.
Your grandfather was absolutely right. In 1936, Falstaff bought the old National Brewery, which Charles A. Wagner had founded in 1911. The statue is visible in a 1916 photograph and is known to predate Falstaff’s association with the site.
The figure perched above the brewery’s entrance is King Gambrinus, a legendary 13th-century Flemish sovereign who is said to have invented the art of brewing beer. German brewers often honored King Gambrinus by placing statues of him atop their breweries or above brewery entrances.
In art, Gambrinus is usually depicted holding a foaming goblet of beer and either straddling a keg or standing next to one. He may also be shown riding a billy goat known as the Bock. In German, the word bock means “billy goat” as well as a type of strong beer.