New Orleans, The Harbinger of the Future


This is the third in a series of blog posts leading up to the Presidential election on Nov. 3. It is non-partisan and (mostly) non-judgmental; consider it a cautionary tale, a lesson of history. Repeating itself. Again. And again.

For the first two parts of the series, check here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

If you don’t have the inclination to review those stories, here’s a quick recap: New Orleans in the 19th century was what America is today. Exactly. Literally. Precisely. Frighteningly.

It was a commonwealth reeling in epidemics, denials, diversions and deflections, miracle cures and empty promises from government; political corruption, vigilantism, heavily armed militias, voter intimidation and suppression. They all raged here then as they rage everywhere now.

Rage seems like just the perfect word.

Weird, right? Maybe not so much that nothing has changed over two centuries but that New Orleans – so enamored of the past, and often living in it; the last American city to discover bell bottom jeans, punk rock, craft beer and kale – was actually the harbinger of the future. The harbinger of today.

With that said, let’s pick up the story where we left off.

There were duel raging yellow fever and cholera epidemics in 1832. One-third of the city’s residents were dead. Thousands had already fled the city for fear of their lives. As late October turned into November, despair descended upon the city. All hope seemed lost. And then, this happened. Apparently.

This is an account from the diaries of Reverend Theodore Clapp, a Presbyterian minister who took prodigious notes of the times.

“The cholera had been raging with unabashed fury for fourteen days,” he wrote. “A thick dark sultry atmosphere filled our city. The heavens were as stagnant as the mantled pool of death.”

And then. Two weeks into the then-current epidemic (one of dozens that would strike the city from the late 18th century until the early 20th), a strange occurrence arose.

Clapp called it a “smart storm.” Maybe the smartest anyone has ever seen.

“Something like a tornado…with heavy peals of thunder and terrific lightnings,” he wrote. “The deadly air was displaced immediately, by that which was new, fresh, salubrious and life-giving.

“The next morning shone forth all bright and beautiful. The plague was stayed. In the opinion of all the medical gentlemen (The scientists? My words, not Clapp’s.) who were on the spot, that change of weather terminated the epidemic. It took its departure from us at that very hour. No new cases occurred after the storm.”

Who says there’s no good news? But I know what you’re thinking, dear reader: Like a miracle, it went away. Right?

According to Rev. Clapp’s account – and he was a man of the cloth, after all; not some geek in a lab coat – maybe Trump has been right all along? COVID will just dissolve one day, disappear, dissipate.

Like a miracle.

Except that we’re still waiting for that next tornado to come cleanse us again this time around.

“Hurricane season” lasts until the end of November. The election is two weeks away. Forget your classic election year “October Surprise;” how about a November surprise?

A tornado? Why not?

Stranger things have happened.




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