The Angel of the Delta

New Orleans - 6 March 1885

Today I came across a little square at the junction of Camp, Prytania and Clio Streets. It was a charming oasis of walks, fountains and grass in the busy city of New Orleans.

In the very center was a marble statue of a woman. Usually in the Victorian Age when you see a statue of a woman, it’s a beautiful young woman portraying “Victory” or “Justice” or some other lofty idea. Instead this was an old woman, short and squat, with a square face. I took out my camera-spectacles to get a picture of this unusual image.

By the looks of this woman, her figure had been destroyed not by too much food, but too much work. Dressed like a washerwoman in a shawl and plain dress, she sat in a chair with her arm protectively around a child. She gazed at the child with tenderness and bulldog determination.

I looked down at the pedestal beneath her, expecting to find a plaque dedicated to a poor widow who had worked herself to death so her child could survive and become wealthy enough to afford this memorial to his mum. Instead a found only one word chiseled in the stone--“Margaret.”

“Margaret?” I said aloud. “Who in heavens is Margaret?”

“You got that right, mister.”

I turned to see a plucky Irish woman. She smiled at the statue. “That is St. Margaret.”

An elderly gentleman stopped and rubbed his aquiline nose. “If there are saints, she is certainly one. Angel of the Delta, we call her. She kept the Jewish Asylum for Widows and Orphans open.”

“Why that be Mother Margaret,” a young African-American spoke-up.

“Who’s mother was she?” I asked.

“My mother.” He grinned at me. “She was mother to all the orphans.”

“That’s Our Margaret, the Heroine of New Orleans,” said a grizzly-looking man leaning on a crutch to compensate for a missing leg. “That little lady took on the entire Union Army. Went toe to toe with General ‘Beast’ Butler himself.”

A man in a nice suit joined in. “That, sir, is Margaret Haughery, the Bread Lady, most successful business woman in New Orleans. Truth is, few businessmen did better.”

“Then why is she dressed so shabbily?” I looked up at the statue.

“Because that’s the way she always dressed. She lived like a pauper so she could feed all the beggars in this town. Crazy woman.” The businessman shook his head, but his voice sounded more admiring than derisive.

“She sounds like a remarkable woman,” I said. “But why does it only say ‘Margaret?’”

“Tourist, you be, eh?” The Irish woman grinned at me. “It doesn’t have to say anything else. Everyone in New Orleans knows who Margaret was.”

The small crowd I had attracted seemed most eager to tell me Margaret’s history, each of them adding this story or that recollection. I was able to piece together her biography.

Margaret’s family had left Ireland for America to escape hardship, but it just hunted them down. Margaret was left a homeless orphan at the age of nine. As was the custom of the day, she was taken in by a family as a servant “to earn her board and keep.” Margaret never learned to read and write, but she did learn to work.

At twenty-one she married Charles Haughery. He was a sickly man, so they moved from Baltimore to the warmer climate of New Orleans. It didn’t help. At twenty-three Margaret became a widow and single mother. A few months later she lost her baby, too.

Her world in shambles, Margaret took all that well-deserved self-pity and turned it outward. She decided to dedicate her life to feeding all the other widows and orphans of New Orleans. She did not take into account she could hardly feed herself. Worse yet, yellow fever had produced thousands of widows and orphans in this city, but that didn’t stop her.

Margaret worked hard, somehow managing two save enough to buy two cows. She started delivering milk. Soon she had a dairy with forty cows. She gave the orphan asylums a generous discount. When even that was too much, she just gave them the milk.

She became a baker, starting the first “steam and mechanical” bakery in the south. It wasn’t so much a bakery as a bread factory. Selling millions of loaves, she gave bread away to anyone who couldn’t pay. She even gave bread to winos, although she did break the loves in half so they couldn’t sell them to buy more alcohol.

During the Civil War, New Orleans was occupied by the Union Army, and under the thumb of General Benjamin Butler. He censored the local newspapers, closed churches and arrested ministers who refused to pray for Lincoln, and hung a man for tearing down an American flag. Most controversial was his law that any lady who showed any contempt for a Union soldier would be treated as a prostitute. This horrified the genteel Southerners and earned him the nickname “the Beast.”

Butler also put in a strict curfews and barriers. When Margaret broke them to deliver bread and milk to the poor, she was arrested and brought before Butler. He told her to obey the law or she would be shot or hung. Margaret looked him in the eye and said, “So, does Lincoln want the poor to starve?” Butler replied "You are not to go through the picket lines without my permission, is that clear?" Then looking into that fearless face he added, “All right, you have my permission.”

Margaret’s businesses did not suffer after the war like so many, but continued to grow. She started four orphanages. Other orphanages and poor asylums she gave generously to, regardless of color, nationality or religion. It’s estimated she gave over $600,000 to charity, back when that was a huge fortune.

Even the rich owed her, for many came to her for business advice, that helped them to get richer.

Three years ago, Margaret died at the age of sixty-nine. She was given a state funeral and local businesses closed for a day of mourning. Among her pall-bearers was the mayor and governor. The crowd could not fit into the church, but spilled out of it for a block.

The grieving city decided to build her a memorial. Rather than something grandiose, a lifelike statue of Margaret was decided upon. No large sums of money were accepted, so everyone could have a part in contributing. $6,000 was raised in nickels and dimes. The statue was unveiled July of last year by the orphans.

Several people assured me this was the first statue erected for a woman in the United States. I did some research and found it’s really the second. It is certainly the first for a female philanthropist and the first for a woman in the south.

My history teachers drifted off, going about their business. I continued to study the statue. No, it wasn’t a beautiful young woman personifying a lofty idea. Instead it was an beautiful old lady personifying several lofty ideas.

Pity I am too late to meet Margaret Haughery. Perhaps another time. If I ever return to New Orleans in an earlier year, I will certainly have to look her up. Maybe I can get her to take a break for a few minutes, while I brew her a cup of well deserved tea.

A video on the life of Margaret - Secrets of New Orleans


The Man Who Saved the French Quarter

Today I visited Tulane University which has an interesting history. It was started in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana. It added a law college in 1847 and the state made it the University of Louisiana. Academic departments were added and the University kept growing.

Then the Civil War came. The University was shut down in 1861. When it was reopened in 1865, Louisiana was on hard times and was having a difficult time keeping the university open. That was when Paul Tulane, a local businessman stepped in with a generous donation...so generous they renamed the school Tulane University of Louisiana. Last year it became the only American university to convert from state public to private.

Tulane University will recover and grow--so much so that they will move the campus uptown. That’s why I’m here, to record the current campus.

Well, that’s only part of why I’m here. 27th century Tulane asked me to find their most famous professor, William Woodward. Although only twenty-five, and a Yankee from Massachusetts, he was hired last year to teach fine art, as well as mechanical and architectural drawing.

Woodward is already taking a keen interest in the unique architecture of the French Quarter. He will preserve old New Orleans in his hundreds of paintings, drawings and etchings, capturing the buildings before they are torn down.

However, he will also save the French Quarter in a more concrete sense. In 1895, his campaign will stop the Cabildo from being demolished. He will spearhead a movement to eventually save all of the remaining French Quarter, when laws are passed in the 1920s to make destruction of these historic buildings illegal.

In 1894 William Woodward will found the architecture school of Tulane University and expand its art programs. He will be retire after a tumor removal will leave him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He will move to Biloxi, Mississippi and continue to paint and etch, this time of the Gulf Coast, until his death in 1939.

Here are a few of Williams Woodward’s paintings of the French Quarter of New Orleans. No one captured it like he did.

Poydras Market

Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street

Newcomb College Chapel

Jackson Square

The French Market


Prince of the Waltz

Here at the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exhibition, in the middle of the Main Building, is a large concert hall. Of all the entertainers, the Mexican Brass Band seems to be the most popular with both visitors and locals. I decided to check them out.

I was expecting a small Mariachi Band, but this was a full size European style band with some string instruments. (Not unusual with brass bands in this period.)

The band leader announced that they would play a waltz, “Sobre las olas,” composed by one of their musicians. He had a violinist, of about seventeen, get up and take a bow. The band then began to play “Uber den Wellen.” My mouth flew open. This is one of the most famous waltzes in the world. I thought Johann Strauss II had written it.

Did the kid lie and just con the band leader into thinking he had composed it? No, surely the conductor would be familiar enough with Strauss’s waltzes to know he had been duped.

When the concert was finished I hunted the boy down to get his story. My Spanish is poor at best, but I was able to procure one of the other musicians who spoke English as my translator.

The kid said his name was José Juventino Policarpo Rosas Cadenas but he just went by Juventino Rosas. He was born to a poor Otomi Indian family. He bragged that his father, Jesus, had fought against the imperial forces of Maximillian of Hapsburg, freeing Mexico. He said his father taught him to play the violin. Rosas claimed he got his musical talent from his father. If that’s true he gave his son a far greater legacy than money.

Rosas’ musical ability was earning him a living at the age of seven. By the time he was twelve he was playing violin in a popular dance band in Mexico City. Now he was a member of the band representing Mexico at the World’s Fair.

Last year, at only 16, Rosas published what would be his most popular piece, Sobre las olas (Over the Waves,) here in New Orleans. (He will later publish the song in Mexico in 1888 and Europe in 1891, which has given a lot of confusion as to the official publishing date.) Rosas said he had been writing music since he was a child. I didn’t point out that he wasn’t an adult yet.

Rosas said he wanted to be a band leader someday. I later checked the historical records on my computer and found he will get his dream and tour the world. He will write 92 music pieces, making him one of Mexico’s greatest composers, if not the greatest. His hometown of Santa Cruz de Galeana will be renamed Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas in his memory.

“Over the Waves” appear in concerts of Viennese waltzes, few realizing it’s not Austrian. It will also become a favorite with Tejano (Tex-Mex) bands, bluegrass fiddlers and is already drifting into New Orleans streets where it will evolve into Dixieland Jazz. Carousel horses will dance to it and circus trapeze artists will perform to it. The song will be an international hit and will survive into the 27th century. And few will ever be aware that this classic waltz was written by a Mexican teenager.

It’s a pity Rosas will die at the age of 26, contracting spinal myelitis while on tour. If only he could have lived longer. How much music did the world lose with his untimely death?

Over the Waves as a classic waltz: Sobre las olas

New Orleans fell in love with the song. This is their version:
The New Orleans Excelsior Brass Band


World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition - Horticultural Hall

New Orleans - 27th February, 1885

Horticultural Hall was built exclusively for the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exhibition. While the Main Building has vegetable exhibits, this has fruit exhibits from all the states, territories and even other countries.

What is really impressive are the plant specimens from all over the world. They claim to have the largest collection of cactus and aloe ever assembled, including 20 foot cactus from Arizona. There are all kinds of trees, including a Eucalyptus, cocoanut, cinnamon, camphor, banana, coffee, breadfruit, and a 30 foot date palm, not to mention pines and fruit trees. There are over 100 varieties of orchids. There is also ferns, pineapple, cotton plants and--oh, yes, my favorite--the tea bush.

This lovely greenhouse will survive the fair and not be sold for scrap like the rest of the buildings. It will become part of Audubon Park, named for former New Orleans resident, John James Audubon, the artist and naturalist. The produce displays will disappear, but the plants will stay. The name Horticultural Hall will stay, too. Sadly the Hurricane of 1915 will destroy the building.


World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition - Foreign Countries Exhibits

20 February 1885

World’s Fairs were called fairs because they were modeled on the old county fairs where farmers would show off their livestock and produce, and commercial fairs where companies would display their products to potential buyers. In fact many items on display at this world’s fair have price tags on them. The exhibits of various nations are no exception.

Even so there are some countries already following the future trend of presenting their culture and accomplishments rather than treating this like a trade show. By the next century the nations will be competing to see who can build the most impressive, beautiful and technically advanced exhibits in their own separate pavilions. Even the companies will jump on this bandwagon.

For now the World’s Fairs still look like fairs. Some of the displays show the native artists or industries. More than one is nothing more than commercial displays as foreign companies take advantage of this opportunity to introduce their products to an American market.

I won’t go into too much detail about everything I saw, least I put you to sleep, so I will only tell what impressed me most about each exhibit.

Russia - There was a large collection wooden ware painted in vibrant colors by peasants. Since there’s little that can be done during the long winter months, the peasants have plenty of practice to get quite proficient.

Belgium - Beautiful handmade laces, one worth $2,000.

Italy - Lots of jewelry in glass, shell, coral, semi-precious stone, and precious metals. The cameos are especially noteworthy.

France - Lots of artistic bronzes, the most memorable being the one of Don Quixote. Turns out this one is really only paper mache.

England - Slag ware. Shows how useless slag left over from iron ore smelting can be utilized rather than thrown away. However, most of the exhibit is taken up by Felix & Wayman, one of London’s most exclusive furniture makers. They have replicas from various periods. It is a nice display, and since everything is for sale, they hoped to make a nice profit. Thought the slag ware is more important. Unfortunately recycling has not come into vogue yet..

Jamaica - Features the products of the island: cocoanuts, nutmeg, rum. Also 200 medicinal plants, including the newly discovered wonder drug: cocoa-leaves (cocaine). The exhibit shows how it can be used as a local anesthetic by being applied to the skin to make it numb. At least that is safer than ingesting it.

Siam - This entire display shows how the native women spun and wove cotton by hand. It includes the wooden implements and finished product. Of all the exhibits Siam did the best job keeping to the theme of the fair.

Germany - Sterling silver and precious stones. Yes, Germany, we know you are rich and powerful.

Republic of Honduras - Shows the plants from which chocolate, coffee and gum come from. We are so used to seeing the finished products that it’s a shock to see them in their raw state.

Japan - Bronze and hand-painted porcelain vases. Every one a work of art.

China - Large display on its own cotton industry. It has mannequins dressed in native costumes: a peasant bride, a widow dressed in white (their color of mourning), the yellow robes of a Buddhist monk, and others. Also shows the inventive ways they use bamboo.

British Honduras - Features the native mahogany and other woods. Shows products made from them from modern inlaid tables to primitive canoes.

Guatemala - Shows the native products including manatee rawhide. (How can you kill such a harmless creature with those big eyes?) They also displayed a species of bird that they call “Liberty.” They claim that it is so proud of its plumage that if it loses one feather, it will die. (Molting season must be horrific.)

Brazil - Many other countries showed off their coffee, but Brazil features nothing else. It’s major purpose is to demonstrate that most “genuine” Java and Mocha coffee is really from Brazil. It also categorizes coffee by grade and types. I am now an “expert” on coffee. Pity I can’t stand the vile concoction.

Mexico - They may well have the largest exhibit of the foreign countries. They not only highlight native arts and crafts, but have wax models showing scenes from daily life. I liked the one of the woman making tortillas.

Mexico also built a lovely octagonal building on the fairgrounds. I personally think Mexico may have gone all out to at this fair so she will never again considered a target for empire builders. Spain, America and France have all had their turn at Mexico, and she’s not going to put up with it anymore. Can’t say I blame her.


World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition - The Commercial Exhibits

19 February 1885

Today I visited the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. That’s too much of a mouthful so everyone is just calling it the World’s Cotton Centennial. World’s Fairs are another of the Victorian Age’s contributions, created so nations could show off how much more advanced and successful they were than other nations.

This fair got its name from the fact that in 1784 New Orleans exported to England its first shipment of cotton. At least that was the earliest record they could find. New Orleans is the home of the Cotton Exchange and one third of the cotton America produces is shipped from her ports, both north and overseas. I think the name is really in answer to Atlanta, Georgia’s International Cotton Exposition they held in 1881. New Orleans considers itself the real Cotton Capital and is a bit miffed that Atlanta would even dare suggest that it held that title.

The World’s Cotton Centennial is built on 249 acres just southeast of the city center. Not only is it near the railway station, it’s also next to the Mississippi River with docks. Visitors can come by horse-drawn tram, train, steamboat and even ocean-going ships. The site was once the home of the oldest plantation in the area. The construction workers spared what trees they could, and there is an ancient stand of oaks draped with Spanish moss near the river. Someday this will all become Audubon Park. Looking around at the gay surroundings, it’s hard to imagine this was once the site of so much misery as slaves toiled under the sun and the whip.

New Orleans decided to hold the fair in the cooler winter months rather than the summer as most World Fairs do. The fair opened 16 December 1884, two weeks behind schedule. I understand things are not going well financially. The fair committee has made some bad decisions, the worst being choosing state treasurer, Edward Burke as the Fair Director. Mr. Burke pocketed $1,777,000 (most of the fair’s treasury) and ran away to Brazil. I know this may not seem like a lot of money in the 27th century, but that would have made several men rich in 1884.

Despite this terrible setback, the Fair Committee did a upstanding job. The Main Building covers 33 acres (1,378 x 905 feet) and is the largest roofed structure yet. It is illuminated with 5,000 “new-fangled” light bulbs--ten times the number now in the rest of New Orleans.

The other large buildings are:
- The U.S. Building (565 x 885 feet) - devoted to U.S. and State exhibits
- Horticultural Hall (194 x 600 feet)
- The Mexican Building (190 x 300 feet)
- Art Gallery (100 x 250 feet)
- Factories and Mills Building (150 x 250 feet) - featuring the manufacturing of cotton products.

There are other smaller buildings, such as livestock stables and company pavilions.

My mission here is to record everything at the fair from as many angles as possible so the University of New Orleans can produce a virtual replica. I’m also recording the sounds around me.

Today I tackled the main building. In the center is the music hall with a stage and hundreds of seats. On either side are the foreign country exhibits. Beyond is the Machinery Hall with such wonders as refrigerators and ice making machines. There is also a hall devoted to the latest in farm implements.

I started with the commercial exhibits of hundreds of manufacturers, from Valentine Meat Juice Co. to Egyptian Chemical Co., Embalming Materials. Most of these companies are long gone, but I occasionally found one that will survive at least into the next century (some with slight changes to their names): Western Union Telegraph; Goodyear Rubber Co. (Goodyear Tires); Walter Baker & Co. Chocolate & Cocoa (Baker’s Chocolate); Morris Tobacco Works (Philip Morris); Elgin Watch Co.; Arm and Hammer Brand Soda; Heinz Bros. Pickles; Edison Light Co. (G.E.); and Deere, Mansur & Co. Farm Implements and Machinery (John Deere Tractors.)

My favorite commercial exhibit is Ho-No Tea. Their pavilion is made of bamboo with a Chinese dragon on top. The proprietor said the dragon spouts fire at night. I plan to go back and see that. Best of all is they give everyone who stops by a free cup of tea. Excellent tea it is, too.

Tomorrow I shall visit the foreign country exhibits and try to give you a brief synopsis. Can’t wait to see what Great Britain is showing off.


One of New Orleans' Greatest Artists

16 February 1885 - New Orleans, Louisiana

Today while walking through Treme I came upon a little boy about four years old. At first I wondered what a "white" boy so young was doing in the neighborhood set aside for “colored” people. Then I recalled what Dr. Isaac Franklin had said about the silly race line. The boy’s kinky black hair hinted at distant African ancestry.

What intrigued me most about the child was his activity. He was drawing pictures on a fence with a piece of charcoal, with all the seriousness of a Rembrandt. Taking the child’s age to account, they were remarkably good. The figures had personality and were quite amusing.

I was so intense in studying these lively drawings that I didn’t notice where the pale woman came from that suddenly grabbed the child. “George! George Joseph Herriman! I told you to stay in the yard.”

The child looked abashed. “Aw, Ma!”

“What are you doing to the Browns’ fence? Cats? You’re always drawing silly pictures of crazy cats. You go get a bucket and brush and wash it off.”

The woman took the boy by the hand and marched him off.

George Joseph Herriman? Crazy cats? Why did that ring a bell? I pulled out my pocket Bible, flipped it open and clicked my tongue to turn on my computer. “George Joseph Herriman,” I said.

I was amazed at what came up on my screen. George Herriman was one of the greatest cartoonists of the twentieth century. He had been born in New Orleans but his father decided to take the family west to Los Angeles when George was about ten. Jim Crow laws will get worse in the 1890’s. Away from the South they could “cross the color line.”

At seventeen Herriman started working for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner as a illustrator and cartoonist. Herriman had over a dozen comic strips until he came up with a hit called “The Family Upstairs.” What made it such a hit was the going-ons between the family cat and a mouse he drew in the margins. They got their own strip in 1913--”Krazy Kat.”

The basic premise of the comic stirp went like this: Krazy Kat loved Ignatz the mouse. Ignatz was so repulsed by this that he threw bricks at Krazy which she took as tokens of his love. Offisa Pup, who loved the innocent cat, would drag Ignatz off to jail. I know it sounds like a poor premise for a comic strip, but Herriman was an artist and poet.

His dialogue was drawn from the speech patterns of Creoles, immigrants, and others--the language of America. His landscapes were based on the mesas and flora of Coconino County, Arizona. Even Krazy Kat’s gender was ambiguous, being called both “he” and “she.” Herriman explained Krazy was something of a sprite and they don't have a sex. Although the strip was abstract in both execution and writing, it was whimsical enough to keep it from being bizarre and jarring.

Many complained they just didn’t get it. However, the strip was applauded by artists, art-lovers and intellectuals. Most importantly Herriman’s biggest fan was his boss, William Randolph Hearst. Krazy Kat ran until Herriman’s death in 1944. Hearst normally would turn comic strips over to new cartoonists, but Krazy Kat died with her creator. Who could possibly fill Herriman’s shoes?

I carefully recorded the sketches from Herriman’s imagination before the budding artist returned to wash them off the fence. Not often one gets to witness a great master at work.

A collection of early Krazy Kat Comics
The Comic Strip Library

A claymation of Krazy Kat that captures the spirit of the strip
Krazy Kat

Click on Comic Strip above, then click again to enlarge.