A Big Easy Romance

Canal St, 1880-1897

Canal St, 1880-1897 (Library of Congress)

Canal St, 2017

Canal St, 2017

St Louis Cathedral 1800-1897

St Louis Cathedral, 1800-1897 (Library of Congress)

St Louis Cathedral, 2016

St Louis Cathedral, 2016

French Market 1800-1897

French Market, 1800-1897 (Library of Congress)

French Market 2016

French Market, 2016

Napoleon House 1800-1897

Napoleon House, 1800-1897 (Library of Congress)

Napoleon House, 2017

Napoleon House, 2017

April, 2017

It's not exactly clear when New Orleans began to be known as the ‘Paris of the South’, but there is no doubt that the romanticism captured by the writer Lafcadio Hearn played a dominant role.  

This photo essay tries to capture the look and feel of a bygone era juxtaposed with more recent images.  Some of these places (particularly in the French Quarter) captured the imagination and heart of Lafcadio Hearn and he wrote about this in his book ‘Inventing New Orleans.'

When describing Canal Street, Mr. Hearn wrote, Canal street, with its grand breadth and imposing facades, gives one recollections of London and Oxford street and Regent street (Inventing New Orleans, 7). The buildings may be a bit different but the synergy and the spirit of this world famous street is alive and well.

"The bright sun leaks drowsily through the spider webs, producing a sad, sleepy light; the monotonous cries of the boys, "cinq a dix sous, two cents apiece, Madame”, keeps on as endlessly as Tennyson’s brook, and the crowd jostles you with baskets and bundles until you drop into some neighboring stall for a bite, or make your way altogether out of the market” (Inventing New Orleans, 50).  In this passage, Mr. Hearn was describing the familiar scene that would have taken place at the Farmers Market in the late 1800’s. Today, not as much French is spoken but it is still a microcosm of the cosmopolitan and colorful scene Hearn witnessed.

Part of the romance of New Orleans is its tribute to the past. The preservation of old architecture, unique street names and the never ending sense of discovery a walk through its past creates.   Walking towards St. Louis Cathedral from Orleans Street allows you to walk in Mr. Hearn’s shoes and experience that romance.  Without doubt the evening strolls he took along this narrow corridor fed his adoration for the people and the city.

On Chartres Street, Mr. Hearn must have passed by the residence of Mayor Girod (presently Napoleon House). This mayor famously offered Napoleon Bonaparte refuge in 1821.  Given the significance of this building to the city and the country, the U.S government decided to make this place a National Historic Landmark in 1970.  Many such National Historic Landmarks exist in New Orleans and Lafcadio Hearn too has become entrenched in this city’s history and romantic folklore.


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