Blast From The Past

One of the wonderful books TBK gave me for Christmas is a history of New Orleans published in 1930 by Lyle Saxon, called “Fabulous New Orleans.” The handwritten inscription on the opening page says, “To Father from Marion & Sister, June 21, 1931.” I’m a sucker for old books — particularly when they deal with something or someone I care about. Last Christmas, she gave me a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, written while he was president. Believe me — there is nothing new in the world of revisionist history and political aggrandisement. This 190something book is full of references to TR’s almost mystical powers of clearheaded thought — at least in the eyes of the worshipful (and obviously I-voted-for-him authors. Sound familiar?

Anyway — Saxon isn’t known as a great historian. I’ve read several of his works, including his “biography” of Jean Lafitte and Old Louisiana and others. He was an overly florid writer and took tremendous liberty with the facts, easily substituting conjecture when facts are hazy. And he was also very much a product of his time. For instance, he writes (when talking about voodoo), “one must understand something of the negro’s characteristics. It must be remembered that he is intensely emotional, that he possesses a childlike credulity, that his imagination is easiliy inflamed,” etc etc. So anything he writes has to be taken with a large box of Morton iodized salt at the ready.

That said, the book contains plenty of verifiable truth — about the boundaries of the original city, the plantations and neighborhoods nearby and plenty of other stuff that’s indisputable. And, eerily, plenty of passages that sound like they could have been written only a year ago….

About public panic when Farragut’s Yankees entered the city virtually unopposed in 1862…
“Lawlessness was at its height. The warehouses were broken open and the goods scattered. Men and women broke open the doors and took what they could; hams, meat, sugar, molasses. What they could not take, they scattered on the ground. Gutters flowed molasses; sugar lay like drifted snow along the sidewalks. New Orleans was sacked by its own people.”

About the rebuilding the city after the Civil War devastated the Southern economy…
“It is probable that the city has faced greater odds than any other American city-in-the-making. And the problems were peculiar to New Orleans itself.”

Finally, about the overall battle New Orleans faced in trying to regain its pre-Civil War prominence as a trading center…
“It does not seem a picturesque struggle, for it is too near us, too much of our own times. But it is this curious quality of indestructibility which is most characteristic of New Orleans today.”

An interesting read, if you can get hold of a copy.

1 Comment so far

  1. rickngentilly (unregistered) on January 1st, 2007 @ 3:48 am

    history of new orleans is great. thats a good one.

    read as much as you can get your hands on and than distill it.

    the last few years ive been going on ebay typing in new orleans in the books search and ive gotten some real beauties.

    it’s a trip how writters have precievied us over the years.

    if you do this on a regular basis you will come up with some crazy shit.

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