A Few Hours in New Orleans

We only had this morning and afternoon to wander around New Orleans on our own before joining the group for a Fireside Chat with Doris Kearns Goodwin this evening. We decided to stay close to the hotel, starting with a quick exploration of the three buildings we could see from our room.

The building on the left is Soule College, one of the first business schools in the country, established in 1856 to teach “practical business skills” rather than create MBAs. Google Maps shows it as “now closed” – it moved away from this spot in 1923! The building is now the Louisiana Bar Center and has some law offices in it.

The middle building is Gallier Hall, a former New Orleans City Hall and current event venue.

And the building on the right is the New Orleans branch of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank; they have a small exhibit and museum about money, trade, and commerce in New Orleans through the years. It was worth dropping in and seeing it, but it wasn’t very photogenic. Nor was the building.

We stopped at the hotel to drop off the packet of money that the Fed gave us (shredded, of course), and walked a few blocks to the French Quarter. I noticed the old United Fruit Company building on our way; I hope the renovation keeps it beautiful.

Speaking of renovations, our son Jeff warned us to beware of tilted sidewalks in New Orleans. They fixed up the ones in the French Quarter 40 years ago…it’s time to do it again.

We walked down Royal Street, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells (pleasant ones, unlike Bourbon Street early in the morning), en route to The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC).

THNOC has a permanent exhibition on New Orleans history, and a temporary exhibit space, currently devoted to Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art and Fraternal Organizations of New Orleans. We could have spent all day there, especially in the permanent exhibition. I didn’t know that Robert Moses had proposed building an expressway around the French Quarter’s waterfront – fortunately, locals rallied and got the Transportation Department to refuse to fund it!

The exhibit on Masonic and Odd Fellows folk art was fascinating, too, but somehow the only picture I have is one of an Odd Fellows’ Ark of the Covenant.

I’d asked one of the THNOC staffers to recommend a nearby restaurant for a nice but not extravagant lunch where shellfish would not be required and she suggested Napoleon House, a bit over a block away. It was a great choice; it’s been around for 110 years and is popular with locals, not just tourists. We had Pimm’s Cups and pastrami po-boys, along with Zapp’s Potato Chips, making lunch a real New Orleans experience. We sat, ate, and watched the rain come down in buckets; it was still raining when we finished, so we ordered a couple of cappuccinos, which kept us long enough for the rain to end.

Our next stop was the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (Jeff recommended we visit it). It’s small (two rooms) and crammed with voodoo facts and artifacts, like this African Voodoo Shrine Totem Pole, a display of voodoo dolls (with explanations), and a magic mirror (spirits live on the underside of mirrors and use them as portals to enter the physical world during rituals).

This banner is used in New Orleans Voodoo Cemetery Rituals to honor the Ancestors. It’s 100 years old and filled with Masonic symbols.

We left the museum and walked back to our hotel, stopping briefly at the Hilton across the street which had originally been built as a Masonic Grand Lodge.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Fireside Chat was quite interesting; she talked about how she got interested in history (baseball scores!), her time working as a White House Fellow for LBJ and getting to help him with his memoirs after he left office, her life with her husband (who had been one of JFK’s speechwriters), and much more. And then we got to have dinner with her in a small group; I think we were the only non-lawyers in the group! She was a great conversationalist, and I’m looking forward to reading her new book, An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s when it comes out next month. Somehow, the entire dinner passed without anyone taking out a phone, so we didn’t get a photo with her!