In what year do you think these quotes about New Orleans were delivered?
"Our city is in a state of utter hopelessness."
"Who would have believed that prosperous, gay, bragging, New Orleans would come to such grief and poverty? Business gone, money gone, population gone."
The answer is 1867. The former from Mayor Edward Heath, the latter from John W. De Forest.
In this months issue of Preservation Magazine, there is a great article (not yet online) about New Orleans after the Civil War. The city itself hired Theodore Lilienthal to photograph the city to bolster its image, the first municipally sponsored photographic survey of an American city.
While there are a few images in the article, New Orleans downtown and the American sector look very much like they do today. The author included a picture of Lake Pontchartrain at Bayou St. John - a marshy, swampy mess. The draining of and building on this land "exposed the city to flooding during Hurricane Katrina." (Aside: I guess that if someone is going to write
about New Orleans these days, they have to include the sentence "contributed to flooding in New Orleans." I do not think this rational is correct, but I do think that the wetlands around New Orleans and Louisiana need to be dealt with. Besides this, I like the article.)
The photographs were sent to be part of the World's Exposition in Paris where they garnered Lilienthal a prize and helped New Orleanians bolster their self-image. (As bizarre as this seems, the Saints may be doing this for us right now. They are helping our image though the depression and destruction lingers.)
The author, Gary Van Zante of the MIT Museum of Architecture and Design, will be publishing a book next year on Lilienthal's photographs.
ADDENDUM: The very next article in the magazine again discusses New Orleans. This article is about the reality of vacation spots, Nola being one. New Orleans, it says, maintained a thin veneer between its wealth and refinement and its hidden poverty. I say that this is nothing new to a New Orleanian. However, Gary Esolen, founder of Gambit Weekly, suggests that Katrina may have given New Orleans a chance to regain some of its authenticity. He wants the tourism industry to back off and let the city rebuild in peace so we can have a "richer, more substantial community for the people who live there." I say just get everyone back home. I think real New Orleanians got it. Bring them back, and we'll get it again.
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