Rampart Street and Its Vicinity — St. Louis Cemeteries — Congo Square — The Voudoos — The Barefooted Nuns

North Rampart Street is the handsome Avenue, with a neutral ground shaded by trees, beginning four squares beyond the Rue Royal at Canal Streets It was the ancient limits of the city laid out by Bienville, and was called "Rampart" because a strong redoubt ran along it in old Creole days.
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As the city spread beyond its primitive limits, Rampart Street became a fashionable residence avenue. The moat which ran along the center of the neutral ground, or present car track, was filled in, and beautiful shade trees were planted along the way on either side, as far as the intersection of Esplanade Avenue.

Rampart is an interesting street, not only in itself, but on account of the many curious old side streets which cross it, and whose songs and stories read like wild romance in these realistic days. From the quaint old mortuary chapel where Pere Antoine used to chant the litany of the dead, to the cloistered monastery, where barefooted nuns, by night and day keep vigils of prayer for the sins of the "Vieux Carre," Rampart Street is full of historic interest and legendary lore.

Though it was such an ancient Creole boundary, as time went on Rampart Street became a fashionable residence quarter, and "Americans," too, sought to have their homes in the old street. On the lake side, just adjoining the large pharmacy on the Canal Street corner, there dwelt for many years, while she made New Orleans her home, Mrs. Sallie Ward Hunt, the famous Kentucky belle of old Southern days. The house may be known by the curious old porch jutting out on the banquette with a spiral iron stairway leading up.

Adjoining it is the home in which the celebrated Madame Octavia Walton Levert, the feminine literary genius, of antebellum days, lived when visiting New Orleans.

At 203 North Rampart Street, the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital will be observed. At No. 224 is the handsome home of the Young Men's Gymnastic Club. Admission is by card. The club possesses very elaborate marble bath and swimming tanks and a magnificent gymnasium.

The quaint little Church of St. Anthony of Padua stands on the corner off Conti and Rampart Streets. This is the ancient Mortuary Chapel of Old New Orleans.

St. Louis Cemeteries

There is an old Spanish law still observed in the American colonies that once belonged to Spain, that forbade the burial of the dead from the Cathedral churches. When the Episcopal See of New Orleans was founded in 1793, and the beautiful old edifice erected by Don Almonaster facing the Place d'Armes was advanced to the dignity of a cathedral, it became necessary to have a church for the celebration of services over the dead. This chapel, which is a pure type of the old mortuary chapels of Spain, was built, and dedicated to this purpose. After the close of the Civil War the chapel was diverted from its primitive uses and made a parish church, with Father Turgis, the famous Confederate chaplain of the Pointe Coupee' Regiment, as its first pastor. In the curious old house around the corner, with the quaint balcony reaching far out on the sidewalk, Father Turgis lived, and here the survivors of the old regiment used to gather evening after evening to share his humble hospitality and talk over the dead days. After Father Turgis' death the Church was used as a special place of worship for Italians. Recently the Dominican Friars were given charge of it, Rev. Thomas Lorente, lately of St. Thomas University, Manila, being the first Dominican Rector. Many of the foreign customs of the churches in Italy prevail here. The shrine of St. Anthony and St. Bartholomew surrounded by lighted tapers and "ex voto" offerings in thanksgiving for favors received, are peculiarly foreign in appearance.

Just over the way from St. Anthony's Church is an old building erected in 1822 as a synagogue for early Jewish emigrants. Upon the consolidation of the congregation in 1878, with that of the "Dispersed of Judah," who worshiped in the building on Carondelet street, near Julia, above Canal Street, the edifice in Rampart Street was put on the market for sale. It is now used as a laundry.

The next corner is St. Louis Street, and right here while doing Rampart Street in its vicinity, the tourist will do well to turn into this ancient thoroughfare, which still bears the name given it by the loyal-hearted Bienville, and view the first of which, lying at the corner of North Basin, is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. St. Louis Nos. 2 and 3 are in the immediate vicinity. These are the ancient burying grounds of the old "Carre." They are very foreign-looking, very quaint and picturesque. A brief history of each is given in the chapter on "Cemeteries," to which the follower of this Guide is directed to turn at this particular point.

Passing from these ancient cemeteries, where have been sleeping these hundred years the old French and Spanish noblesse who gave to New Orleans its history and name, the tourist again enters St. Louis Street, and at the corner the "Old Basin,"

with its curious freight of oyster luggers and charcoal schooners, discharging their cargoes, bursts upon the view. The Basin is the terminus of the Carondelet Canal, which was the monumental work of the administration of the Spanish Governor of colonial days, Baron de Carondelet. The "Carondelet Canal" extends from the Old Basin southwest to the Bayou St. John, in the Second District. The banks are called the "Carondelet Walk." The canal was dug by orders of Carondelet for the purpose of draining the vast swamps in the rear of the city. He also thought that by bringing the waters of the Bayou St, John into a "basin" close to the city "ramparts" he would greatly facilitate the commerce of New Orleans. In recognition of his work the "Cabildo" bestowed his name upon the canal and its banks. The Old Basin is large and square, and occupies the area between St. Claude and North Franklin Streets, Carondelet Walk and Toulouse. The canal empties at Hagan Avenue into the Bayou St. John, by which access may be had to Lake Pontchartrain at Spanish Fort. The scene along the canal and basin is at all times picturesque, and exceedingly curious and foreign-looking. It furnishes a frequent theme of study for local and visiting artists.

The New Orleans Terminal Railway, organized to build terminal railway accommodations, that will be used by other roads, recently came into possession of an extensive area of ground in the rear of the City along the Old Basin Canal, extending from Basin Street about twelve or fifteen squares along the Canal. The Railway Company expects to erect here its car yards and warehouses; it has agreed to run a track out Basin Street to Canal and at this point will put up a fine union depot. The Railway Company also expects to build a part of the Public Belt Railroad, along the river front, and will have close connections with other railroads. It has bought up an extensive tract in the Parish of St. Bernard, and expects to build wharves for the loading of grain, cotton, etc., with wharf room for about twenty-five vessels.

The scene along the banks from St. Louis Street to Toulouse, where the Dagoes have their "luger landing," is particularly unique. From Toulouse it if just one square to Rampart Street, and the tourist finds himself again at his point of departure.

At the southwest corner of Rampart and Toulouse stands a high three-storied brick building, with iron verandas. This was known during the period of the early American domination as the "Cafe des Ameliorations," and was to the old New Orleans of that day what the famous "Cafe des Exiles" and the "Cafe des Enfants Fideles" were to French and Spanish New Orleans of a more remote period. At the "Cafe' des Ameliorations" the old Creole gentlemen discontented and alarmed at the growing power of the "Americans," used to meet and discuss questions for the amelioration of their "dear city," and its rescue from the hands of the invaders. Here they used to weekly concoct plans for the overthrow of the government, the arrest of the State officials, and the assertion of the supremacy of the Creoles. All this reads like a romance now, but it was very real to the Creoles of those days, this question of absolute American domination.

Congo Square

And now you are in that section of New Orleans around which cling wild superstitions and legends of fetish worship, echoes of weird music and visions of ghostly figures dancing the wild "Congo" of their native plains; of negroes gathering in the dead hours of the night while the old Faubourg slumbered on, to work their charms and spells and offer tribute to their idol "The Grand Zombi." For the large open area on the west side of Rampart Street, between St. Peter and St. Ann, is the ancient Congo Square, the "Place des Negres," or Negro Square, the great holiday place of the slaves. In early Creole and later ante-bellum times; the spot, 'too, in which by night the awful worship of "the serpent" took place. Sunday evening was the great holiday for the negroes in slavery times; for this one evening they enjoyed almost absolute freedom to go and come as they pleased. On Sunday evenings, therefore, decked in their most gorgeous colors and many of them wearing the cast-off finery of their masters and mistresses, the negroes of both sexes used to assemble by the thousands under the shade of the sycamore trees of the "Congo Plains" as they termed the square and the woods beyond, to dance the wild "Bamboula," or the gay "Calinda, Badoum! Badoum!" Every Sunday afternoon the "Bamboula dancers" were summoned to a woodyard on Dumaine Street, by a sort of drum roll effected by rattling the ends of two huge bones on the head of a cask. The male dancers fastened little bits of tin or metal to ribbons tied about their ankles. These rattles were very much like the strings of copper "gris-gris," worn by the native Soudans. After the Congo Plains were built up the dances were restricted to the square. Of a Sunday evening it presented a most picturesque and animated scene with its hundreds of dusky dancers, singing their quaint half-Congo, half-Creole songs. Hundreds of the best whites, lured by the fascinating, curious rhythm, sung to the beating of the "tan-tam," used to promenade in the vicinity of the square to see the negroes dance "Congo." In the center of the square stood a cannon which was fired promptly at 9 o'clock. This was the signal for dispersal and the revelers would troop merrily homeward, singing as they went, "Bon soir, danse'! Soleil CoucheV' or "Good night dance; the sun is set. But this did not trouble them much, for they knew the sun would rise next Sunday, after their week's labor was over, and they would have another holiday. Such was the happy, joyous life of the slaves in the old days.

The Voudous

But as might have been already inferred, Congo Square did not always present such an innocent scene of merry, careless pastime. Rather does its name suggest to the natives of the present day the memory of ghostly stories of wild revelry of witches and bacchanals, and of a mysterious fetish worship, so strange, so awful, that for upwards of a hundred years it exerted over the minds of the ignorant of both races, a sway as powerful and tragic as that of witchcraft in the mediaeval ages. For in Congo Square were held the weird Voudoo Rites, or worship of the serpent. This awful fetish worship was brought to New Orleans by the negro slaves who faithfully followed the fortunes of their 'masters after the San Domingo revolution. The worship was introduced into Haiti and San Domingo by the Congo negroes who dwelt on the western plains of Africa. The term "Voudoo" is a corruption of the Haytien "vaudaux," softened by the Creole lingo and further corrupted by the negroes into "hoodoo." To be a "Voudoo" was an awful term of reproach among the negroes, for a "Voudoo" was supposed to be in direct communication and league with the spirit of darkness for the propagation of evil. The "Grand Zombi," or serpent, was the peculiar object of worship and was guarded as sacred by their queen and high-priestess, Marie Laveau, "in an exquisitely carved box of alabaster in her own bedchamber." The Voudoos first held their orgies in the Congo Plains, which used to embrace Congo Square. They met at the midnight hour to work their spells, while the French Quarter slept; yet many a master and mistress awoke in the morning happily unconscious of the fact that their favorite slave had perhaps danced with the Voudoos that night. The Voudoos believed Congo Square to be a charmed spot, which the Grand Zombi had chosen for his favorite haunt; and though it has been many, many a year since they have dared to hold a dance there, occasionally some fowl or bird finely roasted with needles and pins stuck all over it, and dimes and nickels arranged around the dish is placed in the middle of the square at the midnight hour, as an offering to the voudoo spirit, and miniature coffins and lighted candles are found on the doorsteps of houses, showing that though the once powerful cult has been rigidly suppressed by law, remnants of its followers still exist in New Orleans. St. John's Eve, June 24, was the great Voudoo festival. After the Congo Plains were laid out into streets, and the square itself placed under such strict police surveillance, the Voudoos used to assemble on the banks of the Bayou St. John, just where the waters meet the dreary swamp land. In this wild and dismal spot they used to erect their altars and sing their weird unearthly chants while they danced the wild "Dance of the Serpent" around the boiling pot. This pot contained bits of the skins of alligators, frogs and snakes from the bayou beyond, pieces of human hair, fingernails and toe nails; the higher the flames leaped in the air the wilder the dance, and when the flickering fire began to die out these skins were laid on the altar of the serpent and then distributed among the Voudoos. They became the famous "gris-gris" charms with which they were Supposed to work out their evil designs.

Just around the corner there stood until recently, on St. Ann Street, between Rampart and Burgundy Streets, the ancient homestead of Marie Laveau, the Voudoo Queen.

For upwards of eighty years this woman was the high priestess of the Voudoos and held them at her' beck and call. Though the cult was a secret one, she numbered her followers by. the thousands, and only a voudoo knew positively who her associates were. Not that the negroes as a body, were members of this particular sect; on the contrary so great was the terror inspired by the name that to be known as a "Voudoo" was to be ostracized from all intercourse with the respectable colored element whether free or slaves. Marie Laveau was not a quadroon nor yet a mulatto, she was not as fair as the one nor as dark as the other. But in her youth she was said to have been very tall, majestic and beautiful, and easily swayed her subjects by her magnetic eye. Two years ago the old homestead, built 200 years ago and held together by nails that were veritable spikes, was demolished. Seven generations of Laveaus were born and reared within its walls, for Marie Laveau's mother before her had been the Voudoo Queen, and so had her grandmother. In this home was shown for many years by the Voudoo Queen's only surviving daughter, the famous shawl sent to Marie Laveau by the Emperor of China seventy-five years back. It was of softest silk, and it was in this shawl that tradition says she used to dance the wild "Dance of the Serpent." Marie Laveau died within the last two decades. She repented before her death and died a Christian.

Before leaving this romantic section the tourist should cross to Orleans Street, where just behind the square used to stand the old Parish Prison. For sixty-one years it squatted in gray grandeur, gloomy and forbidding in the square bounded by Orleans, Marais, St. Ann and Treme" Streets. In 1895 the city built a new prison and jail house, in Tulane Avenue, and the old structure was torn down. Many associations were linked with the antiquated prison and there was perhaps no building in the United States to which so varied a criminal history was attached. It was utilized in the sixties as a military prison, and was subsequently the scene of many memorable executions, chief among which was the celebrated Mafia Lynching.

On March 14, 1891, when two Italians were hung outside of the prison and nine others were shot to death in various parts of the building. These men and eight others were charged with the assassination of David C. Hennessy, Superintendent of Police, on October 15, 1890. Of the Italians indicted for the crime nine had been placed upon trial on February 16, and of these the jury, which had been corruptly influenced, acquitted six, a mistrial resulting as to the other three. Of the men lynched five were awaiting trial. The lynching led to international complications, and resulted in the payment by the United States of heavy damages to the relatives of the slaughtered men. The Mafia, it should be said, is a secret society of Italians, Corsicans and Sicilians.

Just beyond the site of the ancient prison the towers of the Treme Market rise in view. The market was built on a portion of the Congo Plains, and named for Mon. Treme a wealthy Creole citizen, who purchased much land in that section when the old wilderness was cleared and cut into streets. The market was intended to supplement the French Market in that section.

The ornate, two-storied brick structure between Dumaine and St. Philip is the Hall of the Union Franchise. The celebrated French Literary Society, "L'Athenne Louisianais," holds its meetings here.

And now you are away from echoes of old superstitions, in the gay, laughing heart of the social life of the French Quarter of to-day. Over the street float the echoes of piano and guitar, and the rich voice of some beautiful girl singing that favorite chanson of the old "carrey' "Zozo Moquer."

The large two-storied structure standing out upon the banquette in the center of the square on the east side of Rampart Street, between Ursulines and St. Philip, is the ancient home of the Lafitte family. The gallery, with its immense fluted columns, is a typical Southern mansion of later Creole days, at may be noticed all along the Rue Esplanade.

At the corner of Rampart and Hospital streets, diverge one square toward the lake side, and at the corner of Hospital and St. Claude Streets, see the old St. Augustine's Church. This site was formerly an open stretch of land, upon which stood the historic Orleans College. One of the first acts of the American reconstruction, in 1804, was to incorporate by act of Legislature an "English College" for the education of the Creole youth, and to obviate the necessity of sending young men to Paris for higher study as heretofore. Latin, Greek and French were fundamental studies in the institution.

A tradition of the Old Quarter is the memory of Monsieur D'Avezac, who was the first President of the College. He was a great classical scholar and was noted for his translation of Sir Walter Scott's "Marmion" into French. Scott wrote back a beautiful autograph letter telling how pleased he was with the "perfect translation." This letter is religiously preserved by the descendants of Monsieur D'Avezac in New Orleans. Monsieur D'Avezac was so polished in Latin and Greek, and so famous for his ponderous quotations from these languages that his young collegians used to call him "Titus." Monsieur Rochefort, another professor, was noted for his graceful translation of Horace Into French. It was the boast of the "Faubourg" that his "boys" used to walk the Quarter quoting the odes so faithfully that even the little "niggers" were imbued with Horace, from hearing their young masters descant so much upon him. Racine and Corneille and the Greek tragedies (translated into beautiful French) were served with breakfast in the French Quarter in the first decade and a half of the nineteenth century. The college had a "day school" for children who were unable to pay board, and a free or charity department," the pupils of which were chosen by the trustees. The Creole mothers of New Orleans broke up the college. In 1818 Joseph Lakanal, a member of the French Institute, whom Napoleon had appointed President of the Bonaparte Lyceum, came as a refugee to New Orleans and was called to fill a vacancy in the college directorate. Lakanal was an atheist and an ex-priest; this fact became known, and the first public Meeting of Women in New Orleans resulted. The pious Creole mothers of New Orleans declared that "They would have no anti-Christ teach their boys; that the trustees of an institution who could appoint such a man were unfit to be intrusted with the education of youth." A mass meeting of citizens was held, as a sequel to the meeting of women; and the demand was made that the trustees rescind their action. These gentlemen persisted and the next day the great majority of the best-paying pupils were withdrawn; in fact, as the old Creoles were proud afterwards of declaring, "there were not sufficient pupils left to pay the salary of even one director." The "day school" also was obliged to close its doors, and as for the "charity contingent," the mothers of these boys also met and sent word to the directors "that they might be poor, but that they were too honest to allow their sons to meet on the same ground as Monsieur Lakanal." So perished the old Orleans College, at which the historian Gayarre, and all the most cultured gentlemen of the early American domination were educated. All that remains today is a remnant of the long old-fashioned "dormitory," now used as a tenement row. "Joseph Lakanal. le Canaille Director" is a fragment of an old Creole chanson composed in derision of the College d'Orleans at the time fell into disfavor. Lakanal was given a famous "charavari," and finding his presence so odious to New Orleans, he left the city." Then a new verse commemorating his departure was added to the old song. Upon the site of the college there rose a few years late: St. Augustine's Church, the second oldest in the French Quarter. It is very quaint and beautiful and remaining just as when erected, is worth a visit.

Just back' of the Church was erected in 1836, Mount Carmel Convent for The Higher Education of Young Ladies.

The Sisterhood is a local foundation and the school has always enjoyed this patronage of the best Creole families. Almost all the Sisterhood are native Creoles. An interesting bit of history is that the Sisters seeing the demoralisation prevailing among the quadroons and octoroons at the time of their foundation, sought to stem the current by establishing a "Pension des Demoiselles de Couleur" as a separate and distinct department. In this colored department the children of the free colored people were taught reading, writing, sewing, embroidery, fancy work and music, along with thorough moral and religious training. They returned to their homes educated, accomplished and filled with the purity and truth of life inculcated in the old convent, and many of these women are most active workers in charity and philanthropic effort among their race in New Orleans to-day. When the war was over the old "Pension des Demoiselles de Couleur" was closed forever.

Returning to Rampart Street, around the corner, near Dauphine Street, if "La Maison Hospitaliere," a home founded by Creole ladies after the war, for reduced gentlewomen.

The large brick building passed on the way back to Rampart Street, is McDonogh No. 15 School, formerly the ancient Barracks School.

It is very beautiful with its great galleries, spacious rooms and lofty Settings. The courtyard is very quaint and pretty. For many years the building stood as a type of the early public school buildings of the city. Some years ago it was renovated and enlarged through the McDonogh Public School Fund, and the new name bestowed upon it. The ancient characteristics of the school were, however, retained in the repairing and enlarging. The school is interesting to the visitor as being patronized solely by the French-speaking children and those of the other Latin races that have poured into New Orleans. In this respect McDonogh No. 15 is unique among the public schools of the city.

And now you are at the end of the old Creole street. It seems a strange coincidence that the old "Ramparts," whose first building was a church over a hundred years ago, should in these later days, harbor at its further end another church or chapel on the grounds of the dim Cloistered Monastery of Discalced Carmelites.

The Barefooted Nuns

The Monastery stands at the corner of Barracks and Rampart Streets. There are only four convents of this order in America. The one in New Orleans was founded by two cultured Creole ladies. The nuns lead the most rigorous life, wearing sackcloth next their skin, going barefooted the year round and eating nothing but vegetables and fruit. The order is a strictly cloistered one. From the moment a Carmelite pronounces her vows she never again looks upon the faces of friends. Visitors are only admitted to the chapel, or to the little reception room in the old courtyard. They may speak to the lay or outer sisters, and also to the cloistered ones if they desire prayers for themselves or others; but the cloistered nuns sit behind a grating over which a heavy black veil is nailed, and you only hear their voices, sweet and low, exhorting you to patience in trials and afflictions and greater confidence in the mercy of God.

At the Matin and Vesper Services, which are sung daily, the invisible nuns, within the grating, use the solemn Gregorian chant of ancient Catholic Rome, which is only in one key.

Across Esplanade Avenue, where the great, white building stands, called "St. Aloysius Commercial Institute," begins the new "Rampart" Street, laid out many years after the foundation of New Orleans, by Mandeville de Marigny, when he cut up his old plantation into streets and lots. It was called by him the Rue Amour or Love Street. In recent years by an act of the City Council seeking to reduce order out of the multiplicity of the names of the streets running parallel through the various old "Faubourgs," or "municipalities," and to simplify the arrangement of the city map, Love was made a continuation of Rampart Street. The old name still holds, however, with ancient residents of the "Faubourg Marigny."

- The Picayune's Guide to New Orleans (1904)
Chartres Street— The French Market and Vicinity
As Written
Rampart Street and Its Vicinity
Revised and Enlarged
Sixth Edition
Price, By Mail 30¢
At Picayune Counter 25¢
Picayune Job Print
The Picayune, New Orleans, La.


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