New Orleans, the Metropolis of the South, stands on the right side of the Mississippi, in ascending, ninety-two miles from its mouth. The river here makes a considerable bend to the northeast, and the city occupies the northwestern side, although its situation is east of the general course of the stream.
It is in latitude 29° 57 north, longitude 90° 8' west; by the river 301 miles below Natchez; 1220 miles below St. Louis; 1040 below Cairo, at the mouth of the Ohio; 2004 below Pittsburg; and 1244 southwest from Washington city.
Slow sweeping from a bleak northwestern clime,
Where snow-storms beat and forests rise sublime,
Till, gathering strength, as southward rolls his course,
To Mexicana's Gulf descends his force;
Monarch of streams! great Mississippi flows,
While on his breast the fervid sunbeam flows.
And, rising near his disemboguing tide.
The Crescent City sits in queenly pride;
The spires ascend, a coronet on high,
Her gardens bloom with every floral dye;
Her thronging marts a varied crowd display.
The merchant prince, the dame in rich array.
The wan-eyed beggar, and the tradesman keen,
The brisk attorney with his eager mien.
And sapient age, with tottering step and slow,
Walks side by side with youth in freshest glow;
From different lands collected strangers meet.
Are borne in cars or move along the street.
But white and solemn, midst the ceaseless tread,
Rise here and there, the dwellings of the dead!
Whose peopled mansions never sound repeat,
Save song-birds' wail, at evening, clear and sweet.
The floating palace on the grand old stream.
The thundering iron horse impelled by steam,
Pour in her lap rich treasures from all lands.
As, Queen of Trade, the Crescent Empress stands
New Orleans, January, 1873.
"New Orleans has a personality," so a poet-lover declared, 'way back in those dim and dreary days when the old French and Spanish City, glorying in her title of "Le Petit Paris," carried the New World's commerce on the broad river that rushed past her shores, and the New World's romance and poetry in her heart.
"New Orleans has a personality, and studying her in all her changeful moods and phases one might almost say that New Orleans has a soul." To-day, with the crown of one hundred years of American progress encircling her brows, this fair child of two centuries and two continents, this imperial daughter of France and Spain, flings her beautiful banners to the breeze, and with the fine, true impulse born of her historic descent and proud ancestral heritage, gives to the world in the revival of the songs and stories and traditions of Louisiana, the grandest note ever struck in this American Continent since the paean of American liberty was sounded amid the fire and smoke of Bunker Hill.
With far greater truth may it be said to-day that this great, glorious, intelligent, sentient city of New Orleans has a soul. Existing apart from and superior to all the other cities that have been founded in this immense area of which she was one hundred years ago the central thought and figure, New Orleans stands today amid the vast aggregation of cities of the Union peculiar, unique, charming and gracious, speaking to the tourist as only a city with her history and traditions may speak, and holding them under the spell of a fascinating charm that is always felt, but which one vainly seeks to analyze or understand.
Into this ancient city of varied lights and colors, of strange contrasts and fine individuality, this new city of high hopes and promises and fulfilled pledges; whether you wander leisurely through the old French Quarter, teeming with the songs and stories of other days, and reflecting a quaint life unlike that of any other city of the American continent, or whether you drive through the rose-scented roadways of her beautiful American section catching the fragrance of orange blossoms and magnolias, you will at once understand by intuition, how the heart of the poet was moved, when it brought forth that fine tribute "New Orleans has a soul." You will realize more and more the mystery of her nameless charm when you study her wonderful complexity of life, her ever changing moods, the smiles that now ripple over her beautiful face, the tears that anon dim her eyes in sympathy and thought. See her old French and Spanish streets, and queer houses with quaint tunnel-like entrances peculiar to the architecture of the Spanish settlers in the latter portion of the seventeenth century. Visit her old curiosity shops and read in the many rich and rare objects exposed for sale the stories of the heart aches and tragedies and sacrifices of a once regal people. Turn to her main thoroughfare, and here you will see the dazzling spectacle of a great modern street, blazing with lights and astir with the gay life that circles and crosses and dashes along like a splendid moving picture; and within a stone's throw, in the twinkling of an eye, all is changed and you will find amid ruined homes, the stately dignity of the old Spanish days, and the quaint customs of a period that has passed forever, but which stand out in striking contrast to the customs of this busy, rushing age, and which have for the poet and student the soft and tender glow of an autumnal twilight's lingering adieu.
Such is New Orleans, rich in her history, her traditions, her poetry, her lore. New Orleans, fair and fragrant as the beautiful roses that bloom in her open gardens; sweet and stately as the maidens in the old world pictures that smile in the homes of the ancient Latin quarter.
It may truthfully be said that the New Orleans of to-day is not the New Orleans of yesterday; neither will it be the New Orleans of to-morrow. The year 1903 especially marked an era of prosperity that rivalled the palmiest period of antebellum days. Everywhere the busy hum of activity was heard on the streets, everywhere the march of improvements still goes on. New and handsome buildings are being erected, some for public others for private uses; but all indicating the capital is flowing in the direction of the city, and the taste and culture of the people who are coming to make their home among us. Even the dreamy old French Quarter has been invaded by the spirit of progress, and one of her most historic squares has had its buildings demolished to make way for a magnificent new Courthouse.
Long ago it was said that in the rubbish of the old Spanish city Adam's lamp was hidden. So it seems, and the people themselves are the Magician: their earnest work for the advancement of New Orleans challenges admiration.
New Orleans is not to be seen in a day. Visitors must linger here beneath the sunny skies and tropical palms, must wander at will through the old French streets and get a glimpse into those old Creole homes that strangers generally only see from the streets, they must visit the French Market, they must go to West End and have a fish breakfast looking over the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, they must see the wonderful Carnival pageants and gorgeous balls, and even then they will not know New Orleans till they have known its people, its generous warm-hearted sunny people. Whatever of changes takes place in the city itself, there 'is one' thing that does not change, and that is the heart of the people. True as the beautiful skies that hover over their ancient homes, they are like those homes themselves, tender and faithful, with love and memory dwelling with gracious charm upon the past, and hope and promise pointing brightly to the future. They bid you come and loiter here, as the old saying goes, "till you have drank the waters of the Mississippi" and perhaps when you will know them better, you too will do as many another tourist has done, come back some day to make your abode in this dear old city of infinite charm and infinite promise, that lays her lavish gifts at your feet, and bids you come and "be at home" with her.
The Picayune's Guide to New Orleans (1904)
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