For themselves they even did better than that. Every Creole was sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter - a piece from the thigh of Jupiter; and privately each one considered himself a slice of deity of no mean proportions. That was not all. They were creme de la creme; and if a Creole family was not exactly de la fine fleur des pois, literally, not of the most select blooms of the sweet pea blossom it was certainly one of les bonnes families. And woe to the gens du commun, the common people ambitious enough or foolish enough to attempt to enter Olympus! The gates were closed. It has been said that the Lowells spoke only to the Cabots and the Cabots spoke only to God, but it is fairly safe to say that in the very early Creole era both families would have been snubbed by the Creoles of New Orleans.
The French founders of Louisiana arrived in the last year of the seventeenth century and by 1765, when Spain took possession, French culture was so entrenched that the appointment of the Spanish governor caused an insurrection that cost many lives. But the Spanish had come to stay, and marriage and interbreeding were inevitable. It was even the newcomers who gave the Creoles their name. Criollo, eventually corrupted to Criado, was the Spanish name for children born in the colonies. Adopting this, the French speedily changed it to Creole.
In 1803 Louisiana passed back to France, but the joy of reunion with the mother country was short-lived. Napoleon, conquering Europe and in need of cash, quickly sold the territory to the United States. There were protests from the Creoles, but no uprisings this time. They watched the changing of the flags fluttering above the Place d'Armes with heavy hearts, but quietly, solemnly. Already the determination to live within themselves must have been engendering in their minds. These Americans might come to New Orleans, but never would they enter its inner circles. They would always remain foreigners. The impregnable barriers went up. The bitter struggle against Americanization had begun.
Creoles were predominantly French, though much Spanish blood had been absorbed. Some German and Irish settlers also intermarried in the early days, but all the national characteristics of these peoples seem to have completely vanished. They became 'so Frenchified,' says Gayarre, 'that they appear to be of Gallic parentage.' German family names were, in many instances, literally translated; Zweig, for instance, became La Branche. An Irish family of O'Briens pronounced their name Obreeong!
All Creole children received a French education. Often the boys were sent to Paris, and the girls were instructed in local convents guided by French nuns. French thought, literature and art impregnated them so deeply that they existed in a completely French culture, their ideas and manners as much imported as their household furnishings, wines, books, clothes and pictures.
No true Creole ever had colored blood. This erroneous belief, still common among Americans in other sections of the country, is probably due to the Creoles' own habit of calling their slaves 'Creole slaves' and often simply 'Creoles.' Too, there are proud light-colored families in New Orleans today who are known as 'Creoles' among themselves. But Creoles were always pure white. Any trace of cafe au lait in a family was reason for complete ostracism.
Among themselves Creoles divided into various castes or strata, both socially and financially, though no one seems ever to have agreed as to the category in which his family belonged. There were Creoles, Chacks, Chacas, Catchoupines, Chacalatas, Bambaras and Bitacaux. The term 'Chacalata,' for instance, indicated much the same thing as does 'Hoosier' or 'countrified'; 'Bambaras' (untidiness) perhaps hinted at uncleanliness. 'Cachumas' were those whose ancestors had acquired a strain of cafe noir, and even today in the Barataria section this term is sometimes heard.
Everything they used or possessed received, like their slaves, the Creole appellation: their cooking, horses, chickens, vegetables and axe-handles. To become acclimated was to be 'Creolized.'
They were seven to one in the city in 1803 , three to one in 1812., only two to one by 1830. But between 1812. and the Civil War they were wealthiest and their influence most dominant.
And this was not entirely confined to New Orleans. Many of the plantations lining both sides of the Mississippi River belonged to them. Far out in western Louisiana, in the land of the Attacapan Indians and the Cajuns, they founded a little town then known as Petit Paris. Here French noblemen, refugees from the Revolution and 'Madame Guillotine,' tried to recreate the courtly days just past, and Petit Paris was soon a tiny Versailles, the residence of such as Le Baron du Cloyal, Le Chevalier Louis de Blanc and Le Comte Louis de la Houssaye. Later Petit Paris became St. Martinville.
In New Orleans the Creoles were resentful and contemptuous of the American strangers, even considered them wicked. 'They do not even attach importance to the Commandment of honoring their fathers and mothers,' wrote one shocked Creole lady.' The sons marry to please themselves, and even the daughters do not ask their parents' permission!' For the Creole boy or girl who married one of these 'foreigners' there was no forgiveness; they had stepped beyond the pale.
The Creoles refused to speak English. The Americans refused to speak French. Creole boys ran behind Americans in the streets singing this taunting song:
'Mericain coquin 'Merican rogues
Bille en naquin Dressed in nankeen
Voleur di pain Stole loaves of bread
Chez Miche D' Again! From Mr. D'Aquin!
— Monsieur D'Aquin was a well-known baker in the Vieux Carre.
Americans reacted by disliking the Creoles with equal enthusiasm. One wrote home to New England, 'Smiles and bows are abundant and cheap and in these they are profuse and liberal, but there is little sterling, honest friendship in existence; and exhibition, outward show and pretensions are the ruling passions!'
Gradually New Orleans became not one city but two, Canal Street splitting them apart, dividing the old Creole city from the 'uptown' section, where the Americans were rapidly settling. To cross Canal Street in either direction was to enter another world.' Even today these differences are noticeable.
Among themselves, Creoles were warm, affectionate, extremely loyal. Lafamille was the very core of their life, and, like the humbler Cajuns, this extended to the utmost limits of relationship. Cable wrote: 'One thing I never knew a Creole to do; he will not utterly go back on the ties of blood, no matter what sort of knots those ties may be. For one reason he is ashamed of his or his father's sins; for another he will tell you he is all heart.'
Creole gentlemen could only enter certain professions and occupations. Most of them were planters, bankers, brokers in rice, sugar or cotton, occasionally clerks in establishments of these types. Sometimes they ventured into politics. They were barred from entering trade or working in a store or shop. Because of these rigid limitations in their caste system, ambition was often stunted, opportunity ignored. No Creole could do anything that would cause him to work with his hands or to remove his coat. A gentleman never appeared in public without coat, cravat and gloves.
Most family heads had a few faineants loafers in their homes who could not or would not work. These relatives or old friends must be supported, and usually without complaint. Occasionally a male faineant might be jokingly accused of having les cotes en long vertical ribs; this was the extent of the criticism. Of course there was no way in which any Creole woman could earn money, so spinster tantes aunts and cousines must be 'carried on.' Many of these more than earned their maintenance, however, in helping to raise the children. Aged relatives and orphans could never be placed in an institution. No Creole was ever guilty of such a thought.
Within the Creole world the father was absolute head of his household and his word was final in all matters. Merely to upset any of his convictions required tremendous skill and subtlety on the part of his wife, combined with every tante and cousine in la famille. But this Creole father was always generous, devoted, kind to a fault, unless some member of his household transgressed one of the rules set down to keep the family free of scandale; then his wrath was terrible, sometimes without forgiveness; otherwise he would lavish all he possessed or could earn on his numerous children and perhaps a half-dozen faineants.
The Creole mother, though she might have been a beauty in her day, was nearly always of generous proportions. Creole ladies did not diet, and meals were always sumptuous. She was an excellent housekeeper economical, hospitable and a devoted mother. Usually she possessed an equal number of social assets, was a skilled dancer, a charming conversationalist, a perfect hostess, and accomplished in all the graces and manners of her world. Deeply religious, she prodded her men toward the Church and saw that the children were trained in all its teachings. She was loyal to her husband until death. Even if she knew he maintained a beautiful quadroon in a separate establishment, no word of the matter ever passed her lips. At her husband's death she invariably manifested great grief, rarely remarried, and always observed strictest mourning in dress and deportment for the required period of several years.
Many widowers remarried, however. It was considered that the children should have a mother and frequently a match was arranged for the man, often to his deceased mate's sister, should there be one unmarried. Thus many a Creole spinster was saved from an in her day ignominious role in life by her sister's death.
Early travelers through Louisiana wrote of the Mississippi River water and its marvelous effect on the fecundity of the Creole woman. Ten or more children was the average for any family, and the father's respect for the mother increased with each additional birth. There was once a prominent Creole judge who, with true Creole values of courtliness, paid his wife a formal call each time she bore him a child, which was practically every year. A few hours after the birth he would don his most formal attire, including tall silk hat, long cape and cane, step into her bedchamber, remove his hat with a sweeping bow, and present her with a bouquet and his congratulations.
From the lips of the Creole mother sprang many of the proverbs which have become famous: Ta finesse est cousue de fil blanc - Your shrewdness is sewed with white thread; Chacun sait ce qui bouille dans se chaudure - Each one knows what boils in his own pot (in the close-knit Creole society everyone else knew as well!); On lave son linge sal en jamille - Wash your dirty clothes in your own family; Dans le pays des aveugles, les borgnes sont rots - In the country of the blind the nearsighted are kings; Elle joue a la chandelle - She plays the candle (applied to the mother of a girl who would not go to bed until the girl's beaux went home); and - C'est la fee Carabos - literally, She is the fairy Carabos (meaning an ugly, quarrelsome woman).
Among its slaves every Creole family had a Negress as nurse for the young children. The importance of Mammy in the household and the extent of her influence over her young charges can scarcely be overestimated. Through all her life she shared the children's affection with the parents. When Mammy grew old, she was retired, the family supporting her to the end of her days. At her death the now adult people she had raised, often several generations, grieved deeply.
Years after her passing, a Creole woman wrote of her nurse: 'Her devotion was so great she would make any sacrifice for us; her money was our money; all she had was for her dear children. In sickness she would spend sleepless nights watching over us while our parents slept. She would come into our rooms during the night to see that we were properly covered. When we grew older and began to go out at night to balls or to the theater, Mammy sat up by the downstairs fire and awaited our return, anxious to hear the details of the party, to give us a bite to eat and to tuck us into bed.
'But Mammy could be stern and she would not hesitate to punish us if we needed it. When we were small Mammy had a terrible time on Saturday nights. When we saw her carrying in the tub of warm water, the soap and washrag, there was a battle royal, but Mammy always won.
'The greatest treat of all was to awaken every morning to Mammy's words, " Alb vous cafe," and see her standing beside your bed, her round black face broken with a white smile, her tignon neatly tied about her head and pushed high with a comb worn underneath, her spotless apron stiff with starch, a tray in her hands on which was piping-hot drip coffee, ground and roasted at home.
'Mammy was really the boss of the house, was consulted on all subjects. Father and Mother often went to her for advice and her judgment was always wise and sound.
'Her death plunged us deeply into grief. She had been in the family for sixty years. Her funeral was most dignified, my father and uncles serving as pallbearers; and she was laid to rest in the family tomb in old St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. I remember wearing mourning for months and refusing to go to any place of amusement. The mammies of that era should have a monument raised to their memories, for their lives were filled with devotion and self-sacrifice for their white families.'
Mammy invariably spoke Creole, the soft patois Negroes developed from their attempts to speak French and which, like everything else the Creoles used, received their name, though the Anglo-Saxon element in the city referred to the dialect as 'Gombo.' This tongue, really far more expressive and beautiful to the ear than a mere dialect, was moreover, sentimental, slyly humorous, often filled with sharp aspersions against the whites, bitter and merciless in its indictment of those colored people who imitated their white masters. 'Toucoutou' is an example of the latter in song 'there is no soap white enough to wash your skin.'
Mammy had her male prototype, too. Many an old 'Uncle' was as well loved within the family circle. A present-day Creole described Prosper Ernest Fournier, famous in Creole New Orleans as the perfect male servant, saying: ' Prosper was a Negro with the instincts and culture of a white gentleman. He was one of the most polished individuals with whom I have ever had the pleasure of shaking hands.'
Prosper, no part-caste Negro, but full-blooded African, was a great cook, an authority on the opera and operatic voices and a student of the French and English classics. He was only employed by two families in his life. A member of one of the families for whom he worked remembered:
'He remained aloof from the other servants, both black and white, but was scrupulously polite in his relations with the family. The only place that was taboo was his kitchen. We respected that and rarely entered that room without an invitation. Like many other slave cooks he had, in his youth, been apprenticed to a great chef in Paris, and after a number of years had returned, stating that he wished to prove that his master's trust had borne fruit, and his cooking was an exquisite art. He insisted on writing a menu each day and this was placed before my father at the sacred dinner hour, to be passed to the rest of the family after his perusal. Prosper was very strict about the dinner hour. Seven P.M. was seven P.M.; he always reminded us that a delay of five minutes ruined a dish.
'Prosper never left the house except to go to market, to church, and each Saturday night (the fashionable night) to the French Opera. On the latter occasions he rode in the family carriage with us, then went upstairs to the top balcony reserved for colored people. Here he had always the same seat, in the front row, center. Whenever any white person he knew entered one of the dress circle boxes he would rise and offer them a Chesterfieldian bow, which they always returned. Then, the cynosure of all the other Negroes' eyes, he devoted himself to the performance. I have heard many well-known music lovers ask his opinion of the leading voices of a troupe, and he would always state his views respectfully but frankly, and his judgment was always accepted. When a famous diva gave a farewell performance in New Orleans, an authority on the opera asked Prosper his opinion. "She should never have been permitted to sing in this city again," was the answer, "for her once incomparable voice is now forever gone." The man was stupefied. "I thought so, too," he admitted, "but I did not dare express myself. I am glad, though, that you have indicated my own musical sense."
'Prosper was a connoisseur of fine wines, and insisted that to cook without wine was an absolute impossibility. However, he imbibed only a demi-bouteille of claret while having his dinner in solitary state. He held the keys to the cellar and never asked permission to do this. Each day when he drew the claret, Madeira, sherry and sauterne for the various dishes, he added his due" irrespective of who was present. He would discuss freely with my father as to its qualities and bouquet as compared to the other vintages on the shelves.
'He took good care of the boys in the house. If any of us were sick he insisted on sitting up by our beds all night, and no nurse could have given us better care than this tall, dignified black man. If any of us came home very late after a rather intemperate evening, he would sneak us into the house without Father hearing us. Once my brother was particularly noisy and Prosper had to hold him tight and put a firm hand over his mouth to keep him from singing and shouting. Father awoke and came part of the way down the stairs, demanding to know what was going on. Prosper lied like a gentleman, saying that he had been unable to sleep and had been walking in the garden. Father told him he was crazy, then returned to his room, and Prosper managed to get that young man to bed without his ever knowing the truth.
'Prosper came to a sad end. There was an old mulattress who did some of the family washing, and who was held in great awe by all the Negroes as a witch and a seeress. Once she kept some of our curtains too long and Prosper offered to go and get them. The other servants advised him not to, but he laughed at their fears. Returning, he told his brother, who was our gardener and general utility man, "Guess what Clementine told me? She said you will be dead within a week and that I shall be in the insane asylum!" He thought this was a great. joke, since he was too well educated to be at all superstitious.
'But within a week his brother was run over by a cotton float and instantly killed. A few days later Prosper, returning from market, went stark mad, throwing his marketing and money all over the street and yelling like a Comanche Indian. He had to be placed in a mental-disease hospital. When he emerged he was a shrunken, stooped old man. He did not live much longer. Before he died he made a last request. No colored man must touch his coffin. This wish was granted and some of the most prominent business men in New Orleans bore Prosper Ernest Fournier's casket to the grave.'
The importance of these servants the Mammies and the 'Prospers' - - cannot be overestimated in their influence on Creole family life. Mammy's influence was so great and so much of her time was spent with her children that most young Creoles grew up speaking the language. Gradually it became the custom to speak Creole even in the drawing-rooms at times, for it was far more native to Louisiana than French could ever be, and more flexible, being capable of turns and twists impossible in French.
As a whole, Creole children were very spoiled, but their restrictions were many. They were seldom allowed to speak at the table, except at dessert, when the whole family would sing.
Coco Robichaux must have been a little sister of the modern 'little man who wasn't there,' though she was very much alive in the mind of every Creole child. No one ever knew who she was or where she lived or what she looked like, but poor Coco Robichaux received the blame for everything. Every time a naughty little girl did something she shouldn't, she was told, 'You didn't do that. That was the Coco Robichaux!' or, 'A nice little girl like you wouldn't do that. Only Coco Robichaux could be so naughty.' The only thing really known about this Coco Robichaux was that she was very, very bad. She had all the faults any child between two and ten could possibly possess.
Children loved to help clarify the drinking water. In all houses there were several large jars, called ollas, which were kept filled with Mississippi water. A lump of alum was dropped in, and the children would stir for hours, until the water was purified.
School started at eight or nine years of age. The primary training was usually received in the private establishment in the home of some spinster in financial straits. After First Communion, at the age of twelve, the boys were sent to study with the Jesuit Fathers, while the girls entered convents.
When she finished at the convent, the young Creole lady made her initial appearance at the French Opera House, was given a reception and thus considered launched in society. There were no debutantes; a girl was usually as popular her third season out as during her first. This initial appearance at the Opera House was the only event similar to the modern debut. For the occasion she wore a gorgeous gown imported from Paris, carried a bouquet with long ribbon streamers and a fine lace fan.
Accompanied by her parents, the girl would receive callers in the box rented for the performance. Between the acts the young men would drop in to pay compliments and their respects to the chaperons. And, behind their fluttering fans, the gossips would watch each box closely, keeping careful count of the number of male visitors each received, for by this was a girl's popularity gauged.
The Creole girl was schooled in self-effacement. Her picture must never appear in the newspapers nor must a single line ever be written about her. When a young man wished to call, it was necessary that he have a friend act as intermediary and ask the permission of the girl's father.
But the young couple were never allowed to be alone. If the youth were guilty of any wishful thinking, it was soon dispelled, and completely. His fate usually was to spend the evening playing a riotous game of dominoes with the girl's father, while the mother and tantes questioned him regarding family background, financial and social assets.
No great importance was attached to this first visit. However, should he continue to call, and not mention his intentions, the parents would demand that he do so, without hesitation. There was no respect or time to be wasted on a young man with le coeur comme un artichaud - a heart like an artichoke (that is, a leaf for everyone). Creole girls had no time to waste on flirts. Marriage was the entire aim of their lives. And if unmarried at twenty-five hope was forsaken; they 'might as well throw their corsets on the armoire.' An unmarried girl was never permitted to wear a velvet dress, though she might have one in her hope chest. After the fatal twenty-five, if unmarried, she was supposed to adopt the hooded bonnet with ribbons that tied under her chin.
Should a young man fall in love and wish to marry the girl he had been visiting, his friend was called into service again in the capacity of a John Alden, only her father must be approached again and asked for his daughter's hand. The young lady had nothing to do with it. The whole exciting situation created an occasion that demanded the utmost caution, tact and diplomacy. Accepted, the prospective groom and his father called on the girl's father and every obstacle was cleared away. Each family carefully scrutinized the family tree of the other. Material wealth meant little, la famille was everything. Did they come from a good family? Were they even faintly of the gens du commurti - Even that really unmentionable consideration must be investigated; was there any possible trace of cafe au lait All the skeletons were dragged forth for inspection.
Only when both parties had passed this rigid examination did material considerations enter. But they were by no means neglected. A formal marriage contract was drawn up, listing the boy's and the girl's financial assets; properties, furniture, number, names, worth and capacity of slaves, and cash all were included. The girl's dowry, usually ranging from one to forty thousand dollars, was submitted to the examination of the young man and his father. Despite all this, husbands were valuable for their own sakes, and should the youth be unable to support a wife, this was no bar to the marriage. Often the bride's father would find or create a place for him in his business, if his background were satisfactory.
Creole women always enjoyed a reputation for great beauty. Some of the Americans coming to their city were tactless enough to remark that they were a bit plump, but others, perhaps liking the well-fed appearance, penned ecstatic praise home to New England.
One, evidently completely enchanted by the New Orleans girls, wrote: 'In entering a sanctuary the soul bows down. The pen feels moved when it touches upon a sacred subject. The flower and woman are two treasures; the flower must have its perfume and woman her soul, a perfume that is more fragrant and less ephemeral. One finds in the traits of the Creole a distinction perfect in harmony and form. Pure profiles, patrician lines, oval and delicate chiseling, lacking in vigor perhaps a little aerial the ethereal dominating the material, the ideal combating reality.'
Luxuriant hair was the pride of every Creole lady. Washing it was a rite. When it began to gray, she secretly darkened it with coffee. Creoles denied using rouge and makeup, admitting only that occasionally a girl might rub her cheeks with crushed rose petals, but the Americans accused them of much elaborate artificial embellishment, though they admitted that it was done with great art. And they always took extreme good care of their complexions, wearing veils when out-of-doors at all times. Sun tan, instead of being valued as now, was considered disgraceful, indeed it might start ghastly rumors of caje au lait!
They loved fine clothes. No woman would ever leave her home unless completely attired, including gloves and veil. For evening wear most of their gowns were imported from Paris, and their beauty was accentuated with many jewels.
The Creole girl was never left alone with her young man, even after the engagement was announced. Often the entire family remained in the parlor throughout the evening. And when they went out, the future husband must expect plenty of company. It was perfectly proper that as many members of the family accompany them as felt so inclined.
After the formal announcement of the betrothal there was the dejeuner de fiancailles engagement breakfast which all members of both families attended. The ring, presented to the girl at this event, was not the usual solitaire of today, but a large ruby surrounded by diamonds, in a flat, yellow gold setting.
As the wedding day approached, the future groom presented his bride-to-be with the corbeille de noce wedding basket. This contained several articles of lace a handkerchief, veil and fan, a Cashmere shawl, gloves and bits of jewelry. None of the jewelry was ever worn before the wedding day, nor could she leave home for three days before the marriage.
Old Creole Ladies Dream of the Opulent Past
Spiders Dwell in Haunted Houses
Loup-Garou Holds his Convention on Bayou Goula
He Believes Everything
Monday and Tuesday were fashionable days for weddings, Saturday and Sunday being considered 'common' and Friday 'Hangman's Day.' The latter was the day for all local executions.
For many years the old Saint Louis Cathedral had a detail of Swiss Guards, who met all wedding and funeral processions and preceded them up the aisle. Behind them, at the wedding, would walk the bride, accompanied by her father. Then came the groom, escorting the bride's mother. Next would be the groom's mother and father, the best man escorting a sister or some other relative of the bride, followed by every brother, sister, aunt, uncle and cousin either of the pair possessed.
The bride's gown was usually of tulle or silk muslin, trimmed with pearls and lace handed down through generations in la famille. She wore a short veil, orange blossoms in her hair, carried a bouquet. There were no ring bearers, no matron or maid of honor, nor any floral decorations in the church. The ceremony was always in the evening, as Creoles would have considered it embarrassing to have the couple around all day after a morning marriage. Thus, as the Catholic Church does not permit the celebration of Mass after noon, Creoles were never married at Nuptial Mass. Not until 1910, when the Archbishop issued a decree forbidding Catholics to marry in church after twelve o'clock noon, did marriages at Mass become popular in New Orleans.
The wedding ring, called the alliance ring, was a double ring of gold, which when opened became two interlocking bands revealing the initials of the bride and groom and the date of the wedding. Both parties wore alliance rings. These can still be purchased in New Orleans.
After the ceremony all the relatives signed the register, sometimes as many as fifty. Rice was never thrown, nor did the bride toss her bouquet; it was sent to the church, the cemetery or to the convent where she had been educated.
A great reception always followed. Champagne and a supper were served. The bride and groom mingled for an hour or so, then it was considered decent that they retire. The bride cut her cake, every girl present receiving a piece. This was placed under the pillow at night along with the names of three eligible men of her acquaintance. The one she dreamed of would be her husband and she always retired determined to dream.
The Creole newly weds went on no honeymoon. Usually they remained in the bride's home. After the hour at the reception, the bride was escorted to her room by her mother. Here she was assisted in disrobing and carefully dressed in the hand-embroidered nightgown and negligee made for this great occasion. Her flowing hair was tied back with a ribbon or perhaps adorned with an elaborate boudoir cap. Then she was propped against the pillows in the heavy four-posted bed and left to await her new husband. The Creole bride, often sixteen years old, and unbelievably sheltered until now, must lie there, trembling and frightened at the unknown, gazing up at the pale blue bridal tester above her until the groom appeared. Apparently young Creole grooms were not without their own qualms. One cautiously carried an immense umbrella into the bridal chamber and undressed behind it!
These bridal testers, at least the most elaborate ones, were the creations of a certain Monsieur Dufau, a merchant at 37 Rue Chartres. But poor M. Dufau was the victim of an unfortunate occurrence that all but wrecked his career and business.
This gentleman's shop was noted for its objets d'art, bric-a-brac, and fine paintings. But the most famous articles of merchandise were the artistically fashioned ciel-de-lits or testers. These were very popular, even the ordinary ones being tastefully made of calico or sateen. But most of M. Dufau 's art was expended on ciel-de-lits for brides. These were always of pale blue silk, gathered in the middle by gilt ornaments. Across the pale blue heaven chubby cupids would chase each other with bows and arrows, pink ribbons modestly draping these tiny love gods. A wide cream-colored dentelle valencienne, the finest lace obtainable, trimmed the edge. It all combined to create an atmosphere symbolizing eternal love, blue horizons and rosy dreams.
Then ruin descended upon M. Dufau. A member of a club called Le Comite des Bon Amis, the time came for him to entertain his good friends. And it seemed that an extraordinarily good piece of luck occurred at about the same time. A sailor offered M. Dufau a keg of rum at a ridiculously low price. Seizing this opportunity, the merchant bought the liquor with no loss of time and invited his friends over to enjoy it. When the first round of drinks was passed everyone remarked on its peculiar flavor. The second drink was so bad that no one could finish it.
There was great consternation and curiosity. An axe was brought and M. Dufau himself split the keg open. What met the eyes of his guests was enough to stand their hair on end. Inside the keg, sitting upright, in a perfect state of preservation, was a little old man with long whiskers!
Poor M. Dufau, though technically cleared of any connection with the corpse in the rum, was immediately banished from his club, and he received no more orders for his masterfully fashioned bridal ciel-de-lits.
The bride and groom could not leave their room for at least five days ! Their meals were brought in and a special servant assigned to their needs. The bride could not appear on the streets for at least two weeks. If they were spending their 'honeymoon' at the groom's house or in a home of their own, she could not even visit her mother. If she were so daring as to do this, she could be sure that while she would be received courteously, her mother would not fail to get in a little remark about the shame and indecency of being seen on the streets after having so recently married. And no one not even the parents called on the young couple during these two weeks. After that the families were practically one. A Frenchman who married a Creole girl of that era said that a man marrying one of them married not only the girl but also her five hundred relatives!
Charivaris were given widows and widowers who remarried. Tin pans were beaten, cowbells rung and as much noise as possible made. The newly weds were supposed to treat the celebrants to a supper. If they failed to do this, the charivari might continue night after night.
The most notable charivari ever given in New Orleans was that rendered the widow of Don Andres Almonester, the great benefactor of New Orleans. In 1798, when middle-aged, she bestowed her hand on a young man in his twenties, Monsieur Castillon, the French Consul to New Orleans. This young man was most unpopular and generally conceded to be a fortune- hunter; and the widow was considered to be vain and selfish.
The charivari that followed their marriage lasted three days and nights. The house in which the couple sought shelter was surrounded by hundreds, many on horseback, some disguised and wearing masks. Try as they would, the newly wedded pair could not escape their tormentors. Fleeing the house, they were followed from end to end of the city, across the Mississippi River and back. Some of the crowd carried along a coffin on a cart, which contained an effigy of Madame Almonester's first husband, while she was represented by a living person sitting beside it. Finally, the newly wedded couple had to give three thousand dollars in coin for the poor. Almost immediately afterward they left for France.
Long after charivaris were banned irl the city, they continued in the country. And even today in New Orleans many a married couple is driven about the city, followed by a dozen other cars, all blowing horns and generally making as much noise as possible.
Weddings on Creole plantations, outside the city, were even more elaborate affairs. Everything was ordered from New Orleans and shipped by boat. Wedding cakes and nougat pieces, fragile as they Were, would arrive undamaged. Even hairdressers would be summoned to arrange the coiffures of the bride and the other ladies. Five hundred guests at a wedding was not unusual. Often the bride's father chartered a steamboat to bring the guests out to the plantation.
The Creole's home was always his pride. Especially the first parlor. Whatever wealth or pretensions a Creole possessed went into this room, and many of its furnishings were imported from France. Never was this salon open to casual intrusion, but always kept tightly closed against the sun and air so that the rugs and furniture would not fade. This room was only for very special company, weddings, funerals and celebrations. Woe to the child caught entering this room.
Most prominent feature in the room was the fireplace, always of marble except in the poorer homes, where it was usually brick. The mantelpiece was always elaborately draped and a huge mirror, framed in gold-leaf or gilt, was hung above it. Before the fireplace gleamed the screen and andirons, always in a bright gold finish. The furniture was apt to be rosewood, richly carved, and upholstered in expensive silk or tapestry. Along the walls were oil paintings of ancestors. There were always an etagere whatnot in one corner, holding china and bric-a-brac, porcelain vases of varied design and an ornate crystal chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling.
The second parlor, separated from the first by a porte b coulisse, so that when these folding doors were thrown open the two rooms would form a grand salon for very formal occasions, was neither so carefully nor so expensively furnished as the first. In this room the family gathered evenings to talk and enjoy their music and their books. Portraits of humbler ancestors than those in the first parlor were hung here. There were usually ornamental wax fruit, wreaths and flowers of human hair all under glass, statuettes of ivory and bronze, antimacassars on sofas and chairs and eventails lataniers palmetto fans in sand-filled vases.
Every bedroom in the house contained an altar, for of course all Creoles were staunchly Catholic, usually a small table covered with blue sateen and a lace cloth with a wide valance and holding candles, votive lights, statues of favorite saints and holy water. There were four-posted beds with testers, tremendous armoires with full-length mirrors, washstands holding bowl and pitcher of gaily flowered china accompanied by numerous matching receptacles.
In summer the floors of every room were covered with matting. This was not removed when old and faded, but simply covered with another piece. In winter the rugs were laid over the matting.
During the warmest months of the year, the Creole practically lived in his courtyard. Here was an outdoor living-room, walled with tropical greens. Vines entwined the white pillars of the piazza, and climbed up the tinted walls toward the green shutters of the windows that gazed downward like numerous sleepy eyes. Banana trees waved their huge leaves with every breeze. Large urns held plants of every sort. Usually a fountain bubbled and sang in the center. Along the gravel walks among the flower beds benches and old-fashioned rockers were set out. Here were escape from the heat and perfect quiet and peace for reading or for conversation. Creole houses often faced these patios, were built with their backs on the street, their salons opening here. There were always balconies above, still known as 'galleries' in New Orleans.
The Creoles were gay and festive. The ball, the theater, private soirees and receptions were of prime importance. Americans moving into the city thought the Creoles pleasure-mad. It was nothing for a Creole girl, amazingly frail for all other purposes, to dance at balls for four nights in succession without showing the least sign of fatigue.
When they could afford it their parties were tremendously elaborate and expensive. After one of General Beauregard's victories, the Creoles of New Orleans gave him a party during which a fountain of champagne flowed all evening. This was set up in the center of the salon and guests had only to hold their glasses under the golden flow to refill them.
The soiree, a party less formal than a ball, was held in a private home. These were simple but delightful affairs, where young couples danced far into the night, though always, of course, under the watchful eyes of parents, t antes and all the rest of la famille.
But the opera was really the center of all Creole social life. Here, in the old French Opera House, the music and performances were unrivaled anywhere in America. Attendance was always plentiful, there even being loges grillees screened boxes where men escorting women of questionable reputation, people in mourning and pregnant ladies might enjoy the opera or play without being seen. Often, after a performance, some patron gave a ball in the Opera House; at other times the entire building was rented for the evening and an immense reception given. Between performances punch was sold in the foyer and here young men might escort young women and the chaperons. In front of the Opera House lounged aged Negro crones selling steaming bowls of gumbo.
Passionately fond of the opera, the Creoles viewed it with an enthusiasm unknown today. Someone wrote: 'At the end of a performance the Creoles stand up, wildly waving their hands and filling the air with loud bravos. Much has been written in prose and in verse on the power of music, but I have never read anything recorded so vividly and expressed so eloquently as in the face of a Creole girl when the spell of one of these French operas is upon her. The nervous twitch of the hand that grasps the railing in front of her box, the glow in her eye, the heightened color of her cheeks, the rapid change of expression, responsive to the change from joy to sorrow in the hero, gladness to lamentation in the music all show that she is carried away far beyond the bounds of herself into a world created within her by the power of a Meyerbeer or a Gounod. Once a Creole woman sold the last piece of furniture in her home to purchase a ticket to the French opera.
Invitations to social affairs were brought by a servant, never mailed. And on her way to and from a party a girl would carry her party shoes in a little silk bag, wearing more practical street shoes to brave the then muddy and unpaved streets of New Orleans, changing at her destination, and again to return home.