Street Criers

THE MULE-DRAWN WAGON PULLS UP AT A corner in one of the residential sections of New Orleans.

The Negro vendor cups his hands before his mouth and bellows:

Watermelon ! Watermelon! Red to the rind,
If you don't believe me jest pull down your blind!
I sell to the rich,
I sell to the po';
I'm gonna sell the lady
Standin' in that do'.
Watermelon, Lady!
Come and git your nice red watermelon, Lady!
Red to the rind, Lady!
Come on, Lady, and get 'em!
Gotta make the picnic fo' two o'clock,
No flat tires today.
Come on, Lady!

Behind the hawker in the wagon is a tumbling pile of green serpent-striped melons; beside him on the seat is one halved to show that it is 'red to the rind.' Despite this, the melon you purchase will be 'plugged' as proof that yours is ripe. The peddler opens his mouth again to inform you that I got water with the melon, red to the rind! If you don't believe it jest pull down your blind.

You eat the watermelon and preee serve the rind! The vendor selling cantaloupe is an Italian. He sings out, Cantal ope ah!
Fresh and fine,
Just offa de vine,
Only a dime!
The operator of a wagon selling a variety of vegetables offers this one:
Nice little snapbeans,
Pretty little corn,
Butter beans, carrots,
Apples for the ladies! Jui-ceee lemons! Another, with curious humor, yells, 'I got artichokes by the neck!'

The streets reverberate with their cries: 'Come and gettum, Lady! I got green peppers, snapbeans, tur-nips! I got oranges! I got celery! I got fine ripe yellow banana! Tur-nips, Lady! Ba-na-na, Lady!'

These peddlers use every means imaginable to cart their wares- trucks, mules and wagons, pushcarts and baskets. A Negress will balance one basket on her head, carry two others, one in each hand, hawking any vegetables and fruit in season. Particularly discordant screams rend the mornings when it is blackberry season.

Blackber reeees! Fresh and fine.
I got blackber reeeees, Lady!
Fresh from th' vine!
I got blackberries, Lady!
Three glass fo' a dime.
I got blackberries!
I got blackberries!

Negro youths often work in pairs, one on each side of a street, each carrying baskets and crying alternately or in unison: 'I got mustard greens 'n Creole cabbage! Come on, Lady. Look what I got!' Or, 'Irish pota-tahs! Dime a bucket! Lady, you ought a see my nice Irish po-ta-tahs!'

Many housewives purchase their food supplies from these itinerant vendors, the prices often being a bit below those of the shops and markets. Many have regular peddlers or basket-'totin' Negresses who come daily to the kitchen door. They will often, even to this day, present favorite customers with a bit of parsley or a small bunch of shallots as lagniappe.

A truck at a curb in the business section of New Orleans is operated by an Italian who offers 'Mandareeeens nickel a dozen!' A Negro in a spring wagon in the next block outdoes him with 'Mandareens twenty-five fo' a dime!'

When strawberries appear, preceding the blackberry season, peddlers, both white and colored, both male and female, appear all over the city. Even Sunday mornings resound with cries of
I got strawberries, Lady!
Strawberries, Lady!
Fifteen cents a basket
Two baskets for a quarter.

The housewives emerge, peer into the small boxes of berries, inspecting carefully, always raising the top layer of fruit to see the ones beneath. There is a little trade trick of putting the reddest and biggest berries on top, green, dry or small ones the culls underneath to which all Louisiana housekeepers are wise.

Between the strawberry and blackberry seasons cries of 'Jewberry, Lady! Nice jewberries!' may be heard. This is the dewberry season.

In Abbeville, an elderly French woman drives a mule before an ancient, creaky wagon, and peddles fruit and vegetables each morning, calling her wares in a weird mixture of French and Cajun English. Known as Madame Mais-La, she pulls up before a house and announces: 'Hello, dere! Voulez-vous legumes aujourd' bui? Des bonnes carrots. Des bonnes papates douces. Des pommes de terre. Des choux-fleurs. Non? Pas ca aujourd'bui. Bien. Geedy up, dere!'

The vending of food in New Orleans streets is a custom as old as the city itself. In earlier days the peddlers were even more numerous. Buying from these wandering marchandes was extremely convenient. Prices were low, the produce of good quality; often it was possible, after a bit of wrangling, to strike off a bargain.

Earlier counterparts of present-day hawkers were the Green Sass Men, no longer in existence. The Daily Picayune of July 24, 1846, describes them thus:
Their stocks were very small, consisting generally of vegetables, a small amount of fruit such as figs, peaches and melons and by way of variety, although not strictly a vegetable product cream cheeses. These commodities were generally carried in old champagne baskets balanced on the heads of the Green Sass Men, and their cry, as near as it can be translated, is ' 'Ears yor fine nice artaties, artichokes, cantelopes, feegs and ar nicer kereama cheeses! 'Ear! 'Ear!'

Most of the French and American slave-owners of long ago were a thrifty lot, and those slaves too old to be of other use were often put out into the city streets to peddle the surplus products of the plantations. Throughout the year, day in, day out, their cries resounded through the streets of New Orleans. All masters were required to purchase licenses for their slaves, but often added thousands of dollars per year to their incomes by so doing. De Bore, of sugar fame, who owned a huge plantation in New Orleans where Audubon Park now spreads, 'produced at least six thousand dollars per annum' in this fashion, according to one authority. Newspapers of the period criticized slave street-vending as a 'very picayunish business,' but it lifted many of the Negroes' owners into affluence.

Each season had its special commodities. Early spring saw the arrival of strawberries, of Japanese plums. Later, watermelons, dewberries, blackberries and figs appeared. Wild ducks, rice birds and other game were sold on the streets during winter. At the French Market Choctaw Indian squaws sat stoically at the curbs, offering gumbo file powdered sassafras, frequently used instead of okra to thicken gumbo other herbs and roots, baskets and pottery. Fat Negresses in starched white aprons and garish tignons sold cakes, molasses and coffee dripped while you waited. Other peddlers offered everything from cheap jewelry to live canaries in cages. Chickens, alive but limply resigned to fate, trussed up in bunches like carrots, were carried up and down the city streets by men who poked their heads into the windows of homes and yelled, 'Cheeec-ken, Madame? Nice fat spring cheee-ken?'

The peddlers of fish probably were the most insistent. The Daily Picayune of April 4, 1889, reports:
During the Lenten season, when fish were in great demand, the basket peddlers of the finny product do an excellent business, especially in selling the inferior kinds of fish. Their wares are not always of the freshest and in many cases on the verge of decomposition, yet they succeed in imposing upon the careful housewife or servant by stout protestations that their fish are perfectly fresh. . . . They ring at doorbells and if not promptly answered jerk the wire as though they would pull the bell from its fastenings. A simple refusal to purchase incenses them, and they thrust their offensive-smelling fish in the faces of persons, and if they are still refused frequently give vent to curses and abuse of those whom they seek to impose on.

A salesman of oysters, carrying his merchandise in tin pails, was also common at one time, crying, Oyta! Sally! Oyta! Sally!
Or sometimes,
Oyster Man! Oyster Man!
Get your fresh oysters from the Oyster Man!
Bring out your pitcher, bring out your can,
Get your nice fresh oysters from the Oyster Man!

There was the Ice cream Man, humorously depicted by Leon Fremeaux, in a volume of sketches titled New Orleans Characters, as a barefooted Negro wearing patched trousers, holding in one hand a white cloth, carrying in his other a basket, and on his head, at a perilous balance, an icecream freezer! His cry was
Creme a la glace;
Creme a la vanille!
Or, facetiously,
Icecream, lemonade,
Brown sugar and rotten aig!

Fresh milk and buttermilk were sold on the streets, the fresh milk from horse-drawn wagons described by the Daily Picayune as ' . . . a tall green box, set between high wheels and almost always driven by Gascons. The two large bright brassbound cans that ornamented the front of the wagon, compelled the driver to stand up much of the time in order to see clearly before him.' The Buttermilk Man carried his large can of buttermilk through the streets several times a week, crying, 'Butter-milk! Butter-milk, Lady?'

Very early in the life of the Creole city, even water was sold in this fashion, being dispensed from carts loaded with huge hogs-heads. Wine, too, was often vended.


The most famous of these were the cala vendors. A cala is a pastry which originated among Creole Negroes a thin fritter made with rice and yeast sponge. Creoles did not have the prepared yeast cakes sold today, so yeast was concocted the night before, of boiled potatoes, corn meal, flour and cooking soda, left in the night air to ferment, then mixed with the boiled rice and made into a sponge. The next morning flour, eggs, butter and milk were added, a stiff batter mixed, and the calas formed by dropping spoonfuls into a skillet.

'Belles calas , Madam! Tout chauds, Madame, Two cents!' thus
called the cala vendors for years. A long cry was,
Belles calas, Beautiful rice fritters,
Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters,
Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters,
Madame, mo gaignin calas; Madame, I have rice fritters;
Mo guaranti vous ye bons I guarantee you they are good
Beeelles calas . . . Beeelles calas. Fine rice fritters . . .
Fine rice fritters.
Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters,
Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters,
Si vous pas gaignin 1'argent, If you have no money,
Goutez c'est la mem' chose, Taste, it's all the same,
Madame, mo gaignin calas tou, tou Madame, I have rice fritters, quite, cho. quite hot.
Beeles calas . . . Beeelles calas,' Fiiiine rice fritters . . .
Fiiiine rice fritters, Tou cho, tou cho, tou cho. All hot, all hot, quite hot.
Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters,
Madame, mo gaignin calas, Madame, I have rice fritters,
Tou cho, tou cho, tou cho. Quite hot, quite hot, quite hot.
Clementine, a Negress, well-dressed in a bright tignon, fichu of white lawn, tied with a large breast pin, a starched blue gingham skirt and stiff snowy apron, would sing,
Beeeeeelles calas Beeeeeelles calas Aaaaaa!
Madame, mo gaignin calas,
Madame, mo gaignin calas,
Tou cho, tou cho, tou cho.
Beeeeeelles calas Belles calas
A madame mo gaignin calas,
Mo guaranti vous ye bons!

Another Negress sold her calas in front of the old Saint Louis Cathedral, cooking them in a pan over a small furnace, while the customer waited. Without raising her voice she would mutter hoarsely and incessantly, ' Mo gaignin calas . . . Madame, mo gaignin calas . . .
Calas, calas, calas, calas, tou cho, calas, calas, calas; Mo gaignin
calas, Madame . . . calas, calas, calas, calas.

Some vendors sold not only calas of rice, but also calas of cowpeas, crying,
Calas tout chauds, Madame,
Calas au riz calas aux feves!

Another cry was
Too shoo-o-o-o-oh
Tout chauds all hot!
Galas calas tout chauds,
Belles calas tout chauds,
Madame, mo gaignin calas,
Madame, mo gaignin calas, tou
Chauds tou chauds!

One of the last professional cala vendors on New Orleans streets was Richard Gabriel, a colored descendant of these Creole Negroes. He improved the system somewhat, pushing a cart similar to the sort used by the peanut vendors, and chanting in more modern fashion,
We sell it to the rich, we sell it to the poor,
We give it to the sweet brownskin, peepin' out the door.
Tout chaud, Madame, tout chaud!
Git 'em while they're hot! Hot calas!
One cup of coffee, fifteen cents calas,
Make you smile the livelong day.
Calas, tout chauds, Madame, Tout chauds!
Git 'em while they're hot! Hot calas!

Other songs are
The little Jamaica boy he say,
More you eatta, more you wanta eatta.
Get 'em while they're hotta. Hot calas!
Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds.

And Tell 'em what they do you, take off that Saturday frown,
Put on that Sunday morning smile, to last the whole day 'round.
Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds!
That's how two cups of cafe, fifteen cents calas can make
You smile the livelong day.
Tout chauds, Madame, tout chauds!
Get 'em while they're hot! Hot calas!

There used to be two cala women who would sing alternately:
1st: Galas, Galas, all nice and hot
Galas, Galas, all nice and hot
2.d: Lady, me I have calasl Laaa-dy, me I have calasl
All nice 'n hot all nice 'n hot all nice 'n hot. . . .

Well known was the Cymbal Man, who, according to the Daily Picayune of July 24, 1846, confined his rambles to the French section of New Orleans, offering also 'doughnuts and crullers,' which were favorites with the Creoles. His musical 'toooo-shoooo-oooo' never failed to bring most of them out.

The Corn Meal Man, noted for his wit and humor, would prowl the streets, blowing on a small brass trumpet worn on a cord about his neck. His greeting was usually, 'Bon jour, Madame, Mam - Belief Fresh corn meal, right from the mill. Oui, Mam - Belle. or accompanied by a hearty laugh. The Daily Delta of June 3, 1850, reports him doing business on horseback, saying, ' . . . his fat, glossy horse looks as if he partook of no scant portion of the corn meal!' A very early corn meal peddler was known as Signer Cornmeali.

Among the most famous of the cake vendors were the Gaufre Men or Shaving Cake Men, who sold not shaving soap, but pastries that had the appearance of timber shavings. These were kept in a tin box strapped to the back, while the Gaufre Man announced his approach by beating on a metal triangle as he strode the city streets. The last Gaufre Man, bewhiskered but always clean and neatly attired, never revealed the secret of his thin, crisp, cone-shaped pastries. When he died, the recipe died with him, and gaufres are now unknown in New Orleans.

Hot potato cakes, made usually of sweet potatoes, were sold by Negro women. These vendors, Emmet Kennedy says, were heard mostly in the French Quarter around nightfall. In his Mellows he describes their cry as follows:
Bel pam pa-tat,
Bal pam pa-tat, Madame,
Ou-lay-ou Le Bel Pam Patat,
Pam patat!
Everything the old Creole Negresses sold was either 'bel'
beautiful or 'bon' good.
A bread made of Irish potatoes was also sold, to the following song:
Pain pafatte, Potato bread,
Pain patatte., Madame, Potato bread, Madam,
Achetez pain patatte, Buy potato bread,
Madame, mo gaignin pain patatte. Madam, I have potato bread.
Hot pies were another favorite commodity, the vendor carrying his wares in a cloth-covered basket, crying, 'Ho' pies chauds! Ho' pies chauds!'

There are modern versions of these last. Each day pie peddlers appear on the docks of New Orleans, moving among the long-shoremen, carrying their pies and often sandwiches and candy in a basket. Occasionally a pie man will appear in one of the residential sections, with a monotonous cry of ' Hot pies - hot pies hot pies hot pies!' A Negro woman, always dressed in snowy white, hawks pies and sandwiches through the business district of the city, rolling her merchandise along in a baby carriage.

At least one man still sells bread on the streets. Pushing a cart he calls out, ' Bread Man ! Bread Man ! I got French bread, Lady. I got sliced bread. I got raisin bread. Lady! I got rolls, Lady! Bread Man, Lady!'

The Waffle Man is a fine old man.
He washes his face in a frying-pan,
He makes his waffles with his hand,
Everybody loves the Waffle Man.

For years those who believed this little ditty ran out at the shrill blast of the Waffle Man's bugle. Children eagerly thrust their nickels forward to purchase one of his delicious hot waffles sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar. His wagon, horse-drawn, was usually white and yellow and set on high wheels. One Waffle Man still appears daily in New Orleans, vending waffles from a brilliant red-and-yellow wagon. But now he caters mostly to fully grown males of the stock-exchange neighborhood.


The Candy Man, according to the Daily Picayune of July 15, 1846, 'carried his caraway comfits and other sweets in a large green tin chest upon which was emblazoned, in the brightest yellow, two razors affectionately crossed over each other.' Unlike the other vendors, this Candy Man had no cry, but attracted attention by beating on a metal triangle. Until a few years ago, later Candy Men,' driving squarish, high wagons, paused at corners, blew piercing blasts on trumpets and sold taffy in long, wax-paper-wrapped sticks.

Pralines have been sold on New Orleans streets through all the city's history, and always the delicious Creole confections of brown sugar and pecans have been vended by Negresses of the 'Mammy' type. Today they appear, garbed in gingham and starched white aprons and tignons usually in the Vieux Carre, though now they represent modern candy shops. 'Belles pralines!' they cry. 'Belles pralines'. Day by day they sit in the shadows of the ancient buildings, fat black faces smiling at the passers-by, fanning their candies with palmetto fans or strips of brown wrapping paper. Usually, besides the pralines, Mammy dolls and other souvenirs are sold.

Flowers are not sold on the streets as frequently as they are in some other cities, but in the Vieux Carre elderly flower women and young girls and boys peddle corsages of rosebuds and camellias in the small bars and cafes, chanting at your table, ' Flowers? Pretty flowers for the lady?'


Char-coal, Lady! Char-coal! Chah-ah-coal, Lady!
Until recently practically everyone employed Negro washwomen, who boiled clothes and other washing over small furnaces in the backyards, and charcoal was always in demand. Almost every day this familiar cry rang through the streets. Lafcadio Hearn described one cry of the Charcoal Man's as
Black coalee coalee!
Coaly coaly; coaly coaly coal coaly - coal.
Coaly coaly!
Coal eee! Nice!
Chah coal !
Twenty-five! Whew!
O Charco-oh-oh-oh-h-oh-lee!
Oh lee eee!
(You get some coal in your mout', young fellow, if you don't keep it shut!)
Pretty coalee -oh lee!
Charcoal !
Cha ah ahr coal !
Charbon! Du charbon, Madame! Bon charbori? Point! Ai-ai!
Tonnerre de dieu!
Cha-r-r-r-r-r-r-rbon I
A- a- a- a- a- a- a- aw I
Vingt-cinq! Nice coalee! Coalee!
Coaly-coal-coal !
Pretty coaly!
Charbon de Paris!
De Parts Madame; de Paris!

Leonard Parker, a Negro, remembered the following one:
Char-coal! Charcoal!
My horse is white, my face is black.
I sell my charcoal, two-bits a sack
Char-coal! Char-coal!

Though modern use of laundry facilities has made the Charcoal Man a rarity now, he may be seen occasionally and heard - seated on a broken-down wagon, drawn by an equally broken-down horse, often adorned with a straw bonnet, singing out his repetitious chant of 'Char-coal, Lady! Char-coal!' Today his merchandise is neatly packed in paper sacks.

Then there is his brother, once just as evident in the city, now just as rare, who cries, 'Stone-coal, Lady! Stone-coal!' and who is being gradually forced out of existence by present use of steam and gas heat, instead of the old-fashioned grate fires.

[pic-mouseover, enlarge] ...from Picayune's Guide to New Orleans, 1885



'Daily he goeth forth out beyond the limits of the city, into lonesome and swampy places where copperheads and rattlesnakes abound. And, there he cutteth him clothespoles, where-with he marcheth through the city, in the burning glare of the sun, singing a refrain simple in words but weird in music.' So wrote Hearn of the Clothes Pole Man.

This queer merchant, always colored, wanders through the streets, usually wearing an ancient derby, ragged coat and trousers. Fremeaux's sketch shows him in the derby, a light lavender shirt, dark frock coat and patched pants. On one shoulder is a folded cloth on which rest his poles. 'Cl's po-u-u-les!' he cries. 'Cl's po-u-ules!'

Housewives buy the poles at prices which range from ten to twenty-five cents. A favorite cry is
Clothes poles! Clothes poles!
Hear the man comin' with the clothes poles!
Only a nickel, only a dime!
Clothes poles Clothes pole man!
Clothes pole man sellin' clothes poles!
Clothes poles, Lady!
Nice clean clothes poles!

The poles are cleaned and 'skinned' after being cut, and must be forked at one end. There is evidence that the same pole may be sold several times, if the merchant is smart enough. One housewife, after her poles had been disappearing in a peculiar fashion, watched the yard one moonlight night and captured a small Negro making off with several of them. He confessed he sold them back to the same Clothes Pole Man who had been selling them to her.


Wherever he has appeared, the Chimney Sweep has been a fascinating and picturesque character. It is still possible to see the New Orleans variety, and he has changed very little in appearance despite the many years his cries have echoed through the city's streets. Unlike the sweep of London, he wears a tall, battered silk hat, a swallowtail coat, and he is always a Negro, usually as black as the soot in which he works. There is always the coil of rope on one shoulder, several bunches of palmetto and a sheaf of broom straw. As he wanders through the neighborhood he shouts:
Ra-mi-neau! Ra-mi-neau! Ra-mi-neau!
Lady, I know why your chimney won't draw,
Oven won't bake and you can't make no cake,
An' I know why your chimney won't draw!

Hired, he scurries agilely up to the roof, sometimes assisted by a smaller, younger, but equally black edition of himself, and as he works he sings. One odd song common to the New Orleans Chimney Sweep is:
Val-seur, Waltz, Waltzer,
Val-seur pour ce-le-brer Waltz to celebrate
La S'fe Marie. St. Mary's Day.
Dieu sait si I'annee prochaine God knows if next year
Nous celebrerons la S'fe Mane! We will celebrate St. Mary's Day!

Others cry: ' R-R-R-R-Raminay! R-r-r-r-r-ramone la chiminee du haut en has!' 'Ramonez,' 'Raminay,' 'Ramineaux' and 'Ramineau' seem all to be corruptions of the French 'Ramoneur' or Chimney Sweeper.
Some travel in pairs and alternate their call thus:
1st Sweep: Ramonez la cheminee . . . Rrrrrrramonez la cheminee!
2d Sweep: Valsez; valseur, valsez pour celebrer la S'te Marie. . . .

A contemporary team of sweeps, Willie Hall and Albert Hutchins, sing:
Get over, get over slick,
Save dat chimney, save it quick.
Willie and Albert chant the 'Chimney Sweeper's Blacks,' apparently their own composition.
Here's yo' chimney sweeps,
We goes up to the roofs,
Sweep the smokestacks down right now,
Don't care for soot, anyhow.
Rami-- neau! Rami -- neau! Rami -- neau!
Sweep 'em clean! Sweep 'em clean!
Save the firemen lots of work,
We hate soot, we never shirk,
Sweep 'em clean! Sweep 'em clean!
Willie cheerfully waxed biographical.

'I been a chimney sweeper for forty-five years now. I'm most eighty years old, and I've made me a good livin'. There was a season to it, but I've always had my regular customers. I done swept some of the best chimneys in town.'

One reason the Chimney Sweep keeps singing as he works is to let anyone who might be below know the chimney is being cleaned and to protect him from being showered with soot. All during his work the songs go on and the cry comes, 'RO MI NAY!'


The Bottle Man is still seen now and then. Either Italian or Negro, driving a horse and wagon, he cries, as the horse bobs sleepily along, 'Any old bot'? Any old bot' today?'

Now he pays rather reluctantly in cash. But in other days his approach was a signal for the children to run forth at the blast of his horn in as an enthusiastic response as ever answered the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The Bottle Man of a past era pushed a cart along the banquette and his payment for 'old bot's' was much more interesting than mere money. For while his cart had an upper section devoted to a huge bin which held his collected bottles, the lower section was a drawer filled with the most amazing collection of trinkets ever possessed by anyone except Santa Claus. For their bottles the youngsters received tops, whistles, horns, rattles or pink-and-white peppermints! Bargaining was spirited and educational. The children's aim was to get as many toys as possible for their bottles; the Bottle Man's, to give as little.

During the nineties a fleet of thirty or forty luggers visited the plantations above and below the city, collecting bottles. The Daily Picayune, July 12, 1891, described how nearly every week three or four of the boats discharged their cargo of old bottles at the wharves in New Orleans. Many dealers employed twenty or more collectors and there was always a good market for beer bottles, whiskey and champagne bottles, condiment and relish bottles of all sorts. Medicine bottles were never resold, the lone exception to what the Bottle Man would buy.

Most of the Bottle Men of today have added other merchandise to their business generally rags and bones. Usually the cry is
Any bottles, any bones, any rags today?
Any old bottles
Any old bones today?

There are men, too, who specialize in rags, chanting:
Old Rag Man! Get your rags ready!
For the old Rag Man !
Money to be made !
Get your rags ready for the old Rag Man!

A kindred soul is the itinerant Junk Man, who may purchase any scrap iron, discarded pieces of furniture and such valuables.


In a feex tin-a-feex!
Tin-a-Feex Man!
So he sang through the neighborhoods, usually Italian, carrying a small furnace, a few tools and some solder. The cry of 'Tin-a-Feex! Tin-a-Feex Man!' used to bring forth all the pots and pans in the neighborhoods through which he passed.


The Broom Man is blind, tall and growing old. Bent under the weight of the brooms and mops he carries on his back, he rambles along, thumping loudly on the pavements with a cane, as much to attract attention as to feel his way. Often he appears wearing a baseball catcher's mask over his chalky, sightless face, across the top of which runs a strap which helps to hold his wares in place. His cry is monotonous, a mere gibberish, punctuated with sharp explosions.

Mopanbroom! Mopanbroom! Mopanbroom!
Here comes the mopanbroom !
Get your mopanbrOOM!
MopanbroOM mopanbroOM mopanbrOOOOM!


Negro women owned most of the coffee stands that were scattered through old New Orleans. These women dispensed cups of freshly made coffee from little street stands to the melodious chant of 'Cafe noir!' and 'Cafe au lait'. In her The Story of the French Market Catherine Cole writes: '. . . Old Rose, whose memory is embalmed in the amber of many a song and picture and story, kept the most famous coffee stall of the old French Market. She was a little Negress who had earned money to buy her freedom from slavery. Her coffee was like the benediction that follows after prayer; or if you prefer it, the Benedictine after dinner.'

Zabette and Rose Gla were two other well-known coffee women. Zabette had her stand in front of the Cathedral. In the curious journalese of the day, the Daily Picayune describes Rose Gla as '... one of the comeliest of her race, black as Erebus, but smiling always and amicable as dawn. Her coffee was the essence of the fragrant bean, and since her death the lovers of that divine beverage wander listlessly around the stalls on Sunday mornings with a pining at the bosom which cannot be satisfied.'

Zabette is described as dispensing 'choice black coffee in tiny cups to her clients' and a notable sale is recorded when 'an old song was composed extempore by a representative Creole on a certain morning succeeding a sleepless night, which she took as the price of a cup of coffee and which began in this wise:
Piti fille, piti fille, piti fille, Little girl, little girl, little girl, Pitt fille qui court dan dolo. , . .' Little girl who ran in the water. , . .

Zabette also sold homemade pastries and btere du pays beer brewed from pineapples.

During the eighteen-forties a quadroon woman had a stand on Canal Street, a block from where Henry Clay's statue once stood. A woman named Manet te operated a coffee stall in the French Market. Children sent to market would always keep a picayune from the market money given them for a sip of her delicious and fragrant brew before starting homeward under the weight of their well-filled baskets.


Before the coming of the factories that sawed wood into stove lengths, wood sawyers made the rounds, ringing bells in the gates and calling loudly: 'Any wood today, Mam? C'n saw two cords for a dollar an' one cord for fifty cents. Yes'm. Thank yo', mam! I'll just pitch right in.'

Carrying in his saw and buck, sticking an old pipe in his mouth he would start right in, singing all the while:
Oh-o-oh, Mah Lady,
Oh-o-oh, Mah Lady,
Oh-o-oh, Mah Lady Jo-o-oe!

Dinner was usually part of his price. 'Yes, 'm, I shore could use a bite. This sure is good ham. Yes, 'm. Thank yo', mam!'


For years a man with a grindstone mounted on a wheelbarrow-like frame went about the streets, blowing a three- or four-note whistle which signified to housewives that the knife grinder was in the neighborhood. Another knife sharpener of early days carried only two small pieces of steel fastened together in a sort of Saint Andrew's cross. Into this cross he would thrust the knife, leaving it thin and keen.

Occasionally a knife grinder is still heard rambling through the city, usually crying: 'Any knifes to sharp'? Any knifes to sharp' today?'


The Umbrella Man is usually a somewhat seedy gentleman, inquiring in loud and nasal tones: 'Ombrellas to maynde? Any old ombrellas to maynde?' On his stooped back is his load of umbrellas and parasols, for unless the work required is very minor, he must take them home or to his shop.


Zozo la Brique (Zozo the Brick) was a well-known character among the Creoles some years ago. She peddled the red brick dust so popularly used to scrub stoops and walks in certain sections of New Orleans. Zozo insisted upon being paid in nickels, which it is said she hoarded. There is even a story that Zozo's miserliness increased until she eventually starved herself to death, and that a considerable sum at least several hundred dollars was found hidden in her mattress, all in nickels. Zozo carried a pail of brick dust in each hand and another balanced on her head. Generally considered to be slightly demented, children were always teasing her because of her nickname of 'Zozo' - which of course meant ' bird.' Anita Fanvergne recalled that youngsters would run behind her in the street, yelling, ' Zozo, look at that bird up there!' Zozo would only reply, ' Tsh! Tsh!' She is said to have loved children, and never to have become angry with them. As much as she prized them, she would often spend her precious nickels for sticks of peppermint candy to give to the youngsters who taunted her.

There were many other street merchants, some itinerant, others stationary, with stands or stalls or simply 'squatters' rights' along the curbs of the city. Marchands carrying their stocks on their backs and heads, in pushcarts and horse-drawn wagons, satisfied most of the needs of the Creole households.

Practically everything was sold in this way in earlier days. There were the Bird Men, who affected a Spanish costume - sombrero, blue nankeen frocks, and pantaloons tucked into rough boots. Trapping their merchandise in the swamps and countryside just out of the city limits, the Bird Men carried them through the streets in small cages suspended from poles across their shoulders. The Daily Picayune of July 15, 1846, mentions a hawker who 'offered everything from dry goods to gold watches,' carried on a circular portable bench or table, in the center of which he walked as he rambled through the neighbor- hoods,- crying loudly, ' Au rabais! Au rabais!' (The rabais man always claimed to undersell his competitors. The cry 'Au rabais!' might best be translated as 'Off price!' Today, Orleanians are likely to refer to any small notions or drygoods store as a ' rabais shop. ')

Bayou peddlers came down the waterways, singing their songs. Others journeyed down the Mississippi in boats: the Jew with his hundred-blade penknife and scores of other articles; the Yankee with his curious knick-knacks. French, Spaniards, Americans, Negroes, Mexicans, Indians all offered their wares. Along the streets Italians sold gaudily painted plaster saints. On hot summer evenings wandering marchands hawked palmetto fans, calling, 'Latanier! Latanier!'

Candle vendors crying, 'Belle chandelles! Belle chandelles!' (Beautiful candles ! Beautiful candles !) offered candles of myrtle wax, guaranteed to make even the 'darkness visible.' Negresses sold bowls of hot gumbo on the streets, delicious pastries and estomac muldtre a gingerbread humorously known by that name (mulatto belly). And the crayfish vendors brought housewives out to purchase the principal ingredient for their delicious cray- fish bisque with cries of ' 'Crebiche, Madame! Belle 'crebiche!' (Cray- fish vendors are still seen and heard, hawking the delicacy already boiled from tin buckets, crying: 'Red hot! Red hot!' People hearing them say: 'Here comes Red Hot!')

Rich basses and shrill trebles, whining, pleading, cajoling, screaming, the cries blended and mingled into a symphony of the city:
Au Rabais! Au Rabais!
Latanier! Latanier!
Ramonez! Rampnez!
Belles des Figues! Belles des Figuesf
Bons-pet its calas!
Tout chauds! Tout chauds!
Comfitures coco!
Pralines, Pistaches!
Pralines, Pacanes!

And from these first sellers of fans and figs, of pastries and pralines, of candles and calas, descended the vendors of today.

On hot summer nights children and adults, too wait for the Snowball Man, who peddles scoops of crushed ice over which your choice of sweet syrup is poured. The price is usually from three to five cents, and for an extra penny you may have two kinds of syrup. Most Snowball Men use pushcarts, gaily decorated with colored crepe paper or oilcloth. The syrups strawberry, raspberry, spearmint, chocolate, vanilla, pineapple, orange, lemon and nectar are sometimes given other names, occasionally after movie stars, such as 'Mae West Syrup. In the Carrollton section 'Charlie' has been king of the Snowball Men for years. He sells his wares from a small truck, stopping at corners, and ringing a bell. Children say: 'Here comes Charlie!' when they hear his bell a block or two away and run inside to beg pennies from their parents; many gather on street corners to wait for Charlie when it is time for him. No railroad ever had a better time schedule. At the intersection of Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues, people say: 'It must be about eight o'clock. There's Charlie!'

Ice cream vendors are, of course, popular, too. They usually ride bicycles to which a box containing their cream is attached, though many use a pushcart arrangement or drive a wagon. Most ring a bell instead of calling out. However, Arthur Hayward cries: 'Ha! Ha! Here comes Arthur! Mamma, that's the man!" Arthur has even advertised in the Personal Columns of New Orleans newspapers as follows:

A well known man by the name of Arthur Hayward, better known as the Ha Ha man. He has his new Aeroplane. He will be out Sunday. Mother, look for him. That's the man they call Ha Ha, all the school children's friend. Mother, that's him going up Magazine Ave. Mother, that's him. Now he's on Laurel St., Mother, sitting in his new aeroplane.

Mexicans sell hot tamales from white pushcarts at many intersections in the residential neighborhoods. All Orleanians know the vendor of chewing gum who extends five packages on five wire prongs, crying incessantly, ' GUMGUMGUMGUMGUMGUM- GUMGUMGUMGUM . . . ' and who consequently has earned the name of Gumgumgum. On the banquette before auction sales there is always a colored man or boy who beats a drum to attract attention Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! ad infinitum. This custom, old as the city, continues unchanged. One of Fremeaux' sketches published in 1876 an aged Negro beating a drum just outside such a sale might almost have been drawn today.

Spasm bands, composed of small Negro boys using makeshift instruments, who tap-dance and 'put it on' for pedestrians, are often seen in the streets of the Vieux Carre. They run behind strollers and, catching up, immediately go into violent twistings and contortions, accompanied by pleas of 'Gimme a penny, Mister! Gimme a nickel, Mister!' Some do their dances without any musical accompaniment at all, and some of the dances are definitely individual.

On the banquettes the 'one-man band' attracts attention with his ability to keep drum, cymbals, banjo and harmonica all going at the same time. And late at night in one club or another, Madame St. Martin, the Creole flower vendor, will sell you an old- fashioned nosegay of sword fern, cashmere bouquet and Louis Philippe roses.

In the French Quarter cafes and bars peddlers offer hardboiled eggs and stuffed crabs. There is an ancient Chinaman who sometimes appears with stuffed crabs, at other times with pralines, and who is said to play poker with every nickel he earns.

But the best known of all French Quarter characters today is Banjo Annie, who, dirty and ragged and drunken, in a costume that often includes two torn dresses and a man's cap, trails her way from bar to bar muttering to herself or shouting invectives at the bartenders who will have none of her playing and singing.

The vendors of Lottery tickets always do a thriving business, and so do the gentlemen who linger in shadowy doorways or in front of barrooms to inform you that there is 'a little game goin' on in the back. If you stand at one of the cheaper bars other men will approach and whisper invitations in your ears to purchase such merchandise as razor blades or shoestrings, combs or contraceptives.

Thus the street vendors can satisfy practically every need. As the barroom peddlers supply the equipment for certain entertainment, so do taxicab drivers in the Vieux Carre supply the means, calling out and in no whispers - 'Wanta see some girls tonight, buddy? How about some pretty girls tonight?'

Gumbo Ya-Ya
A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales, 1945
Houghton Mifflin Commpan - Boston
The Riverside Press, Cambridge

Compiled by Lyle Saxon, State Director, Edward Dreyer, Asst. State Special Writer. Material gathered by Workers of the Works 'Progress Administration, Louisiana Writers' Project, and Sponsored by the Louisiana Library Commission.

Webmaster Note:   The copyright date being 1945, declares that all right and privileges of this work remain with the owners, heirs, and holders. I will remove this content upon written request from any controlling interest. I do hope I will be allowed to leave this narrative in place for the containing historic value.

    The content was written during an era which did not place the value of "ethnic respect" which is a part of our current society. Forgive and understand that no form of racial insult is intended.