Today in New Orleans History

August 14

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John G. Schwegmann is Born 
August 14, 1911  
John Schwegmann (left) and two unidentified men standing next to a display of Morton Frozen Pies at Schwegmann Brothers Giant Supermarket. Airline and Labarre Road. 
Photo from the Charles L. Franck / Franck-Bertacci Photographers Collection, The Historic New Orleans Collection 
We thought it best to commemorate the birth of this local legend by sharing his obituary (he passed away on March 6, 1995) from the March 7 edition of the Times-Picayune:
Grocery Pioneer Dies At 83 Schwegmann Built Empire

John Gerald Schwegmann, the son of a 9th Ward grocer who became a local pioneer in the development of the modern supermarket, died Monday at Touro Infirmary. He was 83. He had been in poor health for several years after suffering a series of strokes, corporate spokeswoman Sue Burge said. Mr. Schwegmann, who was born above his father's small grocery store at Burgundy and Piety streets, joined with two brothers in 1946 to open the first Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Market at Elysian Fields and St. Claude avenues (soon to be renovated to become a Robert Fresh Market grocery). By the time of his death, the empire, now known as Schwegmann Giant Super Markets, had grown to 18 stores with 5,000 employees, and his surname had become synonymous in New Orleans with the massive modern supermarket that sells everything from gourmet food to garden supplies. "He was the first person to take us past the mom-and-pop business into the supermarket business," said his son, John F. Schwegmann, the privately held stores' chief executive officer since 1979.

Although his principal activity was marketing groceries, Mr. Schwegmann also was intensely involved in politics. He spent 12 years in the Legislature and nearly five years on the state Public Service Commission, and he ran for governor in 1971. Mr. Schwegmann used his positions as an elected official and a businessman to speak loudly on such diverse issues as price- fixing, the Pentagon Papers, taxes and the Superdome. He espoused his opinions in mini-editorials that were part of his newspaper ads, and he had the names of candidates he supported printed on the supermarket chain's shopping bags. Two members of his family have demonstrated the same interest in government service: Lt. Gov. Melinda Schwegmann, his daughter-in-law, and John F. Schwegmann, a member of the state Public Service Commission.

"Everything he's touched has turned to money," said Saul Stone, one of Mr. Schwegmann's attorneys, in a 1979 interview. "He's some lucky kind of guy."

Mr. Schwegmann was born Aug. 14, 1911, above Schwegmann's Grocery and Bar, which his German-born grandfather founded in 1869. The store was later commemorated by Schwegmann's Old Piety & Burgundy Whiskey. He recalled that the store "in the early years had no heat in the winter, and the front doors . . . were always open, allowing the cold wind to blow in. If the clerks complained, they were told the heat would make them drowsy and that it would take the bloom off the fruits and vegetables, even though (olive oil) was freezing and breaking on the shelves. However, the real reason for keeping the doors open was to show that the store was open and ready for business."

Mr. Schwegmann's education was limited to grammar school, a year of high school at Holy Cross and six months at Soule College. After working for the U.S. Post Office and as a salesman for a margarine manufacturer, he got a job with Canal Bank & Trust Co., which closed in 1933. He worked in real estate until 1939, when he joined his father's store. In that store, the Schwegmanns introduced New Orleanians to self-service shopping, a novelty that eventually became an ordinary feature of American life, largely dooming the smaller stores in which proprietors filled each customer's order. "Some of the old-time customers were very put out about it and asked, 'Where is the counter where I can get waited on?' " Mr. Schwegmann said years later. "My father said, 'Here is a basket. Shop for yourself.' "One customer replied, 'If you think I am going to run all around this puzzle garden, you are out of your mind. I will stay right here and get served.' My father took the basket, went around the shelves and filled her order. When he added it up, he used the old prices in the days of service, which were 10 percent higher. "She said, 'You are not charging me 10 percent more. I will go and pick up my own groceries,' and that was the beginning of Schwegmann's self-service stores."

On Aug. 23, 1946, John G. Schwegmann and his brothers, Anthony and Paul, opened the first supermarket in the family chain. "In just two years, he was a big success," Saul Stone said in the 1979 interview. "The best way to success was volume with a low markup. He said he would rather make $100 off $1,000 in sales than make $50 on $100 sales."

"There are richer and smarter people in the world than I am, but they're no better," Mr. Schwegmann said in an interview a generation after he opened his first supermarket. "We're all selling something to someone else. . . . I never look down; I always look up."

He also founded Schwegmann Bank & Trust Co., later bought by Jefferson Guaranty Bank. In 1948, Mr. Schwegmann entered a new field of activity: litigation. The Legislature had passed a law requiring a minimum markup on alcoholic beverages at all levels of the merchandising chain. The grocer, convinced stores should be able to set their own prices, volunteered to be a guinea pig in a test case opposing the law, and Stone agreed to represent him. "That made him a litigator," Stone said. "He liked it. He wanted to fight." The state Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional.

Mr. Schwegmann's next fight was against the state's fair-trade law, which let manufacturers set retail prices for an entire area by entering into a contract with just one retailer in that region. The crusade was successful in federal district court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's highest tribunal did not declare the law unconstitutional, Stone said, but it did rule that merchants could not be forced to charge certain prices.  "The next move was to get the state's fair-trade law thrown out," Stone said. "It was. A second law was passed, but the state Supreme Court threw it out in 1965."

Perhaps Mr. Schwegmann's best-remembered fight was his battle against milk price-fixing. It pitted him against first the state agriculture commissioner and later the state Milk Commission, which could set milk prices at the processing and retail levels, said Michael R. Fontham, one of Mr. Schwegmann's attorneys. The federal suit, which grew out of Mr. Schwegmann's attempts to import cheaper out-of-state milk, was in litigation for eight years, Fontham said. Finally, a three-judge panel said Mr. Schwegmann could not be barred from buying cheaper milk. After that, the state eliminated the Milk Commission. It was replaced in 1975 by the Dairy Stabilization Board, which can prescribe a minimum price processors must pay to farmers. One out-of-state company from which Mr. Schwegmann bought milk was Dairy Fresh Corp., an Alabama company with a processing plant in Hattiesburg, Miss. State health officials tried to impound the milk, Fontham said, "but eventually, he was able to bring it in."

Such battles were "just altruistic," Stone said. "He favored unrestricted, free competition. It's principle, nothing personal with it. He had nothing to gain at all."

Mr. Schwegmann's last court battle involved a $30 million suit filed in 1979 by Mary Ann Blackledge, a former clerk in a Schwegmann's store, who claimed she and the supermarket magnate had lived as husband and wife for 12 years. She said $30 million was her share of the wealth they accumulated while they were together. In 1982, state District Judge Frank V. Zaccaria ruled that Blackledge could not file such a suit unless she had a written contract. He said she could sue to recover money she might have spent in business relationships with Mr. Schwegmann, but she didn't file such a suit.

Mr. Schwegmann's political career began in 1955 with an unsuccessful race for a Jefferson Parish seat in the state Senate. After an unsuccessful campaign in 1959 for the Jefferson Parish presidency, he won a seat in the state House in 1961. Seven years later, he was elected to the state Senate, and in 1975, he was elected to the Public Service Commission. After suffering strokes in 1977 and 1978, he resigned from the commission in October 1980. His son was elected to the same seat seven months later.

In the Legislature, Mr. Schwegmann declared his independence early and acquired the reputation of a maverick. Because of his crusades and feuds, he failed to get many of his bills passed. In a 1962 speech, he said, "How can you win with a stacked house? I came out fighting, and at least I was loyal to the people." Mr. Schwegmann became a persistent critic of the administrations of Govs. Jimmie Davis and John McKeithen, and he acquired a wide variety of enemies. Former Mayor Moon Landrieu once said Mr. Schwegmann was "so poorly informed on the governmental process you have to excuse him on the basis of ignorance." In the Legislature, Mr. Schwegmann voted against such measures as pay raises for public officials and tax increases.
He also opposed building the Superdome with state bonds. The original estimate of the stadium's cost was $35 million, but years before it was finished, Mr. Schwegmann predicted it would cost between $150 million and $200 million. The final cost was $179 million. The Superdome was one of McKeithen's pet projects, and he tried to use his charm to win Mr. Schwegmann over to his side. During one exchange, McKeithen said, "Now, John's going to be reasonable about this. After all, we can help him. John, what can we do for you?" "Governor, you can't do nothin' for me," Mr. Schwegmann replied.

Survivors include two sons, John F. Schwegmann and Guy G. Schwegmann; a daughter, Margie Schwegmann-Brown; a brother, Anthony Schwegmann; a sister, Marguerite Barrios; and three grandchildren.

A Mass will be said Wednesday at noon at Holy Trinity Church, 721 St. Ferdinand St. Visitation will be today from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd. Burial will be in Metairie Cemetery.

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New Orleans born rapper Corey Miller, better known by his stage name, C-Murder, was sentenced on August 14, 2009 by District Judge Hans Liljeberg to mandatory life imprisonment after his conviction of second-degree murder,

Jazz double-bassist.Chester Zardis was born in New Orleans on May 27, 1900. He passed away on August 14, 1990.

The Riverfront streetcar line was built along a section of the river in an area with many amenities catering to tourists. It opened August 14, 1988, the first new streetcar route to be unveiled in New Orleans in 62 years. The line runs 2 miles from Thalia Street at the upper end of the New Orleans Convention Center to the downriver (far) end of the French Quarter at the foot of Esplanade Avenue. Unlike the other three lines, it travels on an exclusive right of way, along the river levee beside New Orleans Belt Railway tracks. Officially, the Riverfront Line is designated Route 2.

April 14, 1979 - Victor Galindez regains the WBA world Light Heavyweight championship with a tenth round knockout of his former conqueror, Mike Rossman, in New Orleans.

On August 14, 1972, the early 19th century brick fortress Fort Pike (North of central New Orleans off U.S. Route 90, E.) was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

On August 14, 1969, Hurricane Camille formed and  and rapidly developed into a major storm which made landfall early on August 18 in Waveland, Mississippi as a Category 5 hurricane.  Winds gusted to 125 miles per hour  at Slidell as their pressure sank to 28.75 inches of mercury on August 19. Almost total destruction was seen from Venice to Buras. Ostrica Lock measured a storm surge of 16 feet. Water overwashed U.S. Highway 90 to a depth of 10 feet. The highest rainfall report from the state was 5.23 inches  from Slidell. Camille caused about $322 million (1969 dollars) of damage in Louisiana. (Wiki)

New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews was convicted on three counts of perjury for lying to the grand jury, in connection with Jim Garrison's  investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy, on August 14, 1967.

Paul Capdevielle (January 15, 1842 – August 14, 1922) was mayor of New Orleans from May 9, 1900 to December 5, 1904. His tenure as mayor was marked by the installation of the modern sewage and drainage system and by the Robert Charles race riots. After his mayoral term, Capdevielle served as president of the New Orleans Public Library Board and as State Auditor of Public Accounts. He is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.

Carleton Hunt (1836–1921) of Louisiana. Born in New Orleans, Orleans Parish, La., January 1, 1836. Nephew of Theodore Gaillard Hunt. Democrat. Served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; U.S. Representative from Louisiana 1st District, 1883-85. Died August 14, 1921.

On August 14, 1909, the Christian Science Monitor reported: "NEW ORLEANS - A letter from Manager Layolle, of the New Orleans French Opera, who is now in Paris, states that he has engaged M. Leon Escalais of the Grand Opera House there as leading tenor for the coming season here. He is considered one of the best tenors in Europe".

August 14th, 1901: Hurricane forms northeast of Puerto Rico and moves west through Southern Florida and northwest through the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Grand Isle on the 14th. The 5-min average winds reached 56 m.p.h. at Port Eads before the anemometer blew away. River stages at New Orleans rose to a level of 7 feet during the storm, producing much flooding. Levee breaks around New Orleans flooded the city. Buras reported 4 feet of water in town. The only building not destroyed at Port Eads was the lighthouse! Total Louisiana damages exceeded $1 million. Ten lives were lost.

David Glasgow (aka Glascoe) Farragut (July 5, 1801 – August 14, 1870) was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. In 1805, his father accepted a position at the U.S. port of New Orleans. He traveled here first and his family followed, still living in New Orleans when his mother died of yellow fever. He would later accept the major role of attacking and capturing New Orleans during the Civil War. Congress honored him by creating the rank of rear admiral on July 16, 1862, a rank never before used in the U.S. Navy. He is remembered nationally for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay (which he won), usually paraphrased as "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" in U.S. Navy tradition. (Wiki)

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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