Today in New Orleans History

July 25

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Madame X Dies
July 25, 1915


Virginie Amélie Avegno was born in New Orleans on January 29, 1859, the daughter of Anatole Placide Avegno (July 3, 1835 – April 1862) and Marie Virginie de Ternant, of Parlange Plantation. She had a sister, Valentine, who died of yellow fever. Her parents were white Creoles; her father was the son of Philippe Avegno (Italian) and Catherine Genois. Her mother was a descendant of French nobility.

Her father served as a major in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; he died in 1862 in the Battle of Shiloh. He was the commander of the Avegno Zouaves of New Orleans, a cosmopolitan battalion which had soldiers from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds including French, Spanish, Mexican, Irish, Italian, Chinese, German, Dutch, and Filipino soldiers.

In 1867, when Virginia was eight, her widowed mother moved with her to France. The girl was educated in Paris and introduced to high French society.

Virginie Avegno became one of Paris' conspicuous beauties, as she was a pale-skinned brunette with fine, cameo-like features and an hourglass figure. She was known to use lavender-colored face and body powder to enhance her complexion, to dye her hair with henna, and to color her eyebrows. She attracted much admiration due to her elegance and style.

She married Pierre Gautreau, a French banker and shipping magnate. She had a daughter named Louise Gautreau (1879-1911). She was rumored to have had numerous affairs.

She posed for paintings by several noted 19th-century painters, including Gustave Courtois and Antonio de La Gandara.

Most famously, she was the model for John Singer Sargent's Portrait of Madame X. The painting created a cultural scandal when it was exhibited in 1884 at the Paris Salon. The suggestiveness of the portrait and the style of clothing were considered scandalous, as well as publicizing Gautreau's reputation. Such a high-class woman would not usually be a model. The scandal caused Gautreau to retire for some time from society.

Antonio de La Gandara painted a full-length portrait of her, entitled Madame Gautreau (1898). In tonality of colors, privacy of her face, and style of her dress, it was more conservative than Sargent's painting.

Gautreau died in Cannes on July 25, 1915. She was buried in the Gautreau family crypt at their Chateau des Chênes in Saint-Malo, Brittany.  (Wiki)

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William Joseph "Billy" Guste, Jr. (May 26, 1922 – July 25, 2013), was a New Orleans attorney, businessman and Democratic attorney general of Louisiana from 1972 to 1992. He succeeded Jack P.F. Gremillion, a fellow Democrat engulfed in scandal who had held the position since 1956. Guste received recognition for molding the office into a model of integrity and efficiency. In 1976, he helped Jimmy Carter, the former governor of Georgia, carry Louisiana and served as the first elector listed on the ballot for the Carter-Mondale slate. With his brother, Roy Francis Guste, Sr., William Guste was a fourth-generation proprietor of Antoine's Restaurant(Wiki)

William George Helis, Sr., born on October 17, 1886, was an impoverished Greek emigrant to the United States who made a fortune in the oil business and became a major owner/breeder of thoroughbred racehorses and a racetrack owner. In his obituary, the Pittsburg Press called William Helis "one of the amazing figures of the American oilfields."  A resident with legal domicile in New Orleans, he died in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on July 25, 1950.  His remains were brought home to New Orleans where he was interred in the Metairie Cemetery.  His mausoleum was built by American architect and sculptor, Albert Weiblen.  In 1991, William Helis was posthumously inducted into the Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame).

Steven Benjamin Goodman (July 25, 1948 – September 20, 1984) — known as Steve Goodman — was an American folk music singer-songwriter from Chicago, Illinois. Goodman was diagnosed with leukemia while attending college, and he set out to make the most of the time he had left to write music. A prolific writer, Goodman is best known for penning "City of New Orleans," a song made popular by Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson, for which Goodman won his first Grammy Award posthumously in 1985. (Wiki)

Francesco Todaro was an Italian-American mobster and onetime boss of the New Orleans crime family. Todaro briefly succeeded Corrado Giacona upon his death on July 25, 1944. Francesco "Frank" Todaro was born in the area of San Cipirello, Province of Palermo, Sicily in about 1889. Son of Giuseppe Todaro and Giuseppa DiMaggio. Frank Todaro along with brothers Carlos "Charlie", Giuseppe "Joe", and Salvatore "Sam" immigrated to the United States in 1907 and settled in New Orleans.  Another brother, Angelo Todaro, remained in Sicily. Frank married to Nunzia "Nancy" Giammalva on July 14, 1914 in New Orleans and they had four children two sons, Joseph and Clement, and two daughters, Jacqueline and Josephine. Frank Todaro was alleged to be underboss of the New Orleans Mafia and to have briefly served as head of the New Orleans family before his death. Further it has been erroneously reported by John H. Davis that he was the father-in-law of Carlos Marcello. Carlos Marcello was in fact married to Todaro's niece Giacomina (Jackie), the daughter of his brother Joseph. Frank Todaro died at his residence on S. Broad Street in New Orleans at 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday November 29, 1944 from complications related to throat cancer. He was about 55 years of age. His funeral was held on December 1, 1944, the wake was conducted at Lamano-Panno-Fallo Funeral Home, a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass was held at St. Mary's Church and he was interred at Metairie Cemetery.  From

Born in New Orleans on July 25, 1899, musician Johnny Wiggs (Born John Wigginton Hyman) started his music career on the violin, then the cornet.  In the late 1920s he took a job as a teacher, adopted the stage name "Johnny Wiggs), and moonlighted in New Orleans jazz clubs at night. He made his first recordings as "John Hyman's Bayou Stompers" in the late 1920s.  In the 1940s he quit teaching (after having trained a young Pete Fountain), led several bands, made some recordings, and became an an important figure in the revival and preservation of the local music by founding the New Orleans Jazz Club.  Hyman remained active until the 1970s.  He passed away on in New Orleans on October 10, 1977.

July 25-28, 1819: Hurricane affected the coast from Louisiana to Alabama. Its full force was felt at Bay St. Louis. New Orleans was at the fringe of the storm and suffered no severe damage. Ships at Balize (Pilottown) suffered a strong gale for 24 hours, but only 3 ships were grounded. Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne rose 5 to 6 feet during the storm. Forty one lives were lost on the U.S. Man of War schooner Firebrand, a 150 ton gun ship, while it lay off the west end of Cat Island. In total, 43 people lost their lives.

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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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