Today in New Orleans History

June 23

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The Voudou’s Day
June 23


The evening of June 23, St John's Eve (also known as Midsummer because it falls on or near the summer solstice), is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. The Christian holy day is fixed at June 24 but in some countries, festivities are celebrated the night before. Fire is the most typical element associated with the Saint John's Eve celebration.  In many countries, such as Croatia, bonfires are lit for people to jump over. In Estonia and Finland, old fishing boats may be burnt in the large pyres set ablaze and people gather with their families, or at larger events to celebrate this important day with singing and dancing.  In Ireland, Bonfire Night is held on St. John's Eve, when bonfires are lit on hilltops and many towns and cities have "Midsummer Carnivals", with fairs, concerts and fireworks, around the same time. In Turin, Italy the city stops work for two days and people from the surroundings comes to dance around the bonfire in the central square. In Portugal, street parties are held in many cities, towns and villages. On June 23, Catholics all over Brazil light a big fire, symbolising a Catholic tale: During a conversation, John's mother, Elizabeth, agreed to light a big fire to notify her cousin Mary (mother of Jesus) that she had given birth, that she might get post-partum assistance from her cousin. In Puerto Rico, a night-long celebration is held and after sunset, people travel to a beach or any accessible body of water (e.g. river, lake or even bathtub) and, at midnight, fall backwards into it -- three, seven or twelve times to cleanse the body from bad luck and give good luck for the following year.  In Spain, bonfires are lit and a set of firework displays usually takes place.

Midsummer celebrations held throughout the United States are largely derived from the cultures of immigrants who arrived from various European nations since the 19th century:

In New York, Swedish Midsummer celebrations in Battery Park attracts some 3,000-5,000 people annually, which makes it one of the city's largest celebrations. A Midsummer celebration which also honors Swedish heritage and history, has been held annually on the sound in Throgs Neck since 1941.

The Seattle, Washington neighborhood of Fremont puts on a large Summer Solstice Parade and Pageant, which for many years has controversially included painted naked cyclists. In St. Edwards Park in Kenmore, the Skandia Folkdance Society hosts Midsommarfest, which includes a Scandinavian solstice pole.

A solstitial celebration is held on Casper Mountain in Wyoming at Crimson Dawn park. Crimson Dawn is known in the area for the great stories of mythical creatures and people that live on Casper Mountain. The celebration is attended by many people from the community, and from around the country. A large bonfire is held and all are invited to throw a handful of red soil into the fire in hopes that they get their wish granted.

Since 1974, Santa Barbara, California has hosted an annual Summer Solstice celebration, typically on the weekend of or the weekend after the actual solstice. It includes a festival and parade.

Tucson, Arizona hosts Earthwalk Solstice celebration, with sister events in San Francisco, Jerusalem, and other communities around the world. The event features a walk through a giant labyrinth, musicians, healers, ceremony, etc.

In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the large number of Finnish and other northern European descendants celebrate Juhannus annually by holding a beachfront bonfire on the Saturday following the first day of summer.

In Kaleva, Michigan Juhannus is celebrated annually on or near the Summer Solstice by Gathering at the Village Roadside Park. Traditionally Pannukakku (Finnish Oven Baked Pancake) and strawberry shortcake is enjoyed followed by a bonfire or kokko. Kaleva was founded in 1900 by Finnish immigrants.

Geneva, Illinois, hosts a festival on the third Sunday of June featuring maypole-raising, dancing, and presentation of an authentic Viking ship.  Rockford, Illinois, Chicago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Lindsborg, Kansas also celebrate Midsummer.

And in New Orleans, St. John's Eve has traditionally been celebrated by voodoo practitioners. Above is a description of "Voudou’s [voodoo] Day” activity along the lake between Bayou St. John and Lakeport (West End) from the files of the N. O. Times newspaper. A June 23, 1884 edition of the New Orleans Times-Democrat reported “Eve of St. John” activities; “The queen in attendance” as well as a “scene on the lake coast from Spanish Fort to Milneburg was one which cannot easily be forgotten”.  (Image from the State Library of Louisiana. Text source: WIKI) 

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Blues, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll musician, singer, and bandleader. "Deacon" John Moore was born on June 23, 1941 in New Orleans. Moore grew up in New Orleans' 8th Ward. He plays guitar and is the brother of the Creole scholar Sybil Kein. He was active on the New Orleans R&B scene since his teens, and became a session man on many hit recordings of the late 1950s and the 1960s, including those by Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, and others. His band the Ivories at New Orleans' Dew Drop Inn attracted an enthusiastic following, sometimes upstaging visiting national acts Moore was hired to open for. In 2000 Moore was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame. On July 25, 2006 Moore became president of the local branch of the American Federation of Musicians. In January 2008, Deacon John was selected to close the Inauguration of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal by performing "God Bless America" with the 156th Army Band and a Navy fly-over of jets, and later headline the Governor's Inuagural Ball. In 2008, in ceremonies and performance in New Orleans at NOCCA, Deacon John was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. (WIKI)

On June 23, 1915 Margaret Bruning and Maurice J. Fitzgerald celebrated their wedding at the Bucktown home of her parents, which locals called "The Big House". In 1932 they opened Fitzgerald's Seafoods Restaurant and later moved to a larger 7000 square building at 1928 West End Park (shown on the map of restaurants existing in 1987). Their son, daughter, and their spouses joined the ranks. For a time there were gambling and slot machines as readily available as the fried soft-shell crabs and boiled seafood. In 1960 the wide porches were enclosed and a 30 tone air-conditioner was added – gone were the lake breezes. Hurricane Hilda damaged the restaurant in 1964 but the family repaired it and kept it going strong. Margaret and Maurice celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there in 1965 at the ages of 67 and 78 years. Margaret passed away in 1966. Maurice died in 1976. Maurice Jr. took over the kitchen and management and ran it very well but by 1989 the glory days of West End had come to an end. Maurice sold the restaurant in 1989 but it continued in operation until Hurricane Georges (1998) damaged it beyond repair. In 1981 Maurice Jr converted his parents' home at 324 Hammond Highway into “an exquisite, small French Chateau” he named Le Chateau Phylmar. In 1985 he and his wife Patricia enlarged and renovated it, printed the menu in French, and continued to serve fine food – he was the first Certified Executive Chef in Louisiana. He also taught in the Delgago College Culinary Arts Program. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 85. Near Fitzgerald's West End restaurant was Maggie and Smitty's Crabnett – a very casual on-land location for hot boiled seafood and cold beer. Maggie Hemard opened the little place in 1957 after learning the trade busing tables at Fitzgerald's. Co-owner Lloyd (“Mr. Red”) Hemard said in 1987 while lamenting the demise of business at West End, “It's very depressing out here. It was a great thing we had. We had good business, a family trade, we made a good living. But that's pretty much over. I'm burned out, The good days are gone. I'd sell it tomorrow if it weren't for Maggie but she wants to stay”.

Born in New Orleans on June 23, 1948, singer Luther Kent (Kent Rowell) was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame on November 18, 2011. 

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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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