Today in New Orleans History

March 21

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The Good Friday Fire
March 21, 1788

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1788March21GreatFireGoodFriday.jpgThe Great New Orleans Fire (1788) was a fire that destroyed 856 of the 1,100 structures in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 21, 1788, spanning the south central French Quarter from Burgundy to Chartres Street, almost to the riverfront buildings. An additional 212 buildings were destroyed in a later city-wide fire, on December 8, 1794.

The Good Friday fire started about 1:30 p.m. at the home of Army Treasurer Don Vincente Jose Nunez, 619 Chartres Street at Toulouse Street, less than a block from Jackson Square (Plaza de Armas). Because the fire was on Good Friday, priests refused to allow church bells to be rung as a fire alarm. Within five hours it had consumed almost the entire city as it was fed by a strong wind from the southeast. The fire destroyed the original Cabildo and virtually all major buildings in the French Quarter, including the city's main church, the municipal building, the army barracks, armory, and jail. Only two fire engines were operational, and they were destroyed by the fire. Louisiana Governor Esteban Rodríguez Miró set up tents for the homeless.

The fire area stretched between Dauphine Street and the Mississippi River and between Conti Street in the south and St. Philip Street in the north. It spared the river-front buildings including the Customs House, the tobacco warehouses, the Governor's Building, the Royal Hospital and the Ursulines Convent.

The Spanish were to replace the wooden buildings with structures with courtyards, thick brick walls, arcades, and wrought iron balconies. Among the new buildings were the signature New Orleans buildings of St. Louis Cathedral, The Cabildo and the Presbytere.

Governor Miro's report summarized the suffering:

If the imagination could describe what our senses enable us to feel from sight and touch, reason itself would recoil in horror, and it is no easy matter to say whether the sight of an entire city in flames was more horrible to behold than the suffering and pitiable condition in which everyone was involved. Mothers, in search of a sanctuary or refuge for their little ones, and abandoning - their earthly goods to the greed of the relentless enemy, would retire to out-of-the-way places rather than be witnesses of their utter ruin. Fathers and husbands were busy in saving whatever objects the rapidly spreading flames would permit them to bear off, while the general bewilderment was such as to prevent them from finding even for these a place of security. The obscurity of the night coming on threw its mantle for a while over the saddening spectacle; but more horrible still was the sight, when day began to dawn, of entire families pouring forth into the public highways, yielding to their lamentations and despair, who, but a few hours before, had been basking in the enjoyment of more than the ordinary comforts of life. The tears, the heartbreaking sobs and the pallid faces of the wretched people mirrored the dire fatality that had overcome a city, now in ruins, transformed within the space of five hours into an arid and fearful, desert. Such was the sad ending of a work of death, the result of seventy years of industry.

After 6 years of rebuilding, on December 8, 1794, another 212 buildings were destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1794. Still a colony of Spain, rebuilding continued in Spanish style, and most French style architecture was eliminated from the French Quarter.  (WIKI)

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On March 21, 2012, the NFL issued sanctions to Saints coaches and front-office personnel for their roles in an alleged bounty scandal. Williams was suspended indefinitely, and was banned from applying for reinstatement until the end of the 2012 season at the earliest. Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, effective April 1. He is the first head coach in modern NFL history to be suspended for any reason.  Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season. Vitt, who had been tabbed as a possible candidate to serve as interim coach in Payton's absence, was suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season (This did not automatically disqualify Vitt from serving as interim head coach per se, as his suspension was not effective until the regular season; the suspension terms allowed him to coach the team through training camp and the preseason, then return during Week 7. The Saints announced they would implement this scenario for 2012.)  The Saints were also fined $500,000—the maximum fine permitted under the league constitution. Goodell also stripped the Saints of their second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

Photo of Arthur J. Heyd, Superintendent of the New Orleans Fire Department, Captain Victor Mahne, Planning Officer for the NOFD, and Assistant Superintendent Louis J. San Salvador, March 21, 1968 displaying a plan for a new fire station.

Photo of General De Gaulle Drive -- Attached text: This is a section of Louisiana Power and Light Company's high-voltage transmission line along General De Gaulle in Ward 15 of New Orleans. The streamlined, octagonal aluminum structures are 85 feet high and have sky-blue insulators especially designed for this area. This line extends from LP&L's electric distribution center in Gretna to a major Mississippi River tower crossing near the Industrial Canal. March 21, 1963 (NOPL)  NOTE: LaPALCo Drive is named for Louisiana Power and Light Company.

Photo of Almonaster Ave., between St. Claude and Florida, after being resurfaced, March 21, 1954. [Photograph by Leon Trice]

Photo of St. Maurice Avenue from Law to Derbigny "after" being resurfaced, March 21, 1954.  [Photography by Leon Trice]

On March 21, 1944, the Liberty Ship Jacques Philippe Villere  was launched by Delta Shipbuilding Company.

Hugh Kennedy was the 27th mayor of New Orleans (March 21, 1865 – May 5, 1865 and June 28, 1865 – March 18, 1866). KENNEDY was also a journalist and businessman. He was born in Belfast, Ireland, July 1, 1810, of Scottish parents. Education: graduated from the Belfast Academical and Collegiate Institution, a Presbyterian school, and studied law in London. Emigrated from London in 1833 to New Orleans via New York. Druggist for ten years before he became editor of the New Orleans True Delta. Married Annie White, daughter of the city's most prominent Irish immigrant, Maunsel White (q.v.). They had three daughters. Active in the Democratic party; appointed mayor of New Orleans in March, 1865, by Gov. James Madison Wells (q.v.); removed by Gen. Nathanial Banks (q.v.) in May, 1866; never ran for elective office. Entered streetcar business; became president of the Crescent City Railroad Company in 1875. Later moved to Louisville in order to invest in coal-mining operations. Died, Louisville, May 19, 1888. J.L. Sources: Gerald Capers, Occupied City: New Orleans Under the Federals, 1862-1865 (1965); John S. Kendall, History of New Orleans (1922); Peyton McCrary, Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction: The Louisiana Experiment (1978).

The City Council, by ordinance of March 21, 1806, required the Collector of Levee Dues to keep two books, one to record ships loading and unloading in the port, and the other to record flatboats, barges, rafts, and other craft arriving therein. In addition the Collector was to include an account of taxes collected on rum and tafia imported into the city. In 1818 anew ordinance provided for the appointment of two collectors, one for ships and the other for flatboats and other vessels.

On March 21, 1800 the Cabildo found it necessary to provide arms to the night policemen and resolved that eight lances be made--two for the Corporals and six for the policemen. (NOPL)

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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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