Today in New Orleans History

September 28

Shushan Airport Milneburg Joys

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The Camps are Swept Away
Bruning's and Fitzgerald's Heavily Damaged

On September 28, 1998, Hurricane Georges, a Category 2 storm made landfall in Mississippi.  Some 500,000 residents in Louisiana evacuated from low-lying areas. Mayor Marc Morial declared a state of emergency to allow federal assistance into the state. After nearly 1.5 million people were urged to evacuate coastal areas, officials described the evacuation as likely the largest ever achieved.  The Superdome was opened as an evacuation shelter.
Winds gusted to 55 mph at New Orleans Lakefront Airport and pressure fell to 29.37".  Storm surges above seven feet overflowed some of the land surrounding Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne.  Many homes located outside the levee system were flooded by the storm's storm surge.  An estimated 160,000 residences were left without power and severe beach erosion took place due to the extremely slow movement of the hurricane. Waves reached airplane wings on the flooded runway at the Lakefront Airport.  In  Little Woods, storm waters undermined a section of railroad track, jeopardizing rail service there.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened 67 shelters throughout the state.  Two lives were lost  in Louisiana. 
Despite those damages and losses, the city of New Orleans and the metropolitan area had mostly dodged a proverbial bullet.  But along the lakefront a way of life in two areas of our unique city changed forever on September 28, 1998:
Georges was the final blow at West End where restaurants had struggled for years to survive. Bruning's Restaurant, originating in 1859, was badly damaged and part of the recently closed Fitzgerald's restaurant collapsed -- "At least half of it's in the lake," said owner Andrew Jaeger.  The 17th Street Canal was littered with wood and other debris from Bruning's. "We had no idea it was going to be so bad," said owner Jimmy Bruning Urrate, 51, who had worked there for 38 years. "We figured we would have minor damage, but not a total loss like this."  Urrate reopened his business in a nearby location but the old building was never repaired due to insurance problems.  Hurricane Georges was the death blow to many other West End businesses which did not reopen after the 1998 storm.
Along Hayne Boulevard and in Little Woods 80 camps were completely washed away with only their pilings remaining as evidence that they had ever been there -- some for over 80 years.  The shoreline was heavily covered with their bouyant remains, including an ancient cistern.  The lake bottom was checkered with claw-foot tubs, antique stoves, and other furnishings too heavy to wash away.  Only six camps survived which would be repaired to allow families a few more years of life on the lake before Katrina came through seven years later.

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Gennaro's Bar owners Charles and Conchetta's son made a name for himself on Broadway during the 1950s. With Jerome Robbins, Peter Gennaro choreographed West Side Story in 1957. He danced and choreographed his own troop and coached guests who appeared on Perry Como “Kraft Music Hall” from 1960 through 1963. In 1977 he was awarded a Tony for choreography for the smash hit “Annie”. Born on November 23, 1919, Peter Gennaro died in September 28, 2000 at the age of 80.

The World War II Liberty, Ship Paul Tulane, was launched at Delta Shipyard on September 28, 1943. In 1938 she was sold to a private owner and scrapped in 1969.


Airline Highway originally was a two-lane road that ran from Prairieville to Shrewsbury (now Metairie). The first section, running between Williams Boulevard in Kenner and Shrewsbury Road, opened in June 1927. It was begun by the Jefferson Parish Police Jury as a local road and incorporated into the plan for Airline Highway during construction.
The remainder of the highway was built between 1928 and 1933 by the Louisiana Highway Commission with federal aid, as the road would carry US 61 upon completion. The section north of the spillway was officially opened on July 4, 1933, and the section on the south side followed three weeks later. (Various sections had been temporarily opened to traffic beginning in October 1931.) Completion of the bridge over the Bonnet Carré Spillway was delayed until 1935, necessitating a detour over the Jefferson Highway (River Road) via temporary gravel roads along the spillway guide levees. The eight-lane extension into Tulane Avenue (reached by a now-demolished six-lane bridge over the former New Basin Canal) was officially opened on August 26, 1940.
The Bonnet Carre Spillway, as well as the spillway bridge on Airline Highway,  was dedicated on December 13, 1935 as  part of the Mississippi Flood Control Project at a cost of  more than $13 million. Its construction was prompted by the devastating floods of 1927.  The spillway flood-way would route 250,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain then Lake Borgne and into the Gulf of Mexico, thus sparing the Greater New Orleans area from high-water river flooding.
Engineers determined that 19th century Bonnet Carré Crevasse, about 33 river miles above New Orleans would be the ideal location. Between 1849 and 1882, four major crevasses had occurred here. During the flood of 1849, a 7,000-foot-wide natural crevasse at Bonnet Carré flowed for more than six months.
This 5.7 mile-long (7698 feet) structure contains 135,000 cubic yards of concrete in 350 weirs spaced 22 feet apart on center.  Wood "needle-control" lumber slip into and out of the structure to control the flow of water.  These "pins" are lifted by cranes which ride a track along the top of the structure.  The flood-plane encompasses 7860 acres. 
TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1930November30Bonnet_Carre_SpillwayLSU2.jpgThe spillway's levees were completed in the summer of 1932.  Three railroad crossings (including the one easily viewed from the Interstate over Lake Pontchartrain) were finished in February 1935. The automobile bridge had opened to traffic, months before the dedication, on September 28, 1935.   The concrete spillway gates were completed in February 1937.
On the day of the dedication special trains from the Louisiana and Arkansas railroads awaited passengers, dignitaries, and delegate at Union Station on South Rampart Street to transport them, beginning at 9 a.m., to the spillway bridge which lay between Norco and Montz.  A white ribbon spanned across the south end of the passenger bridge, waiting to be cut at 10:30.  But that was just the beginning of a long day of celebration.  After the spillway dedication, attendees walked six blocks along the spillway levee back to the train which took them to Kenner where they boarded the steamer Capital for a lavish luncheon to the tunes of the LSU Tiger Band (which had also played at the ceremony).  Upon debarking at Eads Plaza (now Spanish Plaza near the foot of Canal Street), a twenty-one gun salute from the Washington Artillery began more ceremonies which included a pageant ("Man's Conquest of the River") performed by students from McMain, Warren Easton, Peters, and Kohn high schools and a parade to Claiborne Avenue and back with the bands from Tulane, Loyola, Easton Peters, the New Orleans Public Service, and the Celotex Company band. The evening of dedication day brought a 6:30 banquet for 1,000 people at the TipTop Inn of the Roosevelt Hotel. 
The Airline Highway spillway bridge is still holding up rather well, considering its age.  The spillway itself has been opened ten times since its construction -- in 1937, 1945, 1950, 1973, 1975, 1979, 1983, 1997, 2008, 2011. It remains as it was originally constructed with no significant modifications as none have been needed. It is an excellent example of how low-tech design can endure and work perfectly.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Photos of the spillway structure under construction on November 30, 1930 from the Louisiana Digital Library.

Front page news in the Daily Picayune on  September 28, 1911 announced the arrest of Miss Annie Crawford, 28 year-old resident of 1011 Peters Avenue, for the poisoning of her 24 year-old sister Elise at their home. on September 23.    Elise had been ill for quite some time before her death.

The Crawford family had lost three family members within the past 15 months. On June 25, 1910, another sister, Mary Agnes Crawford died suddenly -- the cause of death was attributed to Acute Meningitis.  Three weeks later on July 15 her father, Walter C. Crawford passed away -- the cause of death was allegedly Uremic Poisoning.  Two weeks after that, on July 29 her mother died -- it was thought that she also succumbed to Uremic Poisoning.  Upon the death of  Elise suspitions were raised that the family might have been victims of murder.

Dr. J.C. McGuire who had treated Elise claimed that her symptoms were not connected with the heart trouble she had suffered but that they more closely resembled morphine poisoning.  Dr, McGuire admitted Elise to Charity Hospital where she died the following morning.  The coroner's report concluded that morphine had been found in her stomach after her body was exhumed from St. Patrick's Cemetery Number 3 for examination.  Relatives reported that  Annie had an addiction to morphine.  She had worked in the drug department of the New Orleans Sanitarium (renamed Presbyterian Hospital) but was discharged for alleged irregularities in her accounting of medications.  In her position at the hospital she became familiar with the actions of poisons and other drugs. 

Out of work since losing her job, it was determined that she was the insurance beneficiary of each deceased family member; Mary Agnes was insured for $300, her father for $800, her mother for $800, and her sister Elise for $250.  Another sister, Gertrude, said "I don't want Annie to nurse me if I ever get sick.  She gives such funny medicine". District Attorney St. Claire Adams said, "It was established today the that Annie Crawford is a drug fiend and probably is addicted to morphine.  It is also established that she had access during the past three weeks to morphine and was in a position to obtain it in practically any quantity.  During the indisposition of Elise Crawford she bitterly complained that her food and drink were drugged.  I have charged Annie Crawford with the murder of her sister Elise". 

The case came before the Grand Jury on October 10 and Annie Crawford was indicted.  On March 13, 2012 the began and she pled not guilty. She had admitted to poisoning Elise with morphine capsules but said that she accidentally administered the wrong medication -- she thought she had given Elise calomel tablets which she had purchased at Waldorf's Pharmacy.  She also admitted to being a morphine addict.  

Elise's body was, once again, exhumed for further examination. Laboratory slides harvested from her organs were brought to the courtroom as evidence.  Annie's attorney Lionel Adams exclaimed that this was a "macabre display" while District Attorney St. Claire Adams objected.  Tempers flared and the two began to physically scuffle.  While others in the courtroom attempted to quell the melee the slides were pushed and went crashing to the floor.  Annie was led from the room while fainting.  During the trial, professors from Tulane Medical School were called in as expert witnesses.  Some opposed the opinions of others.  Tulane students aligned with the professor whose opinion favored Annie's innocence rushed to Parish Prison in an attempt to carry her away. Police formed a ring of guards around the building and the students were barred from the courtroom.

This spectacular trial, which attracted national attention, ended as a mistrial on March 26, 1912 as a mistrial.  The jury had voted 9-3 in favor of an acquittal but were deadlocked and failed to reach a verdict.  Anne Crawford was not tried for the murder of her mother, father, or other sister because they had been buried  too long for current forensics to determine if they had been poisoned.   On March 27, 1913, Elise's organs were released to Annie and her remaining siste and reburied at St. Patrick's.  The two sisters reported that they planned to move to Port Arhtur, Texas.

On June 10, 1912, Senator Schator Williams introduced a bill to prohibit written and oral confessions of prisoners.  Citing Annie Crawford's case as a "cruel example" of  third degree methods used by Distrct Attorney Adams' office as an example of coercive tactics, the bill passed with only one nay vote.

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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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