Today in New Orleans History

April 14

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The Great Post Stakes Rematch
Metairie Race Track -- April 14, 1855


The 1855 matches featuring the horses Lexington and Lecompte was such a renowned event that Currier & Ives were commissioned to design a print (above) commemorating the race. The center text reads “Celebrated horse Lexington (5 yrs. old) by "Boston" out of "Alice Carneal": Bred by Dr. Warfield, owned by R. Ten Broeck, esq. winner of the great 4 mile match for $20,000 against "LeCompte's" time of 7:26. Over the Metairie course. New Orleans, April 2nd 1855. Won in 7:193/4!!!” (Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

The image on the right shows a closer view of the print’s text regarding a rematch on Aprile 14, 1855. About the race, Grace King wrote in 1926 “…the grand stand, exclusive as a private ball-room, glittering with ladies in toilets from the ateliers of the great modistes....and the men, from all over the South glittering too…the field packed . . and all round about, trees, fences, hedges, tops of carriages, crowded with every male being that could walk, ride, or drive from the city...— that superb track of old Metairie…A volume would not hold it all before we even get to Lexington and Lecompte …Alas! The old Metairie is expiating its sins now as a cemetery”. Metairie Cemetery was included in the National Register of Historical Places in 1991. 

From  Metairie (Images of America) by Catherine Campanella.

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Herman Riley, whose mother Nell Brooks was a jazz and gospel singer,  played Blues and Bebop-rooted Tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet and bass clarinet in a blues and beboo rooted style.  He attended L.B. Landry high school where the black musicians union president and teacer William Houston brought local jazzmen to play for student assemblies and dances.  Riley was a member of the  school orchestra and marching band and also played professionally while still in high school, performing with Ivory Joe Hunter, Guitar Slim, and Paul Gayten.  He went on to study cello and bassoon at Southern University in Baton Rouge. He moved to Los Angeles, after serving in the U.S. Army, where he performed live and recorded on Motown West with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Supremes.  He toured in the U.S. with Della Reese and as a member of the New Grove band backing Sammy Davis.  He perfomed with Count Basie, Etta James, and others. He traveled through Japan with Quincy Jones and Benny Carter, to Scandinavia with Mercer Ellington's orchestra, to South Africa with Monk Montgomery, and to London with Jimmy Smith.  He passed away on April 14, 2007 at the age of 73.

In April of 1881 the New Orleans Drainage & Sewage Company was organized with J. H. Oglesby as president and W. W. Howe as secretary. This corporation negotiated with the city a contract to perform both of these necessary works. An ordinance approving the proposed arrangement was passed by the council on April 14, 1881 While this measure was being considered by the mayor, a strong public sentiment developed against any system which contemplated the underground disposal of sewage as the company proposed. A petition was sent to the mayor asking him to veto the ordinance because sewer gas would be produced in the mains which would affect injuriously the health of the community. The soil, argued the petitioners, was of a character to make it impossible to lay the pipes satisfactorily; grease would collect and choke the mains. The mayor, however, signed the ordinance on April 19, stating that in his opinion the proposed works were needed, and as the city was not financially able to undertake them itself, it was necessary to entrust them to private enterprise. The contract with the New Orleans Drainage & Sewage Company called for the construction of what was somewhat vaguely denominated "the system introduced in Memphis, Tennessee," in the preceding year. This, it was understood, had been devised by George B. Waring, who was also to supervise the work in New Orleans. What was projected may be inferred from a passage in the contract as reproduced in one of the city newspapers, in which the plan was described as: "To lay drains and sewers not less than •four feet deep, house connections not less than •two feet deep, watertight for sewage, but not so for drainage, which is intended to pass off as before in gutters and canals, [. . .] porous undersoil pipes to subsurface drainage; sewage to terminate at a point to be agreed upon in a receptacle or receptacles, so as to give same facilities as if they discharged into a natural low outlet, to be pumped into the river. The subsoil water to be pumped into canals at the option of the company. All city buildings to discharge sewage without charge."It was the intention that operations should begin in the area bounded by Louisiana Avenue, Enghien Street, Rampart, Carondelet and the river. One-fifth of the work was to be completed each year until the whole was finished, and then the system was to be extended at the same rate to the other parts of the city. The city bound itself not to adopt any other project for twenty-five years, but after twenty years it was to enjoy the right of purchase. As in the case of the Jouet plan, nothing was ever done with this ambitious project. From History of New Orleans by John Kendall, published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1922

Nathaniel Burbank, journalist.  Born, South Parsonfield, Me., April 14, 1838.  Education:  public schools, York County, Me.  At age 15 went to work as a printer and learned the trade working for the Morning Star of Dover, N. H.  Removed to Boston at age 18; worked for the Boston Herald.  Claimed to have known Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, and the Stowes.  Civil War service:  private, Company B, Fifteenth Massachusetts Infantry, 1863.  Regiment ordered to New Orleans, 1863; promoted to lieutenant, Tenth United States Artillery; eventually appointed assistant adjutant general.  Served under Generals Banks, Steadman, Sheridan, Rousseau, and Hancock.  Remained in regular army several years after Civil War, ultimately attaining the rank of major.  During postwar years, became interested in writing about conditions around him.  Articles published in Boston Herald.  After leaving army, went to work for New Orleans Republican, writing mainly about theatrical events.  A few months before the Republican ceased printing, subject went to work for the Daily Picayune as managing editor succeeding George W. Lloyd.  Subject served as managing editor and drama editor until death.  Originated the column "Our Picayunes."  Is said to have published over 3,000 columns of original matter during his career.  Married Ella Burbank, a distant relative.  No children.  Died on a streetcar while en route to his office, New Orleans, January 10, 1901; interred Metairie Cemetery.  G.R.C.  Source: New Orleans Daily Picayune, January 11, 12, 1901.  From

Joseph Chauvin Delery, companion of the Le Moyne brothers, voyageur, concessionaire. Baptized, April 14, 1674; seventh child of Pierre Chauvin and Marthe Autreuil of the parish of Ville Marie, Montreal, Canada. Came to Louisiana with Iberville's second expedition; on roll of Canadians ordered to embark on the Renommée, at La Rochelle, October 17, 1699; listed in census of garrison at Bay of Biloxi, May, 1700; showed loyalty to Bienville (q.v.) during impeachment proceedings, 1708; adopted appellation of De Léry (also spelled Deléry). Married, 1708 or 1709, Hypolite Mercier, widow of Valentin Barreau, in Mobile. Children: Antoine Chauvin Deléry des Islets (in some records, Desilets Deléry), Nicolas Joseph Boisclair Deléry, both by Hypolite; and François, born of Joseph's second wife, Françoise Laurence LeBlanc, whom he married May 24 (or 27), 1726. Involved, 1716-1717, with two of his brothers, in the commercial company formed by Louis Juchereau de St-Denis (q.v.) when Antoine Crozat (q.v.) still held a monopoly on trade in Louisiana Province. In March, 1719, petitioned Superior Council for a concession of six arpents' frontage at The Chapitoulas, extending from Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. Despite varied success with some crops, his and neighboring brothers' agricultural efforts earned praise of memorialist André Pénicaut (q.v.), and of perceptive traveller Pierre de Charlevoix, S. J. (q.v.). In 1724, Deléry had under cultivation 140 cleared arpents producing 500 to 600 measures of rice, 60 barrels of corn and 500 barrels of potatoes, in addition to 100 pounds of indigo. Additionally, with his brothers, owned slaves whose work in the cypress swamps netted 12,000 livres that year. Deléry's livestock inventory included 20 cows and 8 draft oxen—substantial numbers for those primitive days. Joseph pledged funds for establishment of first school for boys in New Orleans but kept only part of his agreement; case went to Louisiana Superior Council. Sent by Governor Perier to Choctaws for aid to colonists after Natchez Massacre of 1729. Died, 1732; interred parish church cemetery, New Orleans, August 20.  Source:

Basin Street Neutral Ground is Named "Garden of the Americas"
April 14, 1957

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/SRRTerminal1910s.gifMayor deLesseps S. Morrison's vision for New Orleans was one of a modernistic 'prgressive' hub of business activity.  He saw other cities grow by leaps and bounds after tearing down the old and bringing in the new and he envisioned the same for our town.  Morrison's administration changed the footprint of New Orleans irrevocably. One example was the demolition of the Southern Railroad Terminal, also known as the Terminal Station, which was constructed at 1125 Canal at Basin Street in 1908. The building was designed by Daniel Burnham, the architect for Washington D.C.'s Union Station.
The station served the Southern Railway's subsidiaries, the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad Company and the New Orleans Terminal Company. In the 1940's, the station's signature train was "The Southerner," which departed New Orleans daily for the east coast.  But in the 1950s, Morrison had plans for a modern new train station, the Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue, so the railroad abandoned the old Terminal Station. The circa 1920s photo on the right shows the old station, with Krauss Department Store to the left.  Krauss' is now a  condominium development.
In 1954, the railroad tracks and the terminal were removed.  The caption for the July 20, 1954 photo below reads: Basin St., status of work, old Southern Railway Terminal, toward Municipal Auditorium.  Widening of Basin Street from Iberville to Orleans is underway in connection with the city's program of providing an expressway from the Union Passenger Terminal to the Municipal Auditorium. The street will be widened 11 feet on each side to provide double 44-foot roadways. The city is preparing to buy the old Southern railway station so that the block from Canal to Iberville can be similarly widened."  [Photograph by "Cole" Coleman, for Public Relations Office, City Hall].  In November 1954, a $1.1 million bond issue allowed for the purchase of the station and the land.
Morrison also sought to expand business relations between New Orleans and Latin American countries.  As component of his city-wide "beautification project" he wanted the city to buy the old station and replace it with a park-like setting on the neutral ground at Basin and Canal which would include a 12 foot statue of Latin American hero Simon Bolivar.
While no documentation exists that New Orleans had strong ties to Bolivar or that he ever visited our city, Morrison was steadfast in his conviction that Bolivar should be honored in the "Garden of the Americas"  -- a location that some have called "The Gateway to Storyville".  On Wednesday, May 18, 1955 at 7:15 p.m., with much ceremony, Morrison flipped the switch of modernistic mercury vapor lights which shined down on the newly completed Basin Street beautification and widening  project.  The New Orleans Police Department band played Basin Street Blues.  City Councilman James E. Fitsmorris was the master of ceremony.  City Council president Glen P. Clasen, who was also the supervisor and treasurer of Krauss Company was there representing both the city and the retail merchants bureau of the Chamber of Commerce. Reverend Joseph F. Laux led the invocation and Reverend George H. Wilson did the benediction. New Orleans Jazz Club president George Blanchin spoke.  The statue wasn't there.
Morrison spoke of  the "ending of one era in our city's history and we think, the beginning of a new one".  Fitzmorris noted that the $1.1 million project was "another milestone in the growth of our city" adding that Basin Street is "perhaps themost famous street in the world" because it was  "the birthplace of jazz". Blanchin contradicted the "birthplace of jazza' statement but noted that LuLu White's famous house of prostitution had been demolished in 1949 and replaced with Krauss Department Store's parking garage.  He said "I hope very soon that our city fathers will see fit to erect a suitable monument or marker in Basin Street in honor of the jazz musicians who did so much for New Orleans".
On June 20, 1955, Blanchin announced a nation-wide competition for the design of monument to jazz which would be placed on Basin at Canal Street.  He said, "Surely jazz is more important in the history of New Orleans than a Latin American who never had anything to do with the city".  Morrision had said "A suitable headstone or monument" to jazz would be placed on Basin Street but Blanchin feared that it would be dwarfed they the Bolivar statue and by others proposed for what was now being called the "Parkway of the Americas" (in 1965 a statue of Benito Juarez of Mexico was added, as was one of .  In 1966 Francisco Morazan of Honduras in 1966).

Much discussion ensued. On July 12, 1955, Morrison said "We assured the Jazz Foundation [New Orleans Jazz Club] a few months ago [at the lighting ceremony] there would be a monument to jazz on the street and it is a definite plan of the city". 

L.A. Riley wrote, and his letter was published in the paper on July 17, 1955. He recounted personal memories of Milneburg's long pier stretching from the original shore to the lighthouse with its walkways to many camps and clubhouses where jazz parties were "all conducted by very respectable people. He contended that while jazz was played on Basin Street it was born in Milneburg and that that Milenburg Joys (not Basin Street Blues) should be the "New Orleans anthem". Riley suggested that a monument to jazz placed, not on Basin Street but "where Milneburg once stood at Pontchartrain Beach between the lighthouse and former shoreline. The same day Riley's letter appeared so did one from Blanchin which stated that the non-profit New Orleans Jazz Club, formed in 1948, supported Morrison's Basin Street monument site.

On July 21, 1955, the editor of the Picayune opined that a panel of jazz historians could best choose the location and wording for a monument and ended with "Take it easy", regarding the furor the issue had caused.  The following day, William Dane's letter appeared (on July 22, 1955) suggesting that, instead of Bolivar, the statue of assassinated police chief David Hennessy should be transplanted from Metairie Cemetery. August 1, 1955 brought a letter from J.F.O. who claimed he had played music for 35 years, thought a monument to jazz was a good idea, and stated "I never heard of Simon Bolivar", which was likely the sentiment of many other  New Orleanians.  

TodayInNewOrleansHistory/1957November25BolivarStatue1.gifTodayInNewOrleansHistory/1957November25BolivarStatue2.gifDespite the hoopla, the name for Basin Street's neutral ground as "Garden of the Americas" was officially adopted via a city ordinance on April 14, 1957. On Monday, May 6, 1957, a "Parade of Progress" ambled 22 blocks from the Municipal Auditorium to Basin Street at Canal where ground was broken for the plaza that would contain Simon Bolivar's giant likeness. The Tulane band played for guests from South and Central America.  The first shovel of dirt was turned by Francisco Pacanins, Consul General of Venezuela, whose country provided $350.00 for the monument.  The parade then proceeded to the New City Hall which officially opened that day.  And finally, on Monday November 25, 1957, the seven-ton, 12 foot-tall, granite statue of Simon Bolivar was unveiled. on the Basin Street neutral ground.

The Bolivar statue created by Abel Vallmitjana features five bronze emblems, detailing the five Bolivian coats of arms. Seven flagpoles, six of which represent the countries Bolivar liberated in the early 1800s stand behind him
Pictured from left to right are Adolfo E. Hegewisch, Chairman of the Bolivar Monument Committee and president of the Bolivarian Society of Louisiana; Dr. Cesar Gonzalez, Venezuelan ambassador in the United States; Dr. Pedro Gutierrez-Alfaro, Venezuelan Minister of Health and Welfare; Mayor deLesseps S. Morrison; and Francisco Pacanins, Consul General of Venezuela in New Orleans.
Photos from the New Orleans Public Library.

Pontchartrain Railroad Construction Completed
April 14, 1831
Theresa Gallagher and her second husband Conrad Freese pose on the front walk of a camp in Milneburg c. 1880 - 1890.
The Pontchartrain Railroad’s “Smokey Mary” can be seen in the background.  (Photo courtesy of Henry Harmison.)
The Pontchartrain Rail-Road was an early railway, chartered in 1830, which began transporting people and goods between the Mississippi River front and Lake Pontchartrain on April 23, 1831, and closed more than 100 years later.  The 5-mile long line on Elysian Fields Avenue connected the Faubourg Marigny along the riverfront with the town of Milneburg on the Lakefront. When built, the majority of the route ran through farmland, woods, and swamp.  Meetings discussing building a railway began in 1828. The Pontchartrain Rail-Road was chartered on January 20, 1830. The right-of-way was approved by the New Orleans City Council on March 15, and construction began immediately, with a pair of parallel railroad tracks. Through swampland, up to 4 feet of fill was needed to create a sufficient road bed. A 150 foot wide bed was constructed along the entire route, with the rail line laid with red cypress timbers and English rolled iron rails. Construction of the line was completed on April 14, 1831, and it officially opened on April 23rd, with horse drawn railway carriages. The first steam locomotive, "the Shields", was built by John Shields and arrived from Cincinnatti by steamer on June 15, 1832. This first locomotive proved unreliable; the company even tried using sails to help propell the train.   A second locomotive "the Pontchartrain" built by Rothwell, Hicks, and Rothwell arrived in September, was tested on September 6.  It proved better, allowing the line to advertise regular steam service of 7 round trips per day (9 on Sundays) starting on September 27, 1832. "The Shields" was cannibalized, the boiler used to run equipment at the railroad's machine shop. "The Pontchartrain" as well as succeeding locomotives became known as the famous and beloved "Smokey Mary". It was comprised of an "engine car" (with the power of 24 horses) and 12 passenger/cargo cars.

Saturday, August 17, 1844 Schedule 

"When put to the test, Smoky Mary could, amidst great puffing and blowing and much expulsion of smoke and cinders, attain the remarkable speed of ten miles an hour. Passengers usually emerged with clothes blackened and eyes and throat stuffed with cinders"  from [GumboYa-Ya].  The line was the first in the world to include a freight landing platform.  Milneburg had no jail but the train had a prison car -- rowdies were loaded throughout the day and night into the car which was hooked to the train for its last run of the night to transport the captives to Parish Prison in the city.   Passenger service on the Pontchartrain Railroad, one of the nation’s oldest lines, ended after a century of servic on March 15, 1932, when Smokey Mary made a final trip from Milneburg -- three coaches packed with riders led by John A. Galivan, engineer during a third  ( 32 years) of the railroad's history

1922 - Pontchartrain Railroad Schedule
A 1922 Pontchartrain Railroad Schedule

Cosimo Matassa is Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
April 14, 2012


 Photo from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

Born in New Orleans on April 13, 1926, Cosimo Matassa is the recording engineer and studio owner responsible for nationally renowned R&B and rock and roll recordings at his New Orleans studios. Matassa described himself simply as a "sound engineer" in a July 19, 1981 Times-Picayune article written by John Pope.  He went on to say that his formula for success was not complicated in any way..."Do it live or do it over again until it was done right".  He did it right for hundreds of young unknown musicians including Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Mac Rebbenack (Dr. John), Mickey Gilly and so many more from 1945 through 1968 in his studio in the Quarter and later in the Central Business District.  J&M recorded Alan Toussaint's first record, "The Wild Side of New Orleans" which was released by RCA Victor.  He recorded Aaron Neville's "Tell it Like it Is", Robert Parker's "Barefootin'", and Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" in 1956 -- a recording which has been acclaimed as a seminal Rock and Roll song.

Cosimo Matassa was an 18 year-old second-year chemistry major at Tulane during World War II who quit school because he thought he would be drafted into military service.  But the war soon ended and he drifted into the music industry by taking a job involvling juke boxes which led to an interest in records which led to invlovement with his father's J&M Music Shop on the corner of Rampart and Dumaine which evolved into his first studio in 1945 in a back room of the store which was named for  his dad, John Matassa and his partner Joe Mancuso.

In 1955, Cosimo moved to the larger Cosimo Recording Studio in the CBD. Here, as engineer and proprietor, he was crucial to the development of the R&B, rock and soul sound of the 1950s and 1960s, often working with producers Dave Bartholomew and Allen Toussaint.  He recorded hits by Fats Domino’s "The Fat Man" (another contender for the first rock and roll record), Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti", and records by Ray Charles, Lee Dorsey, Dr John, Smiley Lewis, Bobby Mitchell, Tommy Ridgley, the Spiders and many others. He was responsible for developing what became known as the "New Orleans Sound", with strong drums, heavy guitar and bass, heavy piano, light horn sound and a strong vocal lead. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Matassa also managed the successful white New Orleans rock and roll performer Jimmy Clanton.

He retired from the music business in the 1980s to manage the family's food store, Matassa's Market in the French Quarter.  In December 1999, J&M Recording Studio was designated as an historic landmark by the Orleans Parish Landmarks Commission. In October 2007, Matassa was honored for his contributions to Louisiana music with induction into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. On September 24, 2010, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum designated Cosimo Matassa’s original J&M Recording Studio as an historic Rock and Roll Landmark, one of 11 nationwide.  The studio is now a laundromat.

Matassa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during its 27th annual ceremony on April 14, 2012.  In 2013, he was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.

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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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