For anyone who’s spent any time in New Orleans over the past several months, there’s been no escaping all the tricentennial coverage, signage, and just all-around hullaballoo over this city’s 3ooth birthday.
I spent this past Saturday in the French Quarter, amidst some volatile Spring weather. I think tornadoes hit in North Louisiana, but we were spared down in the Southeast corner of the state. Walking the streets, and getting soggy, I wasn’t necessarily soaking up history, but I was definitely thinking about it. (I’m a pretty sensitive sort, and there’s a lot of misery in this city’s history. Gotta be careful about what I soak up, for self-preservation.) Several questions came to mind, that Google and Wikipedia helped answer:
- Is there an actual date for New Orleans’s founding? According to Wikipedia, yes and no. It was founded in the Spring of 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who was heading up the French Mississippi Company at the time. The actual date has been lost to history, but someone apparently picked May 7 as a good springtime date to celebrate the anniversary. And as an aside, Bienville’s name has not been lost to history. He did a lot of settling all along the Gulf Coast.
- Does the iconic St. Louis Cathedral predate the founding? Nope. There was a wooden church in the same location in 1718, not the big cathedral that stands today. It was upgraded in 1727, destroyed in the “Great New Orleans Fire” in 1788, and rebuilt by 1794. So the structure that stands there today is only 224 years old. It received its “cathedral” status in 1793, so it is, at least, one of the oldest, if not the oldest cathedral in the U.S.
- What’s the big deal? Okay, well, neither Google nor Wikipedia could answer this question. But in the course of my searching, I discovered that New York City was founded in 1624 (as New Amsterdam). The English renamed it New York in 1664. So will New York go all woo-woo for 400 in six years? And then again in forty-six years? And what about St. Augustine, Florida? It’ll turn 500 in 2065. That seems like a big deal. (Yes, Brother David, it really is the oldest city in the U.S. The city of St. Augustine has been an inside joke between the two of us for roughly forty years, now. No way to make that long story short).
I don’t want to seem like I’m not supportive of all these celebratory efforts with that last bit of snark. It is a pretty cool thing to live in a city that’s been around longer than the United States. I guess I just feel that a celebration of that many years should be tempered with some recognition of all the things those years encompassed, the good and bad. And tempering, or temperance, is not one of the things this city is known for.