The Louisiana State Museum is no single building, but rather a statewide aegis for several full-size museums and a few structures of historical significance. Over half are in New Orleans; one of those, the Old U.S. Mint, sits near the north end of the French Market. After lunch on Day Four we sped through three such locations bordering Jackson Square — two on either side of St. Louis Cathedral, the third nestled in one of the quaint strip malls, cleverly disguised as one of many gift shops.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This year’s trip began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans. Indianapolis to New Orleans is a fourteen-hour drive. Between our workplace demands and other assorted personal needs, we negotiated a narrow seven-day time frame to travel there and back again. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We came up with a long, deep list of potential stops, but tried to leave room for improvisation…
THE 1850 HOUSE
This one’s hard to spot because it’s tiny and squished. It’s also a few doors down from a visitors’ center where we met a man with the most authentic Cajun accent we heard all week. If you’re a fan of authentic restorations and recreations of what life was like in previous centuries, the 1850 House is one of those, compact but ornate in spots and retaining much of the original 165-year-old materials. We already had a historical house visit scheduled in another state later in the week, so we didn’t dwell on this one for long.
Fanciest Room Award goes to the parlor. Quoth the self-tour guide for architecture geeks, “The favored rococo revival style featured carved floral designs, curves, and asymmetry. The earlier Empire, Gothic revival, and later Louis XVI revival styles also shaped household decorative arts during this period.”
The backyard, or “courtyard” as the natives called it, was largely an extra workspace for household chores rather than a recreational getaway.
Its exterior gives the impression of a One True Louisiana State Museum, but this was once intended as a home for St. Louis clergy. Before that, Capuchin monks lived in a previous building on this ground back in the eighteenth century. It was built up and used commercially before the state bought it in 1908.
As soon as you walk in, the first exhibit looms overhead, Mitchell Gaudet’s 2010 Hurricane Katrina response “Message of Remembrances”. The messages-in-bottles are like prayers for those lost; the blue hands symbolize the rescuers who came from near and far.
The Presbytere’s ground floor is entirely about Katrina — a timeline of events, news footage and interviews, and relics of the destruction and the chaos that followed. Past the greeters is what’s left of another one of Fats Domino’s pianos.
Pete Fountain’s clarinet was recovered in its original case a mile away from the remains of his house. Water damage rendered it likewise unusable.
Three seats were saved from the Superdome, which served as horrid living quarters for over 13,000 evacuees in the wake of destruction. Months of renovation later brought it back to life in time for the New Orleans Saints to resume playing home games for the 2006 season.
Canned water is a grim reminder of the limited emergency supplies on hand throughout the post-hurricane ordeal.
The Presbytere’s second floor, the complete tonal flipside of the first, is all about the whimsy and wonder of Mardi Gras. We’d seen a bit of that at Mardi Gras World, but here were a few more aspects.
The Presbytere’s sister building dates back to 1799 and was mostly used as offices until it joined the Louisiana State Museum family. The first floor is your basic natural history section you’ll find in every State Museum in every state — Native Americans, colonial life, etc. The second floor livened up a bit with its focus on the Battle of New Orleans, the last major skirmish between America and England in the War of 1812. My favorite part was a tangential, light-hearted video about buccaneers hosted by New Orleans native Bryan Batt, best known as Mad Men‘s erstwhile art director Sal Romano.
…and that was it for museums and historical organizations for at least the next eighteen hours.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]