Day 24: October 22, 2015--NOLA: Cousin Wayne, Longue Vue House, and the McClains

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Me, Lila, Wayne, and Rudy.

From my Facebook post for October 22, 2015: Another fine day in my grandpa's hometown [New Orleans]. Finally met cousin Wayne (on the third try); went out to Longue Vue mansion; met up with the McClains; returned to Juan's Flying Burrito (ay yay yay); and ended up at Preservation Hall, to be transported by some traditional jazz.

Yup, a truly eventful day. So many great things happened that, looking back, Lila and I are finding it hard to believe that was all in just one day!

First, "Third time's the charm"; we finally met my Cousin Wayne and had a terrific chat about family. He told me a few things I didn't know, like that Baquets signed a document sent to Abraham Lincoln asking him to allow free men of color to fight in the Union Army. Wayne has a facsimile on his wall. We also talked about a recently-passed cousin, Harold Baquet, whom I had known only via Facebook, and who had the same name as my dad. Rudy showed us a belt that Harold had made for him--same hobby as my Aunt Til.

After a warm farewell, we took a bus (#91) from in front of Li'l Dizzy's, up Esplanade, after a couple of turnings touching the corner of City Park, to the charmingly-named "Cemeteries Transit Center" on Canal Blvd at City Park Avenue. There we changed to Metairie Transit; City Park Avenue became Metairie Road and took us about a mile, almost to the gates of Longue Vue House and Gardens. (Official site)

South side of Longue Vue House (Photo by Lila)

I haven't mentioned it in these posts, but I had been to New Orleans once before. When I was 21, my Aunt Til and Uncle Hor (pronounced "Haw," and short for "Horace") took me--or more accurately, I took them, as I drove Uncle Hor's car almost all the way--to visit cousins from my grandma's side at Mardi Gras time. That would have been 1977. They lived in Metairie, and while I vaguely remember visiting the Quarter, and lots of parades, and a day trip to Biloxi, Mississippi for reasons I can't recall, the only thing I clearly remember was the visit to Longue Vue.

The House was built by Edgar and Edith Stern; Mrs. Stern's father was Julius Rosenwald, a part-owner and officer of Sears, Roebuck and Company who effected a turnaround of the company in the 1890s. He took Sears public in 1908, and became president in 1908, a post in which he served until 1924, though he remained Chairman. (Coincidentally, Uncle Hor had been a "Sears Man" who had retired from their appliance service division.)

In short, Rosenwald was loaded. His philanthropy included support of the Tuskegee Institute under his friend, Booker T. Washington, and education for poor blacks was a key component of his giving. What's more, "Over the course of his life," Wikipedia asserts, "Rosenwald and his fund donated over $70 million to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities and African-American institutions."

Edgar Stern was no slouch in that arena, either; he was a leader in providing education and housing for the black people of New Orleans. A native of that city, he had made his dough in the cotton trade.

The Sterns' original house on the site was built in 1924. A 1934 landscaping project led to a complete rebuild of the House starting in 1939. (The old one was relocated.) Each of the four facades of the House has a different look, with a corresponding Garden. The House is three stories high, with 20 rooms, and today is shown with all its original furnishing. No trace today remains of the two-weeks' inundation of the Garden by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; it was re-opened less than a year later.

Fountain at the end of the "Spanish Court"
See the Gallery for pictures of many things described here, and the map to which the numbers refer.

We walked along Bamboo Road from Metairie Road, turning left at the gates into the Pine Drive (1). Turning again at the Entrance Court (2) we approached the House up the long drive called "Oak Allee" (3) for the trees shading it, you arrive at the Forecourt (4) with its fountain. Some of the pictures in the Gallery reflect that the House was being decorated for Halloween the day we arrived. We turned left to the Tour Office (G) and waited a bit until our guide came out.

While we waited, we took a look at the Pan Garden (6); one of the pictures I remember best from my first visit here is the little statue of Pan over a fountain, playing his pipes.

At last, a much older lady who had just finished a tour--apparently a school group had just left--came to greet us. She gave us an excellent "private" tour (we were the only ones at that time), though her fatigue showed.

We didn't take any pictures of the House interior, by policy; but you can see some on this website. Scroll down to the photos link under "Photos & Videos"; click the left arrows in the pop-up to see the interiors first; eventually you will circle around to the exteriors, too.

After the inside tour, we went out the Gardens. Starting on the south side of the House (the entrance had been from the west), we walked down to the "Spanish Court" (10, a big lawn) to the pleasant Loggia (J) and its fountain, which made for some great shots back toward the House.

We stepped through the Loggia to the simple-but-pleasing Canal Garden (12) and on into the Walled Garden (13) with its herbs and sunken center, as well as a bas-relief fountain.
At last, we stepped through an opening in a brick wall and entered the Wild Garden (14), ending our stroll with a rest in the "Pigeonnier" (K), apparently the French word for "dovecote."

Reluctantly, we headed out past the Discovery Garden (15) and again through the Entrance Court (2) and out the Pine Drive (1).

Continuing on Bamboo Road away from Metairie Road, we followed Palmetto Street (perhaps cutting through the small neighborhood there; I don't remember) to Airline Highway, where the busses ran back into the city.

We were waiting at a dry, unpleasant bus stop when the most exciting call came: Our friends, the McClains, had arrived in New Orleans! As Lila put it later on a Facebook post, "Just when we thought NOLA couldn't get any better. You guys made it even more amazing. Thank you a thousand times."

That geek on the left there? That was me, with L.A. County Sheriff Peter Pitchess.

The back story is complex. As short as I can make it: When in my teens, I was a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Explorers. Harriett Spalding came through the Explorer Academy when I was a big-shot drill instructor there (arrogant as only a 16-year-old with a taste of power can be). We went out--once, as I recall--and thereafter drifted apart.

Fast-forward decades, and a mutual friend brought us back together on Facebook. There, I met her husband, Miles--also in law enforcement--and two of her three sons, one a police officer and one a minister.

When the family heard we would be "just a state away," they determined to drive down from the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas--over 500 miles any way you do it--and meet us: Miles and Harriet, their son (the police officer) Daniel, and his wife and daughter, Nicki and Taylor.

And what a time we had.

That bus from Metairie couldn't move fast enough! We met up, went back to Juan's Flying Burrito for dinner, and then walked to the French Quarter, Daniel trying to cover Taylor's young eyes as we strolled along Bourbon Street.

It's probably no coincidence that some of the most memorable experiences of the trip occurred in the presence of five people named McClain. One of them was that very night, when we achieved one of my lifelong dreams: we attended a session at Preservation Hall.

Beignets with the McClains (Photo by Lila)

Years before, I once boldly strode into the dressing room of a jazz god named Willie Humphrey when he performed at UCLA. In my brief conversation with him, I obtained "real world" confirmation of many of the things my library research had told me about my grandfather and great-grandfather. Mr. Humphrey had known them. When I told him my name was Baquet, he even divined that I must be "from Achille's line," because he had gone "on the white side."

Alas, Mr. Humphrey--born in 1900, a year before Louis Armstrong--died at age 93, over two decades before I got to Preservation Hall. Still, there was a sense of worship as I entered the SRO section of the room and spent an hour floating away on the sound of the music my grandpa had helped pioneer, before we were herded out to make room for the next show.

Afterward, we strolled the neighborhood a bit; then back to our hotels. Tomorrow would be a Big Day.

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