* make us famous

The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association recently replaced an historical marker at the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Rampart Street. The replacement was lauded in the FMIA’s June 2014 newsletter, Les Amis de Marigny, with a caption calling for “a huge round of applause” for the two FMIA members who “picked up and installed the new marker.”

The new sign explains a tiny bit about the neighborhood’s history, including the Faubourg’s namesake, Bernard de Marigny, and a brief overview of the early inhabitants of New Orleans’ first suburb. As history goes it is next to useless, but more insidiously, it is identical to two other historical markers already in place: one on the Elysian Fields neutral ground between Royal and Dauphine, the other in front of the fire station at the corner of Esplanade and Frenchmen.

Worst of all, though, this duplicate sign replaced the historical marker that previously stood on the triangular neutral ground at Franklin and Rampart, one that preserved a different bit of history. The old sign referred to the Daunois plantation, a thin estate adjacent to the Marigny land that ran from the river back to the swamp. It also mentioned that Franklin Avenue was once known as “the cordiere,” or rope-walk, which extended down the thoroughfare long before the road was paved. The ahistoricity of the FMIA has erased that little nugget of local lore from the street.

Instead, we are now treated to tourist-sanitized faux history that venerates the Marigny name despite the somewhat sordid history of Bernard himself. For the nobleman of notable name was an inveterate gambler and playboy who sold his property off piecemeal in order to pay off his gambling debts. ‘Twas this scion of the French aristocracy who brought the dice game known as Craps to town, all but consigning himself and his estate to a slow dissipation.

The new marker goes on to note how Europeans “joined free people of color in building a culturally diverse community in the early and mid-19th century.” Perhaps this is accurate; perhaps the “descendants of early French and Spanish colonists...and western European immigrants...from Ireland, Germany, and southwest France” joyfully engaged with the “free people of color” (who apparently had no ancestral national identity, unlike their white neighbors) without any ethnic, racial, religious, or class friction. Must be where gumbo came from!

Or maybe it is as I suspect, and this wishful-thinking-as-history intentionally obfuscates the raw, organic interactions, great and small, that characterize all dynamic neighborhoods. I am offended, outraged, and quite put out that the FMIA has spit in the face of local history. It’s not just that the new sign is banal; it’s that the FMIA replaced a moderately informative historical marker with facile, tourist-quality pablum, meant to standardize the cachet of the neighborhood and drive up the value of the Marigny “brand” rather than enlighten citizens and visitors alike with the richness of New Orleans’ past.

After you finish reading this, might I suggest that you go to the corner of Press and Royal, to read the historical marker about Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous landmark civil rights case of the late 19th century that established the racist “separate but equal” doctrine. And don’t miss the marker on the lawn of the U.S. Mint at the foot of Esplanade, which explains what happened to a group of Frenchmen who opposed Spanish rule. Hint: these guys are the reason it’s called “Frenchmen Street.” Read them, learn them, understand them; for if the FMIA continues its subtle war against history (Oui, les amis de Marigny, J’accuse!) then these significant signs may too succumb to crass revisions that are hardly informative, even to the buffoons taking bicycle tours downtown.

New Orleans’ history is incredible, and we deserve better reminders of it on the street. 

Instead, we will likely be assaulted with the text of vapid, crappy history, doomed to be repeated everywhere.

Hooker Bites man