Research, like writing, is never linear. I have a running chat conversation with Edward Branley that delves into many different directions. The beauty of it is, I can search on it and find the conversations that pop up as a “hey, what do you think of this” and use it later on. One perfect example of this was a conversation we had back in November of 2017 about Catholic Churches and Parishes, in New Orleans.
Father Anastase Douay held the first recorded Mass on Mardi Gras [March 3, 1699] on Louisiana soil near the mouth of the Mississippi River, as part of the founding expedition of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville. This is the beginnings of New Orleans Catholicism taking root.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Patroness of New Orleans, is believed to have helped the city defend itself against a British attack in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. Deborah Krause, a Presbyterian minister wrote a historical paper on how “the figure has presided over New Orleans transformation from an 18th century colony to a 21st century republic — and lately to a devastated landscape after Hurricane Katrina.”
The history of churches and parishes have always been fascinating to me. Who builds them, where they’re built, why they’re built in that particular location. Churches, are the building, Parishes are the surrounding neighborhood. Post-Katrina reorganization, there are parishes in New Orleans that have multiple churches. I’m lucky in that Edward always ties churches / parishes into his novels. For the current novel (almost out, in June!), Trusted Talents, these are all the Churches/ Parishes he mentions:
St. Mary’s Assumption Church, Irish Channel
St. Alphonsus, Irish Channel
Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, main campus of Loyola University New Orleans
St. Stephen’s Church on Napoleon Avenue, Uptown
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Kenner
St. Mary’s Italian Church, French Quarter (Old Ursuline Convent)
Annunciation Church, Faubourg Marigny
Our Lady of the Rosary Church
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Chalmette
St. Angela Merici Church, Metairie
St. Ann Catholic Church, Metairie
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Faubourg Treme
St. Anthony of Padua Church – S. Bernadotte Street
Peterskirche (Church of St. Peter)
Stephansdom (Cathedral of St. Stephen)
Manhattan Beach, California:
American Martyrs Church
Wonder why I tease him about needing a spreadsheet to keep it all straight?
There are many old photos, and many histories listed on all the church websites, which helps date the timeline for the church creation, and even if it has been merged since it was consecrated/dedicated. Case in point, is St. Stephen’s Church, which is a merged parish now (St. Stephen’s, St. Henry’s and Our Lady of Good Counsel to form Good Shepard).
St Joseph’s Church
Another bit of interesting that I found during my trip down research lane is about St. Joseph’s Church [1802 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans] . Dedicated Sunday, December 18, 1892, the original building was across from Charity Hospital. In 1895 under Archbishop Francis Janssens ( the fifth Archbishop) who renovated the ‘old’ church, it became a place of worship for many Negro Catholics under the patronage of St. Katherine. Demolished in 1964, it was rebuilt on the current location in 1866 when Father John Hayden purchased the current plot of land.
Why does St. Joseph’s call to me, other than the history behind it? It has the longest main aisle in New Orleans at 12′ x 150′ long.
The Redemptorists and The Irish Channel:
St. Alphonsus, St. Mary’s Assumption, and Notre Dame de Bon Secours
The first of three great churches built by The Redemptorists for Catholics in the Irish Channel. St. Alphonsus for the Irish, St. Mary’s Assumption for the Germans and Notre Dame de bon Secours for the French.
Charles E. Nolan writes in his book, Splendors of Faith: New Orleans Catholic Churches, 1727-1930, “St. Mary’s Assumption formed part of a unique cluster of ethnic Catholic parishes in the South. St. Mary’s Assumption (German speaking), St. Alphonsus (English speaking), and Notre Dame de Bon Secours (French speaking) were all served by Redemptorist fathers who shared a common rectory. By 1885, St. Mary’s Assumption numbered 4,000 parishioners; St. Alphonsus, 5,200; and Notre Dame de Bon Secours, 340. St. Mary’s Assumption ceased to function as a separate parish after Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Following a decade of repairs, the renovated church reopened on August 15, 1975, as the place of worship St. Alphonsus Parish” (page 97).
Editor side note: The last line on the plaque “as the St. Aphonsus arts and cultural center” is a typo. Someone should tell them to fix it.
Another site I value for research is the New Orleans Catholic Church website. They even give you history of the various pipe organs that are still (sometimes) in use at the churches.
Finally, don’t be afraid to follow an idea or a fragment of a sentence you find when you are reading, you never know where it may lead. I find that most of the readers are hungry for the historical details you can put in your novel/ manuscript, especially when it furthers your storyline. This is true for real-world places. One never knows what reader you may spark to learn more.
Editor’s Note: This is cross-posted at Arcadia Coach, the new venture I am working on with Edward Branley. Hope to see you there!
Writing research for your manuscript is nothing like you remember having to do in school, when the teacher or professor assigned you a topic you weren’t interested in, or you just picked it to be near the girl or boy you had a crush on. For your manuscript, you get to control all the aspects of the story from scratch, but be sure that your research is spot on.
Readers are smart, they know when you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes, and send them down the misdirection path. Become an expert. Tell all your friends, family, and even strangers in the grocery store line all your useless knowledge you are picking up in the process. You want to be able to discuss with your readers that you meet all the little details, and enthrall them with the stories of how you went in that direction.
Today with the advent of the Internet and social media, it is easier to get information that is further away from your location, in the far nether-regions of the world. [If you can find it, so can your reader base!] From the comfort of your couch, your local watering hole, coffee shop, or public library, you can find anything you are wondering about. No more waiting weeks for the InterLibrary Loan to arrive to find out it wasn’t the right one; sifting through card catalogs (what’s that?- see below), and microfiche and microfilm for hours, days, or weeks. Carrying a hundred books home to find the one line you think you need, only to return 99 of them the next day. If you were lucky, the librarian took a liking to you, and put stuff on the side if you told her what you were looking for.
Devil is in the Details
Be careful in how and where you sprinkle the details throughout your manuscript since you don’t want it to read like a textbook; more like “the reader can visualize what is in your head”. Keep them remembering where things were in the story, don’t overload them with every tidbit you know on the subject on one page. Call back to the earlier times in the timeline and in the story in various parts of the book. A little detail can go a long way in completing your manuscript.
Think about all the little details, yes.. sweat the small stuff. Food blogs, architectural drawings, what clothes people were wearing, even what was happening in the news at the time, can affect your ability to make sure your reader is totally enmeshed in your novel / manuscript. You want it to be seamless.
Make sure your research is in the right time period, including cars, ships, horse & buggies, trolleys … you don’t want to say the first car started driving down the street in 1850, when the first car, the Benz Patent Motor Car, didn’t hit the street until New Year’s Eve 1879.
No question is too silly or wrong. If you have an interest in it, it is a spark that you can use to bring knowledge to someone else who has the same question.
Oh, and most important: Have fun!If you are not enjoying the process, then it will show in your writing. Let the writing research take you down various rabbit holes… be sure you have a ladder to get out though!
For those of you who are unaware of the existence of xkcd, what planet have you been living on? What rock have you been living under? Get thee to xkcd (a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language) NOW! Extra gold star for the OXFORD COMMA, xkcd!
I’m very excited to announce that today is Release Dayfor the latest book by Edward J. Branley — Krauss: The New Orleans Value Store. I did the research, editing and fact-checking. Edward is beyond knowledgeable about all things NOLA, so it’s fun and interesting to work with him. I never know where our conversations will wind up, which rabbit hole I get to jump down. I always learn cool tidbits that I can use, and more information about New Orleans, which is awesome.
Come over to Amazon and order one, you won’t be disappointed!
Curious? Here’s a sneak peek of Chapter One: “Gumbo”
Gumbo is a wonderful soup that combines many flavors and ingredients, turning them into a unique dish that is revered in New Orleans. It’s the perfect food analogy to the city of New Orleans itself. And a food analogy is the perfect way to describe New Orleans in the first place.
Gumbo has as many variations as there are cooks who make the soup: Chicken-and-sausage gumbo. Seafood gumbo. Okra. Filé. Oysters. Crawfish? “Not in my gumbo,” a chef I know says. Turkey gumbo, made on the day after Thanksgiving. Each one is unique. Each one makes up the big picture.
New Orleans isn’t just one big pot of gumbo. The city is a collection of pots. Downtown gumbos include the French Quarter, the Treme, along Bayou St. John, the Sixth Ward and many other neighborhoods. Uptown gumbo is the Central Business District (CBD), the Warehouse District, the Garden District, Faubourg Bouligny, the University District, Carrollton. Back-of-town gumbos exist on both sides of Canal Street. Then there’s Canal Street itself. The 140-foot-wide main street isn’t merely a dividing line but rather a gumbo in and of itself.
At midnight in the Quarter to noon in Thibodaux, I will play for gumbo
—Jimmy Buffett, “I Will Play For Gumbo”
Like gumbo recipes, New Orleans has changed over time. At the start of the twentieth century, the city was the second-largest port in the United States. It was a city adjusting to twenty years of unprecedented expansion after the Civil War. Immigrants from all over Europe, but particularly from Italy and Germany, made their way to New Orleans at the end of the nineteenth century, shifting the flavors of the gumbos that are the city’s neighborhoods.
When the Americans took over New Orleans in 1803, they didn’t really bring a gumbo recipe with them. The Anglo Irish brought their own flavors, though, and those blended into the recipes that were already simmering on the stoves. By the 1850s, residents of the city could taste many variations of gumbo, and their reports of how wonderful this was attracted even more people to the magic.
While New Orleans was very much caught up in the political conflicts of the late 1850s that led to the formation of the Confederate States of America, New Orleans recognized that the port was paramount. When it was clear that the blockade of the port by the Union navy was killing the city, Farragut’s invasion from the mouth of the Mississippi in April 1862 was a force that locals could not withstand. Union occupation spared New Orleans the fate of Atlanta and enabled the port to continue to grow. Reconstruction allowed the merchants operating shops and stores on Canal Street to re-stock and expand. By the 1880s, dry goods stores supplied a number of ingredients needed to keep the gumbos simmering.
The 1890s brought a huge change to the retail landscape of New Orleans. S.J. Shwartz, financed by his father-in-law, Isidore Newman, opened the first department store in the city, Maison Blanche, in 1895. This development inspired other New Orleans merchants to follow suit, and in 1903, the Krauss brothers shifted focus from niche-market sales to the general-merchandise model. The gumbo pots of 1903 were flavorful and diverse.
Take the French Quarter, the city’s first neighborhood. When Adrien de Pauger laid out the plan for the original city in 1725, New Orleans was a French city. The French influence dominated until control of the city was passed to the Spanish in 1766, lest it become one of the spoils of war between the French and the British. The Spanish tweaked the gumbo recipe for twenty years, and then they were forced to totally re-create the recipe after the Great Fire of 1788. French-built homes and buildings were replaced with new ones that followed strict building codes. Spanish Colonial architectural influences left us with the high-walled houses focused on central courtyards, their beauty hidden from passersby on the streets. French priests tending their flock found themselves under the administration of Spanish bishops sent from Havana. The mix of languages, colors and political passions in the port appeared impossible to navigate, but the cooks blended the various ingredients into their gumbos.
The Vieux Carré, the Old Square, dating back to the 1720s, was a vibrant residential neighborhood at the beginning of the twentieth century. The original residents of the French Quarter—the French-Spanish “Creoles”—were the establishment families who didn’t want to associate with newcomers. Germans didn’t speak much English when they came to New Orleans. Sicilians didn’t either, and the Anglo Irish Americans, as well as the Creoles, viewed them as no better than African Americans. The easy solution for the Creoles was to move uptown. As they moved, others filled the gumbo pot. By the time department stores came onto the scene, Italian grocers and bakers, German butchers and African Americans were the people walking up Bourbon and Royal Streets to those big stores on Canal Street.
New Orleans outgrew the French Quarter by the time of the Louisiana Purchase. Bernard Mandeville de Marigny, son of a wealthy plantation family, decided to get out of the agriculture business. He subdivided his plantation, located on the downriver side of Esplanade Avenue and the French Quarter, into modern-style residential lots. Creoles, African Americans and Germans jumped on those lots and built out the neighborhood. As those first families acquired wealth and influence, many of them left Faubourg Marigny for Uptown. By the time the Krauss brothers opened their store, the flavor of the Marigny gumbo was distinctly Italian.
Like the French Quarter, New Orleans outgrew the Marigny, as immigrants from Europe came to the city in large numbers after the Civil War. The Italian families working in the Quarter and the Germans working along the Riverfront in the Marigny moved farther down the river. The political designation for the neighborhood was the “Ninth Ward,” and that name stuck. These immigrants hopped on the Desire streetcar line to join the residents of the Quarter as they all went to Canal Street to shop. The Ninth Ward gumbo was a true mix of cultures, until white flight of the 1960s removed much of the Italian and German influence, leaving the neighborhood as predominantly an African American gumbo.
While New Orleans’ expansion was primarily up- and downriver, there was movement north, along the navigation canals and Bayou St. John. The Carondelet Canal connected Faubourg Treme from 1795 until the 1920s. That water path to the outside world attracted folks who wanted to live along it. The neighborhood expanded east, from the banks of the bayou. The streets of the French Quarter, which had already been extended north through Treme, now continued, as they met up with Esplanade Avenue.
This northern expansion was typical, following a suburban expansion model. Families who couldn’t afford the courtyards of the French Quarter went north, to Treme. Those looking for bigger lots on which to build bigger houses kept going, following the bayou. When they got there, they built homes with front lawns in the English style. Their homes kept distinct French-Spanish features, though, such as wrought-iron fencing. The size of homes near the bayou ran from comfortable two-stories to the grandeur of the Luling Mansion. As the neighborhood matured, less expensive houses popped up in its interior, shotgun doubles and Creole cottages, for blue-collar families.
Faubourg St. John’s gumbo was an incredibly diverse mix. Waterfront businesses lined the bayou. St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, at the bayou end of Esplanade Avenue, along with the horse racetrack next to it, gave New Orleans City Railroad Company incentive to run streetcars from the river to the bayou, along Esplanade Avenue. That long run connected with cross-town transit lines as well. Good public transit attracts all types of people to a neighborhood, and that was the case with the bayou. When Krauss Department Store opened, residents of the bayou neighborhood could get into downtown by “riding the belt”—taking the Esplanade and Canal Streetcar lines into town and back home again, as they ran a circular route in opposite directions.
The popularity of Faubourg St. John continued, and folks looking for affordable housing moved even farther north, into Gentilly. Gentilly Road and Grande Route St. John brought streetcars and other vehicles east from the bayou, cemetery and racetrack until they connected with the Pontchartrain Railroad. The trains ran from Faubourg Marigny, out to Lake Pontchartrain, on Elysian Fields Avenue. The high ground of the Gentilly Ridge attracted homeowners, and a new neighborhood grew out from the ridge. The gumbo of Gentilly was less a mix of specific ethnic groups but a true New Orleans flavor, as younger generations of families who had lived in the city for some time moved out of mom and dad’s house in the Ninth Ward, looking to establish themselves.
It wouldn’t be until after World War II that retail stores expanded into Gentilly. As Krauss sought customers in the early twentieth century, the people of Gentilly made their way to Canal Street, along with everyone else.
The expansion of New Orleans along the Mississippi River ran in both directions from Canal Street. As the Creole families grew out from the Quarter, east and north, the Anglo Irish and Americans who came to the city in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase established themselves on the upriver/uptown side of Canal. The offices and businesses set up by these folks wanted to be close to the main street of the city and the downriver growth. Unwilling to allow the Creoles to control water-borne commerce, the Americans built a second canal, whose turning basin was located along South Rampart Street. This New Basin Canal extended out to the city’s West End. Stores and offices replaced homes in those first blocks just past Canal Street, as those who worked in what became known as the Central Business District, or CBD, moved farther uptown.
These offices and stores intersected with the activities of the riverfront within a few blocks of Canal Street. Wharves along the river gave way to warehouses a block or two in, along with light industrial sites. The Germans and Irish who came to New Orleans as human ballast on merchant ships out of Liverpool could find work along the river, so they built houses within walking distance of those jobs. The Irish built their first church parish, St. Patrick’s, on Camp Street in 1834. The Irish prayed for the men their families lost to accidents and disease during the construction of the New Basin Canal. Mothers worked hard, praying regularly that their children would fare better in America than their husbands. For the most part, they did, and the Irish community continued to grow, moving farther upriver. By the 1850s, they occupied so much of the riverfront neighborhoods that this section of the city became known as the Irish Channel.
The Irish were not the only ethnic group working along the river. By the 1850s, the Germans, along with Creole families, also made their homes uptown. The Irish Channel was actually three gumbo pots. The Germans and Irish were so separated, they even built their own cathedral-sized churches, across from each other, on Constance Street. These communities were quite insular, but they still made their way from the Channel back down to Canal Street. When Krauss opened in 1903, the Irish Channel still reflected the divisions on which it was built.
Like Bernard Mandeville de Marigny, plantation owners subdivided the land just upriver from the city, as it was more profitable to build houses than grow cotton and sugar cane. While the Irish Channel grew directly along the river, Americans built luxurious homes in the English style, north of Magazine Street, between Jackson, Louisiana and St. Charles Avenues. By the Civil War, this Garden District was the wealthiest neighborhood in the city outside of the French Quarter. The plantations that remained after the Civil War were subdivided, as uptown now extended from the Garden District, upriver to the former city of Carrollton. As the expansion continued, the streets running up- and downriver were extended: Tchoupitoulas and Annunciation Streets, near the river; Magazine Street, the de facto boundary between rich and poor; and St. Charles Avenue, Freret Street and Claiborne St. Charles Avenue, Uptown. The St. Charles streetcar line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line (since 1834) in the United States. Library of Congress.
The uptown pots of gumbo were as unique as the subdivisions created there. The Irish Channel had its deep ethnic divisions. The Garden District’s wealth made it difficult for people other than the Anglo Irish, along with a few Creoles, to move in. Faubourg Bouligny, the subdivision that grew out of the breakup of the Bouligny plantation, extended uptown past the Garden District. Once a hotbed of horse breeding and racing, the area continued the trend of offering land where families could build both small shotguns and larger single-family homes.
Jefferson City and the University District all were more “American” than specific ethnic enclaves, always with the African American flavors blending in to make them interesting.
Even though the city grew upriver, the flow of retail goods did not follow the people. That meant all those families living uptown still had to make their way to Canal Street. Transit operators recognized this, as streetcars snaked their way through the uptown gumbo pots. Buses made connections to the streetcars, so even the folks of Carrollton could shop in the CBD.
As the river wound its way north from the French Quarter, small towns popped up in between the plantations. New Orleans annexed the city of Lafayette early on, absorbing the wealth of the Garden District. Jefferson City, just upriver from Faubourg Bouligny, was next, followed by the city of Carrollton.
By the 1890s, higher education had come to uptown. The Society of Jesus purchased a parcel of land that had been part of the Foucher Plantation. The Jesuits established Loyola University of New Orleans on that site. The Tulane Education Foundation acquired the land next to Loyola, constructing the first buildings of Tulane University in 1904. Both universities designed their campuses so their fronts were along St. Charles Avenue, making both schools easily accessible by streetcar. With the annexation of the city of Carrollton, the city of New Orleans had pushed expansion as far upriver as the adjoining parish of Jefferson would allow. Carrollton became the northernmost riverfront neighborhood.
It was a rich and diverse pot of gumbo, attracting Sicilian farmers from farther upriver into an area already populated by all the different types of folks found in other parts of the city. New Orleans’s boundaries along the river were firmly set by the time the Krauss brothers opened shop in the 1200 block of Canal Street.
Throughout this brief survey of the neighborhoods of New Orleans, note that there isn’t a separate black neighborhood. Since the founding of the city, black folks have been ubiquitous, both as slaves and as free people of color. The plantations along the river had significant slave populations, and the planters who maintained homes in the city proper staffed their households with slaves.
Africans did not come to New Orleans exclusively as enslaved humans. The port attracted free men of all colors who were looking to make a living and improve their position in society. Affairs between white masters and their slaves were commonplace. Some masters granted the children of their concubines their freedom. Those folks, along with blacks from the islands, made their homes in New Orleans, initially in Faubourgs Treme and Marigny. By the Civil War, Treme had become the cultural center of the black Creole community. St. Augustine Parish, founded in 1842, was the first truly integrated Christian congregation in the city.
Treme was the nexus, and black folks expanded their influence from there. Bernard Mandeville de Marigny did not segregate sales of lots when he subdivided his land, so the black population of the two neighborhoods adjacent to the French Quarter enjoyed solid growth. That growth continued as the city pushed north, into Faubourg St. John and the Sixth and Seventh Wards. Over time, black Creole evolved into just Creole, as the African American community began to dominate the “downtown back of town” neighborhoods.
The arrest of Homer Plessy as he attempted to ride in a whites-only train car from New Orleans to Covington in 1892 led to the Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. That ruling established the constitutionality of separate but equal doctrine and ushered in the Jim Crow era. With the rights of African Americans severely limited in southern states, the Great Migration of African Americans from South to North began. This changed the gumbo of Treme radically. The pot lost a lot of its African American flavor and gained a distinct Sicilian makeup. Still, as Krauss opened, Treme, along with the back of the Central Business District, had a significant black population. That was important in the marketing strategy of the Krauss brothers.
Not all African Americans desired or could afford to just pull up roots and move away from New Orleans. Those who remained lived all across the city, some owning their own homes, others renting housing from whites. Public housing projects constructed during the Great Depression in the 1930s became available to black families after World War II, as the white families got back on their feet, moving into the newer neighborhoods of Mid-City and Lakeview and into the suburbs.
As Sicilians came in numbers to New Orleans in the 1880s and 1890s, they quickly filled up the French Quarter and downriver neighborhoods. When black families sold their homes in Treme, leaving town for good, the Sicilians gladly snapped them up. By the start of the twentieth century, the Italian community in New Orleans was well rooted in the Quarter and Treme (in the section of the neighborhood east of the Carondelet Canal). By 1915, the Italians had moved toward the lake to the point where they petitioned the archbishop to establish a new Catholic parish at the northern end of Canal Street. St. Anthony of Padua became the third Italian church in New Orleans, and the Mid-City neighborhood’s gumbo had a clear Italian flavor. Mid-City grew out on either side of Canal Street, from Greenwood Cemetery down to Broad Street, the northern boundary of Faubourg Treme. Light industry along the New Basin Canal and the west bank of Bayou St. John bracketed Mid-City, creating opportunities for the residents. Getting back to town to shop was easy, since Canal Street was just a short walk away.
The Lakeview neighborhood grew from both ends to the middle. The West End and Spanish Fort streetcar lines brought New Orleans out to the lakefront for day trips, as families did what they could to escape the summer heat. Homes and businesses popped up along the New Basin Canal throughout the early 1900s. In the 1920s, the Orleans Levee Board began extensive land reclamation projects that pushed the south bank of Lake Pontchartrain out and created new subdivisions. Numerous federal projects during the Great Depression brought road and infrastructure improvements to the area.
By World War II, Lakeview’s open land gave wartime industry and support a place. Higgins Industries landing craft and patrol boats were cranked out of factories in Lakeview, and the workers in those factories began to move closer to work instead of taking the long streetcar trip on the West End line. After the war, many men took advantage of the benefits of the G.I. Bill to start families in Lakeview.
Streetcars were on the decline after World War II, but the residents of Lakeview were able to get back to downtown via bus, riding down West End and Canal Boulevards to the cemeteries at the foot of Canal Street. From there, they connected to the Canal streetcar line to get to Krauss and the other stores.
Small communities existed outside the city limits for generations, but post–World War II expansion drew folks from the city to Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes in numbers. School desegregation in the 1950s, coupled with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, created the white flight trend of the time. The early 1960s was the beginning of the suburban shopping mall, but it would be another decade before the trend was so rooted that older folks living in Metairie (Jefferson Parish) and Chalmette (St. Bernard Parish) felt like they didn’t have to go to Canal Street to do their shopping.
The Krauss brothers and their employees at 1201 Canal started cooking their own pot of gumbo in 1903. Their recipe changed only slightly in the ninety-four-year life of the store. It was all about taking care of New Orleans.
About the Author
New Orleans native Edward J. Branley is a former high school history teacher. He has written five books for Arcadia Publishing, including Legendary Locals of New Orleans and Images of America books New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Maison Blanche Department Store, and New Orleans Jazz. He is graduate of Brother Martin High School in New Orleans and the University of New Orleans. Branley is @NOLAHistoryGuy on Twitter.
Ever wonder how an idea comes to fruition for an editor? Or if we actually do more than just stare at the computer screen at words all day? Let me tell you about how a typical jumping off point down the rabbit hole goes when I work with my client, Edward Branley. You know him as NOLA History Guy, and as the author of various books from New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line (LA), Legendary Locals of New Orleans, and New Orleans Jazz.
One morning, Edward emails me:
Maunsel White was a planter and militia officer during the War of 1812. He’s buried in Cypress Grove cemetery. He’s going to make a good podcast subject. There’s a graf from his wiki page that caught my eye: An 1850 New Orleans Daily Delta newspaper article (reprinted in several other sources at the time) noted that “Col. White has introduced the celebrated tobasco [sic] red pepper, the very strongest of all peppers, of which he has cultivated a large quantity with the view of supplying his neighbors, and diffusing it through the state.” Furthermore, observed the newspaper, “by pouring strong vinegar on it after boiling, he has made a sauce or pepper decoction of it, which possesses in a most concentrated form all the qualities of the vegetable. A single drop of this sauce will flavor a whole plate of soup or other food.”
can you get the Daily Delta out of your database?
Part of my research repertoire includes having subscriptions to various old newspaper databases. For this, I use Newspapers.com.
Newspapers.com has ~5,000 newspapers from the 1700s to the 2000s. It’s a great repository of old and new, and I love looking through the old advertisements and the variety of places you wouldn’t see news from. The captions and the verbiage make me smile.
Here’s what I mean, from The Daily Commercial Herald (Vicksburg, Mississippi) 07 March 1894 (Wednesday). An Advertisement for Tobasco (Maunsell White) 50 cents per bottle.
Here is the image of the page in The Daily Commercial Herald that I found the advertisement in:
Since being an editor means a lot of research, where would one keep their research? Keeping it on the hard drive of the laptop means it is going to run slow. What if you need to collaborate in real time over Skype or Google? How do you keep it organized? I use Pinterest. It saves me time, and I label each PinBoard with the title of the subject I am researching. Some, only have two or three “pins”, whereas others have over 1,000. Here is a peek into my Maunsel White Pinboard.
While you’re there, feel free to browse around. You never know what rabbit hole I am falling into these days. Enjoy!
OH… The final product Maunsel White Podcast [#1] from Edward Branley.
Here’s the other story on White – and his connection to the battle of 1812 and Andrew Jackson… stay tuned for the podcast relating to tobasco and the Pinterest board coming soon.
Here’s a link to Tulane University’s online exhibits – Andrew Jackson to Maunsel White. You know I posted these images on the Maunsel White pinboard. And even when the job is done, the historian, researcher in me, never stops finding interesting things to add!
Featured image : 1879 menu from steamship Ed. Richardson includes “Maunsel White” sauce.
Old English feohtan “to combat, contend with weapons, strive; attack; gain by fighting, win” (intransitive; class III strong verb; past tense feaht, past participle fohten), from Proto-Germanic *fehtan (cognates: Old High German fehtan, German fechten, Middle Dutch and Dutch vechten, Old Frisianfiuhta “to fight”), from PIE *pek- (2) “to pluck out” (wool or hair), apparently with a notion of “pulling roughly” (cognates: Greek pekein “to comb, shear,” pekos “fleece, wool;” Persian pashm “wool, down,” Latin pectere “to comb,” Sanskrit paksman- “eyebrows, hair”).
Spelling substitution of -gh- for a “hard H” sound was a Middle English scribal habit, especially before -t-. In some late Old English examples, the middle consonant was represented by a yogh. Among provincial early Modern English spellings, Wright lists faight, fate, fecht, feeght, feight, feit, feyght, feyt,feort, foight.
From c. 1200 as “offer resistance, struggle;” also “to quarrel, wrangle, create a disturbance.” From late 14c. as “be in conflict.” Transitive use from 1690s. To fight for “contest on behalf of” is from early 14c. To fight back “resist” is recorded from 1890. Well figt þat wel fligt (“he fights well that flies fast”) was a Middle English proverb.
Fighting and Combat
If you are writing a novel that has fighting and combat scenes in it, it is important to consider what the reader will take away from it. Will they skim the every-last-detail and skip to the character-driven scenes and dialogue? How does a writer entice the reader to stay on the page and understand the character development that you have put hours into creating?
Think about Word Selection and Wordsmithing
Your choice of words can provide a crucial element or hint to the reader of what is happening in the story going forward, or bring it back to a certain point in a previous chapter. The way the protagonist fights, walks away, or uses dialogue to convey what they are thinking at that moment will keep your reader wanting more.
Also consider what the supporting characters in the room are doing during the fight. Are they chatting quietly, egging on the fighters, or placing bets on who will win while drinking whiskey?
What happens to that quiet character you’ve been showing on the page, does he get excited by the blood flow? Maybe that is a hint to your reader that there is more than meets the eye.
Who comes to help in the fight? Who stays out of the way? Maybe your character that everyone thinks would jump right in, will stay on the sidelines. The female at the bar, who one would not expect to help, will be fighting right alongside with her weapon that she has hidden on her at all times.
“Even if you’re not all that interested in firearms and knives, it’s worth getting them right because of how stories can hinge on the way characters use them. Did that revolver hold six shots or only five? In a critical scene, that could mean the difference between a character being alive or not. Are you sure that knife is legal for your character to carry? If it’s not, the knife might not match the character’s profile.”
– Benjamin Sobieck, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons
On my Pinterest Word List board, I have this pinned. I think it is a good reference when you find your fight scenes are lacking some color or action words. If you are trying to craft the write (right) scene to jump off the page, and have your readers thinking about the scenario and what happens next.
Fulfill the promise of your book
Carefully research your weaponry and your fighting styles are true to your era to ensure you don’t break suspension of disbelief. Think about King Arthur and the Medieval setting — broadswords, flails, chain mail, halberds, and horsemen’s axes.
Now consider a story set in a more contemporary era. What would be the weapon of choice? Guns.
In This Kind of War, historian T.R. Fehrenbach’s seminal work on The Korean War, he wrote:
“You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud.”
Here are 21 words that are obscure and may lead you down a different path in your writing. Did you know the suffix machy is Greek, from -mache, to fight?
battle between frogs and mice; a burlesque poem attributed to Homer