The Selling of New Orleans
The French Quarter of the 1920’s was in a state of decay. Buildings were in danger of collapsing and prostitutes and other unsavory characters scandalized passersby. Rent was cheap and writers and artists of all ilks soaked up the dingy atmosphere. There were problems to be sure but the small group of men and women, who burned for the preservation of New Orleans’ past saw the district as a one time haven of prosperity where upper class, white people of French ancestry thrived. They longed to return the area to its former glory, albeit a mythical glory. They published a plethora of guide books that hallowed the district as something unique to the city. The great courtship of tourists had begun, serving up nostalgia like a three course supper. Time and time again, the buildings were described as “quaint” and “picturesque.”
The French Quarter was presented as the Vieux Carre’, a place where French liberalism still held sway. Debauchery became a city sanctioned part of the tourism. Come to New Orleans and live as the French lived! You could set aside American Protestant mores and slip on a past of besotted revelry. New Orleans sold itself to the devil as a playground for sin and tourists flocked to the hedonism and spent their hard earned cash on vice, legal and illegal. The reputation still holds sway even in 2016. Accountants and insurance salesmen discard their khaki pants and penny loafers to don linen shorts and wife-beaters, melting in the summer heat like ice in their lukewarm cocktails, they dance their way through the haze of intoxication, screaming for breasts and beads as though Carnival is a year long celebration. The party goes on all night long and those dollar bills change hands.
Come morning, the French Quarter wakes early to wash the alcohol, vomit and urine from the streets. Bars that never close run shift changes and bleary eyed bartenders getting off the graveyard, shuffle into a nearby “local’s” pub for whisky and commiseration. Laughter and music ooze onto the street as tourists slowly emerge for much needed coffee and beignets. Life in a tourist own marches forward.
Crescent City Historic Tours