As we leave the Lower Ninth Ward behind, our path takes us along the river into the French Quarter. We plan to visit the two National Parks in the city and continue to look for the after effects of Katrina.
Parking the jeep in a lot near the Mississippi River, we set out on foot.
First stop, the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. It’s a four block walk along the river to the visitor center.
On the way, we pass by many of New Orleans iconic sights.
Washington Artillery Park
Until we reach…
The New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park Visitor Center.
Whenever we arrive at a new visitor center, the first thing we do, is ask the ranger what we should know about the park. We’ve learned so much from these wonderful people and once in a while we get lucky enough to have a private tour since we often visit during slow periods.
In this case, we learned that the timing of our visit was not optimal. It seems that live Jazz performances take place periodically and we just missed one.
This particular National Park is basically just a performance space with a few exhibits of Jazz history along the walls.
There is another Jazz museum down the street, in the old US Mint building. We did not have time to visit but to my understanding, it’s mainly an archival library of jazz instruments and music.
They also have live performances.
The next stop on our agenda was the Presbytere Museum on Chartres St., so we set off on foot again through the streets of New Orleans.
The Presbytere Museum has two main exhibits. The ground floor focuses on Hurricane Katrina while the second floor is a museum on the history of Mardis Gras.
During Hurricane Katrina, Fats Domino stayed behind to care for his wife (who was ill), in their home. When the flood came and communications went down, many people feared he was dead. Fats and his wife were rescued by the Coast Guard but their home and belongings were destroyed. This piano was donated to the museum by the family. It rests in the lobby, just as it was found, after the hurricane. The piano still holds the odor of mold and decay, an odor that is all too familiar to the residents of this city.
The museum is dark.
The first display, outlines the timeline of events from August 23, 2005 to August 31, 2005. In an adjacent hallway, TV monitors play old hurricane news footage. In another, even darker room, a large screen shows increasingly dramatic images of the floods while speakers shriek with the sounds of the wind. Sitting there in the dark, with the sights and sounds of the disaster all around, it’s difficult not to get choked up. The next room in the sequence, brings it all to a climax. This room is a facsimile of a claustrophobic attic, a hatchet hangs on the wall below a hole that was chopped in the roof for escape.
I cannot even begin to fathom how terrifying that must have been.
From there, the museum opens up into a room which honors the ordinary heroes, the people who stepped up to help their neighbors when no one else would. Some of the original rescue boats hang from the ceiling and artifacts of the rescues are displayed.
So much heartbreak.
The exhibit also has a section which explains the engineering failures. Many of the problems occurred due to the characteristics of the land itself. Poor management of the surrounding wetlands was also a problem. Today, we have a better understanding this tragedy but many of the problems remain. The fact is, New Orleans is a bowl surrounded by water.
It will take more than just hard work to prevent this happening again.
The exhibit begins and ends with Fats Domino. He was a beloved figure and icon of the city, especially the Lower Ninth Ward. Even after losing all he owned, he performed many concerts to raise money for other people who lost everything.
The tour continues up the stairs to the second level where lively and colorful exhibits celebrate the outlandish festival of Mardis Gras.
It’s quite a contrast to the downstairs.
Every room is filled with costumes and displays. They loosely trace the historic origins of Mardis Gras, while also showcasing various groups and participants.
It’s a feast for the senses!
I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
There is so much to see in this one museum alone, that it could easily take all day.
But…we have more places to go…
Our next destination is on the other side of the French Quarter.
Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, can’t go around it, guess we’ll have to go through it!
The details are as unique and beautiful as the big picture.
We made a quick stop to eat a greasy piece of pizza at one of the many bars on Bourbon Street, then it was on to the next National Park.
Jean Lafitte National Park has six sites in south Louisiana. Today, we have just enough time for Jean Lafitte Headquarters and Visitor Center in the French Quarter. Directly off Decatur Street, in view of the Mississippi River, the visitor center is accessed through a brick tunnel.
Signs along the tunnel walls describe the plan for the new city of New Orleans.
Other signs explain the architectural details which make the city so recognizable and unique.
Inside the visitor center, informational displays tell the stories of the peoples and cultures of historic New Orleans. Not much in the way of artifacts, just a few audio and visual exhibits.
Before we move on, our daughter requested that we eat Beignets at Cafe Dumonde in honor of her. It’s tough but someone has to do it!
We decide to eat them while sitting on the river steps and watching the boats go by.
The sights as we walk back to the car…
Our next destination takes us through the newer part of town.
And up into the cities of the dead…
We are here to pay our respects at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial
The park is designed as a place of quiet reflection but we found that the residents use it for playing and dog walking. Life goes on.
Across the street is the Odd Fellows cemetery. It’s very old and cramped but strangely beautiful.
On the way out of town, we passed by the old Lindy Boggs Medical Center (Mercy Hospital). This is the site where 45 people lost their lives. The remaining patients were trapped without life support and medicines. Only three medical professionals stayed to care for them.
The medical professionals who stayed behind, performed life saving measures day after day, against insurmountable odds. The worked under brutal conditions to save as many people as they could. They are the true heroes.
There is talk of turning the hospital into assisted living apartments for the elderly. In 2017 the building was being cleared of asbestos but it’s unknown what the current plans are.
It’s time for us to take our leave of New Orleans and Louisiana.
In the end, it’s clear to me that parts of New Orleans may never be the same. The amount of damage sustained is immense. The rebuilding is slow, even thirteen years later but the tourist spots are up and running. The French Quarter is still as popular and crowded as ever.
The spirit of the people is strong.
The city lives on.