What is the history of the New Orleans city seal? What do the images represent? And why are there mountains pictured on the shield?
The curious staff of A Gallery for Fine Photography
Folks disagree on the history and symbolism of the seal of the City of New Orleans, but several points are agreed upon by all.
Our city seal has been around since early in 1805 when the mayor of New Orleans was directed by the Legislative Council of the Territory of Orleans to use a seal on all official acts and documents. When the city was divided into three separate municipalities in 1836, each one had a seal of its own. Then in 1852 the city reunited and the original seal was used again. Council minutes show that John Douglas was paid $16 for "engraving die and printing of seal."
The meaning of the stars is also one point on which everyone agrees. At the top of the seal there are two circles of stars with a big one in the middle. The stars in the outer circle and the big one represent the first thirteen states admitted to the Union. The stars in the inner circle represent the states admitted to the Union from 1791 to 1836. The six states that were admitted to the Union between 1837 and 1850 are represented by the three stars on each side of the seal.
Things get a bit muddy, though, when it comes to an explanation of the various figures on the seal since there is no complete and official description. Most agree with the legend that holds that the Indian brave and maiden represent the first inhabitants of Louisiana. The shield in the center of the seal has three wigwams and a reclining figure represented by Neptune, the mythological god of water. Some have suggested that the man is Father Mississippi. However, it really is a stretch of the imagination to believe that the body of water is our own "Big Muddy" with those mountains right on the other side. It's clear to me that the creator of the seal was engaging in wishful thinking. It has also been suggested that the alligator represents the inhabitants of the marshes and swamplands of Louisiana.
And shining down on all is Louisiana's radiant sun.
Is it true that for at least the past 20 years every Louisiana State Insurance Commissioner has either been convicted of wrongdoing while in office or has served time in prison?
I'm ashamed to admit that it's true. As one of our local columnists pointed out, "Unless you were alive in 1946, you have never voted for a Louisiana insurance commissioner who didn't wind up convicted of felonies." What a record!
The last commissioner who kept his nose clean was Dudly Guglielmo, who won the commissioner's race in 1967 when the voting age was still 21. Four years later, the 23rd Amendment changed the voting age to 18.
In 1971, Sherman Bernard was elected insurance commissioner, winning the election from Guglielmo. Bernard kept the position until 1987, when Doug Green ousted him. Bernard and Green both ended up in prison.
And now we have Jim Brown, elected in 1991, who, though presently free on appeal, may continue in the tradition of his predecessors.
It seems that insurance regulation in our fine state has been somewhat relaxed, and some less-than-honest individuals were able to set up businesses that sold worthless insurance policies. The "companies" didn't always have the assets to get a license, so they created imaginary bank accounts and spread some cash around, often in the direction of the insurance commissioner in the form of campaign contributions.
One way the companies became rich was when automobile insurance became mandatory. They offered rock-bottom rates and sold policies to just about anybody. When folks dutifully paid their premiums, the owners kept the money themselves instead of using it to pay rightful claims. They managed to cook the books to make it look like the company had the necessary funds required by law.
Eventually, all of this fraud came to light, and heads rolled.