I've been wanting to get this straight for a long time. Why do they spell the causeway over Lake Pontchartrain "causeway" instead of "cars way"?
The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is spelled that way because that's what it is -- a causeway. However, you are not the first who has asked this very question. In fact, many kids in Louisiana grow up pronouncing it "cars way." And there are others who insist on calling it the "causeway bridge." But I hope I can make everything clear.
By definition, a causeway is a road formed on a "causey" or mound, a raised road across a low or wet place or body of water. It was also applied to a landing pier running into the sea or a river. It is also a paved highway.
The first reference in print to the word came around 1440 when it was spelled "cawcewey." Since then, in literary works, histories, diaries and elsewhere, there are many references to causeways.
One famous causeway is the Giant's Causeway, which is a natural formation in County Antrim on the northern coast of Ireland. It consists of thousands of columns of volcanic origin forming three natural platforms. According to legend, it was once a bridge for giants crossing between Ireland and Scotland.
Another famous causeway is our own Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. This 24-mile span that connects Jefferson Parish on the south shore to St. Tammany Parish on the north shore was first opened to the public in 1956. The second span opened in 1969. It is the longest bridge in the world, and about 30,000 cars cross it each week.
In 1965, Arthur Hailey published a novel called Hotel. A movie and TV series were subsequently based on this book. It is common knowledge that the model for the book was a hotel in New Orleans. Some say it was the no-longer-existing St. Charles Hotel, which was located where the Place St. Charles is now. Others say it was the Fairmont, formerly known as the Roosevelt Hotel. Can you help?
I can assure you that the hotel that became the inspiration for the St. Gregory Hotel in Hailey's novel in which the manager of a New Orleans hotel must deal with his tough boss, business headaches, thieves and a variety of demanding guests was the Fairmont. I'm sure there are still some current members of the staff who remember Hailey wandering around the hotel taking notes for what was to become a bestseller. When the novel appeared, the employees were able to identify some of the characters.
It seemed logical for Hailey to choose the Fairmont because it has such a colorful history. Over the years, it has hosted movie stars, royalty, some of the world's greatest entertainers and eight U.S. Presidents.
First built in 1893 by Louis Grunewald, it bore his name. Then it was sold to a group of businessmen who renamed it in 1923 in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1908, the hotel opened a nightclub in the basement. Called The Cave, it was decorated with stalagmites, stalactites and waterfalls. Equally impressive were the various gnomes and reclining nude nymphs strategically placed throughout.
A longtime owner and manager was Seymour Weiss, who became friends with Huey P. Long. During Long's reign in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he spent a great deal of time in his suite at the Roosevelt. The Kingfish held court there and drank a good many of the hotel's famous Ramos Gin Fizzes. When Long built a 90-mile road that went almost directly from the hotel to Baton Rouge, we weren't surprised.
In 1965, the Roosevelt became the Fairmont and continues to be one of the splendid hotels in New Orleans that tourists as well as locals love to visit, especially at Christmas time.
However, when Hailey's novel became a TV series that ran from 1983 to 1988, another Fairmont Hotel was used. This one is on Nob Hill in San Francisco, 950 Mason St. As you might imagine, it's pretty splendid as well.