It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the street where your husband's office is. It's N. Hennessy. On the corner of Hennessy and Dumaine streets are the tiles that spell out the name correctly. Apparently, sometimes the sign makers in the city like to get creative with the names they put on the signposts. This time they put in an extra "e" and spelled the street "Hennessey." There are other signs around the city with names misspelled. Go figure.
While the question about the spelling of the name is interesting, it is not as interesting as the story behind the man for whom the street was named: David C. Hennessy, who was shot and killed in an ambush on Oct. 15, 1890.
Hennessy rose to the position of police chief -- appointed after the election of 1888 by Mayor Joseph Shakspeare -- after joining the force as a young man to support his widowed mother.
While Hennessy held the position, ethnic tension was so thick in New Orleans you could cut it with a knife. Immigrants arrived by the thousands, and they competed with each other for jobs. One of the largest groups to immigrate to New Orleans was the Italians. The Sicilians especially were resented by the other ethnic groups and long-time residents. Many of them settled in the French Quarter, and one part of Decatur Street known for its lawlessness and violence became known as "Vendetta Alley."
Hennessy, among others, believed that the Mafia was the cause of much of the trouble, so he made a list of the men he felt to be responsible and ordered their arrests. Bad decision.
One night as he was nearing his home on Basin Street, he was assassinated. The story about his death is still told today. While he lay dying on the pavement, he is said to have whispered to Captain William O'Connor, "Oh, Billy, Billy. They have given it to me and I gave them back the best I could."
"Who gave it to you, Dave?" O'Connor asked.
"Put your ear down here," Hennessy mumbled. O'Connor leaned down, and Hennessy whispered, "Dagoes."
Almost immediately a hundred suspects were arrested. Eventually, 19 were indicted and charged with murder. The first nine went on trial in February 1891, but nobody was convicted. Facing further charges, the men were returned to Parish Prison.
A newspaper editorial declared, "Rise, outraged people of New Orleans! Let those who have attempted to sap the very foundation of your Temples of Justice be in one vengeful hour swept from your midst. Peaceably if you can, forcibly if you must!"
At a meeting of furious citizens, a persuasive speaker proclaimed, "When courts fail, the people must act. What protection is there left us when the very head of our police department, our chief of police, is assassinated in our very midst and his assassins are turned loose on the community?" With this, the crowd turned into a lynch mob, and thousands marched to the prison, broke in, and summarily executed 11 Italians.
The grand jury brought no charges against those involved having decided that the action was "a spontaneous uprising of the people."
For many years after, if you wanted to insult an Italian, all you had to do was ask, "Who killa da chief?"
Hennessy is buried in Metairie Cemetery. His tomb is a tall, broken shaft of granite rising from an elevated mound of grass. The shaft is covered with a pall, and a police belt and club hang from the top. Near the base is the New Orleans Police Department's familiar star-and-crescent badge. Under his name is his epitaph: "His life was honorable and brave. His fidelity to duty was sealed with his death."
And his name is spelled correctly.