Is the tale about the Napoleon House (Girod House) being intended as a safe home for the defeated Napoleon when he could get to Louisiana a true story? As a French teacher who is fascinated with French history as well as New Orleans history, I had read about this plan and heard it again when I visited your city and went on the French Quarter tour given by the National Park Service. New Orleans Then and Now by Lester Sullivan was given to me as a Christmas gift. In his description of the Napoleon House, Sullivan states that the name given to the Girod House "reflects the false tradition" that it was intended for Napoleon. Can you clear up the differences?
Linda from South Carolina
Yes, I can. The house was not built for Napoleon, nor was it offered to Napoleon in person.
The house in question was erected in 1814 for Nicholas Girod, the mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815. The legend grew from an incident that occurred when news reached the city that Napoleon had escaped from Elba, a small island off the coast of France, on Feb. 26, 1815.
Many prominent citizens were gathered at the St. Philip Theater, later the Washington Ballroom, to attend a dramatic performance. The performance broke up as the citizens -- many of whom were huge Napoleon fans -- assembled at the Cabildo. At the time, many of them believed that the former French emperor would come to America. And, they reasoned, where in America would he find so warm a welcome and a home away from home as New Orleans? As mayors do, Girod rose to the occasion and delivered a speech to the excited crowd. He spoke warmly about the famous exile and reflected on the idea that he might indeed make his way to New Orleans. It was then that he made his proposal and announced to the crowd that he would gladly provide his home as a haven when Napoleon arrived.
However, Napoleon did not head for America, but returned to France where he landed in March 1815. By the time he reached Paris, he had an army. For 100 days he was in charge again until he was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.
After that, Napoleon returned to Paris, but was soon induced to leave. He attempted to flee to the United States, but was intercepted by the English, who held him prisoner until he surrendered to them on July 15, 1815. This time Napoleon was sent to an island from which he would not escape -- St. Helena -- where he died in 1821.
Although Napoleon never made it to 500 Chartres St., his physician at St. Helena did. In the same building that was supposed to be Napoleon's refuge, Dr. Antommarchi set up an office in 1834 where he treated the poor of the city for free.
I love your feature every week. I have not been in town long and was wondering if you had an archive of past columns one could browse through? Do you have a "Know It All" book out? I love the information, and I was just wondering if there was more of it out there.
Welcome to New Orleans -- the city of a thousand stories. I wish I could send you to a store to get the book you are looking for, but it doesn't exist. However, you can read many of the old columns on Gambit Weekly's Web site, www.bestofneworleans.com, which has an excellent archive.
In your Dec. 21, 2004, column, you stated that in 1973 the city of New Orleans produced a set of books on New Orleans neighborhoods. Where can I find these books?
Ahamal J. Blake
There are, of course, many sets of these books. But I recommend that you go to the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library at 219 Loyola Ave. The books are on the third floor. There you will also find many knowledgeable and helpful librarians to help you in your quest for information.