Was Canal Street ever an open canal that later was covered over? Was the neutral ground of Jefferson Davis Parkway once an open canal and covered over? When was the New Basin Canal covered over?
Dear H. Dauphin,
We did and still do have lots of canals in and around New Orleans, and all were dug for transportation and/or drainage. Of the three canals you mentioned, only one really was a canal: the New Basin Canal. It was dug between 1832 and 1838 and was filled in gradually during the 1950s.
The other two you mentioned never were canals. Canal Street was so named, however, because of a proposal to dig a 50-foot-wide shipping canal from the Mississippi River to the Carondelet Canal. The plan was abandoned in 1852, leaving us with a very wide neutral ground where the canal would have been.
Did T. J. Semmes represent the 11 Italians in their trial?
Peyton Cottrell, Houston
Thomas J. Semmes did indeed represent Italians accused of assassinating Police Chief David C. Hennessy on Oct. 15, 1890. There were more than 11 men whose lives were at stake, however. Scores of men were arrested, 19 were indicted, and only nine " the alleged ringleaders " were brought to trial: Joseph Macheca, Charles Matranga, Pietre Monasterio, Bastian Incardona, Antonio Marchesi, Caspare Marchesi, Antonio Scaffidi, Antonio Bagnetto and Emmanuele Polizzi.
Italians were arrested and put on trial because of the words Hennessy allegedly uttered to his friend Capt. William O'Connor when he asked the chief, "Who gave it to you, Dave?" 'The Dagoes did it," Hennessy reportedly mumbled as he lay dying from gunshot wounds he suffered during an ambush near his home.
The trial began on Feb. 16, 1891.
The judge was Joshua G. Baker and the defendants were represented by a crack team of five lawyers led by Thomas J. Semmes, former Louisiana Attorney General and Confederate senator. Lionel Adams, a former district attorney and noted trial lawyer was also on the team. This legal representation was made possible by more than $75,000 in donations from Italians from all over the country.
Mayor Joseph A. Shakspeare had appointed a group of important and powerful men, the Committee of Fifty, to ensure the Sicilians were punished. These men contributed a great deal of their own money to hire the best detectives and legal minds available. District Attorney Charles Luzenberg led the prosecution team.
More than 1,300 perspective jurors were called for duty, and 780 of them were actually questioned. After 11 days, a jury of 12 was seated. From the beginning, there was doubt as to the honesty of the jury, and two men were arrested for attempting to bribe potential jurors.
Hennessy was respected and well liked; thousands came to mourn when his body lay in state at City Hall. Interest in the trial was intense, anger at the Italian community was palpable, and the courtroom was jammed with spectators who wanted to see justice done.
When the prosecution rested its case, it had produced 67 witnesses and some of them had sworn that they had seen the accused men firing weapons and fleeing the murder scene. The defense, however, called witnesses who provided an alibi for each of the men accused of opening fire on Hennessy.
On March 13, the jury returned a verdict after deliberating all night. The jury found six of the men not guilty and failed to agree on verdicts for the other three, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial in those cases. The defendants were temporarily returned to the parish prison, where 10 others awaited trial in the Hennessy case.
A shocked reporter from The New York Times wrote, 'So strong a case had been made by the State, the evidence had been so clear, direct and unchallenged, that the acquittal of the accused today came like a thunder clap from a clear sky." New Orleans citizens agreed and were so outraged that the next day a mob broke into the parish prison and executed 11 of the accused men.