Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Unknown New Orleanians" at NOPL

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2008 at 12:48 AM

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The Louisiana collection at the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library is already a great place to lose a few hours pawing through the archives and boning up on the long, strange history of New Orleans via vintage phone books, maps, genealogy texts and newspapers dating back to the nineteenth century. In October, they added something even cooler: the exhibit Hidden from History: Unknown New Orleanians. The exhibit, a collection of mug shots and municipal documents from the turn of the last century, was curated by Dr. Emily Epstein Landau, a scholar whose 2005 doctoral disseration at Yale was a history of Storyville. The denizens of the infamous red light district are well-represented (of particular note are several mug shots of the legendary Creole madam Lulu White, plus paperwork regarding her various court cases), as are more hapless New Orleanians whose lives, as the exhibit phrases it, "intersected with the municipality."The language of some of the documents is fascinating. In 1900, for example, one could get picked up for offenses like "dangerous and suspicious," "sneak thief," and "reviling police." Police files also listed the offenders' "criminal specialty" - very resume-like. Plus, the letterhead on the stationery for the New Orleans Police Jail (not to mention the penmanship of Asst. Superintendent and Clerk J.M. Kennedy) is to die for. I wish they sold it at Scriptura. 

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