This entrancing photograph of Royal street, in New Orleans’ French Quarter, in 1906 comes of course from Shorpy. One could and should lose hours there, not solely because extraordinarily beautiful, high-resolution photographs from the past remind one viscerally of human continuity throughout history -these boys are any boys- but also because the community of amateur history connoisseurs in the comments section remind one that cursory looks are never sufficient.
The mind is designed to generalize, to make rules and judgements which are broad enough to be flexibly applied to novel situations, and quickly; it is in this way that consciousness helps the organism take detailed instances of reality and make abstract principles with which to survive future variations of its experiences. But at what loss! One looks at everything with a categorial eye, reduces to schema the most varied and dense scenes, turns into discrete formulae the most continuous and engrossing transformations!
I saw this photograph of Royal street, down which I’ve walked more times than I could count from childhood to the present, night and day, while drunk and while sober, and thought: “Old-fashioned people! And look, the streetcar ran down it back in the day.” And then I was ready to move on, stupidly, like someone whose gum runs out of flavor who absent-mindedly stuffs more in: the chewing cannot stop!
But the commenters and, later, my mother, noted more, made me look more closely:
A 45-star flag: our America wasn’t yet in existence; that Hawaii and Alaska were yet to be included is not surprising, but Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma were not part of the nation either. Did Oklahomans at the time think of themselves as Americans-to-be? Were there disgruntled opponents of incorporation?
My mother noticed that the city’s lights seem to have been naked bulbs strung down the streets. Can you imagine how beautiful it must have looked at night? Look at them running down into the distance!
I know a Fabacher in New Orleans; he wrote a very funny poem to commemorate my father’s 60th birthday. A commenter adds a bit on the nature of Fabacher’s restaurant. And that “Commercial Hotel” is now the famous Hotel Monteleone, home of the slowly-rotating and very lovely Carousel Bar; I’ve been there often. A commenter adds:
It became the Hotel Monteleone in 1908 after being bought by Antonio Monteleone, an Italian shoemaker who came to America to make his fortune. The hotel has been patronized by a who’s who of Southern writers, and is haunted by the ghost of a three-year-old boy.
Elizabeth, of Locomotive-Hootenany -who introduced me to Shorpy, I believe- stayed at the Monteleone with Betsy, of Giant Squid and Locomotives.
Ice-delivery men in a drawn-carriage approaching a restaurant with the catchy name “Restaurant and Lunch-Counter.” Note also: flags everywhere! New Orleans is not the most American of cities, and so near to the close of the Civil War it seems surprising there are so many stars-and-stripes everywhere.
Bayou Oysters for sale. Local and long-distance telephone pay station.
A woman and her matched children. The woman appears to be wearing a hat made to look like a cake, which a commenter linked to another old photograph: a style, then. The children’s hats are something to see, as well.
So many photographs, so many texts, so many sounds, so many moments bear and reward greater immersion and scrutiny, but we fly from one to the next: a compulsive rush, as though we’ve interiorized the lunacy of time and despise the ever-extant non-existent present and want it annihilated, turned into an outline-memory or forgotten forthwith. Old photos like this disrupt that tick for me, if only for a spell.
(And there are so many great photos of New Orleans there! Two favorites, and one of Bay St. Louis).