Category Archives: New Orleans

Just in time for Saint Valentine’s Day…Stinky Vinegar Valentines!

on February 14, 2020

The feast of Saint Valentine of Rome was designated in the year 496.

The date? February 14th, of course.

About 900 years later, Saint Valentine and his feast day (already celebrated with food, drink, jousting, poetry, singing, and dancing) somehow became associated with romance, passion, and love.

And so began the need to send Saint Valentine’s greetings—letters, cards, and books that were chock full of flowers, hearts, rhyming verse, sly suggestions and outright innuendos, and plump cherubs, puppies, and babies!

During the 19th century—when my historical mystery Fanny Newcomb & the Irish Channel Ripper is set—cards and postcards celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day reached a new height of romantic expression.

But in the mid-19th century and continuing into the mid-20th century, many valentines took a darker, meaner, and even stinkier turn for the worse.

What? You haven’t heard of Vinegar Valentines?

Bitter, caustic, and often downright nasty, Vinegar Valentines were created to offend and insult the recipient.

Vinegar Valentines consisted of two elements: first of all, they had graphics that included slimy animals like snakes and slugs or grotesque caricatures of men and women. Secondly, these missives included a rude rhyme or mean quotation.

And although my Fanny Newcomb would never ever, ever-ever-ever send out a Vinegar Valentine, I still thought you’d like to see a few stinkers for yourself.

The Serpent

The Saleslady

The Suffragette

Mr. Bald Head

(and I admit it! I’m glad that there were Vinegar Valentines for men also!)


 

The Surgeon

(A Civil War Vinegar Valentine)

 

Fortunately, Vinegar Valentines went out of style long ago, and today I can wish you a very happy Saint Valentine’s Day with a sweet postcard full of hearts and happy thoughts!

Happy Valentines Day from FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER!

 

 

 

 

It’s Giveaway Time…for 48 hours or so…

on February 5, 2020

The very kind and wonderful storyteller Suzanne Adair has invited me to share how to “hold history in your hands” in this week’s Relevant History blog.

And…here’s Suzanne’s scoop on the FANNY NEWCOMB giveaway:

“A big thanks to Ana Brazil! She’ll give away a packet of four reproduction postcards and one original postcard of Italian Headquarters, plus a paperback copy of Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper, to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week (available Tuesday 4 February). I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the US only.”

For a little preview, here are a few of my postcards that are not in the Relevant History publication:

   

 

and here’s a larger view of the postcard that Kerry wants to know more about.

 

This postcard was printed after 1908, which is the date that the Southern Railroad Depot (the large monumental building with a rounded arch entrance on Canal and Basin Streets) was completed.

Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending – Now Available!

on March 25, 2019

I’m very pleased to announce that my historic short story “Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending” has been published in Fault Lines: Stories by Northern California Crime Writers.

This stunning anthology includes “19 short stories that explore crime, guilt, and justice in our earthquake-prone region and beyond.”

My “Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending” is one of the “beyond” Northern California stories, and examines fault, blame, and guilt in late 19th century Louisiana.

Kate Chopin, author of The Awakening

Here’s more from my author’s note:

Although Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening is celebrated today as a declaration of female sexual independence, when it was first published in 1899 it was scorned, derided, and deemed vulgar.

What, I wondered, would have happened if author Kate were confronted by one of her early readers? A reader who—like Kate’s protagonist Edna—had her life changed forever by her sudden sexual independence? But a reader who—unlike Edna—would stop at nothing to blame Kate for where that independence lead her.

Writer or reader, it’s not always easy to know who’s really at fault.

For those of you keeping chronological score, “Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending” takes place in 1899, ten years after my Gilded Age New Orleans novel Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper.

I hope that you enjoy both of these Gilded Age Louisiana stories about ambitious and intelligent women.

Gilded Age New Orleans: So much more than hookers, hurricanes, and Mardi Gras!

on July 28, 2018

Although late 19th century New Orleans was renowned for the hookers of Storyville, the devastating hurricanes of the 1880s, and the elevation of Mardi Gras to a state holiday, there’s so much more to know about the Crescent City during this time!

For starters, there was an assassination that was followed by lynchings (1890), an all-out political insurrection (1874), and a riot that killed 28 people (1900). There were duels in City Park and gunfights on Canal Street. There were too many bankruptcies, lottery swindles, and drunken sailors to count. And every year there was a long, hot summer and the constant threat of yellow fever or other maladies.

With a quarter of a million citizens and ships from the mighty Mississippi river depositing strangers in the city every day, someone was always causing trouble for someone else. Truly, Gilded Age New Orleans is a dream city for a historical mystery writer!

But back to summer…when the heat truly hit in late May, New Orleanians of means retreated to breezy coastal cities in Louisiana and Mississippi. During this “dull season”, those citizens who remained in town stocked their iceboxes, lightened their wardrobes and rooms with cotton fabrics, and, as advised by the daily newspapers, stopped working by 3pm.

And into this humid, hot mess of a city I toss my heroine, Fanny Newcomb. And ask her to solve a murder. Twenty-five and learning to make a living on her own, Fanny finds herself teaching typewriting to the hard-working factory girls of the city’s Irish Channel neighborhood. It’s a grim life.

Fortunately for Fanny and her crew, in addition to the problems mentioned above, New Orleans was also the entertainment oasis of the South.

Throughout the late 19th century, New Orleanians reveled in what the city maps called Places of Amusement. For grand music, they attended the French or Grand Opera Houses or the Academy of Music. For dramatic entertainment, they visited the St. Charles, Avenue, or Faranta’s Theatres, stages where Edwin Booth and Sarah Bernhardt both made appearances. For a peak at circus curiosities or a bit of common sensationalism, they bought a ticket to Robinson’s Dime Museum.

Horse lovers and gamblers alike visited the Fair Grounds, home of the Louisiana Jockey Club and their racecourse. New Orleanians in need of a quiet place for contemplation could visit a former racecourse, because the 1830’s Metairie Race tack had been transformed into the elegant and fashionable Metairie Cemetery after the Civil War. Even in traditionally laissez-faire New Orleans, a cemetery could not be called a Place of Amusement, but because the city had above-ground burials, many of the cemeteries did become celebrated centers of beauty and relaxation.

When New Orleanians tired of the hustle of the Canal Street business district or the bustle of the Mississippi river roustabouts, they retreated to resorts on Lake Pontchartrain, only a few miles from the heart of the city. The “pleasure grounds” of Milneburg, Spanish Fort, and West End offered a variety of hotels, restaurants, casinos, theatres, shooting galleries, and bathhouses. A visit to New Orleans was never considered complete without a “trip to the lake”.

Many New Orleanians were more charitable than cultural. Like all large American cities in the late 19th century, the city was home to churches, synagogues, charity hospitals, Young Christian Associations, a Woman’s Exchange, and—most vital to Fanny Newcomb’s story—a settlement house to assist immigrants in assimilating to their strange and dangerous new city.

Fortunately for me, there is a lot more to Gilded Age New Orleans than hookers, hurricanes, and Mardi Gras. Which means that there’ll be a lot more murders for Fanny Newcomb to investigate.

This blog post was originally posted on Jenny Q’s excellent letthemreadbooks.blogspot.com.