Verse 02


General notes on Verse 2

 

 

Interpretation

Lines Interpretation(s)
At the place where jewels abound

- One of the best-known traditions of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the tossing of bead necklaces from the parade floats to the spectators.  Unbelievable amounts of these "jewels" are exchanged during this yearly event.  (A recent cleaning by the city removed 93,000 pounds of the beads that were clogging storm drains.) 

 

No other city in North America has such a well-established tradition of distributing shiny "jewels."  This line, by itself, should be enough to identify New Orleans.

 

- Many of the largest and oldest parade routes, including those used by the Krewe of Zulu, the Rex Organization, and Krewe of Elks Orleans, share a stretch of St. Charles Avenue from Jackson to Canal.  Parades along this route often make a major stop at the old New Orleans city hall, Gallier Hall, across the street from Lafayette Park.

 

- "Jewels abound" could also be a reference to St. Mary's Park, which is located in the Central Business District between Lee Circle and the Mississippi River.  The park forms a long, narrow strip bounded by North Diamond Street above and South Diamond Street below

 

- This could also be a reference to The Presbyt√®re, which is part of the Louisiana State Museum and has a permanent exhibit showcasing a collection of Mardi Gras jewels.  (It isn't clear whether the exhibit existed in 1980.)  Full-size images: View 1, View 2, and View 3.

 

Fifteen rows down to the ground

- If the first line of the verse gets us to New Orleans, it doesn't seem likely that the second line would jump all the way to a specific set of steps or specific brickwork.  The "fifteen rows" are more likely to be larger things like states, counties, neighborhoods, or streets.  We don't have a strong match for this line yet.

 

- The John Minor Wisdom United States Court of Appeals Building, located at 600 Camp Street at the southeast corner of Lafayette Square, has an exterior decorated with alternating thick and thin bands of stonework.  Counting just those alternating bands (and ignoring the other stonework above and below) there are 15 rows in all wrapping around the first floor.  

 

Photo used under a Creative Commons License AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by www78 on Flickr

 

- There are many old buildings around Lafayette Square that have stone steps going down to the street level, but we don't yet have a list of which ones (if any) have 15 rows of steps.

 

- Some people have claimed that Gallier Hall, across the street from Lafayette Square, has 15 rows down to the ground, but in photographs it looks more like 16 rows.

 

In the middle of twenty-one

From end to end

- The words "twenty-one from end to end" is almost certainly a reference to Lafayette street, which stretches from the Interstate 10 interchange, directly through the Superdome, and almost to the Mississippi.  Starting at South Galvez Street and heading east, it currently has the following intersections: 1) Johnson, 2) Prieur, 3) Roman, 4) Bertrand, 5) Derbigny, 6) Bolivar, 7) Claiborne, 8) Loyola, 9) Rampart, 10) O'Keefe, 11) Baronne, 12) Carondelet, 13) St. Charles, 14) Camp, 15) Magazine, 16) Constance, 17) Tchoupitoulas, 18) Commerce, 19) Peters, 20) Fulton, 21) Convention Center Blvd., and 22) Poydras.  That makes 22 blocks (rather than 21) but the extra block comes from street changes associated with the construction of the New Orleans Convention Center, which only opened in 1985.

 

  The 1981 Rand McNally street map for New Orleans (shown below) illustrates the eastern end of Lafayette ending in this sequence of streets: 17) Tchoupitoulas, 18) Commerce, 19) Peters, 20) Fulton, and 21) Front.  That makes 21 blocks!  The phrase "from end to end" is probably meant as a reminder that searchers should actually look for the western end of Lafayette, rather than assuming that it stops at Loyola and the Superdome.

 

 

 

Only three stand watch

- If the "twenty-one from end to end" is a reference to Lafayette Street, then the "middle" where "three stand watch" is almost certainly a reference to Lafayette Square, where there are three statues of standing figures.  John McDonogh is at the west end, Benjamin Franklin is at the east end, and Henry Clay in the center of the park.  The John McDonogh monument is the one that has a child reaching upwards in a pose that may be related to the figure in Image 7.

 

As the sound of friends

Fills the afternoon hours

  New Orleans is a famously raucous and social place, where loud parties in the street are very common, particularly during Mardi Gras.  If these lines are only about people being outside making noise, they could apply to almost anyplace in the city.  But there are a few hints that might help narrow things down.  

  • The reference to "friends" (rather than "people," "revelers," "tourists," or whatever) suggests that this might be a place for locals, who live nearby and all know each other.
  • The words "afternoon hours" suggest leisure and the absence of haste.  This is a place where people who all know each other can gather to pass the time and relax.

 

- One possibility is that this might be a second reference to Lafayette Square, which has long been a public gathering place for the people of New Orleans.  But it seems odd that Preiss would waste another line on the square after it had already been so strongly identified by the line about "three stand watch."

New Orleans, LaFayette Square, Ballou 1854.jpg
Illustration in Ballou's Pictorial, via [1], Public Domain,

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16520066

 

- Alternatively, the sign for Congo Square (in Louis Armstrong Park) reads: "By 1803 Congo Square had become famous for the gatherings of enslaved Africans who drummed, danced, sang and traded on Sunday afternoons". Potentially, the St Charles quote in the following line could service as a double reference to the slaves, a sovereign people who built palaces (for others).  But Congo Square is more than 10 blocks and 2 neighborhoods north of Lafayette Square.  It seems unlikely that Preiss would focus our attention on the street and the square only to make such a large jump.

 

- Ultimately, the best match that has been found for this clue is the Piazza d'Italia, which was completed in 1978, just a few years before Preiss visited.  The Piazza is located on Lafayette Street, just four blocks from Lafayette Square, which makes it a natural step in the progression of the verse.  And, as Preiss surely knew, an Italian piazza is a traditional gathering place where friends can linger and spend some time together.  Windows on Italy (a vacation rental site) describes the "sociology of the Italian piazza" this way:

 

Here is a sovereign people

Who build palaces to shelter

Their heads for a night!

- This line originally appeared in Travels in the United States in 1847 by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina, when the author was describing a hotel in New Orleans:

 

"The Saint Charles, which lifted its proud head above the surrounding hills and woods, the Saint Charles, which had called up my memory of Saint Peter's in Rome, was no more than a hotel! Here is the sovereign people who build palaces to shelter their heads for a night! Here is the religion which is dedicated to man as man, and here the marvels of art are lavished on the glorification of the masses." 

 

The line was reprinted as an excerpt in Abroad in America: visitors to the new nation, 1776-1914, edited by Marc Pachter and Frances Stevenson Wein and published in 1976.  (We can assume that Preiss saw the reprinted quote, rather than the original, because he used another quotation from Abroad in America as a clue in Verse 6.)

 

FirstStCharlesHotelEngravedView

St. Charles Hotel, artist not credited [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

  The hotel Sarmiento was describing was the St. Charles Hotel on St. Charles Street. The hotel is described this way in New Orleans: A Pictorial History, by Leonard Victor Huber:

 

"The St. Charles was the most admired building in the New Orleans of the 1840s.  Named for the street on which it stood, this 350-room caravansary, with its huge barroom adorned with a range of Ionic columns and its stately ballroom above it, became the center of business and social life in the American section of the city.  The first St. Charles was surmounted by a cupola and dome 46 feet in diameter, which, with its lantern, rose to a height of 185 feet above street level.  The dome of the St. Charles was visible for miles, and guests of the hotel who cared to climb to the colonnade and porch, which supported the dome, could get a fine view of the city and the winding Mississippi.  ...  Fire, which broke out on January 18, 1851, in the St. Charles's upper stories soon went out of control due to poor fire-fighting equipment and consumed the hotel, the Verandah Hotel across the street, and continued up St. Charles Street all the way to Lafayette Street, destroying fifteen buildings, including Dr. Clapp's Strangers' Church."

 

 The St. Charles Hotel was located on St. Charles Avenue between Common Street and Gravier Street.  The location is only one block away from Canal Street.  A pedestrian traveling between Lafayette Square and St. Louis Cathedral would pass the site of the St. Charles Hotel along the way.  (Lafayette Square is on St. Charles Avenue and the cathedral is on Royal Street.  St. Charles Avenue turns into Royal Street when it crosses Canal Street.)

 

- The St. Charles hotel burned down twice and was rebuilt both times, but it finally met its end in 1974.  The April 2015 issue of Preservation in Print described the end of the hotel this way:

 

 

  Place St. Charles, located at 201 St. Charles Ave, is the current structure standing where the St Charles Hotel once stood.  It isn't clear whether construction would have already begun on the new structure at the time when Preiss was visiting.

 

Gnomes admire

Fays delight

The namesakes meeting

Near this site.

- This is possibly both the most perplexing and most important section of the verse.  For the sake of organization, let's divide the analysis into two parts:

 

 

"NAMESAKES"

- The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "namesake" as "one that has the same name as another; especially : one who is named after another or for whom another is named."  Note the ambiguity of the ordering.  A namesake can be the first thing that had the name or it can be the thing that was named later in honor of the first thing.

 

  If we are looking for the namesakes of gnomes and fays, then we are looking for either:

  • the original origins of the words "gnome" and "fay," or
  • two things that were named after gnomes and fays.

  Neither of those things seems like something we would see in the business district of an American city.

 

- A more likely interpretation might be that Preiss was using "namesakes" playfully and we are really looking for two places (probably businesses) that sound like "gnome" and "fay."  Given the location, it's very possible that the match for "gnome" is going to be an acronym that starts with "New Orleans."  Until recently, the New Orleans Music Exchange (NOME) existed at 5434 Magazine St, but who knows where it might have been in 1980. Jimmy Glickman opened the New Orleans Music Exchange in 1993. There was a Nome Credit Unit listed as  operating in 1982 according to the public records in the New Orleans Public Library but the address can only be seen in person as they have not digitized their files. There's also an Irish pub called Fahy's at 540 Burgundy St.  Again, it's anyone's guess where this might have been located 35 years ago.

 

- The English fairy derives from Old French form faierie, a derivation from faie (from Vulgar Latin fata) with the abstract noun suffix -erie. In Old French romance, a faie or fee was a woman skilled in magic, and who knew the power and virtue of words, of stones, and of herbs.   This definition strongly suggests a link to Marie LaVeau. Namesakes meet at this site could then possibly be the meeting of St. Louis St and St. Louis Cemetery #1, where LaVeau is buried. 

 

 

"THIS SITE"

- The words "this site" suggest that we should already be in the appropriate place by this point, and the gnome and fay matches are simply noted to confirm the spot.  Based on the clues in the image and verse, there are two likely places where we should be standing:

  • The Piazza d'Italia at Lafayette and South Peters is a strong match for many of the clue in Image 7.  It has pillars, arches, a large clock with Roman numerals, and a design centered on interrupted circles.  An Italian piazza is also a traditional gathering place for friends, making it a natural match for the earlier lines in the verse.
  • The former site of the St. Charles Hotel is the other strong possibility.  The arrows around the edge of the clock in Image 7 strongly suggest that we are meant to take either of two routes from the piazza to the block where the hotel once stood.  That impression is, of course, strongly confirmed by the way the Sarmiento quote describing the hotel comes directly after the line about "sound of friends."  The way that the progression from piazza to hotel is referenced in both image and verse makes it very like that this interpretation is correct.

 

-  If "this site" refers to the Piazza d'Italia, then the nearby place might be the American Italian Museum located next door.  There may be a sign or a display that mentions two people whose names sound like "fay" and "gnome."

 

-  If "this site" refers to the site of the former St. Charles Hotel, then we are on the block bounded by St. Charles Ave., Common St., Carondelet St., and Gravier St.  There would have been many small businesses in that area in 1980, but most of them have probably changed by now.  What we need are photos, directories, guidebooks, or anything else that would tell us the names of the what was located in this spot when Preiss came by.

 

 

Other possibilities:

- Dryades Street and Cours de Naides (now St Charles Avenue) were named after wood and water sprites respectively. They run parallel but originate near Lee Circle (source: The Majesty of St Charles Avenue [book]).  More info.

 

- St. Charles Avenue intersects Lafayette Street at Lafayette Square.  One could argue that the name "Lafayette" has a connection to the word "fay" (although Wikipedia says that the name actually comes "from the occitan words la faieta that designate a beech forest").  It's harder to argue that a street named after naiads (Cours de Naides, now St Charles Avenue) could be a namesake for gnomes.

 

- It's a ridiculous long shot, but there's an unobtrusive marker on the corner of St. Charles and Common that commemorates the southern terminus of the Jefferson Highway.  It would be an amazing thing if someone could find a way to link "gnome" to Winnipeg and "fay" to New Orleans (or vice-versa).

 

- Verses 11 and 12 (Gnomes admire  Fays delight) form a perfect anagram: "Montreal hides fays' gem: dig"

 

  For anyone who's having trouble keeping track of the New Orleans landmarks referenced in this verse, here's an aerial view with the main features labeled.

 

  1. The Superdome (the moon in Image 7).
  2. Lee Circle and St. Charles Avenue, which together form a shape like the "second hand" on the clock.
  3. The blocks where St. Mary's Park runs between north and south Diamond streets.
  4. Lafayette Street, which runs a total of (around) 21 blocks.
  5. Lafayette Square, where the three statues stand watch and one monument has the boy with outstretched arms.
  6. Piazza d'Italia, which has the pillars, arches, clock, and concentric circles.
  7. Place St. Charles, where the Saint Charles Hotel once stood.
  8. Hotel Monteleone, where the grandfather clock is in the lobby.
  9. Jackson Square, where there's a black horse with an open mouth.
  10. Preservation Hall.
  11. Armstrong Park.

 

 

 

Note that, in a truly bizarre coincidence, St. Mary's Park currently runs into a building with "PRESERVATION" in big letters on the side.  It looks like a clue, but it's not, because the Preservation Resource Center only purchased the building in March of 1998.  Prior to that, the Preservation Resource Center was located in a row house at 604 Julia St.

 

 

  

Phone Book Searchers Needed!

  Our best hope of moving forwards with the New Orleans search would be to find the place where the namesakes of "gnome" and "fay" once met.  Those namesakes are very likely gone after 35 years, which means we need some Louisiana volunteers to carefully go through old phone books to find the right matches.  Here are three places where searchers can get access to those records:

 

  So once you finally get access to a New Orleans city directory from 1981, what are you searching for?  Here are the top searches we would like to see happen:

  1. First, just search directly for businesses named "Gnome" or "Fay" (like "Gnome Booksellers" or "Fay's Famous Barbeque.")  It's extremely unlikely that this search will turn up anything, but it's the obvious first base to touch.
  2. Look for something named "Nome."  There's currently a Nome Federal Credit Union on Canal Street.  Was there something in 1981?
  3. Look for anything that starts "Greater New Orleans M_____ ."   That should still be a fairly easy search.  There won't be a lot of things starting like that.
  4. If those first searches don't turn up anything, this is where the real searching begins.  If the namesake for gnome has the initials NOME, then our best bet is that the "NO" stands for "New Orleans," but that start will still leave us with a long list of possibilities.  We need someone to go through all the business and government listings looking at everything that starts "New Orleans M_____ " to find something that has a fourth word starting with E.  For example, until recently there was a New Orleans Music Exchange.  There must have been other things as well. 

 

  It's probably not worth even trying for the "fay" reference at this point because we have no idea what the first letter might represent.  But if we can get a list of possible matches for GNOME - with their addresses - we can use a reverse directory to look up whatever other businesses were operating near the same location.  Once we find the gnome reference, we'll have enough of a foothold to find our way to the fay namesake as well.

 

  If you're a New Orleans searcher willing to help with this task, please stay in contact and keep us all informed of your progress so we'll know what still needs to be done.  Good luck!

 

 

Other Notes: