Monday, December 04, 2006

My feet are sore!

I spent a lot of time walking around the French Quarter today. It was a gorgeous day, but cold (for the South). The high today was supposed to be 47°F, and it wasn't a whole lot over freezing when I started walking this morning.

My plan was to hit a number of rare/used book stores in the Quarter to look for some books I have on my "wish list". I was also looking for some research material for a book I've been planning to write for years.

The first stop was to Faulkner Books, a short two minute walk (if that) from our hotel. It was an interesting stop. I asked about books about the Union occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War. The woman, who was very knowledgeable, immediately thought of one book. She didn't have it, but she did have another book with the first listed as a reference. That let me write down the title: Louisiana Reconstructed: 1863 – 1877 by Joe Gray Taylor. I did find a book from my wish list at this store, so I bought it sort of as thanks for helping me (though it was a book I was definitely looking for on this trip).

I then marched around the French Quarter looking for the other book stores. My next stop, though, was to an antique weapon store. I've been trying to find the price in 1861 of a spyglass. It's part of the plot of the novel I'm writing. This store had a bunch of opera glasses in there, so I thought I'd drop in and ask. The guy I talked to guessed the price at $5 to $10, which is about what I thought it would have been from what little I've been able to discover. Not much luck there, except that given the work I've done try to find this information, and given this guy's confirmation of my own research, I figure it's unlikely anyone will disagree with me.

I went up to Dauphine Street near St. Louis to find Dauphine Books. The store is closed. I'm guessing that it never recovered from Katrina. I was surprised that more stores down here hadn't collapsed. There are a few empty store fronts, but not a lot.

The air was cold enough that I feared I might have an asthma attack while I was out, so I headed back to the hotel room to get my inhaler. I visited three more book stores, one of which is across the street from the hotel. I got a lead on another book, but I didn't find what I was looking for. However, Crescent City Books had a book about the use of reconnaissance balloons in the early part of the Civil War. Yes, there is literally a book on every aspect of the American Civil War (except, of course, the one that I'm interested in; well, okay, there are books on the Union occupation of the Crescent City, but none were published after 1975). The book was only $10, so I grabbed it.

My next stop was outside of the French Quarter. I hiked up Canal Street, heading for the New Orleans Public Library. Canal Street has a lot of construction going on. Most of it is concrete work, probably as a result of the hurricane flooding. They do have white Christmas lights up on the palm trees, though. There are also a few homeless folk about, so the street is looking more like it did prior to the storm, if perhaps a bit cleaner (all that new paint I mentioned yesterday).

I had to go through a metal detector, and they searched my backpack — which held one of our laptops — when I got to the library. The reason wasn't immediately obvious until I got inside. A part of the library has been partitioned with cubicle walls for use as some sort of state emergency services office. I'm guessing that they are worried about violence, and are treating it like a regular state or federal building.

The library's city archives survived the hurricane. Most of the paper records had been microfilmed. The basement archives survived without flooding. The few papers that did get wet were sent to a preservation specialist for recovery. I was there for the microfilm archives, though I started by asking if they had Louisiana Reconstructed. They did, but a few pages were missing. t didn't matter, I was able to look through the book. I didn't get a lot of immediate use from it, but I did get a lead on another book: Occupied City: New Orleans Under the Federals 1862-1865 by Gerald M. Capers (published in 1965).

As I said, I was there for the archives. In particular, the newspaper archives. I pulled out the January to August archive of The Daily Picayune, which later merged with another paper and became the famous Times-Picayune. It was very cool to read old newspapers (even in microfilm form) from a period I know a fair bit about. I got a lot of information out of it: the address of concert halls, information about Mardi Gras in March, 1862 (it was apparently very subdued), steamships travelling up the Mississippi (damn, didn't write down ship names!), and a lot of other little details. Some of what I read was poignant. There was an advertisement by a woman whose ten or eleven-year-old had drowned in the river offering a $50 reward for her son's body if anyone were to find it. A month later she was still advertising, offering up to $200. There were only a couple of slave auction listings, and a couple of ads for rewards for the return of run-away slaves. Nothing makes slavery as real as seeing this sort of stuff in print.

Most interesting, to me, were the events leading up to the Union occupation. Starting on April 8 the newspaper started publishing accounts of the first day's battle at the Battle of Monterrey, which would a few days later be called the Battle of Shiloh. The first couple of days hailed it as a great Confederate victory and how the Union army would likely be destroyed. In reality, it was a nasty shock to the Union and the army was almost destroyed, but the Confederates ran out of steam, the Union received fresh reinforcements, and the Confederates were driven from the field the next day. You can actually see the point where the editors must have heard that the battle was a Confederate loss, but only had a story talking about it as a victory. You can also tell the point where the Union navy was about to sail against the city. The newspaper usually ran four to six pages in length. On the eve of the naval battle for the city, the newspaper was only two pages long, and the front page had a lot of ads for steamships going up river. Then there is a day or two gap, then the newspaper was only two pages of ads. When it recovered back to four pages it urged calm now that the city was occupied.

It was all cool, wonderful stuff for a Civil War buff!

I walked back to the hotel as the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping. I met Alana at the hotel, where her conference folks were having a group picture taken. We hiked over to Mulate's for supper. Alana had the Catfish Mulate's, which she thought was pretty good. I had the crab cakes which I thought were too spicy (the crab flavour was drowned). We walked to the Riverwalk, but it was closed already. This was more evidence of the lack of tourists. It was just after 6 and the mall was closed, even though it was about three weeks until Christmas. So, we hiked back to the hotel. We'd done Bourbon Street the night before, and it was getting pretty chilly out. At least we got to see Heroes!

Alana has another day of conferencing. I'll be traipsing through the French Quarter. I hope my fee have recovered by then.

* * *

I just heard this on the news. The body of another Katrina victim was found in the 9th Ward, when workers demolished a flood-damaged home. This is the 28th body they've discovered since March.

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