Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Charlie Pride The Undertaker , The Witches, And The Wisdom In Between

It's the names that tumble out of these houses in New Orleans that fascinate me.

Here's one in the Garden District: The Brevard House. It's a mess of styles mashed together, like so much of New Orleans is, and was. It's got French, Spanish, Italianate, some Greek Revival smashed on there. The gallery with all the iron work is pretty much everyone's default idea of the Crescent City. It's a gallery, not a balcony, by the way. If the supports for it reach to the ground it's not a balcony.

It was really plush right away. It was built in 1857 for $13,500.00 for a merchant named Albert Hamilton Brevard. That's not the good part. The good part is the contractor: "Charles Pride, Esquire; Master Builder, Contractor, and Town Undertaker of This City."

For a business card, don't that beat all? Cradle to grave, Pride is your man.

It's very elegant inside:

Brevard's daughter sold it to a clergyman named Clapp after her father died, and the Clapps lived there from 1869 until 1934. They added the ironwork gallery and some other additions in 1869. Think of all the history that rolled by the windows.

Someone named Smith owned it for a dozen years after the Clapps. The name "Smith" is like a dish of sorbet, namewise, but the heavy courses are coming back, as the occupant after was a judge. Judge John Minor Wisdom.

Judge Wisdom? Judge Minor Wisdom? Who wouldn't want to be brought before a Judge Wisdom? Why it's enough to make a man commit infelicities and crimes just for the privilege of being sentenced by a man with such a Solomonic handle.

It might have been best to wait until 1959 to see Judge Wisdom, as until then he lived in the house without air-conditioning, and he might have been a touch cranky. Or commit your crimes in the cool of the winter.

The record got a little cold there. I got to wondering if the house was still there, and what condition it's in if is. A little poking around on the net, and I see that it was owned from 1989 -2004 by Anne Rice. That Anne Rice? I guess so. Small world.

So Anne Rice put the house in her books as Mayfair Manor, and filled it with witches and so forth. Spooky New Orleans.

Why bother making anything up about New Orleans? It's like bringing sand to the beach. Can any witch you can conjure up compete with Pride the Undertaker, or Judge Wisdom, or Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, or the chess champion who died of taking a bath, or Henriette de Lille turning her back on the quadroon ball, or Police Chief Hennessey opening another barrel, or...


PatHMV said...

I had the privilege of meeting Judge John Minor Wisdom before he passed away, at a reception during my law school years. He was truly a towering intellectual figure, a person who just belongs in a house like that. You can read a bit more about him via a brief entry in Wikipedia. His most important legacy was probably his collection of opinions implementing the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision in Louisiana public schools. I got his autograph on a copy of the Constitution I used to carry.

At the same event, I met several other judges of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. I heard some great stories about how they used to sneak booze into Tiger Stadium (the LSU football stadium, which has long prohibited alcohol possession). If anybody asks nicely, I'll let you in on their best tip...

SippicanCottage said...

Pat- That's awesome.

I started this foofaraw with just the first picture you see of the iron gallery. It led me all the way... to someone I know -you.

Judge Wisdom is the new legal