In my travels, I have heard tell of an inordinate number of cars ending up in the waters of Bayou St. John over the years. New Orleans residents may remember all the cars that searchers found submerged near Harrison Avenue when they were searching for Terrilyn Monette, who went missing back in 2013. Well it turns out cars in the bayou has been a thing since the advent of automobiles.

Consider this “wild ride” from the historic Times-Picayune database:

On February 23, 1958, Bobby Gray, age 18, was driving along the newly-paved Wisner Avenue near Mirabeau when supposedly his brakes failed and his car went “zigzagging crazily” for about 900 feet before plunging into Bayou St. John. As it sank to the bayou’s murky floor, to a depth of around 15 feet, Bobby rolled down his window. When he tried to swim out (he could not swim), his “trouser cuff…snagged on the handle of the sunken car’s window lift.”


Luckily, his 15-year-old cousin, Richard Holt, was following close behind in another car. When he saw his cousin’s car swerve into the water, he leaped out, dove in, and rescued Bobby.

Later on, the boys were taken to Charity Hospital. At this point, the article is a bit unclear: “Apparently neither of the youths was hurt in the incident about 2:30am.” Was it late at night when the accident happened? Or just late at night when they finally reported to the hospital? Did anyone check Bobby’s breaks when they pulled the car out of the water? Look, I’m glad the boys were alright, but I’m just wondering if a bit of teenage tomfoolery might have been at play here….

Also, can you imagine that murky bayou water in the dark? Or rather, illuminated by the warbled glow of submerged headlights?

Also, this: “Police said confusion arose at the scene when all three youths [the third being the driver of the second car] left the accident locale to change from their wet clothing.” A taxi driver had witnessed the accident and called the cops, and when they arrived on the scene they thought the driver was still stuck in the car. They were prepping a diver to go down and search for him when the three boys showed up.

Really? You just drove your car into the bayou and almost drowned, but you’re gonna head home and change your clothes before you go report the accident?

Maybe they were hiding their alcohol!

Did anyone think of that?!

I’m sure these “youths” learned their lesson, but still. In the pixelated photo of the boys included with the article, the two of them look like regular James Deans, leaning up against a brick wall in their denim jackets. And is that a cigarette one of them is rolling?!


  1. Times-Picayune, 23 Feb. 1958, p. 12. NewsBank, Accessed 21 Mar. 2017.


More Times-Picayune gems for your perusal, culled from my Bayou St. John research on the Times-Picayune Historical database this past week.

Police notes, July 9, 1878: “Between 10 and 11 o’clock Monday morning, a dispute arose over a game of cards on board a fishing smack lying in Bayou St. John, near the lake, between a Manila man named Marian Lacroste, aged 25 years, and Louis Bancart, his partner. The dispute was ended by Bancart, who seized a hatchet, and inflicted a severe cut on Lacroste’s hip. The wounded man was conveyed to Charity Hospital, and an affidavit was made against Bancart.”

Losing at cards? Just grab your hatchet!!


September 8, 1880: “An Unfortunate Somnambulist: A Woman While Asleep Walks Into the Bayou St. John

Yesterday morning the body of a white woman clad in her night clothes was found floating in the Bayou St. John, between Dupre and White streets. The fact of only having her night gown on, led to the supposition that the woman had committed suicide, and an investigation was at once set on foot by the Coroner Board. It was ascertained that the deceased was named Mrs. Ruth A.G. Patterson, aged 57 years, and residing at [obscured] Canal street.

The unfortunate woman was afflicted with somnambulism and fell a victim to her disease. During the night she walked into the canal and was drowned. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the circumstances, and the remains were taken in charge by friends.”

Poor, poor Ruth. What an eerie image: Ruth walking from Canal into the bayou in the middle of the night….I wonder what she was dreaming?


September 8, 1882:”On last Wednesday night an unknown thief entered the sexton’s office of the St. Louis Cemetery, on Esplanade street, near the Bayou St. John. The thief stole two cages, containing live singing birds, which were owned by Mr. H. Bienvenu.”

Wow, those birds must really have been worth something! But to poor Mr. Bienvenu, alone in his office amidst that sea of tombs day after day, their singing must have been pretty key….


July 10, 1883: “Garroters in a Streetcar: At half-past nine o’clock last Monday night as car No. 4, of the Dumaine street line, turned the corner of Dumaine and Bayou St. John, two unknown highway men jumped into the car and rushing at Paul Bertuchaux, the driver, demanded his money.

Paul was not going to be bulldozed, and refused to deliver up his cash, whereupon he was assaulted and beaten and cut over the face by the parties. He tried to defend himself by striking at them, when they ran off without accomplishing their purpose.

Their description as far as could be learned has been telegraphed to all the stations.”

Paul would NOT allow himself to be bulldozed!! I hope the city gave him a raise.


April 1, 1884: “The Performing Bear and Its Masters Find Their Way to the Lock-Up

For some days past a Frenchman named Costick, and a Turk named Yunovasch Turnovich, have been exhibiting a performing bear on Bayou St. John near Metairie Ridge. On last Monday evening the owners of the bear and the beast himself imbibed too freely of spiritous liquors, and as a consequence became drunk.

The bear was told to pounce upon one David Edmonds, which it did, and in a few moments Edmonds was lying on the broad of his back, as if Sullivan had hit him. Edmonds well knew he was no match for his grizzly opponent, and thereupon summoned Sergeant O’Rourke and Officer Hanley to his rescue. The bear was taken away; its masters were taken to jail for being drunk and maintaining a public nuisance in exhibiting the bear without a license, and for causing the animal to assault Edmonds.”

Wait, is this an April Fool’s joke? The bear got drunk too? Only in New Orleans, as they say….