While attending last week’s July 4th boat parade on Bayou St. John, led by the Krewe of Kolossos, I was reminded of a letter I came across last summer. The flotilla’s preamble was not merely the spreading of picnic blankets along the bayou’s shore, or the adjusting of raft decorations, you see. It also involved several surprising aerial feats!

Like this backlit bike flip, facilitated by a wooden ramp on the bayou’s edge:

Or these guys climbing to the top of Magnolia Bridge (aka Cabrini Bridge) and hurling themselves off:

These guys were the ones to remind me of that letter I came across while doing some bayou research at the New Orleans Public Library last summer. The letter was written by a certain Walter Parker, Chairman of the Bayou St. John Improvement Association (and future mayor of New Orleans), to Honorable George Reyer, Superintendent of Police, and dated April 10, 1934. It read as follows:

“It would help a great deal were some of your men to pass along the Bayou as frequently as practicable. Some boys who do not have bathing suits, do not hesitate to bathe in very scant underwear. At the Dumaine Street bridge many boys make the dangerous practice of climbing on the bridge structure. At the Magnolia Bridge (Harding Drive) boys dive from the top of the bridge pretty much all day.” [1]

Boys in their undies, jumping off bayou bridges “pretty much all day”!

What complicated this practice (aside from the boys showing a lot of skin) was that, at the time this letter was written, quite a few houseboats still occupied the bayou. Many of them had electrical and even telephone hookups, but virtually *none* were equipped with any kind of on-board “sewage management.” Meaning…the sewage went straight into the bayou. The four-foot-deep, barely-flowing bayou. Walter Parker was not only perturbed by their rowdiness, but also apparently concerned for their health.

The letter goes on to cover another issue we’re all familiar with when it comes to outdoor festivals, particularly those along the bayou: litter!

“In so far as I know, people have a right to fish [and organize flotillas] on the Bayou. But when they leave crab bait, old papers and remnants of lunch behind, they create a nuisance. I have found that such things usually are the result of thoughtlessness rather than viciousness, and a simple request or word of warning brings a correction….”

Does this tension between recreational use of the bayou and concerned bayou residents sound familiar? I hope none of you left any crab bait behind when you packed up to head home last Monday evening. Or old papers! Or remnants of lunch! Or jumped off the bridge scantily-clad! But if you did, you’ve simply joined the ranks of the bayou’s many nuisance-makers throughout our city’s history….


And now for some completely disparate events, united only by location (but come on: location is everything).

From The Times-Picayune, May 31, 1844:

“A STRANGE DUEL BLOCKED.—Two girls of the town, with their seconds who were also girls, were yesterday arrested by the police when about to fight a duel, with pistols and Bowie knives, near Bayou St. John. Finding they would not be allowed to endanger each others lives according to approved and fashionable rules, the belligerents had a small fightau naturel—or in other words, set to and tore each others hair and faces in regular cat and dog style. They are all in the calaboose.” [1]

Oh, to know more about these women and their interpersonal issues! Bowie knives!?! The newspaper seems to find this storyquiteamusing, and I swear there’s a hint of voyeurism in that “au natural,” but maybe I’m just imagining things….

From The Times-Picayune, September 19, 1847:

“Inquest.—Coroner Spedden was last evening called upon to hold an inquest on the body of J. Hoit, who was found in the Bayou St. John, opposite the draining company’s building in the Third Municipality. The face of the deceased was greatly disfigured, almost all the bones being broken or crushed, and there was a gash across his throat. The body was genteelly dressed, having on a black frock coat and pantaloons. Many papers were found upon his person, among them some letters of introduction to some of our citizens, and a letter written by himself addressed to his wife residing in the state of New York. In this letter, in which $10 were enclosed, he said that having just arrived he knew but little of the city, as he had not yet left the vessel by which he came, and would write again soon. This letter was dated on the 11th inst. [present month] There can be no doubt the deceased came upon his death by violence, and a verdict was rendered in accordance with the above facts. This case calls loudly on the authorities for the most thorough investigation. We would urge it upon their immediate attention.” [2]

Ok, which of my friends is going to write a short story about this genteel murder victim? Poor guy.

And now for some more contemporary action:

The Krewe of Kolossos 4th of July Flotilla on the bayou! DIY rafts, illegal fireworks (unconnected to the krewe, I think) and much revelry.

I was a little late and so missed most of the rafts, but I caught Giraffe Raft.

Fireworks set off among power lines and large crowds without the fire department present=terrifying AND exhilarating.

Imagine: each of the above events—violence, mystery, celebration—occurred over the course of a few hours, or maybe only a few minutes, within the span of the city’s history. I love thinking about all the action this sluggish water body has witnessed, once the city was built up around it and well before that time—between when it formed itself out of the Mississippi’s flood water (there are a couple theories out there about the bayou’s birth; this is one of them), became an important trade route for nearby Indians, and eventually saw the arrival of Colonial powers. That’s pretty impressive for a four-mile-long, hardly-flowing finger of water among a massive network of lakes, rivers, streams, canals, and many, many others bayous—a tiny rivulet in a veritable world of water….


1. “A Strange Duel Blocked.” Times-Picayune 31 May 1844: 2. NewsBank. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.
2. “City Intelligence.” Times-Picayune 19 Sep. 1847: 2. NewsBank. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.