Newspaper articles

Baking cakes in the 1880s

I have a jar of mincemeat that’s been sitting in my fridge since Christmas. Wondering what to do with it, I searched a newspaper database and found this cake recipe from the 1880s. I thought I’d share.

This is called a Swiss cake – and I love the pointers: Cream the butter and sugar with your hand for that body temperature touch, put in a quite hot oven (how did people cook before temperature dials) and test with a broom splint (the days before toothpicks). I can also flavor with any preferred flavoring – no measurements given on, say, adding cocoa powder. And I can add mincemeat!

Should I give it a whirl? What could possibly go wrong?

Thank you to the “Tensas Gazette” for this gem.

Newspaper articles

In 1919, my great-great grandmother had visitors

Back in the day, you didn’t have to be a debutante or a lady who lunches to make the newspaper society column. Something as ordinary as having company qualified for a mention.

My great-great grandmother was Mrs. Augustin Giroir (nee Elizabeth Montet). In 1919, relatives came to call from Lafourche Parish. I don’t know who the Mrs. Montet and sons were. It may have been her cousin Desire’s wife and sons.

Plug your ancestor’s name into a newspaper engine and see who came to call on them!

Assumption Parish Genealogy, Newspaper articles

A “bitter and aggressive” Irish newspaperman in 1840s Napoleonville

I tumbled down a rabbit hole today in search of a Louisiana newspaper that existed for just a few years in the 1840s. What I found was a “vituperative” Irish newspaperman in 1840s Napoleonville.

Word of the day: Vituperative means bitter and aggressive. More on that in a minute.

“The Star of Assumption” – such an ambitious name for such a short-lived publication – was published by John Keays. Keays lived in Louisiana for nearly 30 years after immigrating from Ireland. He edited several newspapers before publishing “The Star.” He died of a fever in 1844.

As far as I know, no issues of “The Star of Assumption” survive. They were swept into the dustbin of history.

Other newspapers, however, dutifully read the competition and reported on the contents to their own readers.

In April 1843, “the Times-Picayune” reported the launch of the “Star of Assumption” with a writeup by Keays on the state of things in Napoleonville. Apparently, the town boasted a modest number of dwelling houses, a courthouse, a jail, a fire proof brick office, a store, two coffee houses, one billiard table and a religious meeting house. There was no doctor or resident lawyer, but fresh oysters were in abundant supply on a daily basis.

Soon, the newspaper was immersing itself in local politics and sparring with rival publications. Apparently, there was quite a dustup later that year over the removal of a land office from Donaldsonville. “The Baton-Rouge Gazette” sniffed that “the Star of Assumption’s” take on the matter was spirited because of its length – not its import on the matter.

A dispute between “The Baton-Rouge Gazette” and “the Star of Assumption” apparently went beyond reporting on a land office. Also in 1843, the Baton Rouge newspaper took John Keays to task for his “vituperative language against the late editor of this paper.” I don’t know what that language was, but the “Gazette” told Keays “you may foam and rant, friend, but your end will never be like his.”

“The Gazette” was kind in reporting on the “Star’s” demise less than a year later.

What did the “Star” in was a new state law involving the advertisement of sheriff’s sales. I don’t know what the law was – only that it killed rural papers.

Keays removed himself to Texas only to die the same year his newspaper met its demise. Let’s hope he got a glorious end despite the ill wishes of “The Baton-Rouge Gazette.”

Newspaper articles

Historical newspapers are a great resource – and you can read some for free.

Reading historic newspapers in Louisiana often requires a command of French. In the mid-1800s, most south Louisiana newspapers were completely in French. Later, newspapers alternated between French and English on the same page to accommodate more readers.

Years ago, Ancestry had a wonderful newspaper database that was included in your subscription price. Then some bean counter told Ancestry to spin that database into a separate subscription service because people would pay extra for it. The bean counter was right.

I subscribe to Genealogy Bank and I’m not thrilled about the monthly cost, but I do use them. However, I would much rather donate money to a university digital project that makes historic newspapers free to all.

With that in mind, I came across a fantastic list of which historic newspapers in Louisiana are available for free. Enjoy:

Court records, Newspaper articles

A family of four vanishes in south Louisiana

If you flip through one of my mother’s yearbooks, you’ll see handwritten death dates scrawled underneath the pictures of three of her classmates. Brenda, Lucie and Robert Verrett weren’t just her schoolmates. They were her cousins in a Cajun-iffy way.

My mother can explain to you how the Verrett children were related to her. I cannot. Cajun lines tend to crisscross. We treat second and third cousins like regular cousins. It gets confusing.

What I do know is Brenda, Lucie and Robert went to school one Wednesday in 1966, returned home and vanished. Their mother, Barbara, also disappeared. Left behind were a bloody hammer and bloody bedclothes. Someone tried to set a fire inside the house to destroy the gory evidence.

The Verretts weren’t a traditional family. The parents, Robert Sr. and Barbara, were separated or divorced. Barbara took the kids and moved in with a man named Bernardo Mejia. That type of living arrangement might be normal nowadays. In the 1960s, it would have been the talk of the bayou.

I’ve always wondered if the untraditional arrangement caused a delay in the family being reported missing. It wasn’t until Mejia returned home from a fishing trip on Sunday that the police were called. Regardless, I don’t think the outcome would have changed.

Mejia discovered the doors locked and blankets tacked over the windows. His brand new Ford Falcon wasn’t in the driveway. He crawled through a window to get inside. Why didn’t he have his own house keys? Probably because no one bothered locking doors back in those days. They sure didn’t in the 1980s, when I was growing up.

By this point, no one had seen the kids in four days. Barbara was a housewife so her disappearance probably wasn’t as noticeable as the kids not showing up for school.

The Verretts weren’t the only ones missing. Mejia’s cousin, Roy, who was living with them, was nowhere to be found.

Unlike his Mexico-born uncle, Roy was born in Louisiana. His father was Chitimacha Indian. His mother was a Savoie, which means she was Cajun.

Roy had gotten in trouble for raping a woman but lucked out when the charge was lowered to simple battery.

He must have traveled to Mexico frequently because he had a fiancee in Nuevo Laredo. A few weeks before he disappeared, he visited his fiancee. Back in Louisiana, he stayed with his uncle and the Verrett family while working on a visa that would bring his fiancee to Louisiana. Just before the disappearances, the visa application was denied, supposedly because the fiancee was a known prostitute.

No trace of Roy or the Verretts was discovered for days. Heavy rains thwarted the search at first.

Those heavy rains also brought the mystery to an end. They exposed Barbara in the shallow grave where she was buried near Grand Isle. Nearby were the bodies of the three children, lined up in a triangular shape.

According to newspaper reports, Barbara had been strangled and a piece of cheesecloth stuffed in her mouth. Little Robert was shot in the head. The girls had been beaten. All were only partially clothed.

According to court records, all were shot.

As a child, I remember being told the children had gone to bed partially dressed in their school clothes without getting supper. The sense I always got was they didn’t have the best home life. I wish I could remember more about what my granny said.

What I do know is the discovery of the bodies set off a huge manhunt for Roy. He ditched the car in the French Quarter and wandered the swamps until authorities caught up with him. By that point, he was dazed from hunger and offered no resistance.

Roy told police that Barbara angered him by criticizing the woman he planned to marry. Barbara characterized the woman as a whore and questioned why Roy would go to so much trouble to bring her to Louisiana.

That night, everyone went to bed, while Roy simmered. He was furious that Barbara would criticize his fiancee when she was known for frequenting the bars. He grabbed a hammer and went into the bedroom where Barbara was asleep with little Robert. He clubbed her to death and shot Robert when the commotion woke him.

Then, he headed to the girls’ bedroom, where he shot them. He shot Lucie three times but she was slow to die so he hastened her death with the hammer.

After loading the bodies into his uncle’s car, Roy tried to dispose of them in Assumption Parish but got spooked when a truck turned onto the shell road where he was parked. He drove back to Berwick with the bodies still in the car. He tacked blankets over the windows, returned the bodies to the house, walked around town, washed blood from the outside of the car and waited for nightfall.

Under the cover of darkness, he drove to Lafourche Parish, where he dumped the bodies. Then he returned to Berwick and filed his tax return.

Roy was convicted of murder in the Verrett deaths but that wasn’t the end of his adventures.

In 1967, Roy escaped from prison on Easter Sunday. Agents checking on shrimping violations found him 11 days later in the Avery Island Canal near New Iberia. He was just eight miles from open water, where he could have headed to Mexico. He later told reporters he was trying to get to his wife and children in Mexico.

I hate to end this talking about Roy. So, I’ll end it by talking about the Verretts.

They are buried peacefully along the bayou in a little town called Amelia. The children’s school pictures adorn their graves.

Newspaper articles, terrebonne parish

The Last Island hurricane

I prepared for Hurricane Laura by cooking everything in the fridge and laying down the garden statues. I was bracing for a week-long power outage and general mayhem. Turns out, we never even lost power. We’re lucky to live in Baton Rouge, which is far enough inland to escape the storm surges but sometimes not the strong winds of hurricanes.

Hurricanes are a deadly part of life in south Louisiana. I am hopeful that anyone who lives in Cameron Parish got the heck out of dodge before Hurricane Laura made landfall.

Years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter, I remember flying over Cameron Parish with Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s husband, Coach, and the rest of the press corps after Hurricane Rita. Coach was a great storyteller. As we swooped over the Cameron Parish Courthouse in a Black Hawk helicopter, he pointed it out as the only building left standing in the town of Cameron after an earlier hurricane. Hurricane Audrey decimated every other building in town and ripped babies out of their mothers’ arms.

Mother Nature can be cruel, as those of us who call this boot-shaped, water-logged state know well. And the ones who live in the coastal parishes are especially vulnerable.

An obituary for one of the many victims of Last Island.

I thought it fitting to revisit one the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit Louisiana. The storm hit in 1856, before hurricanes were named.

Back in those days, a barrier island off the coast of Terrebonne Parish was a summer resort. Vacationing families could escape the heat and enjoy Gulf breezes and white sand. It was known as Last Island, presumably because it was the last bit of land before the Gulf. However, a barrier island also is the last place you want to be during a hurricane. Barrier islands are called such because they act as a barrier for the mainland from storms.

The victims of the Last Island hurricane.

In August 1856, a Category 3 hurricane hit and destroyed every building on the island, including a large hotel owned by John Muggah. Half of the 400 people on the island perished. The island itself disappeared. Today, it’s a series of small islands inhabited by birds.

During the hurricane, some people clung to trees while others were hit by debris or blinded by whipped up sand. The hotel held on at first before ripping apart. Many of the survivors made it out by making their way to a ship that was supposed to ferry people to safety but didn’t reach the island early enough and wrecked. Within days, the wreckage would be one of the few remaining landmarks of Last Island.

Newspaper articles

Coronavirus takes us back to the future of wartime food shortages

A 1943 ad for how to make do without potatoes.

I went to Target today for laundry detergent. I got so distracted by the empty shelves that I left without laundry detergent.

But I did get a huge pack of toilet paper! And, after looking with much dismay at the pasta-less pasta aisle and the bean-less bean aisle (except for pinto beans), I noticed a stock cart filled with unopened boxes. One box said “black beans” and I could’ve jumped for joy in a way that I have never jumped for joy at beans of any kind. A worker obligingly opened the box and handed me two bags of black beans. The meat section was cleared out for the most part, but I found a pork roast that will go nicely with a crockpot of black beans. And I found a package of hot dogs for our hot dog-loving dog and two lonely boxes of frozen waffles for my waffle-loving husband.

In other words, I’m learning to make do much like my grandmother did during World War II. Newspapers during the 1940s filled their pages with recipes to help housewives dealing with limited pantries.

I thought it would be fun to go back to the future by seeing what insight I might get from wartime recipes. Here we go.

If only I could buy meat …
Interesting …
If you can find bacon …

Newspaper articles

Recipes from 1913

I came across the recipe for a Roxbury cake in a 1913 edition of the “Assumption Pioneer.” I’ve never heard of the cake, but it sounds delicious!

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There’s also a recipe for pieplant pie, and I had to look that one up. Apparently it’s rhubarb. Laura Ingalls Wilders made a pieplant pie in the book about the early years of her marriage.

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Finally, there was a recipe for boiled rice with strawberry sauce. This must be rice pudding. Hopefully, it’s rice pudding.

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