The Nov. 30, 1878, edition of the “Pioneer of Assumption” listed a number of deaths from an epidemic.
The scribe, Prosper Davaine, apologized for the delay in reporting them. In making the list, it seems he caught ill himself.
“I send you the general list of the sick and the victims of the epidemic that we have in the 5th district only. I would have liked to send it to you a little earlier, but as I was kept in bed for a few days, I was obliged to wait until this day. You will oblige me a lot by publishing it in your journal. At the same time, please send me a copy of the diary when it prints.”
Dead at Labadieville
Widow Joseph Graziani
Dr. Paul Verriere
Mme Fabien Ducos
Sidney McNeil, child
Stephens McNeil, child
Emile Delaune, child
Vve Leafroi Chedotal
—- Boudreaux, deaf-mute
L. Lovinsky Aucoin
Jean Marie Gantz
C. Francois Rendo
Mme Auguste Delaune
Arthur Gauthier, child
Arthur Naquin, child
Deceased at Brule Labadie
Mme Adrien Barilleaux
Vve Francois Boudreaux
Francois Jor. Boudreaux
Mme Clairville Peltier
Trsimond S. Boudreaux
Emilie Gauthreaux, child
Mme Theodule Gros
Mme Augustin Boudreaux
Victorine Arsement, child
Mme Francois Jor. Boudreaux
Emile Boudreaux, child
Augustine Olivier, child
Emilie Blanchard, child
Philomene Hebert, child
Mme Emile Talbot
Jn Bte Gros
Mme Louis Talbot
Mme Alexandre Blanchard
Deceased in the district
Mme Edouard Prejean
Emilie Prejean, child
Telesphore Prejean, child
Ernest Use, child
Alcee Bergeron, child
Marie Melancon, child
Victoria Bergeron, child
Alcee Melancon, child
Eva Melancon, child
Levy Melancon, child
4 children of —- Miller, of Garner
Mme Edouard Martin
One child of Jos. Robertson
Gustave Maillet, child
Family legend has it that my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Montet Giroir, came from a well-to-do family who lost everything with the conclusion of the Civil War. Certainly, they didn’t have any money after the war. The family lived very hand to mouth.
I wondered if the Montets really were prosperous and dug through old newspapers and succession records to find out. The succession records talk of a sugar house and property (this was after the Civil War so no slaves at that point). Newspaper accounts refer to an Aurelie Plantation in Assumption Parish that belonged to the Montets.
I’m pretty familiar with the swath of bayou road between Plattenville and Thibodaux. I travel it regularly to see family. The big plantation home in the area is Madewood, which belonged to the Pughs. I’d never heard of Aurelie.
At this point, I should point out – once again – that the mention of the word “plantation” in the family tree likely doesn’t mean that your family once lived at Tara. Plantation is another word for farm. Sorry.
But I went in search of Aurelie anyway. Elizabeth’s father came from a large family who lived near Plattenville. One of his brothers was Zephirin Montet. It was Zephirin who launched Aurelie, which he named for his wife.
Zephirin was actually Zephirin Rosemond Appolinaire Montet. He was a prosperous planter in Assumption Parish. His grandson Numa Montet was a U.S. congressman.
It appears that the extended Montet family called Aurelie home. The Assumption Pioneer – still in circulation to this day – recorded Zephirin’s sister-in-law Pauline Truxillo Montet dying at Aurelie in 1886.
I don’t know if Elizabeth grew up on Aurelie or if she grew up on a neighboring property. I remember my grandmother talking about the Montet home, but she never clarified if it was the Florentin Montet home, the Zephirin Montet home or the home of Florentin and Zephirin’s father.
What I suspect is that Aurelie originally was the property of Elizabeth’s grandfather (father to Zephirin and her own father, Joseph Florentin). It seems likely that the property got divvied up when the old man died, and Zephirin called his portion Aurelie for his wife. Perhaps Zephirin’s portion was a real money-maker – or maybe he added to it and expanded the acreage.
A similar arrangement happened after my husband’s grandfather died. Each child got a portion of the family farm. The entire farm still is in his descendants’ hands to this day, but it’s not really intact. Instead, it got sliced up into thirds for his three children. One of those thirds has been more profitable than the other two-thirds. It’s the luck of the draw.
From the succession records, it seems that the Montets shared a sugar house (where sugar was boiled into syrup). It appears that Zephirin and Florentin got shares in the sugar house when their father died. I’ll have to dig up Joseph Philippe Montet’s succession record, which most likely is in French, for clarity.
In 1912, Aurelie changed hands. The National Real Estate Journal described the sale as one of the biggest real estate deals of the month. The Montet Company Ltd. sold the plantation on Bayou Lafourche to Joseph Webre. At that time, the plantation included 600 acres, including 500 acres in cultivation, residences, cabins and a sugar house. The sale was speculated to be $50,000.
Other accounts name the buyer as John Webre, who died in 1915. It looks like Numa Montet bought the family property back temporarily and then sold it to an Edmond E. Webre.
I’m still in search for more on Aurelie. An old map of Assumption Parish probably would help.
According to Family Tree Maker, Joseph Ashley Schwartz is related to me thusly: He’s the brother-in-law of the brother-in-law of the first cousin three times removed. It’s not a very solid connection, and I guess I should be thankful. Joseph lived a rather sordid life.
Joseph was the son of Robert Schwartz and Cora Talley, who settled in New Orleans. His father sold newspapers at night and worked for the city at day. Robert and Cora divorced when their youngest child was just a baby. Both quickly remarried and built blended families of step siblings, half siblings and full siblings that made the Brady Bunch look like a small clan.
Robert’s second wife was Mary Louise Boote. She was still a teen-ager when she fell in love with a traveling salesman named Snodie Munsell. Snodie stuck around long enough to father daughters named Rose, Ruth and Ruby before abandoning the family. Distraught, Mary Louise disappeared for a short time – just long enough for her worried mother to contact the police and the newspapers – but she pulled it together, found Robert and remarried.
But back to Joseph, who would die by the hangman’s noose in New York. Joseph married Mary Louise’s daughter Ruby after she got pregnant. They had a son whom they named Joseph Ashley Schwartz Jr. Shortly after the birth, Joseph left his wife and new baby. He wrote Ruby from Mobile and told her he’d found another girl. Apparently the new romance didn’t stick.
Joseph kept heading north until he ended up in New York.
In New York, Joseph was booked for assault and robbery. He managed to escape the Tombs in 1933, but got into a gun battle with detectives that left his friend William Clark dead. Soon, Joseph would have more blood on his hands.
Despite the wife and child back home in New Orleans, Joseph struck up a romance with clerical worker Anna Downey (some newspapers identified her as Helen Downey) in New York. Anna would describe Joseph as a perfect gentleman who wouldn’t let her say the word ‘damn’ because it wasn’t something a lady said. Joseph and Anna had some kind of a sham wedding. Then Anna got pregnant, and they decided to get married for real. There was just one problem (besides the wife back in New Orleans).
Joseph was in prison for murder and robbery. He supposedly held up a beer garden and killed a man named Charles Theuner.
The wedding took place at the prison with Anna’s sister and a newspaperman serving as witnesses. Newspapers loved the story of the condemned man and his beautiful bride. Pictures of the wedding were published across the country, including in New Orleans.
Ruby saw the photos and showed them to her stepfather. Then she raced across town to show them to her mother-in-law. One thing puzzled them.
The papers described a marriage between Anna and a John Collins. John looked very much like Joseph Ashley Schwartz.
Ruby went to the newspapermen, who seized upon the fresh angle to the story. John Collins denied from prison that he was Joseph Ashley Schwartz, and Anna said it couldn’t be true. Anna also threw in that – by her math – John couldn’t possibly be the father of Ruby’s baby or the man that Ruby had to marry because she got in trouble.
Anna also minimized John Collins’ criminal record. By her reckoning, police get your name for one little thing and then pin everything on you. Poor Anna.
Joseph’s family was left wondering if John Collins was their Joseph – although they couldn’t have scratched their heads for too long. Joseph had written his sister letters and signed them John Collins. Although … how did she know who that was when she got the letters? Did he sign them “John Collins (you know, Joseph Schwartz)?” Curiouser and curiouser.
Ruby sent a letter to Joseph in Sing-Sing. The warden returned it, explaining that John Collins denied knowing anyone named Joseph Ashley Schwartz. Ruby decided to let the matter drop. After all, she reasoned, Joseph was condemned to death so she’d soon be a widow with no reason to pursue a divorce.
If you look up the list of people executed in New York, you won’t find Joseph Ashley Schwartz. Instead you’ll find the name John Collins, who was one of four men to go to his death in the electric chair on May 29, 1936.
Joseph – or John – was 25 when he died. He supposedly told the guards “Let’s go” as they strapped him to the electric chair. At the prison gates, Anna clutched their four-month-old baby and sobbed.
Later, upon being woken and told about the execution, Ruby was unsympathetic. She reportedly shrugged her shoulders and showed no emotion. She also told reporters that Anna had fixed her own little red wagon.
A beautiful home is for sale in Alexandria, La., for a bargain basement price. The 1908 house supposedly was built for a riverboat captain. It has five bedrooms, original molding and pocket doors. It’s available for less than $70,000. And it has ties to Mary Miles Minter.
Minter was a famous actress of the silent film age. She was immensely popular until her involvement in a still unsolved murder in 1920s Hollywood.
Born in Shreveport at the turn of the century, Minter was the granddaughter of a Louisiana country doctor. Her aunt and cousins are buried in Mansfield. The cousins include the one whose name she swiped for her film career. Mary’s real name was Juliet Reilly.
I have no idea if Mary ever visited this house in Alexandria. She left Louisiana at a very young age although she was known to come back for visits. Most certainly, her mother and grandmother visited the Garner House.
Sue Garner was Mary’s great aunt. She lived in and built this beautiful home at 103 Bolton Ave. in Alexandria.
In 1921, Garner told “The Town Talk” that she was interested in newspaper and magazine articles that mentioned Mary. Sadly, Garner died in her beautiful home in 1940. Her body wasn’t found until the next day.
This branch of the Garner family left no descendants (Mary and her sister didn’t leave descendants either). Sue Garner was the widow of a ferry boat captain – not quite a riverboat captain – who used to take people between Alexandria and Pineville. His name was James Garner. The couple had two sons. The eldest boy died young. Their second son, Nathaniel Branch “N.B.,” became a dentist and had his practice in the Bolton Avenue home that he shared with his mother at some point during his adult life.
The Garners were a big deal in Alexandria society. The local newspaper devoted tremendous copy to their social visits and deaths. The reading of Mrs. Garner’s will got reams of copy.
N.B. Garner had an apparently ill-advised marriage. He wed a Shreveport widow named Mamie Luke, but they soon divorced. Mamie was ordered to pay the costs associated with their divorce. N.B. died in 1914 after struggling with health problems. He was only 42.
Interestingly, given Mary’s career-ending murder problems, N.B. also was connected to a murder case.
In 1902, a murder happened within sight of the Garner House. Grocer Tony Curero (or Corea) was driving his horse and cart laden with fruits and groceries when someone came up to the wagon and shot him in the face. N.B. heard the shot and ran to the victim only to find him unconscious in the roadway. The man later died.
But back to the Garners. There were tons of mentions in the Alexandria newspapers of yesteryear about the Garners’ connection to Mary Miles Minter. I wondered, though, exactly how they were related.
Sue Garner was born Susie Emilie Ragan on June 14, 1849. Newspapers record her son N.B. as being born on the family plantation in Sabine Parish that belonged to his grandmother Mary L. Branch on April 7, 1872. They moved to Alexandria when N.B. was 7.
There is also much mention of Sue Garner’s connections to the Shelbys of Kentucky. I don’t who the Shelbys were, but they must have been an impressive family. Mary’s mother later renamed herself Charlotte Shelby.
A Julia B. Ragan (Julia Branch, perhaps?) married Elbert Miles on Feb. 27, 1873, in Sabine Parish. Julia was Mary Miles Minter’s grandmother. She moved with her daughter and granddaughters to California for Mary’s movie career.
And there you have it. Julia and Sue were sisters. Mary and N.B. were second cousins.
It appears that Julia and Sue were close. When N.B. Garner got ill for the last time, Julia traveled from New York to Alexandria and stayed until he died. The newspaper dutifully recorded her visit.
Julia also visited in 1896. In fact, she visited twice in 1896, staying with her sister in January and October of that year.
Sue outlived Julia by more than a decade. She died in 1940. A friend became alarmed when Garner didn’t answer the door and called the mayor who advised her to call a police officer. It was the officer who found Garner dead in her bed.
Interestingly, watchmen were assigned to watch the house night and day until relatives could arrive to take possession of valuables in the house. What did she have in there?
The coroner found papers on a bedside table and placed them in a satchel that he delivered to the court. A judge authorized attorney John W. Hawthorn of the law firm of Hawthorn, Stafford and Pitts to open the bag. Inside it was a will. It all sounds very Agatha Christie.
By the time Sue died, her children were both gone, and there were no grandchildren. She left her estate to her niece Hazel Minter Jordan (Mary’s cousin) and Hazel’s children, Joseph Lafayette Jordan and Charlotte Shelby Jordan. Hazel was Julia’s granddaughter by a daughter who married and quickly died after bringing Hazel and the original Mary Miles Minter into the world.
Mary’s mother traveled to Alexandria for the funeral. Mary did not make the trip.
I was wondering the other day if there were any Louisiana connections on the Titanic. I found one but don’t get too excited.
A Miss Alice Compton of Lakewood, N.J., and New Orleans was reported by the Asbury Park Evening Press as rescued along with her mother. Alice’s brother, Alexander, perished.
The only problem is that there wasn’t an Alice Compton on the Titanic. Alice was Sara Rebecca Compton (the newspaper got her name wrong). She died in Miami in 1952. I can find no indication that she ever lived in New Orleans so that probably was just something else that the newspaper got wrong. More likely, the newspaper meant to say New York, where Sara was born.
But don’t take my word for it. The Times-Picayune went out and questioned the Comptons of New Orleans in 1912. According to the paper: “None of the Comptons who live in New Orleans know the family of the same name that was aboard the Titanic and are unable to account for them or to say who they are.”
The search for the Titanic victims’ New Orleans roots didn’t end there. A Sen. C.C. Cordill of Louisiana wondered if they were connected to the Comptons of Tensas Parish. Apparently a daughter of Judge Stacey married a Wilbur Compton of Botnay Bay plantation in Tensas Parish. The marriage produced a number of children, including brothers who became prominent businessmen in Mississippi and had families who were rumored to travel abroad.
Despite the sleuthing and speculating, the Comptons of Titanic were not from New Orleans or Tensas Parish. Sara’s father was born in New Jersey. His mother was born in New York, not Tensas Parish. The Comptons of Titanic were not descended from Thomas Wilbur Compton and Emma Stacy of Tensas Parish.
So it’s doubtful Sara was of New Orleans just as it’s doubtful that a New Orleans shipyard telephone operator named Rosemary Eller ever set foot on the Titanic.
Eller emerged in 1944 claiming to have been born Helena Yates and rescued from the Titanic. Her story was that she was rescued from the ship, taken to the New York Baby hospital and later unofficially adopted by the Starks (or Stark or Starke or Starkes) family of New Orleans.
Here’s the problem: There was never a Helena Yates on the Titanic. The only Yates aboard was a gambler, and he seemed to have been a con artist who lied about being on the Titanic. Regardless, if he was onboard, he probably wasn’t toting a baby.
But back to Rosemary.
From reading the historical records, it appears that Rosemary didn’t know she was adopted until both her parents were gone. What probably happened is that she was orphaned – or abandoned – at a young age. Somehow, she found her way to New Orleans into the arms of a family who had recently lost a child.
Maybe her birth mother dropped her at the foundling hospital with a fantastic story about the Titanic that was written into the hospital records. Who knows.
Here’s the story of Rosemary Eller.
Rosemary was taken to a foundling hospital in New York on April 23, 1912. Supposedly, a nurse brought her in and said she was a survivor of the Titanic. The shipwreck would have been the talk of New York at the time.
Already, though, the story starts running off the tracks. The Titanic, obviously, sank in April 1912. Eller later claimed she was six months old when the Titanic sank. When she died, her birth was recorded as Sept. 27, 1910. So she was actually a toddler when she was taken to the foundling hospital – not six months old.
In 1915 or so Rosemary was baptized as Helena Yates at St. Vincent’s Ferrer Church (this is all according to Rosemary). Interestingly, the foundling home baptized other children at St. Vincent’s before putting them on the Orphan Train. Hmmm … By 1920, Rosemary was living in the household of John and Mary Burke Starks in a rented house at 1110 Felicity St. (it’s now a parking lot) in New Orleans.
Her adoptive father died just before Christmas 1920. He had been a farmer and an ice dealer. He and Mary had many children, including a little girl named Mary Rose who died in 1913. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they adopted a child to fill that terrible void. Mary was past childbearing age by the time Rosemary joined the family.
Interestingly, the 1930 census lists Rosemary’s birthplace as New York. At that point, the Starks, minus John, were living at 2622 Magazine St.
In 1944, Rosemary made the noise about being a Titanic survivor. The story made a small splash and then disappeared without a followup.
Rosemary moved to California and died there, in Oakland, in 1962. She left behind three children and six grandchildren. Her obit listed her as a loving mother and a dear brother. Poor Rosemary.
Hopefully, she was able to discover her real story even if it wasn’t as glamorous as being rescued from the Titanic.
Recently, we were in Asheville, where we made the trek to Grove Park Inn. The hotel is in a stunning landscape and boasts an incredible great hall with huge fireplaces and logs the size of a not-so-small child. It was Christmas so we wandered the halls looking at gingerbread houses from the hotel’s annual contest.
While looking at an exhibit devoted to one-time guest F. Scott Fitzgerald (he would come to stay while Zelda was in a nearby loony bin), I turned around and encountered an exhibit devoted to the Pink Lady.
The Pink Lady is the Grove Park Inn’s ghost. Supposedly she plunged to her death from an upper floor to the Palm Court in the 1920s. I diligently searched for an account of the death in newspaper articles and came up empty. So it may just be local legend with no basis in fact.
However, it got me to thinking about Louisiana murders in the 1910s or 1920s. Murder is so much cozier when there’s some distance isn’t it?
I didn’t find a Pink Lady, but I did find the curious case of Helaire Carriere.
Carriere’s trial for murder of St. Landry Parish Sheriff Marion Swords was a sensation in 1916. The fact that the jury at first couldn’t agree on whether to send him to the gallows only added to the frenzy.
Newspapers in those days were fairly sensational. One newspaper described Carriere as an illiterate backwoodsman who killed a man, broke out of jail and subsequently terrorized St. Landry Parish. Supposedly, “all of St. Landry” knew where Carriere was but only Sheriff Swords was brave enough to venture out to the cabin where he was hiding.
A gun battle broke out in a corn field near the cabin. The sheriff was killed. A Deputy Cachere was hit by the bullet splinters in the face. And two other men were wounded. So he shot the sheriff and he shot the deputy (get it?).
From the corn field, Carriere fled to a deserted mill near Lake Charles. It took a month to find him. Another shootout ensued. One newspaper account had Carriere mortally wounded, but he survived. There would be no cheating the gallows.
“The New Orleans Daily States” brought in an artist to assess Carriere’s character. Artist Napoleon DeRemont – a student of European universities – looked at a picture of Carriere and concluded that he was lazy, a dreamer, of ordinary intelligence, bossy, passionate, nervous and of questionable ancestry.
DeRemont concluded: “Judging by his eyes, he was not born to be a servant. To digress from a straight character study, I would remark that Carriere typifies the fourth of fifth generation of those rollicking, carefree adventurers who came from France and Spain to the new world to seek quick fortunes and remained to drink, gamble and scratch the surface of the eart for bare livelihoods. Loose of morals were those men and strange mixtures of blood …”
Carriere hung for the crime. He was hanged in Baton Rouge – supposedly at “high noon” – in 1917. He was all of 33. Afterward, a funeral was held, also at “high noon” at the “little Catholic Church” in Opelousas. Friends brought shovels to cast dirt into their friend’s grave.
In an odd footnote to the story, an Athens Simien was accused of slashing his wife’s throat in the same cabin in Pott’s Cove that Carriere hid in until Sheriff Swords found him. The woman died.
I pity any one with the main line of Frioux to trace. It could be Frioux, Fryou, Frillot, Frero or goodness knows what else.
I first came upon the name after discovering that my grandmother’s godfather, Oleus Oscar Montet, had been married before he married my Aunt Louise.
I always felt a little sorry for Oleus. He was always described to me as a very nice man who would give my mother and her sister fruit (a precious thing for a poor family). And he was married to Aunt Louise, who was never described in kind terms. Oleus and Louise had but one child, Paul, who died in his teens.
Ten years before he married Louise, Oleus married Josephine Frioux. She died a little more than a year after the wedding. My guess is that she died in childbirth, but I’m guessing because no one ever told me about Josephine. I stumbled across her in the Catholic record books.
Josephine’s father was Apolinaire Frioux. Her mother was Philomene Gautreaux. Josephine was the only daughter in a family of four children. When she was 14, her father died. Her mother died five years later. Josephine herself was only 20 when she died. I don’t know much about Josephine’s little family. One brother died young. The two other brothers moved to Texas. Frioux/Fryou/Frillot has been a tough name to trace.
The name Apolinaire was interesting to me, though, because Oleus’ mother had a sister who married an Apolinaire Frioux. I wondered if it could be the same man and if he had two families. It turns out he had three families (but all in a respectable way).
I hadn’t been able to make the link until I found a succession record for Celestine Aucoin, Oleus’ aunt and Apolinaire’s second wife. I knew Celestine died in the yellow fever epidemic. I didn’t realize that she had enough property for a succession to be filed.
In 1880, Apolinaire went to the Franklin courthouse to report that Celestine had died on September 24, 1879, leaving behind one (surviving) child, Florestine. Apolinaire wanted to get married again (only a year after burying poor Celestine) and needed to separate out Celestine’s property for their daughter.
Here’s the inventory:
A tract of land lying and being in the parish of St. Mary having two acres front on Bayou Boeuf and containing about 44 superficial acres more of less with adjoining tract to the rear line appraised and valued at $350.
Nine heads of horned cattle.
One small Creole mars (I have no idea what this means).
Total=$452, half of which went to Florestine.
If you read successions, you read a lot about family meetings. I doubt they were as formal as the legal papers make them sound. Regardless, in one description of a family meeting, it was revealed that Apolinaire wanted to marry a Philomene Gautreaux and that it would be his third marriage.
So now I know that Apolinaire was Oleus’ father-in-law and uncle.
Vacherie, La., Aug. 25 – Realization of the full extent of the tragedy which fell upon their peaceful little parish Sunday afternoon slowly is forming in the minds of the residents of St. James Parish.
Grim death, riding rampant on the wings of a ‘twister’ left in his wake eight dead, several dying and many injured as a result of the destruction of St. Philip’s Hall, three miles from Vacherie on the river road and about 40 miles from New Orleans.
Five thousand persons this afternoon attended the joint funeral services at St. Patrick for seven of the eight victims. Rev. Father Fontaine of St. Philip’s Catholic Church and nearly a score of other priests from nearby points conducting the services. The church was far too small to accommodate the crowd, but as many as possible entered it and the others grouped themselves about the building.
Seven caskets containing the bodies offics. The body of Florence Fernandez, one of the victims, was taken to Gretna for burial.
The list of dead follows:
Stephen A. Haydell Sr., 63 years old, part owner of Laurel plantation and the father of 10 children.
Mrs. Stephen A. Haydell Sr., 59.
Stephan A. Haydell Jr., 34, member of the St. James Parish School Board, manager of Laurel plantation and one of the foremost young business men in St. James.
Arthur Hubbell, 40, clerk in the general plantation store and father of five children.
Virginia Hubbell, 29, sister of Arthur Hubbell.
Burchman Waguespack, 21, druggist, son of Dr. Lionel Waguespack and brother of Rene Waguespack, former United States district attorney at New Orleans.
Marie Louise Troxclair, 5, daughter of Fabian Troxclair of St. James.
Florence Fernandez, 7, daughter of Dr. J. R. Fernandez.
Seriously, perhaps fatally wounded, are Mary Haydell, sister of Stephen Haydell, and Belphor Haydell, brother of Stephen Haydell Sr.
NOTE: BELFORT DID DIE OF HIS INJURIES; MARY SURVIVED.
More than a dozen others were painfully hurt, among them being Albert Haydell, another son of Stephen Haydell Sr. Albert Haydell suffered a broken arm, internal injuries and surgeons say a possible fracture of the spine.
Miss Mary Haydell, whose injuries were so serious that she could not be moved far, was taken into the home of Father Fontaine, near the scene. Little hope is felt for her recovery, though she is still conscious. Her chief worry seems to be the well being of her mother and father.
‘Why don’t mama and dad come?’ she has asked many times.
They are not going to tell her why – for a while yet.
Tales of heroism of those who died, those who were injured and those who fought furiously for the lives of the stricken ones will go into the history of St. James Parish to be told and retold for generations to come.
Of how some of the doomed met death and of how Father Fontaine, Drs. Lionel Waguespack and J.R. Fernandez and others battled for the lives of others in the face of irretrievable loss in their own families makes a story St. James can well be proud of.
This afternoon St. James, worn out from a night of vigil over the deceased and administering to the injured, buried its dead amid the deepest spell of mourning and despair this parish ever has known. One simple service comprised the obesquies of those whose lives, one minute joyous in anticipation of a gala evening at St. Phillip’s church fair, were the next minute blown out by the breath of death in the shape of a whirlwind.
It will be many days before the survivors of the awful calamity recover from the shock. Some of the stricken families never will. Indeed, two families were partially wiped out. Those two are the Haydell and Waguespack households.
Theirs had been the moving spirit in arrangements for the fair, and the hand of destiny had beckoned them to be early to see that everything was in order. Had the whirlwind struck two hours later than it did, it must have buried several hundred persons instead of the three score who were in the building at the time.
Many relatives and friends of the Haydell and Waguespack families were also early arrivals. In fact, most of the families in this section of St. James, through intermarriages or by blood, are related, and it is little wonder the St. Phillip’s hall disaster has bereaved the entire parish. The business and social partnership, which Stephen Haydell Sr. and Ramond Waguespack formed many years ago, under the firm name of Waguespack and Haydell they extablished Laurel plantation has grown so much that the two families are considered one.
And few sadder blows ever visited one household.
Nearly half a century ago Stephen Haydel, an ambitious farmer boy, begun his career in St. James Parish.
He had seen his parish prosper, had worked hard, managed well, saved and himself had prospered.
He had seen his few acres grow into hundreds of acres; then had seen them become more important when he merged with his friend Ramond Waguespack, himself on of St. James’ most energetic builders.
Life had treated Stephen Haydell kindly in return for his faithful work and he was kind to his fellow man, showing his appreciation for his success in business, his stalwart sons, beloved wife and beautiful daughters. Though he continued active in the administration of many features of the plantation business, he gradually was turning over his part of the work to his sons and he and his wife devoted much of their time to community work.
It was with pride they had seen a tiny chapel grow into the original St. Phillip’s church and with added pride they had seen the new church recently erected and the old church converted into a hall.
Then, came the time for the holding of the church fair, which provided the last fair to be held in St. Phillip’s Hall.
Stephen Haydel Sr. had seen his wife and daughter and other womenfolk of the parish preparing days ahead for the fair. He had helped them and his sons and all his relatives had helped, and the anticipated success of the fair was only another of the many good things he was to get from life.
So there was an early gathering of those most interested in the success of the project. They wanted to arrange the ice cream, candy and pop booths, fix the beaches, prepare a stage for the little play, which was to be held Sunday night and complete all details. Father Fontaine, rector of St. Philip’s church, was here, there and everywhere, working like a beaver with his friends toward the same end. It was his flocking giving the fair and, therefore, was his fair.
Scant attention was paid to the black, ominous-looking cloud which was seen hovering low on the horizon across the Mississippi river.
Big drops of rain which predicated the approach of a heavy downpour fell and created only additional joy, even though the threat prompted the removal into the hall of benches, booths and chairs, which were outside on the lawn in front. St. James had seen little rain in three months, and almost any inconvenience was to be put up with if the soil could be drenched.
Stephen Haydell had walked hurriedly into the hall when the first sheet of rain fell and there was a smile on his face as he addressed Albert Haydell, one of his sons.
“I hope we will get a little of this down at the plantation,” he said. Laurel plantation is about a mile nearer Vacherie than St. Philip’s.
Just then Father Fontaine, whose home is a hundred feet in the rear of the hall and about the same distance to the side of the new St. Philip’s church, noticed one of the windows in his home and blown open and he scurried across to close it.
At the same time, Albert Haydell, who was helping to close some of the doors and windows of the hall, remarked how the sky suddenly was becoming overcast and that black clouds suddenly had taken on a fringe of dirty yellow, which spread an unnatural light over the vicinity.
Then the rain fell in blinding sheets, driving down the road before a strong, but apparently not dangerous wind.
And then, as if dropping with the weight of a stone, that black cloud hurtled downward, whirling wind and rain around in a literal maelstrom of destruction.
Directly over St. Philip’s Hall it settled and its first blow staggered the gigantic wooden structure.
“I was returning from my home just as I saw the whirlwind strike,” said Father Fontaine “and the next second it seemed the roof split asunder and, caught in the irresistable eddy of the whirlwind, both sides of the building collapsed and in another few moments the whole thing was levelled.”
Crumbling walls, falling timbers and avalanching debris hurled the threescore persons who had been huddled in the shelter of the hall. Some were smothered to death; others suffered broken backs or broken necks.
All happened in much less time than it takes to tell. According to those who escaped unscratched from the falling building, it hardly seemed ten seconds between the first shock and the time when shrieks of the crushed and dying mingled with the dreadfu roar of the whirlwind which, within another few seconds, seemed to list as if to survey its work of devastation, gave one last demonical cry and circled off into space. Several unroofed houses, fallen fences and mangled trees were left as mute evidence of where the whirlwind now and then dipped back earthwards after leaving the ruins of St. Philip’s behind.
For a few seconds, then, the ones who were fortunate enough to have been unhurt, and the few who had not been in the building were stunned. But only for a few seconds. Then, desperately they sent out calls for help and more desperately fell to work, in the driving rain, to tear the timber and ruins off those pinned beneath the wreckage.
Within a few minutes men came from every point and they worked until blood poured from their torn hands.
Dr. Lionel Waguespack, who, in some miraculous way had escaped unhurt, rushed to the side of his won, Burchman, just as the latter was pulled from beneath a timber.
Conscious to the last, Burchman intimated there was no hope for him and begged his father to forget him and attend to those whom help would mean much. The young man had been standing by the side of his sweetheart, and at the crash had pushed her aside just as a heavy timber bore him down. The girl suffered only a slight scratch, a table and some benches saving her from the weight of the other timbers.
Dr. Fernandez, whose family was there, for a second was speechless and numb with sorrow as his little daughter Florence as pulled out of the wreckage and it was seen there was no hope for her. Then another younger daughter was rescued from beneath some timbers and when Dr. Fernandez saw she was only slightly injured, he forgot his own terrible misfortune and, with Dr. Waguespack, heroically bent to the task of administering to the injured ones who most needed it.
It took more than an hour of frantic work to make a thorough search, recover the dead bodies and rescue those who were pinned beneath the ruins.
The exception was Miss Mary Haydell who, with others was rushed into Father Fontaine’s home.
The body of Miss Florence Mary Fernandez was sent to Gretna and will be buried there Tuesday morning from the home of her uncle C. E. Thomassie.
My grandmother was very fond of her own grandmother Merante Aucoin Montet Gauthreaux. Apparently Merante was very kind to her, and there weren’t many people who were kind to my grandmother during her Dickensian childhood.
What amazes me about Merante is that she was able to be a bright spot in a young girl’s life despite her own tragedies. Merante was the 13th child of Ludfrois Aucoin and Amarante Felicite Gautreaux. She was born when her mother was 45. Shortly after her first birthday, her father died.
The Aucoins were a large household. In addition to rearing their own children, Ludfrois and Felicite reared Ludfrois’ son by his first marriage and Felicite’s orphaned niece.
Catholic records weren’t the best in St. Mary Parish during the 1800s. Of the 13 children, I’ve only been able to find a marriage record for Merante, sister Celestine and brother Adrian.
Merante married Pierre Paul Montet in 1868. They had at least four children (possibly more): Rosa, Felonie, Gabriel and Oleus (my grandmother’s parrain). Pierre Paul had been married previously (to an Elizabeth Snell who just faded into history), and had two boys: Oscar and Desire.
Celestine – older than Merante by six years – married Apollinaire Frioux. They had at least four children: Villeo, Ernestine, Florestine and Felonise.
Of these 10 children from the blended families of the two sisters, only three would live to adulthood.
Yellow fever arrived in St. Mary Parish in the late 1870s, and it was merciless.
Nowadays, you don’t hear much about yellow fever. According to the CDC, it’s transmitted through mosquito bites (who hasn’t been bitten by mosquitos?) and it leads to fever, chills, severe headaches, vomiting, fatigue and weakness.
In 1879, at least 95 people died of yellow fever in St. Mary Parish. The dead included Merante’s sister, nephew, nieces, husband, half brother and her own children. Not surprisingly, burial records are scant. The priest likely was overwhelmed.
Here’s a list of St. Mary’s dead from the U.S. Mortality Index (I’ve bolded everyone who’s in my family tree):
Volsen Aucoin (Jean Baptiste Valery Aucoin, son of Francois Malo Aucoin and Marie Boudreaux)
L.E. Aucoin (Ludfrois Heli Aucoin, son of Ludfrois Aucoin and Henrrique Isabel Blanchard)
Mary Blanche Breed
Symmthia Buniff (Symphenie Johnston who married Benjamin Buniff in 1874)
Judith Alice Cary
F C Chase
Pauline Dellucky (the wife of Etienne Delucky; the Deluckys married into the Bourg family)
Severen Dupuis (Severin married to Victorine Augustine Aucoin)
Amylie Dupuis (Amelie, daughter of Severin and Victorine Aucoin Dupuis)
Henry Dupuis (son of Severin and Victorine Aucoin Dupuis?)
Celestine Faerie (Celestine Marie Aucoin Frioux, daughter of Ludfrois Aucoin and Felicite Gautreaux; wife of Apollinaire Frioux).
Gustave Faerie (possibly a brother of Apollinaire Frioux)
Villion Faerie (son of Apollinaire Frioux and Celestine Aucoin)
Ernestine Faerie (daughter of Apollinaire Frioux and Celestine Aucoin)
Pauline Faerie (probably Felonise, daughter of Apollinaire Frioux and Celestine Aucoin)
Clennie Faerie (most likely a daughter of Apollinaire Frioux and Celestine Aucoin)
Ferdinand Fellrath (son of Antoine and Caroline Fellrath)
Albert Geisler (Albert Geissler who immigrated from Germany in 1867)
Sophie Hattendorf (Sophia Forstl Hottendorf, wife of John Hottendorf).
M L Hayes
G A Hilbreth
L O Hilbreth
P P Monte (Pierre Paul Montet, son of Pierre Paul Montet and Emerante Emeline Braud; husband of Elizabeth Snell (first) and Merante Carmelite Aucoin (second))
Desire Monte (son of Pierre Paul Montet and Elizabeth Snell)
Rosa Monte (daughter of Pierre Paul Montet and Merante Carmelite Aucoin)
D Monte (probable daughter of Pierre Paul Montet and Merante Carmelite Aucoin)
Louise Monte (Felonie Louise Montet, daughter of Pierre Paul Montet and Merante Carmelite Aucoin)
Jas H Morehead
Wm B Mullens
Felix Sennett (Felix Senette, husband of Leodicia Erwin Robertson)
T M L Whitner
H F Whitner
Carry A Wooster (Carrie Agusta Wooster: daughter of Nathan and Mary Wooster)
I’ve been fairly successful in sorting out much of my family tree, and new information is always coming along to surprise me. The past tends to do that. Just when you think you’ve discovered everything, a new bit of information surfaces.
The one person who is a mystery is my great-great-great grandmother, Anaise Templet Giroir Larose.
I’ve never heard the name Anaise before or since. My grandmother always pronounced it ‘Naise.’ Believe it or not, there were two Anaise Templets born about the same year in Assumption Parish. Who would have thought it?
My Anaise was born to Charles Valsin Templet and Louise Josephine Boudreaux. The 1850 census for Louisiana shows Valsin with his wife, daughters Marie and Anais and baby Charles.
Here’s the little family:
That would mean Valsin and Louise had Marie in 1846, Anais in 1848 and Charles in 1849. Except the baptism records show they had Josephine Emeline in 1846, Marie Heloise in 1848, Charles in 1849, Philomene Victorine in 1852 and Marie Uranie in 1854. No mention of an Anais.
So I suppose that Marie in the census is really Emeline and that Marie Heloise in the baptism records possibly was meant to be Marie Anaise (which means she may have later had a child out-of-wedlock).
I’ll just go to the 1860 census and figure it out, right? Well, there’s a problem with that. Louise seems to have died about 1858. Unfortunately, her succession is listed in the index book at the Assumption Parish Courthouse, but the record itself is missing. The nice clerks at the courthouse shrugged and said an attorney probably took it home and forgot to return it back in the 1800s. Sigh.
After their mother’s death, the children were divvied up among the relatives.
Charles and Anaise went to live with the Besses. Charles Besse was a Canadian schoolteacher who married Louise’s sister Marcelite. The Besses had nine children so maybe they didn’t even notice the two extra ones.
So what happened to Emeline, Philomene and Irene (Uranie)? Well, Louise came from a big family.
Sister Adeline took in Uranie. Half-brother Basile took in Philomene. There were 15 people in Basile’s household so what was one more? Emeline – or Evaline as she later called herself – found shelter somewhere because she soon married.
There’s no clue on what happened to Valsin. I can only assume he gave all his children away, changed his name to Lincoln and bought a really tall hat. Or maybe he died. Yeah, he probably died.
But back to Anaise.
Anaise married (I assume) a man with a rather fabulously alliterate name: Eulice Edmond Giroir. There’s no marriage record that I’ve been able to find, but as they baptized their children, I assume the priest would have insisted on them being married.
They had five children in five years: Augustin, Augustine, Alice, Marie and Valcin. Then Eulice died. My grandmother said Eulice died when the youngest child was just a baby.
Anaise farmed out the children but kept Valcin according to census records. Augustin – my great-great grandfather – either visited her or ended up back with her because he told stories about her going off to work the fields every day while he stayed back at the house with his baby brother. Poor Anaise. She had a very hard life.
Then, in 1895, Anaise remarried. She married a man named Felix Leonide Larose. She would have been close to 50 at the time.
Anaise and Felix are on the 1900 census in Assumption Parish. After that, they disappear. I’ve traced what happened to all of her children (except Valcin; he married, had a few children and vanished), but I don’t know when Anaise died or where she’s buried.
It’s funny isn’t it? I can’t really tell you when Anaise’s parents died, when her first husband died or when she died. I can’t really tell you when Anaise was born or when she married her first husband. Did she only show up to be recorded for the census taker?
Loose ends like that drive me crazy. I so badly want to know the rest of Anaise’s story. Maybe, one day, I’ll stumble across more details.