New Orleans Stories from Ancient Trees to Disappearing Railroad Blues

New Orleans: it is known for beignets, jazz, jambalaya, the French Quarter, and Mardi Gras festivities . That is just a hint of the past and present that make up the unique culture of the Crescent City.

New Orleans balcony Mardi Gras decorations

How did it get that name, crescent city? Archaeologists tell us that people have been living in what is now in the New Orleans area for well more than a thousand years, beginning 300 to 400 CE. The mighty Mississippi began creating a bend in its course long before that. It is that crescent shaped bend that gives the city of New Orleans a well known nickname.

new orleans bridge over mississippi

The city’s more formal name came about when Frenchman Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, founded the city of Nouvelle Orleans on 7 May, 1718, in what was then New France. It was named in honor of the Duke of Orleans, who was regent of France at the time. As the city marks the major anniversary, take a look at several lesser known things about the city of New Orleans.

New Orleans is an urban destination, certainly, but it is also filled with green spaces. New Orleans City Park. comprises 1300 acres, which makes it one of the country’s largest urban parks. It is also one of the oldest city parks in the country, having been created in 1854.

oak new orleans park

Those 1300 acres hold walking trails, sports fields, a botanical garden, and a carousel that visitors and New Orleans natives have been enjoying for more than one hundred years. It is the home of the world’s largest stand of mature live oaks, including one that is estimated to be more than eight hundred years old.

Also is the park is the New Orleans Museum of Art. It is a major international museum, with a collection comprising nearly 40,000 pieces. Areas of focus include artworks from France, the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States, and many regions of Africa.

Speaking of Africa… voodoo, a spiritual practice which originated in West Africa, has a long association with New Orleans. Belief in a supreme being, asking saints to intercede on one’s behalf, and the use of chants and drumming in worship, are elements of voodoo which made their way to New Orleans in slavery times. Across history, voodoo has been both banned and celebrated in the city. In Saint Louis Cemetery Number One you may visit the grave of Marie Laveau, perhaps the most well known voodoo practitioner, who died in 1881. There you will see that people still leave offerings seeking her favor.

new orleans bridge overmississippi

New Orleans is famed as the birthplace of jazz.

new orleans musician with horn

The Cajun music of southern Louisiana has a strong presence in the city. So do zydeco, country music, the blues, soul, and rock. Did you know, though, that the first opera ever performed in what is now the United States took place in the crescent city? This happened in 1796. There is still a strong classical music and opera presence in the city.

About the train, and about the song…
The City of New Orleans was an Illinois Central railway route which ran between Chicago and New Orleans. At one point it was the longest daylight railway run in the US. It ran from 1947 to 1971, and in 1981 Amtrak revived the route, and the name. Today the route usually takes about nineteen hours, with seventeen stops along the way.

Musician Steve Goodman rode the train in 1970, and got the idea for the song. The lyrics re-create a journey along the route, in mourning for the route’s being discontinued. Goodman first performed and recorded the song, Many other artists have recorded is as well, including Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson who both has chart hits with the song about.The City of New Orleans.

New Orleans is about story, about history, about traditions shared through food, music, art, and celebrations. New Orleans is about the ways all these things interact. What are your favorite things about New Orleans? Let us know in the comments.

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