New Orleans Mythbusters

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New Orleans Mythbusters

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New Orleans is the kind of town that folks talk about. And when people talk, sometimes the facts can be altered, changed or just plain made up. Urban myths often grow and morph into sensational legends, especially in New Orleans. Mythbusters will tell you that many of these urban legends originate from local stories. There are also some things you might hear about our town that sound made up, but are actually true. I'm going to try to clear the air about a few of these stories.


I think it is appropriate to start with the tale of Storyville. This New Orleans urban legend has it that jazz music originated in a city district called Storyville, which was set aside by a state legislator named Sidney Story to be a prostitution area, and it became known as the Red Light District. Although Story did set aside the area for brothels and other vices, it was not necessarily the birthplace of jazz. Many people frequented the area, and while I'm sure it was the first place they heard the music, the style was really developed all over town and then made its way to Storyville.

Jazz also ties into a particularly sensational legend-New Orleans' very own serial killer, Axeman. The story goes that after a spree of murders, carried out with an axe, the unknown killer sent a letter to the newspaper saying that he would be on the prowl the next night, and would spare any household from which jazz music was playing. This one is true. On the given night, jazz could be heard loudly resonating from houses all across the city.

According to a widely accepted urban legend, New Orleans is the home of Mardi Gras in America. I'm afraid that this one is false. Mardi Gras, the annual celebration before the Christian season of Lent, originally began in Mobile, Alabama. A young man by the name of Joe Cain dressed up as an Indian, and with a few others from town, rode a decorated coal wagon through the streets playing horns and drums, throwing what was available at the people who watched them pass by.

Another commonly held notion about Mardi Gras in New Orleans is that parades take place in the French Quarter. Visitors think that the really great parades go down narrow streets like Royal and Bourbon. This is understandable as it's often made to look like that in movies and on TV, but the truth is there hasn't been a real French Quarter Mardi Gras parade complete with floats and marching bands in many years. Every once in awhile there will be a line of a few people pushing revelers in shopping carts, with boom boxes blasting making its way through the Quarter, but only the most generous onlookers will consider this a Mardi Gras Parade.

Our next myth involves the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. She is reportedly buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and the legend goes that if you bring bones and arrange them in a specific way on her grave, then her spirit is obliged to grant you your request. I have talked to those that say that it has worked for them, but others say there is nothing to it. This New Orleans mythbuster's opinion is to leave it in the myth category.

Another legend involving magic is that people in New Orleans believe if you bury a crucifix upside down in your yard as a hurricane approaches, you will not be the victim of flooding. Others say that burying a statue of St. Joseph will do the same trick. While I know many folks that were here for Hurricane Katrina, and a few that go as far back as Betsy, I have found none who have done this. So while I refrain from passing judgment, I will say that I have strong doubts.

Speaking of burying things in New Orleans, another urban myth is that the city is sinking from all of the buried Mardi Gras beads that have built up over the years. I can guarantee this is a New Orleans myth because they're simply not heavy enough and kids usually collect them to resell to the float riders for future throws. And, as a matter of fact, the whole idea of New Orleans sinking is a myth perpetuated by tourists who become alarmed when they realize that the ships floating on the Mississippi River are higher than their heads.

I don't know whether it would be considered one of New Orleans' urban myths, but there is a popular misconception that the people down here without a Cajun accent speak with a traditional southern accent, like you might find in Baton Rouge, Louisiana or Biloxi, Mississippi. The predominant accent in New Orleans is called Yadda. It sounds quite a bit like a Brooklyn accent, but the words are spoken a little bit slower and are dragged out a little longer. Visitors are often surprised and ask, "So where are you from? No, really."

And lastly, while New Orleans is a great place to celebrate and party, it is a city like all the others in America. We have laws just like Des Moines and Cleveland. There is no special part of the city where the United States stops and you are magically transported to the City That Care Forgot. Just the other day, a Greek tourist asked a woman I know, "Where is the Red Light District?" This kind of question is not unusual. The myth that New Orleans is a wide-open town where anything goes has been popular as long as I can remember and continues to this day.
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