A Keepsake for Kids
So, it's only fitting that a tour introducing kids to the Spanish pirate Jean Lafitte culminates in kids receiving a doubloon.
Parades & Throws
Parades in other places are surreal experiences. When I went to the 4th of July parade in Massachusetts a few years back, I kept waiting and waiting for a big ole float to come around the corner with bright lights and marching bands and throws, throws, throws! Instead, there were dapper gentlemen driving vintage cars throwing... tootsie rolls. And not the jumbo ones either.
What about New Orleans?
Forget about tootsie rolls. Some of the best parade throws include: cabbages, ramen noodles, shoes, coconuts, potatoes, and of course cups. (I LOVE the cups!!)
Santa Claus was said to be the first person to throw little gifts during a Mardi Gras parade on January 7th, 1871. Seriously. I guess on the 12th day of Christmas he gave away all of his left over presents?
After Santa did it, other Krewes caught on. The Rex Organization led the way with glass beads- and then doubloons. The doubloon tradition dates to the 1960s. An artist from New Orleans, H. Alvin Sharpe, designed the aluminum throw for the Rex Organization's captain Mr. Darwin Fenner in the 1960s. To demonstrate that the doubloons were not harmful, he threw them at Mr. Darwin. (I'm not really sure how cabbages passed that test...)
These aluminum coins that resemble doubloons are still treasured throws (see what I did there?) Now, all kids taking our tours are guaranteed one of these unique throws- and you don't even have to elbow your way to the front of the crowd!
Mardi Gras for Kids
Mardi Gras Parades: schedule & routes.
Kid-friendly things to do during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Great suggestions for families bringing kids to Mardi Gras:
Indoor Places to visit to learn more about Mardi Gras:
* Full disclosure: Cabbages, potatoes, and ramen noodles are only thrown during the St. Patrick's Day parade in Orleans Parish and the Irish-Italian-Islenos Parade in St. Bernard Parish.
** Advice for attending parades in New Orleans: Look Up.
*** Patented throw catching strategy: Make sustained eye contact with the thrower in advance (don't wait for the last minute!), do a slight head tilt like you would to a waitress at a restaurant when you're ready for the check, put a desperate look in your eye, and smile. That'll usually do it. If not, put a kid on your shoulders. That'll definitely do it.
While Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop seems the obvious pick of haunted buildings on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street, when asked, most people on my tours point to the boarded up brick building directly across the street.
940 Bourbon Street.
It happens frequently enough to warrant a little indulgent digging to see if there is, in fact, a connection between the two properties.
Is it possible that the Lafitte brothers hung out at this house- swapping pirate stories and tricks of the trade? Is it possible the Lafitte brothers stashed away some of their goodies in the walls of this old home?
*Despite this connection to a well known pirate, the Livaudais family did much to help the port succeed, both in maintaining its use and settling the land.
Historic New Orleans Collection Collins C Diboll Collection, Creole Families by Grace King, Fleur de Lys and Calumet by Andre Penicaut, Wikitree, "Archival Evaluation of Floodwall Alignments" by Sally K Reeves, 1982.
3000 years ago, in Celtic Ireland, October 31st marked the end of the year. Once darkness fell on October 31st, the new year, Samhain, began. The moment between the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year is a loophole, a moment of confusion, a door opening to the spirit world. The spirits of the dead roam freely, crossing into the world of the living. Not all of them were welcomed. Some of these spirits might be pooka, changelings who kidnap the souls of the living, leaving an evil spirit in its stead. Or the witch-like banshees, the omens of doom. How can you protect yourself from these potentially evil spirits??
Trick 'em! Confuse 'em! Warn them to stay away!
But they knew better than to wear a goofy Orphan Annie costume. Their costumes were much, much scarier.
They wore their clothes- INSIDE OUT!!! ahhhhhh!
(Fun fact: that's also how people dressed for the first Mardi Gras in Louisiana- 300 years ago!)
Some Celts with more time on their hands might make their costumes out of animal parts...
Who looks more menacing?
I married a chemist. He is a full blown chemist. If you ask him a rhetorical question like: "How do I turn this thing on?", you will get the FULL answer. When he launches into a detailed explanation about magnetic forces and filaments and hot air masses, combustible unstable molecules... I usually make it through the first few minutes before my eyes glaze over and I'm onto the next question or day dream.
When I told him I was doing the Spooky Tour, he gave me the biggest eye roll yet. He definitely doesn't believe there are invisible floaty things surrounding us or hiding inside of us. It is cold, hard facts. Things you can identify, measure, explain.
But- I found a way to connect! I dug down deep into the archives of my brain and found the file about mass actually being energy and the form of it reflecting how many molecules are in a space and how that affects the way energy looks and feels. The Law of the Conservation of Energy.
Nothing is "solid". The number of molecules present determines the force of resistance against our hand pushing on a hard surface or invisible gas. Mass can change form but not lose energy. Solid objects are visible, containing lots and lots and lots of molecules / energy pushing against us. Gases have less molecules so are invisible- but can still be measured. And spirits? Well, they can't be measured but they can be felt. They can be caught in orbs, mirrors, electromagnetic radiation detectors. Spirits are another form of energy. He just can't see it or measure it. So, he doesn't believe in it. But I do.
I feel like I won that argument.
He still walked away shaking his head.
On a recent tour, this kid starts rattling off all of these truly disgusting and disturbing facts from the past. He knows about pooping in the floor and blood letting and poisonous make up. He knows so much- and it was so gross!! I was instantly impressed. Alright kid, how do you know all of that?
Horrible Histories. It is a Monty Python-esque series that introduces kids to the worst parts of the past. It's high interest, hilarious, and educational. The skits are in a familiar format: cooking shows, Wife Swap, game shows, late night talk shows, music videos. I love it!!
My family recently downloaded it from Amazon. I can't stop watching. I've already plowed through the first season (but don't tell my stepkids; I was supposed to wait for them!)
*fyi: The time periods are not shown in order and they are limited to Europe.*
15 years ago, as a junior at Tulane, I spent several days "observing adolescents" as part of my Adolescent Psychology class. I was assigned to Alcee Fortier High School, just down the street from Tulane but a world apart. This beautiful brick building was reputed to be one of the worst schools in the city. It used to be one of the best. (And, has since returned to being one of the best. It's no longer Alcee Fortier. It no longer serves the neighborhood kids.)
I was sent to Coach Rusell's math class. Those few days broke my heart. The handful of kids attempting the problems on the board all had the same incorrect answers. They were dividing integers. They'd been told a negative number divided by a negative number is negative. The kids that were trying to study and learn were being outright denied an education.
Thus began my career in teaching. Offering kids who were already disadvantaged an adequate education would not level the playing field- but it was a start. I definitely wasn't the best teacher. There were plenty of times my lessons flopped or spelling time wasn't included in the schedule. I tried.
And then I left. I couldn't take the weekend work... the late nights of grading papers... the endless supplies that I needed to purchase... The list could go on. The kids were the one aspect of the job I loved. Being silly with them, offering unsolicited meant-to-inspire lectures, growing to know their families, their dreams, their struggles. I have many, many fond memories and many faces I'll never forget.
But today, my last batch of pumpkins graduated on 8th grade.
I'm so proud of my former 3rd graders. Watching the girls dressed in their finest (with high heels on!) walking the stage while finding their balance... the boys standing tall in their tuxes trying to hold their heads high... It's a beautiful moment. It's a moment that reminded me why I became a teacher and question why I left teaching.
On my tours, I introduce kids to "white gold" that delicious cash crop grown here and there. I teach them about slavery and our shared slave law, the Code Noir. I describe a religion with deep, deep roots that is still practiced there, a religion hidden under the Catholicism imposed by our shared colonial rulers. I point out similarities in our architecture. I went there to learn about our shared culture. I returned having learned much more.
In my selective research, the story stopped with the victorious revolution at the turn of the century. (Didn't realize that independence had actually been leased from France. The mortgage of 21 billion dollars was paid over the following 50 years.) I knew thousands of Haitians emigrated to New Orleans after this, as the revolution had destroyed much of the farmland. I read about Haitian immigrants that impacted New Orleans' history. But that ignores the rest of Haiti's story and the current circumstances Haitians deal with every day.
(Apologies for the depressing post! Haiti is absolutely beautiful. The poverty is absolutely heart breaking.)
One of the things I love about children is their curiosity. They question everything and are constantly on the hunt for connections. On each of my tours, kids will reference something that I'll invariably want to go look up, freshen up and remember. That I have to stop and refresh is always a bit embarrassing. But here's why:
I hated school. A day in the life of my time in school consisted of giggling with friends, writing notes to them, and hiding under the on-going "teacher looks". Sitting and listening? Not so much. I remember thinking that history hurt. All of the dates, names, and outlines made me miserable. Picturing the past, envisioning a day in the life of those living in the past and relating this to my own life just wasn't happening.
But my family looooovvess history. I was not going to get off that easy. We lived just outside of Boston, a city chock-full of museums, historic sites, grouchy, tea-drinking, taxpaying colonists and witchy women too wild to be holy. My parents couldn't resist. My sister and I were taken to places that made the past come to life. I can still smell the fires burning and hear the blacksmiths banging at Plimoth Plantation and Sturbridge Village. The 1600s, 1700s and 1800s came to life as costumed men and women relived a day in the life, a day I could finally picture. Colonial Williamsburg, further down the road in Virginia, served as the apex of this type of learning.
These sites acted as our family's Disney world. Even though I knew those old fashioned, costumed characters speaking with funny accents were about as real as Mickey Mouse and Goofy, they did something for me I'll never forget. They made the past come to life.
Every day that I torture children with my terrible french accent or risk getting yelled at by that angry homeless lady who is appalled by my 19th century underwear, I hope that I am passing along that tradition of bringing the past to life.
Now I finally welcome those opportunities to figure out dates and remember historic figures and maybe, occasionally, outline this history in my head. Getting to this place took time. About 300 years of living. history.