Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo

From Past to Present

20:30 April 06, 2015
By: Emily Hingle
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

The Pharmacy Museum at 504 Chartres St. (off Royal St.)

New Orleans' Many Museums

Museums educate young generations about our vibrant past. They are textbooks where words become tangible and help to build a connection to our ancestors. New Orleans is often called a living museum, but we also have lots of museums that look at specific periods of times, religions, foods, and more to keep our past in the present.

A museum that celebrates one of the cornerstones of our culture, The Southern Food and Beverage Museum has hundreds of artifacts that show the history of food and cooking in southern Louisiana. and just recently reopened in their new location at 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. Beginning with Cajun country and traveling through the modern day fishing industry and the impact on it from the oil spill. Other exhibits in the museum include the sugar industry, La Galerie d'Absinthe, and the American Cocktail room. The crown jewel of their collection is the massive bar from the destroyed Bruning's Restaurant at West End that is being restored. Items only locals can understand punctuate the walls like Hadacol Dietary Supplement and MREs. The museum often holds events for exhibit openings, cookbook releases, and many more.

Absinthe is also presented in the Absinthe Museum of America (823 Royal Street). The museum's mission statement is "to give the general public an expanded knowledge of the elusive 'green fairy,' absinthe." The walls are adorned with varieties of glasses, spoons, and other accoutrements, all for the love of this green, licorice-tasting spirit. Just don't light the sugar on fire; it's not traditional. Opened as a Pharmacy in 1823 by America's first licensed pharmacist, the pharmacy museum has recently been featured in two Hollywood films.

Voodoo in New Orleans is completely unique; it was brought to the city from Africa, and heavily influenced by Haitian refugees and the Catholic Church. The Voodoo Museum (724 Dumaine St.) in the Quarter reveals Voodoo's mysterious history in New Orleans. "The museum was founded in 1972 by Charles Gandolfo. Artifacts range from the Origins of Voodoo, the Caribbean influence, and modern day Voodoo. Being a museum, of course, the artifacts are real. Gris Gris (mojo) bags are both generic and designed for specific purposes," states owner John T. as he holds one of his seven snakes. The corridors are filled with human bones, pictures of priestesses, spices used in rituals, and altars dedicated to spirits and ancestors. "The altars are currently being used. Most Voodoos maintain altars in their homes." There are some days when the public is invited to experience ceremonies. "Most ceremonies are private but we do welcome to the public to St. John's Eve (June 23rd) and The Day of the Dead (November 1st). Both are performed at dusk."

Located on Conti Street in the French Quarter, in a building once used to house Regal Beer, Musee Conti holds a Wax Museum (917 Conti St.). The full-size wax replicas illustrate the history of New Orleans and Louisiana in life-like panoramas, and have been fascinating visitors since the early 1960s.

Beth Sigur of the museum states, "It was the first family attraction in the city, [and] was started by two local families; the Weils and the Lazarus family. Most of the life-size wax figures were created by Pierre Robin, managing director of the French firm Pierre Imans of Paris, who was brought to New Orleans to supervise the arrangement of the figures."

Dioramas span the settlement of the city to the Louisiana Purchase and the recently released former governor Edwin Edwards. There is also a horror section that is currently being renovated.

Visitors gaze at hundreds of medicine bottles, strange surgical instruments, and other curiosities including a jar of live leeches (still used today to minimize swelling) at the Pharmacy Museum (514 Chartres St.) off Royal Street. Liz Sherman, executive director, explains its history:

"Opened in 1823 by Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., America's first licensed pharmacist (licensed in 1816 by the State of Louisiana); and closed as an apothecary in 1871. It officially opened as a museum in 1950. [The pharmacy sold] mercury and lead based medicines, alcohol and narcotic based patent medicines, and medicinal plants and insects." The museum has two stories of remedies from the medieval to the bizarre, including the first floor that still looks like a pharmacy of the 19th century. "The museum exhibits apothecary/species jars, syringes and injections, voodoo medicines, epidemic treatments, history of medicinal soda fountains, bloodletting, 19th century gynecology and obstetrics; we are currently featuring the 'Aqua Vitale' exhibit (the history of alcohol in medicine)."

The museum has even been used in many films, including the Elvis Presley movie King Creole, and recently in upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which is scheduled for release next year.

In the heart of Treme sits a museum dedicated to the distinctive African American culture of New Orleans. The Backstreet Cultural Museum (1116 St. Claude Ave.) was founded in 1999 by Sylvester Francis, a community archivist and expert in New Orleans' African American parading traditions, states Kimberly Waggoner. "The mission of the Backstreet Cultural Museum is to preserve and perpetuate unique cultural traditions through collections, exhibitions and publications, public programs, and performances. These cultural traditions include Mardi Gras Indians, Skull and Bone gangs, Baby Dolls, jazz funerals, social aid & pleasure clubs, and other related activities, rituals and celebrations."

The museum houses the largest collection of Mardi Gras Indian costumes and other parading memorabilia. The museum's holdings also include an important film collection created by Francis which documents hundreds of jazz funerals since 1979. On November 1st, All Saints Day, a mock jazz funeral is held to raise awareness of the tradtion and they hold an open house on Mardi Gras day.

The oldest museum in the city opened its doors in 1891. The Confederacy Memorial Hall (929 Camp St.) has the second largest Confederate artifact collection with thousands of pieces like uniforms, some with bullet holes, guns, and many flags. "We have 141 flags in the collection, and we change exhibits from time to time," explains Patricia Roberts. "I think of a flag as a sacred item that men fought and died for; half of the flags have bullet holes and blood-stains. If the flags could talk, they could probably change a lot of the history books that we read."

The museum breaks through preconceived notions about the war; there are pictures of black Confederate soldiers, both free and enslaved, and artifacts that show how people fought in more humorous ways with chamber pots bearing the likeness of American general Ben Butler at the bottom. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, it's something to be proud of. It's just a part of history; they were fighting for what they believed in."

There are many more museums than mentioned here, all of them are informative and entertaining. You can also rediscover larger museums like the National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St.) that has just built a spectacular 4D theater and the Cabildo (701 Chartres St.) and Presbytere (751 Chartres St.) that have Louisiana-centered history exhibits.

Discover your roots, and understand this city a little better by visiting a museum. Even non-natives are sure to find a link to past centuries.

[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

Musee Conti's Wax Museum, located at 917 Conti St.

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