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Killer Ideas for an 1889 New Orleans Holiday Story

By Ana Brazil
December 31, 2019

This holiday season so many historical novelists have been offering their readers a generous helping of Christmas lagniappe (prounounced lanyap, it means, in New Orleans-speak, a little something extra).

Nancy Bilyeau offered her readers The Ghost of Madison Avenue: A Novella; Laurie R. King shared Mary’s Christmas; Heather Haven came out with Christmas Trifle; and fellow Paper Lantern Writer Linda Ulleseit inspired us with Hawaiian Christmas Crafts in her newsletter.

How I wished I had a little lagniappe to offer readers of my Gilded Age New Orleans mystery FANNY NEWCOMB AND THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER this holiday season! All of the core crew would be in my Christmas mystery, of course, and their quest would include a crime appropriate for the holiday season. Not a gruesome murder, but some other type of historically accurate mayhem or misdeed.

But time got away from me and I did not write “The St. Charles Avenue Christmas Caper” or “The French Quarter Fireworks Fiasco” or “The Mississippi River’s Revenge”. So instead of sharing a short story with you, I offer you my 1889 New Orleans research with you. Just consider it my (somewhat late) Christmas present.

Here goes:

On Christmas Day 1889, under the headline “Christmas Casualties”, the New Orleans Daily Picayune newspaper published these holiday moments of misrule:

  • Burglars broke into the office of A. Riggs & Bro., cisternmakers, and demolished the safe.
  • Matt Finnerty ran his left arm through a pane of glass in the barroom corner of Philip and Howard streets and received a painful cut across the wrist.
  • Judge Dreux yesterday had 107 culprits before him, most of whom were drunks, the remainder being tinhorn blowers and young fellows arrested for promiscuously shooting giant firecrackers.
  • Mrs. Nelson was shot in the right hand and had her little finger fractured by her son Fred, aged 15 years, who was playing with a toy pistol.
  • Under the inspiration of Christmas whisky, Tim Tiernan entered the grocery store of Mr. Louis Fink, threw down on the counter, and broke several bottles on the bar. Then he quietly gathered himself together and skipped.
  • Forty people were tried before Judge Murphy for getting on a spree and celebrating Christmas Eve. They were fined from $1 to $20.

And although on New Year’s Day the newspaper reported that “The New Year [was] Welcomed with Less than Usual Turbulence”, here’s just some of the turbulence reported in New Orleans:

  • John Rousseau, while under the influence of liquor, flourished a revolver, and upon meeting Fred Richardson, fired several shots at him and wounded him slightly in the left hand.
  • at the corner of Peace and Royal Streets, Mr. E. Bernard was assaulted by two highwaymen who attempted to rob him.
  • the unoccupied shanty corner of Bernadotte and Gasquat tumbled down.

There’s just so much good local color here that you could write one, two, or three stories. One hundred and seven culprits! Tinhorns blowers! Giant Firecrackers! Spirited sprees! Demolished safes! Highwaymen!

But I did promise you a killer idea, and if you must include a murder in your short story about 1889 New Orleans, here you go: 

~~~

Just in case the original newspaper clipping is too hard to read, here’s the content:

A CHRISTMAS CRIME.

 BLOODY DEED IN A CHARTRES STREET SALOON.

A Drunken Row Results in the Killing of John Schaeffer and the Wounding of John Bauer by an Alleged Arizona Cowboy.

 About 10 o’clock last night William Burton and two companions, named Charles Deats and Charles Geyger, entered the saloon of Hermann Schunn, at No. 153 Chartres street, and called for drinks. There was a large number of persons in the barroom at the time, most of whom had devoted the evening to copious libations.

~~~

Copious libations! Alleged Arizona cowboys! A Chartres Street saloon! Again, all great stuff for stories!

And if you’d like a different type of Christmas story, here’s another present—a link to an original manuscript facsimile of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.    

Happy Holidays to all!

Ana Brazil
Written by Ana Brazil

Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.

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