-^,?m^ > ,
From the collection of the
T> "r m
San Francisco, California
LYLE SAXON, State Director,
EDWARD DREYER, Asst. State
Director, ROBERT TALLANT,
Material Gathered by Workers of
the Works 'Progress Administration,
Louisiana Writers' Project, and
Sponsored by The Louisiana State
Drawings by CAROLINK DURIFUX
Jacket and Decorations by *
LOUISIANA WRITERS PROJECT PUBLICATIONS
New Orleans City Guide
Louisiana State Guide
BOOKS BY LYLE SAXON
Fabulous New Orleans
Lafitte the Pirate
Children of Strangers
BOOKS BY ROBERT TALLANT
Voodoo in New Orleans
COPYRIGHT, 1945, BY THE LOUISIANA LIBRARY
COMMISSION, ESSAB M. CULVER, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY
WORKS PROJECT ADMINISTRATION
Howard 0. Hunter, Commissioner
Mrs. Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner
James H. Crutcher, Administrator for Louisiana
QPije JcUbrrBifir $re
PRINTED IN U. S. A.
GUMBO YA-YA 'EVERYBODY TALKS AT ONCE' IS
a phrase often heard in the Bayou Country of Louisiana.
This Gumbo Ya-Ya is a book of the living folklore of Louisiana.
As such it is primarily the work of those characters, real or imag-
inary, living or dead, who created this folklore. We wish to ex-
press our indebtedness, therefore, to Madame Slocomb, who was
so polite that she invited even the dead to her parties; and to
Valcour Aime and the golden plates at the bottom of the Missis-
sippi; to Monsieur Dufau and his ciel-de-lits, and to Tante Na-
omie, bold in her ' bare feets' at the blessing of the shrimp fleet;
to the ghost of Myrtle Grove and the loup-garous of Bayou
Goula; to Mike Noud and 'The Bucket of Blood,' and to Jennie
Green McDonald, left alone in the original Irish Channel; to
Mrs. Messina, who had everything, including half an orphan,
and to Mr. Plitnick, who had the timidity; to Miss Julie, who
rouged her roses, and to Mrs. Zito, who made everybody cry to
beat the band ; to Chief Brother Tillman, for whom Mardi Gras
was life, and to Creola Clark, 'who kept her mind on Mama'; to
John Simms,' Junior, the chimney sweep on a holiday, and to all
the vendors of pralines and calas tout chauds; to Evangeline and to
Lafitte the Pirate; to Annie Christmas and Marie Laveau; to Pere
Antoine and Pepe Lulla; to Mamzelle Zizi and Josie Arlington
and the hop head's love, 'Alberta'; to Long Nose and Perfume
Peggy; to Mother Catherine and the Reverend Maude Shannon;
to Coco Robichaux and Zozo la.Brique; to Crazah and Lala and
Banjo Annie; and to the Baby Doll who had been a Baby Doll for
The material for this book was gathered by members of the
Louisiana Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administra-
tion. The idea was suggested by Henry G. Alsberg in 1936; he
was then the National Director of the Federal Writers' Program.
We in Louisiana were pleased with the idea, and at every possible
opportunity assigned workers to the task of collecting the folk-
lore of the State.
The Louisiana Library Commission, of which Essae M. Culver
is Executive Secretary, has sponsored this book, as well as the
earlier publication, the Louisiana State Guide. The city of New
Orleans sponsored our first publication, The New Orleans City
It may be well to remember that Louisiana was first a French
colony, then Spanish, and that the territory was nearly a century
old before becoming a part of the United States. It was an agri-
cultural territory and many thousands of Negro slaves were im-
ported. In the plantation sections the Negroes outnumbered the
Whites five to one; consequently their contribution to the folk-
lore of the State has been large.
The Creoles, those founders of the French colony, contributed
their elegance, their customs, and cuisine. They influenced their
slaves and, in a sense, their slaves influenced them.
In Southwest Louisiana lived the Acadians or Cajuns, as
they are affectionately called those sturdy farming folk who,
driven from their homes in Nova Scotia at the end of the eight-
eenth century, populated that area.
It would seem that the whole of Louisiana was a peculiarly
fecund part of the Americas; the forests were filled with birds and
animals, the bayous and lakes were teeming with fish, and the
Creole mansions and the Cajun cottages were full of children.
In a leisurely collection of the folklore of the various racial
groups, we have attempted to have the collecting of material
done either by members of the groups themselves or by those long
familiar with such groups. For example, in the stories pertain-
ing to the Creoles much of the work was done by Madame
Jeanne Arguedas, Madame Henriette Michinard, Monsieur Pierre
Lelong, Caroline Durieux, and especially by Hazel Breaux, who
worked untiringly collecting Creole and other lore. Many old
families were consulted and their stories, their rhymes and jokes,
have been written down here for the first time. We are grateful,
too, to Archbishop Rummel and to Roger Baudier of ' Catholic
Action of the South' for advice and help.
The Cajuns have produced many State leaders, from Governor
Alexandre Mouton to Jimmy Domengeaux, the present repre-
sentative of the Bayou Country in Congress. In this book, how-
ever, we have attempted to treat only of those humbler dwellers
of their part of the State. Harry Huguenot, Velma McElroy
Juneau, Mary Jane Sweeney, Margaret Ellis, and Blanche Oliver
worked in those outlying districts.
Much of the information pertaining to the Negro was col-
lected by Negro workers. Robert McKinney gathered most of
the material in the chapter entitled ' Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus,
and Queens.' Marcus B. Christian, who was Supervisor of the
all-Negro Writers' Project, also contributed to the book, as did
Edmund Burke. Many Negroes who were not connected with
the Project offered information and suggestions. Among these
were Joseph Louis Gilmore, Charles Barthelemy Rousseve, author
of The Negro in Louisiana, President A. W. Dent of Dillard Uni-
versity, and Sister Anastasia of the Convent of the Holy Family.
In so far as we know, certain aspects of life in New Orleans
have not been recorded before, such as the chapters dealing with
Saint Joseph's and Saint Rosalia's Day, the Irish Channel, the
Sockserhause Gang, Pailet Lane, and the ' scares' in the chapter
entitled 'Axeman's Jazz,' in which are told the stories of such
folk characters as the Axeman, the Needle Man, the Hugging
Molly \ and the Devil Man. We have attempted also to explain
the mercurial and characteristic reactions to these horrors. Maud
Wallace, Cecil A. Wright, Catherine Dillon, Rhoda Jewell, Zoe
Posey, Joseph Treadaway, and Catherine Cassibry Perkins con-
tributed to these sections as well as to others.
The plates in this volume are from drawings by Caroline
Durieux; the ghost map, the headpieces, and the tailpieces are by
Roland Duvernet. Photographs, except for those where credit is
specifically given, were made by Victor Harlow.
We are grateful to those earlier writers who recorded some of
the phases of Louisiana folklore Alcee Fortier, Lafcadio
Hearn, Grace King, and George W. Cable as well as to such
contemporary writers as Doctor William A. Read, Edward
Laroque Tinker, Roark Bradford, and Doctor Thad St. Martin.
i. Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens . , i
2.. Street Criers . . . . .- .-'. . . .: . 1.7
3. The Irish Channel . -. . . . ;*" . " , 50
4. Axeman's Jazz . v . . . . ' .. " . " ,' 75
5. Saint Joseph's Day . . . . . . ~ ., 93
6. Saint Rosalia's Day ' w ' ". ... . . 107
7. Nickel Gig, Nickel Saddle . . . ' . . . 12.1
8. The Creoles '.,:.- ^ . . '. . . . 138
9. The Cajuns \ . . . . .... 179
10. The Temple of Innocent Blood ..... 107
11. The Plantations . .' . .''.:.'"'; . 2.12.
12.. The Slaves '. .... '.1 . ; 2.^4
13. Buried Treasure . . . . . . . . ^58
14. GhoStS * ;. . . . . . * . . 2.JI
15. Crazah and the Glory Road . . .' A .300
16. Cemeteries . . . . .' ; . . - . 316
17. Riverfront Lore . . . . ... .366
18. Pailet Lane . .- . 385
19. Mother Shannon . . ".- : ., ^ , ... 397
2.0. The Sockserhause Gang ,;. . . * . . 413
2.1. Songs . . , . . . .. > , .- '-..:, -. . :. 42.7
2.2.. Chimney Sweeper's Holiday , . . V . 488
2.^. A Good Man Is Hard To Find . .. . . . 496
2.4. Who Killa Da Chief? . . . & wQk . : . 505
A. Superstitions .... ; . . . . 5x5
B. Colloquialisms . . . .... -559
C. Customs . . . . 7 5^9
Index . . . . . ' . : . . . . ( . 575
List of Illustrations
SIGNATURE ONE BETWEEN PAGE 2.2. AND PAGE 2.}
The 'Baby Doll' Appears on Mardi Gras and Again on St. Joseph's Night
A Group of Baby Dolls
Queen and Maids of Honor at the Zulu Ball
King Zulu, the Negro Monarch of Mardi Gras
Negroes Dressed as Indians for Mardi Gras
SIGNATURE TWO BETWEEN PAGE 54 AND PAGE 55
The Rex Parade Passing the St. Charles Hotel on Mardi Gras
Adele Street Is the Heart of the Irish Channel
'I'm Irish and proud of it,' Says Mrs. Louise Allen
'Many a good fight have I seen,' Declares Michael Horn
Cover of a Piece of Sheet Music of the Axeman's Jazz Period
SIGNATURE THREE BETWEEN PAGE Il8 AND PAGE
Mrs. Caparo Has a Fine Altar to St. Joseph
'Saints' Eating by the St. Joseph's Shrine
An Elaborate Cake Baked in Honor of St. Joseph
Montalbano's Altar to St. Joseph
St. Rosalia Is Carried in Honor from Church to Church
Mrs. Zito Makes 'a Beautiful Speech' in Honor of St. Rosalia
DRAWINGS BY CAROLINE DURIEUX BETWEEN PAGE 150 AND
xii - List of Illustrations
SIGNATURE FIVE - BETWEEN PAGE 182. AND PAGE 183
A Cajun Oysterman of Barataria with his Oyster Tongs
A Cajun Fisherman's Family in their Bayou Home
Cajun Girls of the Bayou Country
Old Cajun Woman
Shrimp Fleet Waiting To Be Blessed
The Archbishop on the Way To Bless the Shrimp Fleet
SIGNATURE SIX - BETWEEN PAGE X^ AND PAGE
Statue of Mother Catherine
Mother Catherine's Statue of Jehovah
Mother Maude Shannon, Leader of a Popular Cult of Today
When the ' Mother' of a Cult Dies She Is Often Buried with a Crown
on her Head
SIGNATURE SEVEN - BETWEEN PAGE 2.78 AND PAGE 2.79
A Haunted Summer House at 'The Shadows' in New Iberia
The Strange Old LePrete House Has Many Ghostly Legends
Fort Livingstone and Grande Isle, Once the Haunt of Lafitte's Pirates
Madame Perrin Who Claims That Napoleon, John Paul Jones and Pirate
Lafitte Are Buried in the Same Grave
DRAWINGS BY CAROLINE DURIEUX - BETWEEN PAGE 310
SIGNATURE NINE - BETWEEN PAGE 342. AND PAGE 343
'Skeletons,' a Painting by Edward Schoenberger, Inspired by
New Orleans Cemeteries
'The Devil in a Cemetery,' Painting by John McCrady
The Mausoleum of Michael the Archangel
Old Tomb, Girod Cemetery
Charity Hospital Cemetery, the Potter's Field
St. Louis Cemeteries List Burial Prices
List of Illustrations - xiii
SIGNATURE TEN BETWEEN PAGE 406 AND PAGE 407
Part of the Ceremony That Precedes All Saints' Day
All Saints' Day in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery
On All Saints' Day Refreshments and Souvenirs Are Sold at the
'Banjo Annie,' One of the Gayer Characters of the Vieux Carre
New Orleans Chimney Sweeps
Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Qiieens
EVERY NIGHT IS LIKE SATURDAY NIGHT IN PER-
dido Street, wild and fast and hot with sin. But the night before
Mardi Gras blazed to a new height.
The darkness outside the bars was broken only by yellow
rectangles of light, spreading over the banquette, then quickly
vanishing, each time saloon doors opened and closed. Music
boxes blasted from every lighted doorway. Black men swag-
gered or staggered past, hats and caps pulled low over their eyes,
which meant they were tough, or set rakishly over one ear,
which meant they were sports. There were the smells: stale
wine and beer, whiskey, urine, perfume, sweating armpits.
In one dimly lighted place couples milled about the floor, hug-
ging each other tightly, going through sensuous motions to the
music. Drug addicts, prostitutes, beggars and workingmen, they
were having themselves a time. A fat girl danced alone, snap-
ping her fingers.
Young black women tried to interest men, who sagged over
the bars, their eyelids heavy from liquor and 'reefers.' One
woman screamed above the din: 'I'll do it for twenty cents, Hot
Papa. I can't dance with no dry throat. I wants twenty cents
2 - Gumbo Ya-Ya
to buy me some wine.' She did a little trucking step, raised her
dress, 'showed her linen.'
Harry entered. Somebody shouted: ' Shut off that damn music
box. Come on, Harry. Put it on, son!'
Harry, a lean brown boy in a red silk shirt and green trousers,
held a tambourine high, beat out an infectious tom-tom tempo
with one fist, huskily sang words that had no meaning, but in a
rhythm that was a drug. His greasy cap low over one ear, thick
lips drawn back from large white teeth, he performed a wild
dance, shoulders hunched, scrawny hips undulating.
There were comments. 'Man, those Indians gonna step high
tomorrow.' Harry's chant was one of the Indians' songs.
A small girl shoved her way through the crowd around the
singer. ' Wait '11 you see us Baby Dolls tomorrow,' she promised.
' Is we gonna wiggle our tails !' A man threw an arm around her
neck, drew her away, over to where they could do some ' corner
In the back room was the real man of the night. His face a
trifle blank from whiskey, his eyes sleepy, King Zulu held court.
This was his royal reception. Just now the King was pretty
tired. The Queen rose suddenly and moved away from the table,
her hips shaking angrily. If the old fool wants to go to sleep, let
him. She'll find herself somebody who can keep his eyes open
and likes some fun. She's a queen, and a queen has to have her
Nobody ever goes to bed on this night. Ain't tomorrow the
big day? Not until morning do they ever go home, and then only
to array themselves in costumed splendor.
But there is never any weariness about King Zulu on Carnival
Day. With his royal raiment, he magically dons fresh energy. A
few shots of whiskey and the trick is done. His head is up, his
posture majestic at least in the beginning of the day. Later he
may droop a bit.
Strongarmed bodyguards and shiny black limousines, rented
Kings , Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens - $
from the Geddes and Moss Undertakers, always accompany him
to the Royal Barge at the New Basin Canal and South Carrollton
Avenue. Cannons are fired, automobile horns blast, throats grow
hoarse acclaiming him. Many a white face laughs upward from
the sea of black ones, strayed far from the celebration just-com-
ing to life down on Canal Street.
There was suspense this morning. Impatient waiting. At
last, about nine o'clock, a tugboat pushed the Royal Barge away
from its resting place. Whistles shrieked. The horns and the
applause of the admiring throng increased. The King took a
swig from a bottle, yelled to one of his assistants, 'Listen, you
black bastard, you can help me all you want, but don't mess
'round with my whiskey.* Then he turned and bowed gra-
ciously toward the shore.
The other Zulus helped His Majesty greet the crowds.
'Hello, Pete. We is in our glory today.'
'What you say, black gal.'
'Ain't it fine?'
Never have any of the Zulus been highhat. Ed Hill, one of the
organization's overlords, said: 'See Zulu people? There is the
friendliest people you can find. They ain't no stuffed shirts.'
The Zulus emerged as a Mardi Gras organization in 1910,
marching on foot, a jubilee-singing quartet in front, another
quartet in the rear Birth had come the year before, when fifty
Negroes gathered in a woodshed. William Story was the first
king, wearing a lard-can crown and carrying a banana-stalk
scepter. By 1913 progress had reached the point where King
Peter Williams wore a starched white suit, an onion stickpin,
and carried a loaf of Italian bread as a scepter. In 1914 King
Henry rode in a buggy and from that year they grew increasingly
ambitious, boasting three floats in 1940, entitled respectively,
'The Pink Elephant,' on which rode the king and his escort,
'Hunting the Pink Elephant,' and 'Capturing the Pink Elephant.'
It was in 192.2. that the first yacht the Royal Barge was
rented, and since then the ruler of the darker side of the Carnival
has always ridden in high style down the New Basin Canal.
Clouds hung low this Mardi Gras Day of 1940. King Zulu and
4 Gumbo Ya-Ya '
his dukes sniffed heavenward. Let it rain. Little old water never
hurt a mighty Zulu. White-painted lips never lost their grins.
At Hagan Avenue the floats and supply of coconuts awaited
them. With all the dignity he could summon, King Zulu
mounted his 'Pink Elephant/ and the others clambered aboard
theirs. Carefully, His Majesty arranged his red-velvet-and-
ermine costume. Then a signal, and the parade was on.
Out Poydras Street to Carondelet they rolled, the thirteen-
piece band swinging out with Til Be Glad When You're Dead,
You Rascal, You,' in torrid style, sixteen black 'policemen' lead-
ing behind the long-legged Grand Marshal, who slung his body
about and around like a drum major. The music was so hot the
King started doing his number.
Onlookers leaped into the street, shouting, 'Do it, boy, King
Zulu is got his day.'
Once specially appointed black 'Mayor' Fisher, president of
the club, shouted: 'Doesn't you all know we is on our way to see
the white mayor? Let's make time.'
And time was made. Hot feet hit the street. More viewers
joined the parade and danced up a breeze. The maskers on the
floats slung coconuts like baseballs, right into the midst of their
Once the perspiring monarch uncrowned himself. Prince
Alonzo Butler was shocked. 'King, is you a fool or not? Don't
you know a king must stay crowned?'
This particular king wasn't really supposed to be king at all,
and he felt mighty lucky about it. Johnny Metoyer was to have
been the 1940 ruler, but Johnny had died months before. An
'evil stroke' had hit Johnny suddenly the November before and
within a few days Johnny was gone. This parade was partly in
celebration of his memory.
'Them niggers is going to put it on rough for ole John,' Charlie
Fisher had vowed. 'There ain't going to be no hurting feet and
things like that, either, 'cause them niggers don't get no hurting
feet on Mardi Gras Day. No, indeed. Them feet stays hot and,
boy, when they hits the pavement serenading to that swing
music, you can hear 'em pop. It's hot feet beating on the blocks. '
Manuel Bernard was the 1940 King Zulu and he was a born
New Orleans boy. Other days he drives a truck.
Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens
Gloom was in the air before Johnny Metoyer went to glory.
He had been president and dictator of the organization for
twenty-nine years, but had never chosen to be king until now.
And this year he had announced his intention of being king, and
then resigning from the Zulu Aid and Pleasure Club. This,
everyone had agreed, probably meant disbanding. It just
wouldn't be the same without ole John. Even the city officials
were worrying. It seemed like the upper class of Negroes had
been working on Johnny, and had at last succeeded.
The Zulus had no use for 'stuck-up niggers.' Their member-
ship is derived from the humblest strata, porters, laborers, and a
few who live by their wits. Professional Negroes disapprove of
them, claiming they ' carry on' too much, and ' do not represent
any inherent trait of Negro life and character, serving only to
make the Negro appear grotesque and ridiculous, since they are
neither allegoric nor historical.'
When, in November, 1939, word came that Johnny Metoyer
was dead, people wouldn't believe it. The night the news came,
the Perdido Street barroom was packed. Representatives of the
Associated Press, the United Press and the local newspapers
rubbed shoulders with Zulus, Baby Dol|s and Indians. The at-
mosphere was deep, dark and blue. Everybody talked at once.
'Ain't it a shame?'
'Poor John! He's gotta have a helluva big funeral.'
'Put him up right so his body can stay in peace for a long time
Somebody started playing 'When the Saints Come Marching
In,' written by Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong, Metoyer's bosom
friend. Then it is suggested that a telegram be sent to Arm-
strong. He's tooting his horn at the Cotton Club on Broadway,
but it is felt he'll board a plane and fly down for the funeral.
A doubt was voiced that any Christian church would accept
the body for last rites. 'John was a man of the streets, who ain't
never said how he stood on religion.' Probably, others said con-
fidently, if there were enough insurance money left, one of the
churches could be persuaded to see things differently. Of course,
he would be buried in style befitting a Zulu monarch. Members
must attend in full regalia, Johnny's body must be carried
6 - Gumbo Ya-Ya
through headquarters, there must be plenty of music, coconuts
on his grave. Maybe Mayor Maestri could be persuaded to pro-
claim the day a holiday in Zululand.
But Johnny had a sister; Victoria Russell appeared on the
scene and put down a heavy and firm foot. All attempts to make
the wake colorful were foiled. 'Ain't nobody gonna make a
clown's house out of my house,' said Sister Victoria Russell.
Even the funeral held on a Sunday afternoon, amid flowers
and fanfare and a crowd of six thousand was filled with dis-
appointments. Louie Armstrong had not been able to make the
trip down from New York. Sister Russell banned the coconuts
and the Zulu costumes.
At the Mount Zion Baptist Church Reverend Duncan mum-
bled his prayers in a whisper, peeping into the gray plush casket
every now and then. He opened with a reprimand. 'Does you
all know this is a funeral, not a fun-making feast?'
A drunken woman in the church yelled: 'I knows. It brings a
Reverend Duncan went on, while pallbearers raised Zulu ban-
ners. 'In the midst of life we is in death.'
The congregation san, 'How Sweet Is Jesus!'
Reverend Horace Nash knelt and prayed: 'Lawd, look at us.
Keep the spirit alive that makes us bow down before you. Keep
our hearts beating and our souls ever trustful today and to-
Somebody shouted, 'Don't break down, brother.'
Outside waited a fourteen-piece brass band and eighteen auto-
mobiles. Thousands marched on foot. The band struck up ' Flee
as a Bird,' and the cortege was on its way toward Mount Olivet
Cemetery. Everyone was very solemn, and there was not a smile
visible. All Zulus wore black banners draped across their chests
and their shoulders.
Then, after the hearse had vanished into the cemetery, the en-
tire aspect of the marchers changed. The band went into ' Beer
Barrel Polka,' and dancing hit the streets. Promenading in
Mardi Gras fashion lasted two hours, ending in Metoyer's own
place of business, where the last liquor was purchased and con-
sumed. Sister Russell, returning to the scene, then ordered all
Kings, Baby Dolls, Zulus, and Queens 7
Later a meeting was called in Johnny Metoyer's bedroom. His
belongings had been removed, but his razor strop still dangled on
one wall. A member, gazing at this sadly, remarked, 'John was
the shavingest man you wanted to see.'
At eight-thirty Reverend Foster Sair opened with a prayer.
'Lawd, we is back within the fold of the man who caused us
to be. We is sittin' here in his domicile. Help us never to forget
John L. Metoyer. Let us carry on the spirit of our founder. O
Lawd, preserve our club. Make it bigger and better. Let no evil
creep into it. Amen.'
Inspired by this, it was immediately decided that the Zulus
would 'carry on,' that there would be a parade this year, any-
way. Then Vice-President Charlie Fisher announced he was
stepping into the presidency, and that all other officers would
advance in office in proper order.
Definite insults followed from those who disapproved.
'Shut up!' someone admonished them. 'You is talkin' about
the President now.' j wu
There was more argument and bickering in the meetings that
followed. Manuel Bernard, friend of Fisher, was at last chosen
to be the 1940 king. At this meeting the music box in the front