Last night I watched American Experience: New Orleans. It’s a 2 hour long PBS movie that gives a quick history of the city.
Everybody knows New Orleans is a very old city, and people there will tell you that there are many, many traditions. Such as picnics in cemeteries, to most of us that’s strange. Why would someone want to have a picnic in a cemetery, because it’s an entirely different culture in this city.
New Orleans was established as a city in 1718. In the movie Ari Kelman ( art historian) said “It was the worst place imaginable to put a city…on the other hand it was the best place to put a city.” I think a person gets a better perspective when this next line follows – “ We live in a bowl surrounded by water on a flood plain.” I don’t remember exactly who said it in the movie but it helps give someone an idea if you if they’re like me and from North Dakota, where it is pretty much just flat.
I think it’s safe to say in that sense, being surrounded by water, New Orleans has always had a close relationship with water.
New Orleans was known as the most unsanitary city because they had no sewage system. The drinking water for the city was pulled straight from the river, which was also used as a dumping ground for most of the cities waste. In 1914, the city finally had a drainage system.
A pump called the ‘wood pump’ was invented. It was a strong enough to lift the water and push it over the levees. After this they started to drain certain areas in order to expand the city, this started in 1920.
On April 15, 1927 it started raining and it rained a lot. A bolt of lightning struck the pump stations and they all stopped. The city flooded, there was 4 feet of water in the city. I did not know New Orleans had a previous struggle with flooding prior to Katrina.
The board of self appointed bankers in New Orleans then decided they needed to do something drastic to help the city. What did they decide? They decided to blow up the levees so the water would go over the natural flood plain. They evacuated the areas and promised the people compensation for the flooding of their homes.
In the end it took 39 tons of dynamite and 10 days to destroy the levee. And the levee further away broke – just like predicted. So really there was absolutely no reason to blow up the levee and make so many people homeless. Those people were never compensated and the bankers decided to deduct the cost of feeding those people from any settlement they would bring forward. This was such a big event in New Orleans at the time, the newspapers blew up and cause absolute panic in the city.
Then we jump to August 29th 2005 something even worse happened to New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina hit and disaster ensued. I lived in North Dakota on the exact opposite side of this event, of the United States. Of course we heard about it, but unless you were close to it or actually there I don’t think anybody knew or understood the true story of Katrina. I will admit I didn’t and still don’t know a lot about Katrina and New Orleans but know I’ve been drawn in to the city, just by one video and a magazine.
In the video towards the end a woman said “ Nobody helped New Orleans, so in the end we helped ourselves.” Another described the city as “a city too unruly to rule”. This in the end helped them pull through as a community and to survive.
I just want to add that I’m so happy that things pulled together and I get to have an opportunity like this with great people at a great school.