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Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

House of the Rising Sun / August 2017

Yours Truly in a Swamp
August 2017

House of the Rising Sun
~  Of Scholars, Brothels, and Drink  ~
Leonard Earl Johnson

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L. A. Norma crushed her cigarette on the old dormer window's wooden ledge, then dribbled coffee grounds from her cup over the scar. "Coffee, best damn restoration there is," she said.

We are in the kitchen at Squalor Heights, my pre-K garret apartment in the Faubourg Marigny Triangle, between Esplanade and Elysian Fields ~ on the downstream edge of the French Quarter.

Norma pulled down the window and led us down two flights of in-and-out stairs.  First flight was behind a locked door, and under cover of wall and roof.  The next two were outside, exposed to the wind and rain. 

Squalor Heights was only up one floor, but the second floor was up three flights ~ a ventilation feature of antebellum Louisiana houses. 

It was a typical Spring day dotted with rain. The year was 2005. We were steeped in search of the past, with no thought to possible Summer hurricanes. I will only tell you the outside stairs blew away later on the very day I last climbed them, as Hurricane Katrina came ashore on big clawing cat's feet ~ but that is another poem. 

This day's story is about heel-and-toeing it into the nearby faraway French Quarter, and eyeballing addresses ~ like a private gumshoe ~ that might have been, "That House in New 'Or-leens' They Call The Rising Sun."

We first learned about the Rising Sun in the Fabled Sixties, from a popular song by British-rock invaders, Eric Burdon and the Animals. They made New Orleans dance in our heads and pants! 

The irresistible siren of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll has called many an Illinois college boy to all-night drives in pursuit of a randy weekend among the fleshpots of adult themed ports. 


Diligence at the Historic New Orleans Collection's Williams Research Center ~ and a ten-cent martini lunch at Bacco, down the street ~ netted three addresses with possible connections to the House of the Rising Sun

The staid Historic New Orleans Collection itself owned one of them at 535-37 Rue Conti. Once the address of a hotel named House of the Rising Sun.

"That's a clue," Norma said, over her second martini. 

Today the site is a proper exhibition and storage annex to the Williams Research Center, around the corner, on Rue Chartres. This annex is cause for much speculation about, "That house in New 'Or-leens'."


The Williams Research Center was an experience for me like college must have been for those who actually attended classes rather than driving to New Orleans. 

Hard, but comfy straight-backed wooden chairs sat around well lighted tables, inside a room quiet, clean and serene ~ save for the occasional scholar bobbing about bumping into furniture while in pursuit of his own elusive truths. 

"Must you make such a racket?" L. A. Norma asked one young man. 

The lanky youth glared back and said, "Yes!"

We left for our ten-cent martini lunch break, accompanied by the Williams Center's Pamela Arceneaux, who assured us with the authoritative voice of research librarian's everywhere: "No ironclad evidence existed of any such 'Rising Sun' ever existing."

"What of that name on your building long ago?" Norma asked. "What would you know of that?"

Actually she would know a lot. Arceneaux has written on the subject of prostitution in New Orleans ~ a City licensed profession until WWI ~ and been quoted on this 'Rising Sun' topic in recent books and magazine articles. Because?

During the  annexe's renovation a multitude of rouge pots and wine bottles were discovered under the building, discarded over the past three or four hundred years. Naïve dry-landers in distant publications concluded these were indications of a certain joie de vie giving further rise to legends of The Rising Sun.

Not so fast, saith Pamela D. Arceneaux :

"I have made a study of the history of prostitution in New Orleans and have often confronted the perennial question, 'Where is the House of the Rising Sun?' without finding a satisfactory answer.

"Although it is generally assumed that the singer is referring to a brothel, there is actually nothing in the lyrics that indicate that the 'house' is a brothel. Many knowledgeable persons have conjectured that a better case can be made for either a gambling hall or a prison; however, to paraphrase Freud: sometimes lyrics are just lyrics."

Not to mention that one would likely find discarded rouge pots and wine bottles under most buildings in New Orleans.

The second site we found named Rising Sun was an 1800's coffee house, at #9 Old Levee Street ~ now 115 Decatur. 

Captain LEJ.org

From my experience ~ as a Son of the Sea ~ I am inclined to place my brothel bet on this upper Decatur neighborhood.  Before 2005, I recall it was populated with bars friendly to the needs of Sailors in from the Deep Blue Sea.

The third site was 826-32 Rue Saint Louis. It is listed in BIZARRE NEW ORLEANS, by Frank G. Fox, as having been owned, from 1862 to 1874, by Marianne LeSoleil Levant ~ a name that loosely translates from French to English as, 'Rising Sun.' 

"There's that name again," Norma said. "Maybe the term is generic for something? Like 'up with the rising sun and off to Sea', or someplace."

"Maybe," I said, "But my money stays on the coffee shop at 115 Decatur.

The newest candidate ~ what is now the Williams Center's  annex ~ was destroyed by fire in 1822. 

Though it had been a hotel by the name, House of the Rising Sun, for the preceding thirteen months before the fire, it is not thought to have been a house of ill repute. (It was a 20th Century parking garage, in 1992, at the time of purchase by the Historic New Orleans Collection.)

"So some of those wine bottles came from drunken motorist and parking attendants?" Norma asked like Plato.

History can be a fickle pickle, and no more confirming evidence than that exists as to where ~ or even if ~ such a house existed.

"I think it still does, several do," Norma said, as we stepped out on Rue Chartres. She lit a Camel Cigarette, and through its smoke puffed out, "Ask the man who would be Governor, former Senator David Vitter!"

A version of this story first appeared in June of 2005 ~ 

Copyright, Leonard Earl Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

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~ more ~
Lagniappe du Jour,
~ You Tube
~ ~ ~
50 years later
~ you tube 

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Pamela D. Arceneaux

~  ~
Historic New Orleans Collection


 Sam Rey, "Meet Me in New Orleans"
Sam Rey's masterpiece Song of New Orleans after Katrina ~ You Tube
~   ~   ~
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© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
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Go here For  

and such falderal ...

If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. 
They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
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and periodically 
at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
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It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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Note: LEJ, 29 August 2008, in ConsumerAffairs.com

New Orleans: Three Years Later
A Katrina refugee pays a return visit

By Leonard Earl Johnson