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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

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 anthologies: 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.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

βš“Brothels Scholars and Wine / May 2021

Yours Truly in a Swamp

(A version of this story first appeared in June of 2005)

Brothels Scholars
and Wine 
Leonard Earl Johnson


The House of the Rising Sun 

L. A. Norma crushed her cigarette on the kitchen dormer's ledge and dribbled the last of her coffee over the scar.  "Coffee, the best damn restoration there is." She pulled the window closed, and led us down the stairs of Squalor Heights, Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans. It was the first Spring day of 2005.  

Our plans were to heel and toe it into the nearby-faraway French Quarter and eyeball addresses at the Williams Research Centre that might have been, "That house in New Or-leens they called The Rising Sun." 

We learned of the Rising Sun during the fabled 1960s, when still in school in Illinois.  It was a lifetime before Hurricane Katrina and we were young.  

British invasion folk singer, Eric Burdon (The Animals) recorded a musical siren that called up the Mississippi River Valley to Carbondale, dazzling our minds and tickling our libidos into driving through the night in search of that house in New Orleans.
βš“ *  *  βš“
 πŸ· 🍾

Today we are much older, have lived in coastal Louisiana for nearly half a century, and are still searching for the House of The Rising Sun.


Searching the Historic New Orleans Collection's Williams Research Centre netted three addresses with clear connections to such. 

The staid Historic New Orleans Collection owned one of them, at 535-37 Rue Conti. Today it is a respectable conference hall and exhibitions gallery for the Williams Centre.  But once, the site housed a hotel named House of the Rising sun.

"A gripping clue," L. A. Norma said, exhaling Camel Cigarette smoke onto the street before we buzzed for admission.

The Conti site was actually cause for the wave of 2005's  speculation about such a house of prostitution in New Orleans.  It is today physically opened to its next-door neighbor, the Williams Centre ~ itself housed in what once was a City police station.  Across Rue Chartres sits the massive Louisiana Supreme Court building.

"Perfect spot for a whorehouse," Norma said, as her smoke signal wafted away. 

The Williams Centre houses public records, news clippings and other references to most buildings in Big Swamp City.

Our visit was an experience like college must have been for those who actually attended classes, rather than thundering through the night in pursuit of this house ~ or its modern replacement. 

Hard but comfy wooden chairs sat around well-lighted tables.  The room was quiet, clean and serene. Save for 

William's Research Centre, Historic New Orleans Collection

an anomalous
 loon bobbing about bumping furniture in pursuit of his own elusive truths. 

"Such are the rewards of library visits every where," Norma said wagging her finger.  "Must you make such a racket?" she asked. The lanky youth glared back and said, "Yes," he must. 

The Williams Center's Pamela D. Arceneaux hushed the scene, and assured us, with the firm voice of a research librarian, "No ironclad evidence has ever been found of any such Rising Sun ever existing." 

"Not as she would ever know," Norma whispered, with an exaggerated downturn of her eyes and nose. 

Actually she would know. Arceneaux had written on this very subject in recent books and magazine articles responding to the fact that during the annex renovation a multitude of rouge pots and wine bottles were found discarded over the years under the building. NaΓ―ve dry landers writing in distant publications concluded these were indications of a certain joie de la vie in old New Orleans.

Not so saithe 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 old wine bottles under any building 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. From my personal experience more than a century and a half later sailing out of NOLa as a Son of the Sea, I am inclined to place a small bet on this upper Decatur Street neighborhood being the site. 

"It surely held similarities to our Decatur Street, today," Norma said.  Under the stern glare of Research Librarian Archnoux, Norma slipped her Camel Cigarette back in to its bronze and white package.

The third site we found was at 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 a Marianne LeSoleil Levant -- a name that loosely translates from French to English as, "Rising Sun." 

Maybe. But my money stays on the coffee shop at 115 Decatur.

* * *

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, it is not thought to have been a house of ill repute. It was a parking garage at the 1992 time of purchase by the Historic New Orleans Collection. 

History can be a fickle pickle and no more confirming evidence than that exists as to where -- or even if -- such a house existed. We think it did. 

"Several of them always exist," Norma said, as we stepped out onto Rue Chartres. 

From the safety of her smoke screen she added: "Ask former U. S. Senator David Vitter, Republican who would now be running for governor had he not ~ on his way home from the brothel ~ fired a shot at Bill Clinton."  

Copyright, 2021, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved

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