Postcards From New Orleans, c.1905

By Sean Jewell::

Another Mardi Gras has come and gone. Seeking vicarious thrill, I stumbled upon these images of New Orleans circa 1905, via the New York Public Library digital archive. These post cards, made by Detroit Photographic Co., were made using a Swiss process called photochrom, later called Phostint. The tinted halftone style was a cheaper way to mass produce color images of the black and white negatives by photographers since true color photographs were still very expensive. Detroit Publishing Co. had capitalized on a craze in the US of sending postcards as correspondence, and many of the photographs these were made from came from photographer William Henry Jackson, who joined the company as a partner, and later ran it. Skimming the contents of the library I even found what may be one of the original William Henry Jackson photographs used to make a post card:


JacksonSq - Copy

What’s really fun about some of these post cards is not only the fact that over 100 years later most of these places can still be seen. Jackson Square looks just about the same. St. Roche and the The Market still stand, and the mighty Mississippi hasn’t aged a bit. The inscriptions are annotated below. Some seemed banal to me at first, as if to reveal that life only stays the same, if  you think about it they’re pretty revealing. In the photo of the cemetery the sender talks of mosquitoes, particularly interesting because yellow fever was still a very real problem hundreds of people per year in New Orleans were dying from. One postcard refers to the trolley system, New Orleans had just gotten streetcars. Things like electricity, and Jazz, were new! Another postcard quotes American realist, and creole documentarian, author G.W. Cable, whose southern gothic style might have influenced William Faulkner, and whose essays on racial equality and opposition Jim Crow resulted in his fleeing the violent south 20 years earlier. He mentions the colonial era of the French and Spanish. At this time 1/4 of New Orleans residents spoke French. Of course Mardi Gras is a frequent topic, and has been around longer than Louisiana has been a state, taking place here since 1699.


Having a great time down here in the cotton and cane. How’s college.
“We is came” hope to see you soon –The “B’s”
StRoch - Copy
looks like Ireland
teasing ma - Copy
Hope you are a good girl and do your practicing without teasing ma. –Pappa.
takingcare - Copy
Are you taking good care of ma –Papa
StCharles - Copy
May 18 1904 The red bldg. is the hotel we are stopping at, it has one thousand bed rooms. We leave for Atlanta the end of the week. The weather is fine am enjoying every moment. (Illegible) admired silk crosswaist. it fits so well and is so pretty. Remember me to Paul. Love, (Illegible)
ShirtWaist - Copy
I just rode by here on a trolley car. it is very warm and dusty. Ladies wear shirt waists and no coats and the car windows are all down.
SeeinNOla - Copy
Oct. 26 – 1904 We are seeing New Orleans.
Mosquitoes - Copy
We have arrived in this “old place” again. Had a splendid passage. It is just beginning to get hot out here. The mosquitoes are making themselves felt. But they will need some more hot weather before they will be able to bite very hard. Hope by then that we will be away.
Lovetoall - Copy
Love to all – Pa
LeaveTomorrow - Copy
23/10/06 Leave tomorrow. Hope you had a good time in Sheffield.
JacksonSq - Copy
Letters at hand. Write later.
History - Copy
New Orleans is, in many ways, one fo the most picturesque and interesting cities in America, owing to the survival of the buildings, manners, and customs of its original French and Spanish inhabitants. It has been described by Mr. G.W. Cable as “a city of villas and cottages of umbrageous gardens, intersected by 470 miles of unpaved streets, shaded by forest trees, haunted by song-birds, fragrant with a wealth of flowers that never fails a day in the year, and abundant, in season, with fruit –the fig, the plum, the pomegranate, the orange.” The famous Mardi Gras Carnival celebrated here is perhaps the most picturesque festival in the country.
HelloLouis - Copy
Hello Louis How’s the violin
firstthing - Copy
Saw this the first thing. It is very hot here.
Elpasonext - Copy
We leave here on Wednesday next job El Paso Texas –I shall write you from there.
Crowds - Copy
Feb 26 Summer is here. Flowers in blossom. We are trying to enjoy Mardi Gras in spite of the crowds here (illegible). We are well. (illegible)