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Bygone Days of the Big Easy


A compendium of rare photographs captures the soul of New Orleans

New Orleans is steeped in history, but looking around at the wrought-iron balconies, stately homes and majestic oak trees, we can only imagine what it was once like. A new book offers a rare peek at the Crescent City during a nearly 100year time span.

Historic Photos of New Orleans is a treasure trove of images honoring the city’s cultural and historical significance from 1870 to 1969. Author and historian Melissa Lee Smith meticulously researched more than 200 black-andwhite photographs from both public and private collections that beautifully capture the essence of old New Orleans, its buildings, streets and people cloaked in another place and time. Historic Photos of New Orleans offers a precious glimpse of once-grand hotels and magnificent churches, many, having succumbed to fire or flood, that no longer exist; images of Mardi Gras floats, maskers and parade-goers strolling vaguely familiar streets that elicit the spirit of Carnival as we know it today; and candid snapshots of our ancestors—the diverse blend of people and cultures that made up the city—as they go about their daily lives. The French Market, City Park, a bustling riverfront, sprawling Canal Street: all that’s central to New Orleans appears in the nostalgic pages of this fine publication.

A collaborative effort between Turner Publishing and Smith, Historic Photos of New Orleans combines images taken by professional photographers of the day with pictures snapped by amateur tourists visiting the city. Accompanying each photograph are insightful captions that read like brief history lessons, detailing the historical importance of the image and oftentimes including tidbits to entertain and enlighten.

There’s no better time than the present for such a book to honor the spirit and character of our unique city. As Smith says: “We need to be custodians of our buildings. The city is such a treasure architecturally . . . we can all be these amazing historians. We can all go out and take pictures that may not be of any value today, but 100 years from now can be of great value. All of us can be participants in documenting our city’s history, and the beauty of the city.”