Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Legacy of Jean Lafitte

Jean Lafitte’s presence in the city of New Orleans is pretty much limited to a tavern known as Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Legend has it this shop was once a front for the Lafitte brothers’ smuggling operation. While they surely had a warehouse or two in the city, there is no real evidence linking them with this building or address.

It is, however, a pretty cool tavern, and said to be one of the oldest buildings in the U.S. They sold me a T-shirt stuffed inside a souvenir plastic cup. The cup proclaimed it to be the “Oldest Bar in the USA Since 1772”.

On our visit to the city last year, one of the French Quarter souvenir shops was named Pirate Jean Lafitte. But the only actual Lafitte items they stocked were T-shirts (like the one above) and they were going out of business. Though my wife and I  poked our noses into just about every tourist junk shop in the Quarter, I saw not a single coffee cup, key chain, baseball cap or ballpoint pen with Lafitte’s likeness on it.

The State of Louisiana remembers Lafitte (at least in name) with the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. This umbrella name is given to parks and preserves all over the area, including much of the swamp and bayou area Lafitte used for his smuggling operation. BUT, near as I can tell, within all that territory there is not a single historical site, museum or even monument devoted to Lafitte himself. I got this refrigerator magnet at Chalmette Battlefield, site of the final (and climactic) confrontations of the Battle of New Orleans.

Lafitte is the patron saint of the annual Contraband Days in Lake Charles, LA. They bring in big-name music acts and hold sporting competitions, but other than a few folks dressing up as pirates it sounds much like any other community festival.

I suspect Lafitte would be highly amused to see his name emblazoned on the side of a police car.

The old guy would also be amused to see himself on YouTube. This video, like almost any other source of Lafitte info, contains a number of historical boners, but it’s still a good view.


Deka Black said...

Seems a pretty nice tavern. And the date certainly is old! For the USA, i mean.But fpor me, the best is the police car with the name of a pirate in it! If i were Lafitte, i will die again suffocated by my laughing

For old buildibngs.. well. I'm european. The church in my birth town has 800 years! But thanks to this i can apreciate the historical sense of the dates.

I mean. 1772 is before the declaration of independence of the 13 colonies of New England, right? is old, very old.

David Barber said...

That's a great looking tavern. If that was in England, they'd knock it down to build apartments on the land. Luckily, I now live in Scotland where they look after their old and important building. I also love the 'pirate' police car.

Great post, Evan, and thanks for this ongoing history lesson.

Ron Scheer said...

The important thing is that Lafitte survived Katrina. Not everybody can say that.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Haha, that is pretty funny with Lafitte's name on the side of a police car.