dailyhistoryorg
Wayne Baquet at his restaurant Lil’ Dizzy’s, New Orleans, LA, 2014  (Photo by Harold Baquet)
The Detective’s Descendants:  The Famous Baquet Family of New Orleans and their ties to Afro-Creole Detective John Baptiste Jourdain (the first African American Detective Ever to Make National News).
When I began researching and writing the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, I thought I might be the only person alive who knew the story.  Although the case had made national news throughout the summer of 1870, by the 21st century it somehow was all but forgotten despite the fact that the story was filled with historically significant events (including the sleuthing done by John Baptiste Jourdain—the first African American detective ever to make national news).  As I began to discuss my research at history conferences, however, I was contacted by descendants of key characters in the story including by a woman named Isabel Baquet, who lives in Atlanta. She had been doing genealogical research and discovered that her husband Edward is a descendant of J. B. V. Jourdain, the father of Detective Jourdain in the Digby case. She had seen online that I had delivered a conference paper about the Jourdains and was curious as to its content. Isabel and I became fast friends, sharing our knowledge of J. B. V., his wives Aimee and Marie, and their children.
Isabel led me to other Jourdain descendants, including her uncle Wayne Baquet, owner with his wife Janet of the renowned Creole restaurant Lil Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. Wayne and Janet are part of a storied branch of the Baquet clan. Wayne’s father and mother were also famous New Orleans restaurateurs. Other forbears were musicians who helped invent Jazz.  Wayne’s brother is the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. It is a complicated story, but both Wayne and Janet are Jourdain descendants, and they hold the title to the family tomb in New Orleans’s famous St. Louis Cemetery #1. Their restaurant is filled with memorabilia that commemorates the achievements of their family and other members of the city’s proud Afro-Creole community. On the center of the back wall is an enlarged copy of the petition the the Afro-Creoles of New Orleans presented to President Lincoln during the Civil War, urging him to grant black men the right to vote. At the bottom, amongst the petition’s signatories, are Detective Jourdain and his father J. B. V.
I am thrilled to announce that on October 17, 2014, Wayne and Janet will host me at a book event at their restaurant where we will discuss the role Detective Jourdain played in The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case and their family’s rich history.  The event starts at 5:30 and is free and open to the public:
Lil’ Dizzy’s Café 1500 Esplanade Ave. New Orleans, LA 70116 (504) 569-8997
For more on the history of the Baquet family and the famous gumbo at Lil’ Dizzy’s check out the Southern Foodways Alliance’s interview with Wayne:
http://www.southernfoodways.org/interview/lil-dizzys-cafe/

Wayne Baquet at his restaurant Lil’ Dizzy’s, New Orleans, LA, 2014  (Photo by Harold Baquet)

The Detective’s Descendants:  The Famous Baquet Family of New Orleans and their ties to Afro-Creole Detective John Baptiste Jourdain (the first African American Detective Ever to Make National News).

When I began researching and writing the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, I thought I might be the only person alive who knew the story.  Although the case had made national news throughout the summer of 1870, by the 21st century it somehow was all but forgotten despite the fact that the story was filled with historically significant events (including the sleuthing done by John Baptiste Jourdain—the first African American detective ever to make national news).  As I began to discuss my research at history conferences, however, I was contacted by descendants of key characters in the story including by a woman named Isabel Baquet, who lives in Atlanta. She had been doing genealogical research and discovered that her husband Edward is a descendant of J. B. V. Jourdain, the father of Detective Jourdain in the Digby case. She had seen online that I had delivered a conference paper about the Jourdains and was curious as to its content. Isabel and I became fast friends, sharing our knowledge of J. B. V., his wives Aimee and Marie, and their children.

Isabel led me to other Jourdain descendants, including her uncle Wayne Baquet, owner with his wife Janet of the renowned Creole restaurant Lil Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. Wayne and Janet are part of a storied branch of the Baquet clan. Wayne’s father and mother were also famous New Orleans restaurateurs. Other forbears were musicians who helped invent Jazz.  Wayne’s brother is the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. It is a complicated story, but both Wayne and Janet are Jourdain descendants, and they hold the title to the family tomb in New Orleans’s famous St. Louis Cemetery #1. Their restaurant is filled with memorabilia that commemorates the achievements of their family and other members of the city’s proud Afro-Creole community. On the center of the back wall is an enlarged copy of the petition the the Afro-Creoles of New Orleans presented to President Lincoln during the Civil War, urging him to grant black men the right to vote. At the bottom, amongst the petition’s signatories, are Detective Jourdain and his father J. B. V.

I am thrilled to announce that on October 17, 2014, Wayne and Janet will host me at a book event at their restaurant where we will discuss the role Detective Jourdain played in The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case and their family’s rich history.  The event starts at 5:30 and is free and open to the public:

Lil’ Dizzy’s Café
1500 Esplanade Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 569-8997

For more on the history of the Baquet family and the famous gumbo at Lil’ Dizzy’s check out the Southern Foodways Alliance’s interview with Wayne:

http://www.southernfoodways.org/interview/lil-dizzys-cafe/





The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: The Cast of Characters
NEW ORLEANS, Summer 1870—On June 9th, 17-month-old Mollie Digby was kidnapped from in front of her house by two African-American women while her mother was inside. The case soon made headlines as rumors swirled that the child had been abducted for use as a Voodoo sacrifice.  The search for the child and the media coverage expanded far beyond New Orleans, with leads arriving from as far away as Cincinnati.  
At the heart of the mystery of Mollie’s kidnapping that is the basis for my book THE GREAT NEW ORLEANS KIDNAPPING CASE are some compelling characters.  Below is a look at some of the key figures in the case:
Mollie Digby was 17-months-old when she was kidnapped from in front of her house in a working class neighborhood of New Orleans.  Her abduction quickly became intertwined with the tumultuous politics of Reconstruction as many residents saw it as a sign of a world turned upside down by the Civil War and emancipation. Her story would make the front pages again in 1932 when another baby was kidnapped from his home—the Lindbergh baby.
Thomas and Bridgette Digby were immigrants who had fled the Irish potato famine and settled in New Orleans.  Living in the flood prone  “back of town,” Thomas drove a hackney cab and Bridgette took in laundry and sewing.  The Digbys aspired to a better life for their three children.  When their 17-month-old daughter, Mollie, was kidnapped, they were thrust into the spotlight.
Ellen Follin was an attractive, well-dressed, mixed-race widow with three children.  After the police received a tip that a white child fitting the description of the Digby baby was seen at Follin’s house, she became one of the prime suspects in the case.  The press became fascinated by her style, erudition, cool demeanor, and the “scandalous” business she operated. 
James Madison Broadwell was once the captain of the Eclipse, the grandest and fastest steamboat on the Mississippi. He was so esteemed that his endorsement appeared in ads for cold remedies and other products. Fiercely proud and quick to defend his honor, he threatened violence when reporters suggested he may have masterminded the crime. 
John Baptiste Jourdain was 40-years-old and relatively new to the police force when he became the first African- American detective ever to make national news. Born in New Orleans in June 1830, Jourdain was the son of a free woman of color and a white Creole descendant of one of Louisiana’s founding families. New Orleans Chief of Police Algernon Badger made Jourdain lead detective in the sensational Digby kidnapping case, in part, for political reasons. 1870 was the height of Radical Reconstruction and the New Orleans police force had just been integrated.  If a black detective found the Digby baby or her abductors, Badger hoped it might dispel white fears that black law officers were not up to the task.
 Thirty-one-year-old, Massachusetts-born Algernon Sidney Badger was the new police chief in new Orleans. A tall, powerfully built Union Army veteran, Badger oversaw the integration of the city’s police force during Reconstruction and he was eager to demonstrate that his black officers and detectives could effectively and fairly protect the public’s safety.  When the kidnapping of Mollie Digby made headlines that spring, Badger appointed his best black detectives to the case.  Although many ex-Confederates could not stand the thought of armed black policemen patrolling the streets with full authority to arrest whites, Badger hoped that by solving a high-profile, racially explosive case his men could build public confidence in his integrated force.
Henry Clay Warmoth, was the 28 year old “boy governor” of Louisiana.  Democrats labeled the young, Illinois-born, Republican governor a “carpetbagger” who was foisted on the state by federal bayonets and the votes of former slaves. Warmoth believed he could win over the population with pro-business policies and Northern-style efficiency including skilled law enforcement.  He also became personally involved in the Digby case, offerring a large reward for the capture of the  kidnappers.

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: The Cast of Characters

NEW ORLEANS, Summer 1870—On June 9th, 17-month-old Mollie Digby was kidnapped from in front of her house by two African-American women while her mother was inside. The case soon made headlines as rumors swirled that the child had been abducted for use as a Voodoo sacrifice.  The search for the child and the media coverage expanded far beyond New Orleans, with leads arriving from as far away as Cincinnati.  

At the heart of the mystery of Mollie’s kidnapping that is the basis for my book THE GREAT NEW ORLEANS KIDNAPPING CASE are some compelling characters.  Below is a look at some of the key figures in the case:

Mollie Digby was 17-months-old when she was kidnapped from in front of her house in a working class neighborhood of New Orleans.  Her abduction quickly became intertwined with the tumultuous politics of Reconstruction as many residents saw it as a sign of a world turned upside down by the Civil War and emancipation. Her story would make the front pages again in 1932 when another baby was kidnapped from his home—the Lindbergh baby.

Thomas and Bridgette Digby were immigrants who had fled the Irish potato famine and settled in New Orleans.  Living in the flood prone  “back of town,” Thomas drove a hackney cab and Bridgette took in laundry and sewing.  The Digbys aspired to a better life for their three children.  When their 17-month-old daughter, Mollie, was kidnapped, they were thrust into the spotlight.

Ellen Follin was an attractive, well-dressed, mixed-race widow with three children.  After the police received a tip that a white child fitting the description of the Digby baby was seen at Follin’s house, she became one of the prime suspects in the case.  The press became fascinated by her style, erudition, cool demeanor, and the “scandalous” business she operated. 

James Madison Broadwell was once the captain of the Eclipse, the grandest and fastest steamboat on the Mississippi. He was so esteemed that his endorsement appeared in ads for cold remedies and other products. Fiercely proud and quick to defend his honor, he threatened violence when reporters suggested he may have masterminded the crime. 

John Baptiste Jourdain was 40-years-old and relatively new to the police force when he became the first African- American detective ever to make national news. Born in New Orleans in June 1830, Jourdain was the son of a free woman of color and a white Creole descendant of one of Louisiana’s founding families. New Orleans Chief of Police Algernon Badger made Jourdain lead detective in the sensational Digby kidnapping case, in part, for political reasons. 1870 was the height of Radical Reconstruction and the New Orleans police force had just been integrated.  If a black detective found the Digby baby or her abductors, Badger hoped it might dispel white fears that black law officers were not up to the task.

 Thirty-one-year-old, Massachusetts-born Algernon Sidney Badger was the new police chief in new Orleans. A tall, powerfully built Union Army veteran, Badger oversaw the integration of the city’s police force during Reconstruction and he was eager to demonstrate that his black officers and detectives could effectively and fairly protect the public’s safety.  When the kidnapping of Mollie Digby made headlines that spring, Badger appointed his best black detectives to the case.  Although many ex-Confederates could not stand the thought of armed black policemen patrolling the streets with full authority to arrest whites, Badger hoped that by solving a high-profile, racially explosive case his men could build public confidence in his integrated force.

Henry Clay Warmoth, was the 28 year old “boy governor” of Louisiana.  Democrats labeled the young, Illinois-born, Republican governor a “carpetbagger” who was foisted on the state by federal bayonets and the votes of former slaves. Warmoth believed he could win over the population with pro-business policies and Northern-style efficiency including skilled law enforcement.  He also became personally involved in the Digby case, offerring a large reward for the capture of the  kidnappers.

marossposts
marossposts:

vintagenola:

Confederate Veterans Parade - 1903
Photo by Alexander Allison

After the Civil War, Confederate veterans from across the South moved to New Orleans because the city’s infrastructure was intact after the war.  During Reconstruction, the presence of Jubal Early, John Bell Hood, and other Confederate “diehards” undermined Republican efforts to build a coalition of white and black business people who might put economic development ahead of racial and sectional animosity.  Most ex-Confederates opposed Republican Governor Henry Clay Warmoth and the editors of the newspapers they read lambasted Warmoth for integrating the New Orleans police force and appointing black detectives to solve the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case of 1870. Many of the men marching in the veterans parade above in 1903 would have had remembered the case well.

marossposts:

vintagenola:

Confederate Veterans Parade - 1903

Photo by Alexander Allison

After the Civil War, Confederate veterans from across the South moved to New Orleans because the city’s infrastructure was intact after the war.  During Reconstruction, the presence of Jubal Early, John Bell Hood, and other Confederate “diehards” undermined Republican efforts to build a coalition of white and black business people who might put economic development ahead of racial and sectional animosity.  Most ex-Confederates opposed Republican Governor Henry Clay Warmoth and the editors of the newspapers they read lambasted Warmoth for integrating the New Orleans police force and appointing black detectives to solve the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case of 1870. Many of the men marching in the veterans parade above in 1903 would have had remembered the case well.

How I Came to Write The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case

Every historian has a moment when, deeply immersed in old letters or newspapers, a story he or she wasn’t expecting catches their eye.  In that finding, he or she must decide if they are willing to be the one to dig in, do the research, and share this story that is begging to be told. 

Many people have asked how I came to discover the Digby kidnapping case that is the basis for my forthcoming book THE GREAT NEW ORLEANS KIDNAPPING CASE, out in October from Oxford University Press.

Eight years ago, when I was reading all of the 1870 New Orleans newspapers looking for references to the efforts by ex-Confederates to obstruct Reconstruction in Louisiana’s state and local courts, I stumbled across the story of an alleged Voodoo abduction that demanded a quick read. “That can’t possibly have happened,” I thought to myself. “The press had to have been spreading unfounded rumors.” The New Orleans papers, after all, also reported ghost sightings.

But to my amazement, each day’s paper contained new articles about the kidnapping—including accounts of the police arresting and interrogating Voodoo practitioners.  I was hooked, and just like the readers in 1870, I looked to each day’s newspapers for the latest revelations in the investigation. As I read on, I realized that the story was about more than a sensationalized kidnapping of a white child by two African-American women. The abduction, the investigation, and the trials that followed were deeply intertwined with the politics of Reconstruction in the South. 

I wanted to share that story and to use it to reveal the tumultuous world in which it took place.

image


Twelve Years A Slave, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, and the Ghosts of the Past in the Louisiana Cane Fields
Today, much of Rapides Parish, Louisiana seems just like everywhere else.  Around Alexandria, the suburban subdivisions, box stores, and crowded roads could be anywhere in the South. But, outside the city, there are still rural roads that run through the sugar cane fields where the past is close at hand. In the nineteenth century, the famous memoir Solomon Northrup wrote about being kidnapped and sold into slavery—Twelve Years a Slave—made the Rapides Parish cane fields synonymous in the North with harsh servitude and injustice. And today when the wind whips up before a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon, it can feel as if the ghosts of Northup and the other men and women who toiled in those fields still haunt the land. 
Less well known, but also evocative, were the events of 1870, after the Civil War and emancipation, when the cane fields of Rapides Parish became part of the frenzied pursuit of two African American women accused of abducting a white baby in what became known as the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case. The case made national headlines after rumors had circulated that Mollie Digby, the daughter of Irish immigrants, had been abducted for use as a human sacrifice in a Voodoo ceremony. A huge reward offered by the state’s Republican governor added to the intensity of the search.  In August 1870, a deputized posse from New Orleans arrived in Rapides Parish after a tip reached police that Mollie Digby’s abductors were hiding her in the former slave quarters of the Compton plantation, near Bayou Boeuf and the town of Cheneyville. 
When the posse reached the Compton place, they proceeded directly to the former slave quarters where many of the freedmen and freedwomen still lived. Once home to over 400 slaves, the plantation had been one of the largest in Rapides Parish before the war. Solomon Northup noted in Twelve Years A Slave the large number of his fellow bondsmen the Comptons bought at an auction where he was also sold. Following emancipation, some of the Comptons’ slaves stayed on, now working for wages.
Because the posse reached the quarters in the afternoon when almost all of the residents were still in the fields, the only person in sight was a young black girl, about eleven years old. To their surprise, the child seemed to know precisely why they were there. The visitors had not yet uttered a word when she asked, “Where is that little white girl?” “What do you know about a white child?” a posse member replied. Two women, she said, had been there with a white baby several times and had that morning left for a secret spot on the plantation, saying that someone was after them. That, she said, was all she knew. Elated by their good fortune and convinced they were close to capturing the kidnappers, the posse headed for the plantation’s “big house” to alert the Comptons that fugitives were hiding an abducted child on the grounds. 
Toche Compton, the plantation’s owner, agreed to aid the investigation. Louisiana planters strived to keep their work force, now free, under tight control, and Compton must have been alarmed when emissaries from New Orleans arrived to tell him that black kidnappers were hiding on his land. Springing into action, Compton summoned some of his most trusted black employees and offered them cash rewards if they could find out where the kidnappers were concealed. He and his men also paid their own visit to the old slave quarters to interrogate the girl who had reportedly seen the women with the stolen baby. The frightened girl initially denied knowing anything, but after close questioning claimed “that the lady had given her some money and promised her a new dress” to keep quiet.
By Tuesday morning, word of the search for the kidnapped baby had spread. The Comptons’ neighbors had followed the story—and news of the mounting rewards—in the newspapers, and they “flocked in from all points” to assist. When the initial search of the Compton estate failed to turn up the kidnappers, the dragnet expanded to include the surrounding plantations, roads, and piney woods. “Before night,” a posse member reported, “the whole section of the country was aroused into action.” 
For three days and nights, search parties fanned out across the parish, questioning field hands and any black people walking on public roads. For African Americans along the Red River, it must have been a harrowing week. At a time when terrorist organizations such as the Knights of the White Camellia were prowling the countryside, parties of white men on horseback with torches could not have been a welcome sight, even if in this case they were aiding a search authorized by the Republican governor.
Late in the afternoon on August 12, a traveler arrived claiming that he had seen two black women with a white baby driving in an old wagon on the road to Alexandria. A half-dozen riders rode off to overtake them. Reports also circulated that clothing belonging to Mollie Digby had been found near the road a few miles away. Certain they were “only three hours” behind the culprits, additional rescuers began “saddling horses to proceed with the search.”
Standing on those same roads today in August at dusk in the cane fields, it is easy to imagine that scene in 1870, the armed men on horses at full gallop riding off shouting about kidnappers and rewards.

Twelve Years A Slave, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, and the Ghosts of the Past in the Louisiana Cane Fields

Today, much of Rapides Parish, Louisiana seems just like everywhere else.  Around Alexandria, the suburban subdivisions, box stores, and crowded roads could be anywhere in the South. But, outside the city, there are still rural roads that run through the sugar cane fields where the past is close at hand. In the nineteenth century, the famous memoir Solomon Northrup wrote about being kidnapped and sold into slavery—Twelve Years a Slave—made the Rapides Parish cane fields synonymous in the North with harsh servitude and injustice. And today when the wind whips up before a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon, it can feel as if the ghosts of Northup and the other men and women who toiled in those fields still haunt the land.

Less well known, but also evocative, were the events of 1870, after the Civil War and emancipation, when the cane fields of Rapides Parish became part of the frenzied pursuit of two African American women accused of abducting a white baby in what became known as the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case. The case made national headlines after rumors had circulated that Mollie Digby, the daughter of Irish immigrants, had been abducted for use as a human sacrifice in a Voodoo ceremony. A huge reward offered by the state’s Republican governor added to the intensity of the search.  In August 1870, a deputized posse from New Orleans arrived in Rapides Parish after a tip reached police that Mollie Digby’s abductors were hiding her in the former slave quarters of the Compton plantation, near Bayou Boeuf and the town of Cheneyville.

When the posse reached the Compton place, they proceeded directly to the former slave quarters where many of the freedmen and freedwomen still lived. Once home to over 400 slaves, the plantation had been one of the largest in Rapides Parish before the war. Solomon Northup noted in Twelve Years A Slave the large number of his fellow bondsmen the Comptons bought at an auction where he was also sold. Following emancipation, some of the Comptons’ slaves stayed on, now working for wages.

Because the posse reached the quarters in the afternoon when almost all of the residents were still in the fields, the only person in sight was a young black girl, about eleven years old. To their surprise, the child seemed to know precisely why they were there. The visitors had not yet uttered a word when she asked, “Where is that little white girl?” “What do you know about a white child?” a posse member replied. Two women, she said, had been there with a white baby several times and had that morning left for a secret spot on the plantation, saying that someone was after them. That, she said, was all she knew. Elated by their good fortune and convinced they were close to capturing the kidnappers, the posse headed for the plantation’s “big house” to alert the Comptons that fugitives were hiding an abducted child on the grounds.

Toche Compton, the plantation’s owner, agreed to aid the investigation. Louisiana planters strived to keep their work force, now free, under tight control, and Compton must have been alarmed when emissaries from New Orleans arrived to tell him that black kidnappers were hiding on his land. Springing into action, Compton summoned some of his most trusted black employees and offered them cash rewards if they could find out where the kidnappers were concealed. He and his men also paid their own visit to the old slave quarters to interrogate the girl who had reportedly seen the women with the stolen baby. The frightened girl initially denied knowing anything, but after close questioning claimed “that the lady had given her some money and promised her a new dress” to keep quiet.

By Tuesday morning, word of the search for the kidnapped baby had spread. The Comptons’ neighbors had followed the story—and news of the mounting rewards—in the newspapers, and they “flocked in from all points” to assist. When the initial search of the Compton estate failed to turn up the kidnappers, the dragnet expanded to include the surrounding plantations, roads, and piney woods. “Before night,” a posse member reported, “the whole section of the country was aroused into action.”

For three days and nights, search parties fanned out across the parish, questioning field hands and any black people walking on public roads. For African Americans along the Red River, it must have been a harrowing week. At a time when terrorist organizations such as the Knights of the White Camellia were prowling the countryside, parties of white men on horseback with torches could not have been a welcome sight, even if in this case they were aiding a search authorized by the Republican governor.

Late in the afternoon on August 12, a traveler arrived claiming that he had seen two black women with a white baby driving in an old wagon on the road to Alexandria. A half-dozen riders rode off to overtake them. Reports also circulated that clothing belonging to Mollie Digby had been found near the road a few miles away. Certain they were “only three hours” behind the culprits, additional rescuers began “saddling horses to proceed with the search.”

Standing on those same roads today in August at dusk in the cane fields, it is easy to imagine that scene in 1870, the armed men on horses at full gallop riding off shouting about kidnappers and rewards.

Consulting Madame Ferris:  Detective Jourdain Turns to a Psychic for Help in the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case of 1870 

Pursuing all possible leads, Afro-Creole Detective John Baptiste Jourdain convinced Thomas Digby (the father of kidnapped Mollie Digby) to join him at the City Hotel for a consultation with Madame Ferris, a famed clairvoyant who was in New Orleans for a July performance. Although Police Chief Algernon Badger placed little faith in the power of psychics, Jourdain and many New Orleanians believed in them.  The city had a flourishing “Magnetic Society,” which published its own journal, Le Spiritualiste, and elite Creole families hosted séances and spirit circles in their French Quarter townhomes. White people who criticized adherents of Voodoo for their purportedly heathenish practices nevertheless offered their own credulous accounts of communications from dead relatives, Catholic saints, and other spirit guides. On the eve of the Civil War, New Orleans had an estimated 20,000 Spiritualist believers and the movement was still flourishing during Reconstruction. 

Some skeptics mocked the police for turning to a medium. The editor of the Commercial Bulletin, having caught wind of Jourdain’s mission, needled the “over-credulous” police for employing an “astrologer, clairvoyant, and table-rapper.” “If she proves to be a prophet,” the paper joked, “it is hoped she will next gratify the curiosity of the worshippers of Dickens by solving the ‘Mystery of Edwin Drood.’” Others applauded Jourdain for pursuing all possibilities. Madame Ferris, a correspondent to the New Orleans Times maintained, had “done so many extraordinary things” that she could “certainly find the child.” “Let it be tried,” he urged.

Consulting Madame Ferris:  Detective Jourdain Turns to a Psychic for Help in the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case of 1870 

Pursuing all possible leads, Afro-Creole Detective John Baptiste Jourdain convinced Thomas Digby (the father of kidnapped Mollie Digby) to join him at the City Hotel for a consultation with Madame Ferris, a famed clairvoyant who was in New Orleans for a July performance. Although Police Chief Algernon Badger placed little faith in the power of psychics, Jourdain and many New Orleanians believed in them.  The city had a flourishing “Magnetic Society,” which published its own journal, Le Spiritualiste, and elite Creole families hosted séances and spirit circles in their French Quarter townhomes. White people who criticized adherents of Voodoo for their purportedly heathenish practices nevertheless offered their own credulous accounts of communications from dead relatives, Catholic saints, and other spirit guides. On the eve of the Civil War, New Orleans had an estimated 20,000 Spiritualist believers and the movement was still flourishing during Reconstruction.

Some skeptics mocked the police for turning to a medium. The editor of the Commercial Bulletin, having caught wind of Jourdain’s mission, needled the “over-credulous” police for employing an “astrologer, clairvoyant, and table-rapper.” “If she proves to be a prophet,” the paper joked, “it is hoped she will next gratify the curiosity of the worshippers of Dickens by solving the ‘Mystery of Edwin Drood.’” Others applauded Jourdain for pursuing all possibilities. Madame Ferris, a correspondent to the New Orleans Times maintained, had “done so many extraordinary things” that she could “certainly find the child.” “Let it be tried,” he urged.



love-nola
vintagenola:

The Louisiana Superdome - 1980
Photo from the City Archives

Much of The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case took place in the neighborhood known as “the back of town” that was torn down in the mid-twentieth century and replaced by the Superdome.  On June 9, 1870, two African-American women abducted 17-month old Mollie Digby from in front of her home on the old Howard Street (today’s Lasalle Street that runs alongside the Dome).  The case quickly became intertwined with Reconstruction politics after rumors circulated that the Digby baby had been abducted for use as a Voodoo sacrifice during St. John’s Eve ceremonies on Lake Pontchartrain.

vintagenola:

The Louisiana Superdome - 1980

Photo from the City Archives

Much of The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case took place in the neighborhood known as “the back of town” that was torn down in the mid-twentieth century and replaced by the Superdome.  On June 9, 1870, two African-American women abducted 17-month old Mollie Digby from in front of her home on the old Howard Street (today’s Lasalle Street that runs alongside the Dome).  The case quickly became intertwined with Reconstruction politics after rumors circulated that the Digby baby had been abducted for use as a Voodoo sacrifice during St. John’s Eve ceremonies on Lake Pontchartrain.