As a part of Carolina Meadows’ October celebration of the “Roaring Twenties,” John Shelton Reed, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UNC, will demonstrate that Paris was not the only city that attracted cultural rebels. His latest publication, Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s, reveals the social and artistic ferment that took place at the same time in New Orleans. He will discuss his new book at a Meet the Author event for residents later this month.
New Orleans in the 1920s was populated by Bohemians, many of them, according to John, “internationally famous, at least locally!” The most internationally famous was William Faulkner. Another, with whom Faulkner co-authored a book about the Bohemian scene, was one William Spratling. Other Bohemians were Marian Draper, a dancer and Tulane University cheerleader; Genevieve Pitot, a great female pianist who toured with the fan dancer Sally Rand; Natalie Scott, a prominent equestrienne; and several famous Mardi Gras clothing designers. Surprisingly, New Orleans was not yet famous for music, as jazz had not yet fully emerged.
New Orleans was also a source of many prominent journalists, one of whom was in Berlin when Adolph Hitler came to power, suggesting that New Orleans journalists were good and went to the big stories, wherever they were. The Bohemians did a lot of drinking. The mother of UNC Professor Hodding Carter, scion of a legendary and progressive journalistic family in Mississippi (and whose grandson spoke at Carolina Meadows in September), once counted 74 bars in a nine-block New Orleans radius. The drink of choice for Faulkner and his fellow imbibers was absinthe.
Although the term Creole nowadays may be used to refer to persons of mixed race, the Creoles of the ‘20s were white descendants of French and Spanish settlers. New Orleans was strictly segregated. As John emphasizes, “This city was in the Deep South!” Professor Reed’s research, which included some two months “on the ground” in New Orleans, reveals that there were many gay men in the city, as well as more than 8,000 Jews and many Italians, most of them from Sicily. Residents who attend the talk can learn about the novel William Faulkner wrote in “tribute” to the city’s relentless humidity and view rare photos of the Bohemians who inhabited the French Quarter.
UNC enthusiasts will want to learn about Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis, a famous New Orleans de-signer in the ‘20s, who was a Carolina alumnus, class of 1909. In the ‘20s Curtis came back to Chapel Hill long enough to design Gimghoul Castle to be used as a residence by a secret student order. The Castle still stands, and the secret order apparently persists. (If I knew any more about that, I probably would not tell. We value tradition at Carolina.)
From resident Public Relations Committee member Paul Hardin