Heart of New Orleans: Part 1

Heart of NOLA Segment 1

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - New Orleans throughout its 300-year history it is a city that moves to its own unique rhythm.

"It's just a happy go lucky place and the music reflects that," says Tim Laughlin.

A sound that still blossoms on the streets of Treme.

"We have so much influence on the rest of the world, so much influence on our kids," says Derrick Tabb.

From its very beginning, New Orleans is a city founded on faith. The Ursuline nuns arrive in a settlement that's only nine-years-old.

"Take five days coming up river sleeping on sandbars," says Emilie Leumas.

It is a city where a Creole woman of color shuns the rules of society to found a new religious order.

"It will be something great to say that we have our very own saint, native-born saint here," says Sr. Greta Jupiter.

It's where an orphaned Irish immigrant who survives crushing sorrow in her own life cares for countless orphan children.

"Her heart was taken by himself. Above," says Danny O'Flaherty.

New Orleans is the site of a decisive battle where a young nation saves its independence from a king.

"I don't think that another American general could have succeeded," says Jason Wiese.

Throughout its three centuries. it is a city of immigrants.

"If you called it Italian, nobody's going to buy it except Italians. So instead of calling it Italian, he called it Roman," says Ron Kottemann.

New Orleans is a place where history is on display from steam power on the river to streetcars on the avenue. You find the heart of New Orleans in its carefree attitude and in its monumental struggles. It's three centuries in the making that begins on a crescent-shaped bend in a mighty river. It was this river that attracted the earliest settlers to New Orleans. The same river that today makes New Orleans such a vital port for America. When the French chose to build their settlement along a crescent shape bend in the river, they were moving into an area that was already inhabited by Native Americans.

"The archeological levels suggest that Native Americans congregated on what we now call New Orleans and stayed here long enough to use and discard things, to have meals to maybe establish temporary shelter," says John Lawrence.

John Lawrence is with the Historic New Orleans Collection, which recently featured an exhibition on the city's founding era with artifacts from native Americans like a pair of bear claw moccasins and pottery. Items that would have been common to tribes in the area. France's claim to Louisiana was recognized in a treaty that ended the Pan-European War.

"When that concluded in 1697, one of the consequences was the recognition of the French claim to Louisiana, which LaSalle had made in 1682. And in fact, the notarial document that was executed at LaSalle's claiming Louisiana is part of this exhibition," says John Lawrence.

From its very beginning, the settlement of New Orleans was laid out in a neatly organized grid. There were beautiful depictions of a New Orleans complete with mountains to lure new settlers. And this drawing of an infant city shows New Orleans only eight years after it was founded.

"I think it shows very well the scattered nature of the houses that were along this cleared spot."

One year later, this new struggling settlement would see the arrival of a dozen French nuns whose presence is still felt today in New Orleans. These wooden steps show the wear and tear of nearly three centuries.

"These are the ones on this side that really have a nice dip in them and they're very worn," says Emilie Leumas.

The stairs take you up and down. Three floors of the old Ursuline convent in the French Quarter, the oldest building, not only in New Orleans but the entire Mississippi River valley. The old convent building dates back to 1750. That's about 25 years before the United States became a country, but it replaced an original structure that was built 15 years earlier. The stairs are all that remain of the original structure. Today the building is a museum that tells the story of the first 12 Ursuline nuns who came to the tiny village of New Orleans in 1727. Their journey from France took five months. This arrival scene was drawn by one of those first nuns.

"They ran into pirates. They ran aground. They get to the mouth of the Mississippi River. They have to transfer to other small boats. Take five days coming up river sleeping on sandbars," says Leumas.

They came here to educate women and run a hospital for the young French colony and they insisted on a convent.

"The sisters are smart enough that they tell Bienville and the crown, we're not going to take care of the rural hospital until you build us a convent. And so they hold out for seven years until they get their convent. This is the statue of Our Lady of Victories, also known in French as Notre Dame de Victoire and it came with the sisters in 1727. That original group of nuns."

The convent has grown over the years. There is a point above this chapel in the attic where you can see brick walls from three centuries, the 1700's through the 1900's. This structure is a reminder of the role of those first brave Ursuline nuns in the beginnings of a new city nearly 300 years ago. New Orleans today is a rich blend of tens of thousands of immigrant settlers. It shows the influences of colonial France and Spain, immigrants from the Caribbean, enslaved Africans, the Irish, Italians, and Creoles.

"Immigration tends to be well documented. You get a lot of information about what life is like in a place through the documentation of people coming in at any time," says Daniel Hammer.

Over the course of three centuries, immigration patterns have changed.

"The largest foreign-born populations in the mid-19th century in New Orleans were German and Irish. You begin to see a lot of Italians and they were Sicilians coming here in the late 19th century and into the 20th century. Stories of the people who came here from Vietnam in the 1970's and 80's are incredible. The lengths to which people went to give their families an opportunity for a safe life and a normal life are truly remarkable," says Hammer.

And those immigrant traditions and businesses still give New Orleans eats unique flavor.

"Ready to go to work," says Ron Kottemann. "Come on."

You won't find many mules living in uptown New Orleans in a backyard stable.

"Its had live animals in it since 1880. So we're kind of grandfathered in. She doesn't make any noise and doesn't bark all night long and doesn't dig in your garbage. This is her favorite part of the day now," says Kottemann

Vidalia is the latest mule to get hitched to the roman candy wagon, a business that was started by Kottemann's grandfather, Sam Cortese. Cortese worked as a street vendor and had this wagon specially built following a childhood accident.

"He got run over by a street car. So he lost both his legs right below the knee."

The young Cortese found that his produce customers were asking to buy sticks of his mother's Italian taffy.

"Went to a bunch of wheelwrights and said, look, I need a wagon. And you know, it's got to have marble counters and it's got to have running water and it's got to have. I want windows all around it," says Kottemann.

Cortese wanted to sit inside and make candy while he traveled the city streets.

"My grandfather didn't want to call it Italian candy because he thought if you called it Italian, nobody's gonna buy it except Italians. So instead of calling it Italian, he called it Roman."

In between customers, Kottemann keeps making more taffy.

"Air actually gets caught in it. And as you pull it, it stretches the fibers and actually, believe it or not, takes out the stickiness," says Kottemann.

"Every time I come down St. Charles or run into him, I pull on the side the road, get $15 worth of taffy and the grandkids come over and take half of them. So I might be left with a stick or two," says Mack Cantrell.

Ron and his grandfather, Sam, are the only two people who have operated this uniquely New Orleans business.

"When they write the history books in New Orleans, they got to at least put a little line in there about me, about Roman Candy because we lasted that long." says Kottemann.

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