The year 2018 has been a year-long celebration of the Tricentennial of New Orleans, obviously a French city from its beginning. Through its 300 years, it abounds with history from war, malaria, floods, fires, the birth of the cocktail and much of Mardi Gras.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville (photo) of the French Mississippi Company. The outpost at a curve in the river was named for the Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. And, the colony of La Louisiane was named for King Louis XIV when René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle claimed all the waters drained by the Mississippi for France in 1682.
As a fitting end to the Tricentennial celebrations, a final grand costume ball will be held in New Orleans on Saturday, December 1, 2018, at the Cabildo. The invitations specify the attire as “period costume reminiscent of Don Almonester’s era (late 18th century), or the era of the Baroness (early 19th century through 1850s).”
The Cabildo is a fitting venue for the grand costume ball. In its antique rooms, the Louisiana Purchase was finalized and the Louisiana Territory became part of the United States of America in 1803. Out of its windows you can see Jackson Square and the two flanking red brick buildings from the 1840s that were built by the Baroness Pontalba.
If you do not remember much about her, here is a short version of famous Baroness.
Micaela Leonarda Antonia de Almonester Rojas y de la Ronde, Baroness de Pontalba was born in 1795 in New Orleans and died in Paris in 1874. Her father was from Spain, Don Andrés Almonester y Rojas. Don Almonester created a fortune from his political dealings from the Cabildo.
Besides being the richest woman in New Orleans, she probably had one of the most interesting lives of anyone from New Orleans. She designed and constructed the twin buildings. The Baroness wore pants and climbed ladders while overseeing every detail of the work. Even the iron work bears her initials, “AP” for Almonaster Pontalba. The buildings are so important to the United States, they were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
While in New Orleans, the Baroness was also shot repeatedly by her father-in-law before he killed himself. For years, he and her husband had been trying unsuccessfully to wrest control of her fortune from her. She survived the gunshots suffering mangled fingers that blocked the bullets from killing her. Eventually she moved permanently to Paris to a grand house she commissioned.
And, by grand, it is really grand. Baroness Pontabla’s former mansion, the Hôtel de Pontalba, is now the United States Embassy. It is right off the Place de la Concorde on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Look for American armed service members patrolling outside. Needless to say, nothing shabby about the Baroness.
If you want to know more about her, read the fascinating and engrossing story of the real Baroness in the late Dr. Christine Vella’s Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, Intimate Enemies. You can find it here on Amazon:
Back to the Tricentennial celebration of the French city, New Orleans. Along with the costume ball, you can join in a lunch celebrating the Tricentennial on Friday, November 30, 2018. At the lunch, attendees will have a chance to meet Charles-Edouard and Isabelle, Baron and Baroness de Pontalba of Château Mont-l’Évêque. Charles-Edouard is a direct descendant of Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba.
Also at the lunch, Pontalba family historian Pierre de Pontalba will talk about his family’s legacy. And, Louisiana State Museum guest exhibition curator, Randolph Delehanty, PhD, will give remarks and be available for questions for the new exhibit, The Baroness de Pontalba and the Rise of Jackson Square.
Want to attend any of these festive events? Get more information here. Or, check out the Louisiana Museum Foundation site.
This is one example of finding Paris everywhere and anywhere! Paris exerts her influence far and wide. What part of your local history has connections to Paris?