|Adah Isaacs Menken
A New Orleans creation.
This is a mostly true story. Mostly.
Louisiana was originally settled by the Spanish (1528). Then the French (1662). Then the Spanish- again (1763). French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte took it back (1800) because he was a big-fat-baby about France losing it in the first place. And, finally, Thomas Jefferson, had the good sense to settle it once and for all in 1803.
But, it had a whole lot of different kinds of people living here by that time: Indians, Spanish, French, African, Caribbean, and a few ‘Americans’ (Western Europeans), so, of course, there were many languages being spoken, and foods being prepared, and religions being sinned about.
The French Quarter is the original part of the city. It was populated with French ‘Creoles’ (native born & high society). Esplanade Avenue (a bounding street just to the east of the Quarter) was mostly Spanish artistocrisy. The northern area just beyond the Quarter (now called Treme) was mostly free people of color. The Garden District was built by ‘Americans’ (from up North).
Everyone spoke French and attended Mass and had illicit affairs.
No one knew, for sure, who, or what, anyone else was (think of a Kaleidoscope of Color).
So, it goes to reason, that if you wanted to ‘make-up’ a fiction about yourself, you could do it here.
And here it happened- regularly.
Meet Adah Isaacs Theodore (1835-1868), who was born in the Quarter, to a free man of color and a creole woman. She loved to sing and dance. She was educated in the ‘Creole’ fashion (girls were required to attend and become proficient in the three ‘R’s). She loved sneaking into the French Opera House (formally on Bourbon St.) to listen to the voices and enjoy the performances. She wanted to be a star.
So, she did what any self-respecting young girl in 1850 with a cloudy past would do: She changed her background history, slept her way to the top (marrying seven times), produced her own play in which she was the star (outfitted in a nude-colored leotard and put on a horse), had two children (both of whom died in infancy), travelled to Paris, and died of Tuberculosis without a penny to her name (age 38).
I thought I’d revise her history to include a secret alley that leads to the second floor flat of a Quarter pied-a-terre, where she secretly met her Cuban lover, and drank strong coffee laced with the ‘Green Fairy‘ and had her meals brought to her by a mulatto servant who practiced Voodoo.
Why not. She inspired me…
and so does New Orleans history.