Ten months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, the American Library Association (ALA) held the city’s first major conference. More than 16,000 library professionals – librarians and support staff, furniture and book sellers, editors and spouses – came in June to partake of the latest innovations in library science, products and technology. They also came to support the local libraries.
According to the New Orleans Public Library Web site at www.nutrias.org, “Eight of twelve branches were completely ruined by wind, water, and mold.” At previous conferences, vendors sponsored big bashes; this year, however, those who normally budget for lavish spreads of jumbo shrimp, donated funds to help refurbish and restock these devastated public institutions. Librarians pitched in by sorting, boxing up, cataloging and shelving donated books; moving furniture, ruined books and debris; painting rehabbed building interiors; and cleaning, landscaping and getting the libraries ready for the public.
ALA sent an advance-registration reminder postcard to its members that featured the tagline “Libraries Rebuild Communities.” This oversized card also contained the conference logo, reassurance that New Orleans is coming back (“Café du Monde, along with hundreds of other restaurants and music venues, have reopened”), photos of famous Louisiana librarians and an invitation to volunteer.
Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast – southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – on Aug. 29, 2005. The satellite image on the postcard at the beginning of this article was issued by Express Publishing in Harahan, La. It’s one of only four Katrina postcards found for sale during my visit to New Orleans. All oversized at 5 inches by 7 inches, they include the two-view, before-and-after Superdome card shown here, a separate card of the roof-damaged Superdome with downtown flooding, and the patriotic view of the Hyatt, pictured below. For those who could not leave New Orleans before Katrina made landfall, the Superdome was designated as the shelter of last resort. Opened in 1975, this sports complex has been used for football, basketball and baseball games, concerts and conventions. According to Wikipedia, the Super-dome is the “largest fixed domed structure in the world.” When the storm struck with 100+ miles-per-hour winds and ripped huge sections off the 9.7-acre roof, rain poured in. After the electricity cut out, air conditioning stopped and toilets backed up; it became a foul mess for the thousands of residents, tourists and National Guard soldiers stuck there. This postcard shows exterior before (left) and after shots of the Superdome. While in New Orleans, I saw workmen looking tiny as ants atop the vast roof. The renovated Superdome is scheduled to reopen on September 25 for its first NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons.
The conference hotel, the Hilton Riverside was our lodging for six nights. My husband, George Eberhart, edits an ALA monthly magazine, appropriately titled American Libraries, and I secured a press pass for work as a stringer. The hotel sustained about $40 million in wind and water damage. Broken panes of glass were still visible in one of the elevator towers, but the Hilton welcomed conventioneers while also housing Dillard University students whose campus was flooded. Much to my amazement, three copies of this Hilton postcard were in the desk of our 23rd-floor room. Upon checkout, I tried to obtain more but extras could not be located. The card shows the two Mississippi River bridges known as the Crescent City Connection with the hotel’s “H” logo shining in the night sky. The cruise ship docked nearby makes this a pre-Katrina card, since as yet none of these vessels have returned.
Reminiscent of a September 11 photo, this card captures the Hyatt Regency with its windows blown out. As yet, no postcards for Mississippi or Alabama towns destroyed by the eastern edge of Katrina have been found, so this flag-waving “Katrina Survivor” serves as a tribute to the lives and property lost. The Hyatt in downtown New Orleans was one of the most damaged hotels and it’s where, ironically, Mayor Ray Nagin set up his headquarters. Plans are in place for the creation of a new park and National Jazz Center in the area surrounding the Superdome and the Hyatt. Architectural renderings and a full description of what’s being called the Hyatt Jazz District can be seen at www.neworleanscvb.com/articles/index.cfm/action/view/articleID/477/typeID/24.
Listed on the back of this Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort rackcard (published by GoCard late last year) are several not-for-profit organizations that channeled donations to survivors of the storm. Besides the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, America’s Second Harvest, Mercy Corps and Convoy of Hope, there’s a Web site for “other established charities” at www.charitynavigator.org. Currently, the Charity Navigator site has posted an article titled “Where did the money go?” which presents a survey of who received donated funds. And if you’d like to add this card to your collection, Ralph Muscarella at http://members.aol.com/RackCardKing/ has plenty of them in stock.
As mentioned earlier, rebuilding New Orleans is a crucial element of post-Katrina postcards. This oversized card from the Preservation Resource Center (PRC), a local organization with “more than 30 years of experience in saving homes and neighborhoods,” also emphasized the importance of this activity. Printed in turquoise and red, it welcomed homeowners back to town and offered them “free cleaning supplies, tarps and respirators.” An assortment of items such as postcards, maps and newsletters is available in their headquarters at 923 Tchoupitoulas Street.
Promoting books on postcards is nothing new but it was a nice surprise to find this oversized card for Missing New Orleans by Phillip Collier. Published by the excellent Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the book was almost ready to go to the printer when the hurricane hit. Splashed across the front cover, which is reproduced on the postcard, are the words “Special Edition with Hurricane Katrina epilogue.” Please look elsewhere in this issue for my “What’s in the Mail?” column and check the last entry about how to obtain a copy of this postcard.
Tower Records continues as a good source of freebie cards, stickers and other publicity materials. That’s where I found this double-sided, postcard-sized flier for “Get this Lake off My House: Our Tempest.” Performed outdoors on the beach of Lake Pontchar-train, this play by Andrew Larimer was a comedic cross between Shakespeare and the “New Orleans experience from Katrina through the 2006 mayoral election.” The couple on the left are seated upon a discarded refrigerator wrapped in duct tape and if you look closely, the jazz man in the background is standing on one, too.
In a PRC newsletter, I saw a photo of a Frostop Root Beer mug perched atop a sign for a fast-food eatery. A few days later in an exhibition of Katrina photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art, this same mug appeared in a few shots but now toppled and immersed in flood waters. Since George and I have collected root beer ephemera such as mugs, cans, labels, bottle caps and postcards for decades and since we had lined up a taxi-van driver for a tour of the devastated areas, I knew we must find this mug. Al Bernal of U.S. Cab Service (phone 504-250-6045 to arrange a tour) drove us to places we requested and eventually, we did locate Ted’s Frostop, where the huge rusty steel mug was indeed overturned on a concrete pedestal. I took this photo of the entire establishment with Al on the right and George in the middle.
More than 900 ALA volunteers donned yellow “Libraries Build Communities” t-shirts, creating an energetic yellow swarm, and donated a day to fixing up libraries in New Orleans. Estimated as the equivalent of 3.5 years of work, this massive effort helped some of the Big Easy’s library branches to reopen. Although much remains to be done, monetary donations for damaged or demolished Gulf Coast libraries have so far totaled over $17 million. At one of the ALA exhibits I picked up this card for the new children’s book Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn. With its yellow background, this postcard exclaims, “Get down to your library!” – a motto all who attended the conference respect.