|By: Bob Monie|
In 1909 ragtime music issued from the patios and verandas of New Orleans dance halls and restaurants, and the dance of the day was the cakewalk--so called because the winners of local dance contests received a freshly-baked cake as their trophy, after promenading, umbrella in hand, to the latest ragtime piece. In many parts of New Orleans, brass bands played marches, blues, and the earliest hint of a sassy, new kind of music soon to be called jazz. Set back a little from City Park Avenue and Rosedale lay Holt Cemetery, a bit of high ground selected as the best place on the edge of the city to bury victims of malaria and yellow fever, so their corpses would stay put and not float away in the periodic rush of New Orleans flood waters.
A few paces southwest of Holt Cemetery on the triangular patch of land, bounded by Conti Street, Rosedale Drive, and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, stood the remnants of the Girod Asylum, designed by architect Jacques de Pouilly, famous for his work on the St. Louis Cathedral and the St. Louis Hotel. The grand asylum de Pouilly envisioned to honor the memory of New Orleans mayor Nicholas Girod was never built because of squabbles with the city over inheritance rights. When a few smaller buildings, including a chapel, were finally finished in 1870, the city had somehow neglected to drain the malarial swamp adjacent to the site. The Board of Health shut down the asylum, leaving the few "French" orphans who had moved in to seek other accommodations. Not until 1907 was the property approved for habitation, renamed The Colored Waifs' Home, and assigned to the management of Captain Joseph Jones. Six years later, Louis Armstrong, age 13, would learn to play the cornet in the Colored Waifs' Brass Band, directed by Peter Davis, and take in the sweet, mournful sounds of brass bands playing dirges, hymns and blues for the dead in Holt Cemetery next door. Pioneer jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden would eventually be buried in the same cemetery.
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