Monroe Civic Center

Written on the back of this rare postcard (Ouachita Parish Public Library Photo Collection, Photo No. 803):

Monroe Civic Center

Monroe, Louisiana

Largest conference and entertainment complex in Louisiana. To open September 1, 1967, the $5.5 million project includes a 2250-seat theatre, 7200-seat arena, and a multi-purpose conference hall with ample exhibit and banquet space. In the foreground is the Noe Fountain and Mall.

Always Pay Attention to What You Are Drinking!

I wrote this back in 2010 for Louisiana Road Trips Magazine:

The place where I work is currently indexing Ouachita Parish newspapers for deaths and marriages.  Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of causes of death, some gruesome, some peaceful.  This particular death has stuck with me through the years as one of the most unusual ways to enter the great beyond that I have ever read about. Apparently, this poor man died after drinking gasoline.  I felt so sorry for this gentleman who died so horribly!  Where did he come from?  Who were the members of his family?  I began to research.

            Walter J. Masling was born September 4, 1871 in the small town of Delhi, LA.  His father William George and his mother Martha Miggs Masling were British immigrants from London and Liverpool respectively.  His father died in the late 1870’s leaving a widow with four sons to rear.  The little family scratched out a living, and when Walter got old enough, he and his brother Frank learned carpentry skills and worked on their own.

            Walter soon met and fell in love with a beautiful Arkansas lass named Cordelia.  The two lovebirds were wed around 1900.  Their lives were blessed with ten children according to Walter’s obituary, but only eight are listed on the census:  Eva May, Katie May, Evelina, Walter J. Jr., Clifford, Edith G., Martha E. and Frank.  Things were going quite well for the little family; then came the events of Thursday, December 3, 1925.

            Walter had been hired to do work on the state Baptist orphanage in Monroe.  We now know it as the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home.  Six months before, the orphanage had moved from its Lake Charles home to permanently settle in Monroe.  One hundred twenty-five children and the entire staff had made the move.  All that remained to be done were some finishing touches on some of the buildings.  Walter was just the man for the job.  Carpentry was thirsty work, and Wade kept a mason jar nearby full of cool water.  Not even thinking to look, he grabbed the nearest jar, thinking it was his water and took a large gulp.  Instead of water, it was a jar of gasoline.  The article about his death reported that he suffered “great distress”, but reported for work the next day.  His family had begged him not to go.  Several hours later, his stomach hemorrhaged.  Walter was quickly taken to Riverview Sanitarium for treatment.  After growing weaker and weaker day by day, Walter lost his fight for life at 1pm on December 8, 1925.  Peters Funeral Home handled arrangements.  His body was taken to his home at 2711 Lee Avenue where services were held by Rev. L.T. Hastings of the First Baptist Church of Monroe.  The body was then taken to the Old City Cemetery and buried in the Masling family plot.  Thirteen years later, his beloved wife Cordelia would be buried beside him.  Their soldier son Clifford would also be buried with them in 1942.  Walter’s parents William and Martha are here too, buried in unmarked graves.  May Walter’s sleep be more peaceful than his life!

The First Mardi Gras Parade in Monroe

Happy Mardi Gras! It is parade day in Monroe! I’ll be on one of the floats tonight, but I’ll be in disguise! If you recognize me, yell, “Throw me something!” Here is a Mardi Gras themed article I wrote for Road Trips a couple of years ago.

            Many people in the area believe the Mardi Gras parades in Monroe began with the Twin Cities Krewe of Janus’s first parade in 1984.  Actually, the first parade rolled fifty-four years before then, in 1930.  No pictures of it that I know of exist.  What little information we have are found in area newspapers.

            It is not known what brought about the idea of a Mardi Gras parade in Monroe. What we do know, is that it was created by an African-American businessmen’s association called the X.Y.Z. Club.  Because it was an African-American endeavor, white newspapers at the time gave it little notice.  What we can find are bits and pieces.  It wasn’t until the parade was celebrating its third annual roll-out that the newspapers took notice.  The newspaper stated that at 3:30 pm on February 28, 1933, King Zulu with his retinue arrived at the Pine Street wharf on a “gaily painted and embellished barge”.  In later years, Governor James A. Noe loaned the club the use of his yacht, Noe’s Ark.  The king and his queen then led a procession through downtown, where the parade ended at the Miller-Roy building.  A Mardi Gras ball was then celebrated there in the Savoy ballroom.  The entertainment would be provided by a big band orchestra, such as Ben Burden and Oliver Green’s orchestras.  One year (1939) an orchestra was brought in from Natchez.  It makes me wonder if it was the jazz great Bud Scott and his band!

Each year the parade would get bigger and bigger.  Decorated cars, floats and bands began to join in, “…with noisy acclaim, amid blowing horns, tooting whistles and jingling bells.”   When the parade would end and the Mardi Gras ball at the Miller-Roy would spill out into the street, a loud speaker was brought in to broadcast the music to the people below.  Some years the ball was held at various nightclubs.  The Liberty at Fourteenth and Adams streets was a frequent host.  Prizes were donated by area businesses to give to the best dressed person and the most comical costume. 

The royalty were very rarely named.  Tradition says that local entertainer “Bootie Jim” held court one year.  In 1940, the News-Star ran a ballot for the election of King Zulu.  Those in the running were:  B.C. “Moocher” McClain, Blondie “Bar-B-Q King” Nicholson, Horace “Big Meachie” Smith, “Pinetop” Binn and Layassa “Garbage” Booth were in the running.  “Big Meachie”, a local piano player, won. We only know the name of one other, Andrew Statfn who was king in 1952.  The king’s outfit was described:  “The King wore flaming red knee breeches and jacket, and a gold crown.”

Queen Zulu was named in the newspapers more often.  When she reigned, her dress was green.  The queens who are known are:  Melissa Williams (1935), Alma Washington (1937), Carrie May Atkins (1938), Melissa Williams (1939), Martha Louise Dorsey (1940),  Adlene V. Joshua (1941), Lucille Burrell (1942), Evelyn Buckler (1944) and Ramona Bowie (1952).

Each year, the parade was organized by Fred Perkins, the charismatic president of the Z.Y.Z. Club.  In just about every newspaper description of the Zulu festivities, his name would be mentioned.  He was a porter for the News-Star but was well known in his community as a top Master of Ceremonies at many church and civic functions.  When the parade began to wane in the 1950’s, Mr. Perkins decided to dress as the devil to meet the king and queen at Pine Street.  From 1956 to 1962, there seems to be no more parades, but Mr. Perkins, dressed as the devil, would still make his annual appearance at many area businesses.  He would have his pitchfork in hand and be accompanied by King Zulu and his Merry Makers.

In 1962, the last article about the XYZ club parade was reported.  It stated a dance was being organized, “…sponsored by various Negro organizations in Monroe.”  No further information was found.  It seems King and Queen Zulu’s reign in Monroe has faded into our past and was forgotten.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

The V. S. & T. Railroad Depot

Monroe has had a few streets that are no longer in existence. Take for instance this view up Jefferson street around 1900. This was the first Railroad depot in Monroe, for the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Texas Railroad. To give you an idea what is there now, the Star Hotel on the left was the Poolside Shop a few years ago. On the right is now the parking lot for Washington Plaza. You can see the railroad bridge in the distance. Neat!