2019 Lecture: "Walt Whitman's New Orleans Foray"

Walt Postcard.png

Brad Vogel of the Walt Whitman Initiative brought the poet’s months in New Orleans to life during the bicentennial year of Whitman's birth.  Part of the Louisiana Landmarks Society lecture series, the presentation took place on Sunday, February 17 at 5 p.m. at 6330 St. Charles Ave overlooking Audubon Park. Lectures are free for members.

America's most famous poet, Walt Whitman is known for his connections to New York, Washington D.C. and Camden, New Jersey.  But he spent crucial time in New Orleans as well.  He left New York in 1848 to help establish the New Orleans Crescent newspaper.  Whitman's three-month stay from February 25th to May 25th significantly influenced his development as a poet and writer.  Arriving by boat, Whitman and his 14-year-old brother Jeff took temporary lodgings but later moved into the Fremont House in the American district across from the St. Charles Hotel and the offices of the Crescent. The city was in the midst of the carnival season; General Taylor's men, back from the Mexican War, swarmed the streets.  Over the next few weeks, Whitman roamed the streets in early morning, during break times, and late at night.

These experiences and impressions formed the basis of feature articles in the Crescent and, later, "New Orleans in 1848" in November Boughs (1888).  But it is an enigmatic romance or sexual exploration of some kind that most scholars deem the most pivotal part of Whitman's time in New Orleans - he leaves New Orleans changed, an individual suddenly capable of writing his watershed book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, in 1855.

A former New Orleans fellow with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Vogel now serves as Executive Director of NY Preservation Archive Project.  When in New Orleans, Vogel ran the “Inside the Footprint” blog, documenting the destruction on the lower mid-city properties to make way for a new hospital. Vogel's presentation will be one of hundreds of commemorative events taking place across the United States in 2019 under the umbrella of the Whitman 2019 Consortium.