New Orleans is one of those fascinating cities where a surprise awaits you around every corner. Meander through the alleys and streets, and you will discover treasures in the most unlikely places, including three unique museums that you could easily walk by without realizing it.
THE MUSEUM OF THE PHARMACY
The Museum of the Pharmacy is located in a tiny 1823 townhouse on Chartres Street. Originally known as La Pharmacie Française, it was built for Louis Dufilho, Jr., America’s first pharmacist. Having obtained his degree in Paris, Dufilho returned to Louisiana where influenced greatly by the African population of New Orleans, he treated patients for every known disease, blending potions, medicine and herbs alike.
Walk into the museum and your eye will immediately fall on a large white ceramic jar labeled “Leeches” sitting nest to an old-fashioned brass cash register. Bottles of old medicines fill the hard-carved rosewood cabinets that line the walls. Look hard and you will even find “Love Potion No 9.” See the jars filled with a red liquid that were placed in windows of houses afflicted by a contagious disease.
In the back of the store, old microscopes, mortars and pestles demonstrate the art of “concocting Medicine.” The collection of medical artifacts include Civil War-era amputation saws as well as a set of dental instruments from 200 years ago. Don’t spend too much time pondering these or you may never visit a dentist again.
Upstairs where Dr. Dufilho resided with his family, you will find the living quarters as well as a collection of spectacles documenting the evolution of eyeglasses. Look for the doctor’s black medical ket, used when he made house calls. Most surprising of all, there is an old-fashioned soda fountain. Having always wondered by soda fountains were traditionally located in pharmacies or drug stores, we learn that the soda fountain was invented in 1830 by pharmacists who wanted a way to make their horrible tasting concoctions more palatable to their patients by mixing them with seltzer water and different flavors.
SOUTHERN FOOD AND BEVERAGE MUSEUM
Not far from the Museum of the Pharmacy, in the Riverside Mall, is the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. This is a relatively new museum, having been founded in 2004 and moved to its present location in 2008. It explores the history of cooking in the American southern states, illustrated with artifacts that include oyster plates, sacks of rice and red beans, pots, pans and old cooking stoves. The Museum of the American Cocktail is a single room where antique cocktail shakers and bottles of liqueurs are displayed together with recipes and 19th century advertisements.
There are also descriptive panels that will enlighten you on such things as a “Calas.” What is a Calas? It is a Creole word that describes how leftover rice is mixed with sugar, yeast and eggs into a batter that is left to rise overnight and fried. The Calas was sold on street corners by Creole women, and there is an entire vocabulary that has developed around the dish.
THE MUSEUM OF THE CIVIL WAR
Finally, in the Warehouse District, you will find the Museum of the Civil War, which has been housed in Confederate Memorial Hall since 8 January 1891. The city of New Orleans bid farewell to Jefferson Davis in this hall where he lay in state after his death in 1889. The Museum was created during the Reconstruction period when Confederate veterans decided that they had to document the southern view of the Civil War.
The Museum is housed entirely in one open-spaced room with a small annex. Exhibits (most of which have been donated by veterans and their families) including 51 Confederate battle flags, amongst which is the flag of the Tiger Rifles, which is still blood-stained from the Battle of First Menassas; the saddle and personal belongings of Jefferson Davis; the silver camp service of Robert E. Lee (whose statue can be seen immediately behind the museum on Lee Square, facing north); swords, sabers, and countless uniforms. Glass cases contain letters and mementos.
One exhibit is particularly poignant. It recounts the life of Winnie (Varina Anna) Davis, the daughter of Jefferson Davis, who lived and died alone, having been forbidden to marry the love of her life because he was a “Yankee” from New York.
These three small, fascinating museums are symbolic of the discoveries in New Orleans if you take the time to amble through the small streets, and stop whenever you find something out of the ordinary.
IF YOU GO
Museum of the Pharmacy is at 514 Chartres Street; Tel 504-565-8027. Open 1000 to 1700 Tuesday to Sunday Admission Fee.
Southern Food and Beverage Museum (The Riverwalk Mall; Julia Street Entrance; Tel 504-569-0405). Admission fee. Those attending a meeting or conference in New Orleans get a discount.
Museum of the Civil War is at 929 Camp Street, New Orleans; Tel 504-523-4522. Open 1000 to 1600 Wednesday to Saturday; No photography allowed except for a picture of the entire hall from the door.