As Hurricane Ida struck the historic 1811 / Kid Ory home in LaPlace, its caretakers spent a very long night at the museum.
With blown-out windows and rust-stained rainwater streaming through the ceilings, John McCusker and Charlotte Jones rushed to rescue artifacts and exhibits while hoping the roof would stay in place.
“People have warned us about ghosts,” said McCusker, founder and CEO of the museum. “Ida is the scariest thing we’ve seen so far. It was a pretty terrifying night.
“But it was our lifelong work. We had to protect him.
The Historic House of 1811 / Kid Ory documents two significant events that occurred on its grounds: the start of the German Coast Slave Uprising of 1811, the largest slave rebellion in American history, and the Birth in 1886 by trombonist Edward “Kid” Ory, a New Orleans jazz pioneer.
Sections of the Andry, later Woodland, the plantation’s main house date from the 1790s. Timothy Sheehan bought the decrepit property from a group of Ory descendants in 2017 and undertook a massive renovation.
Eager to open the historic building to the public, Sheehan approached McCusker. McCusker spent three decades as a photojournalist at The Times-Picayune and The New Orleans Advocate. Since the 1990s, his “Cradle of Jazz” tour has taken jazz fans around the world to little-known New Orleans sites.
He also wrote Ory’s 2012 biography “Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz” and put together what he believes to be the largest Ory archive in the world.
Jones, the museum’s operations and program manager, enrolled as a doctoral student in anthropology at LSU the week before Ida. Her area of interest is the role of mules in Louisiana history, a subject she experiences: her “day job” is as a buggy driver in the French Quarter.
Traffic through LaPlace to La. 628 passes an unassuming two-story white house with a tin roof and green-accented shutters. Surrounded by tre …
A long-term lease for the historic 1811 / Kid Ory house was signed in early 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic. McCusker and Jones spent the first year of the pandemic researching, designing and installing exhibits. The museum opened in February.
McCusker and Jones both live in the field, so they decided to take Ida there. McCusker has experience in saving historical records during natural disasters: as Hurricane Katrina approached in 2005, he hid his Ory archives in the photo lab on the third floor of Times-Picayune headquarters, today. ‘hui demolished, on Howard Avenue.
All of his years covering hurricanes as a photojournalist didn’t prepare him for Ida. He thought the wall of the eye would go further west than LaPlace: “We didn’t think we were going to be the target.”
And he and Jones trusted in the strength of a 220-year-old structure that has withstood dozens of hurricanes.
“It was built to withstand those kinds of storms,” Jones said. “But no this storm.”
Ida arrived closer to LaPlace than expected, devastating St. John the Baptist Parish. The wind howled like a train whistle, McCusker recalls, causing the rain to fall into a mist.
Growing up in Florida, Jones said, “I’ve seen my share of hurricanes. But not like that. When we thought the wall of the eye had passed, it was just beginning.
Winds penetrated the shutter openings and blew up the patio doors on the front of the main house. McCusker and Jones wedged chairs under the doorknobs to support the doors.
The wind blew through a kitchen window, a skylight, and an attic gable, and ripped the gift shop door off its hinges.
“A window would explode, we would button it up,” McCusker said. “Another window explodes, button it up.” “
The loss of the south-facing attic gable window created a bigger problem: the rain blew out and mixed with 200 years of attic dust. Dirty mud water then seeped through the seams of the tongue-and-groove cypress ceiling.
Jones and McCusker salvaged plastic drop sheets to protect the exhibits. In the room where the first blood of the 1811 rebellion was shed, they moved the period furniture out of harm’s way.
“We had to improvise all night,” Jones said.
Being so busy left little time to be afraid – to a point.
“When the barn attic frame almost blew in my room,” Jones said, “I called my dad crying.”
McCusker was on an “adrenaline high” much of the night. “But around 4 am, after the storm moved and there wasn’t that insane howling, I lowered my head and cried. I needed this release.
At dawn, they had their first glimpse of the damaged grounds.
Three of the four century-old magnolias in front of the house had collapsed, but luckily they fell towards River Road rather than on the house.
The metal roof of the stable was torn off. A barn about 100 meters behind the main house has been razed to the ground.
“That’s how random the destruction was,” McCusker.
Some merchandise in the gift shop has been damaged, but the museum’s artifacts, records, and exhibits are unscathed. Kid Ory’s century-old trombone has been kept safe and dry in its sealed case.
Even a window with an 1862 inscription engraved with a diamond ring has survived.
In the wake of the storm, Jones and McCusker’s immediate tasks included removing mold and cleaning up sludge and water. The windows need to be re-glazed, but McCusker is waiting for health facilities in the area to return to normal, in case he cuts himself off.
With a power outage at the museum, they moved the artifacts and their archival materials to Baton Rouge for safekeeping.
For the first week after the storm, they slept with the windows open, reusing the contemporary mosquito net from an antique bed.
Without running water, they boiled rainwater collected in downspouts to wash hands and wash utensils. “It got pretty gnarly,” McCusker said.
Water service has since been restored, and Jones’ boyfriend and mother provided a lifeline by delivering an RV and supplies.
“Our spirits have remained pretty good,” Jones said. “We received a lot of support. LSU’s geography and anthropology department was very welcoming and I just started a week before the storm.
The historic 1811 / Kid Ory House likely won’t reopen to the public for weeks, if not months. To generate income, the museum sells tickets in advance through its website, www.1811kidoryhistorichouse.com. These tickets will be honored after the establishment reopens.
Now that the dust has literally settled, McCusker says he doesn’t regret spending a spooky night at the museum.
“Not at all. Creating this museum was a dream of a lifetime. I wasn’t going to let anything happen to him without standing up for him.
Having known both sides of two of the most destructive storms to ever hit Louisiana – reporting Katrina victims, being reported as Ida victim – which does he prefer?
“I can honestly say I didn’t like it either.”