story and photos by Kayte Deioma
The Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserveconsists of parks, preserves, bayous, swamps, historic sites and cultural centers all across southern Louisiana. In New Orleans, the National Historic Park has a French Quarter Visitor Center tucked in a courtyard off Decatur Street. If you want an in depth look at New Orleans and Louisiana history, go to the Cabildo on Jackson Square, but for an easily digestible overview of the city and its music, the Jean Lafitte NHP French Quarter Visitor Center is the place to go.
The Visitor Center presents an overview of what you will find at all six of the Jean Lafitte NHP centers including Chalmette Battlefield and the Barataria Preserve in the New Orleans area, and the Acadian Cultural Center, Prairie Acadian Cultural Center and Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center across the Mississippi delta.
Traditional exhibits include background on the Native Americans of Louisiana, slave life, and the contribution of privateer and slave trader Jean Lafitte at the Battle of New Orleans, as well as the legend of Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Wall panels and audio recordings elucidate the development of the unique dialect of New Orleans, influenced by African slaves, and French, Irish, Italian and German immigrants, with some Native American place names thrown in for good measure.
Pull up a chair and stay for a while at a multimedia presentation on the history of jazz. Put on a headset and watch and listen to some historic performances. A selection of instruments used in jazz, Cajun and Zydeco music are suspended from a column above the video console. There’s a brass trumpet, and saxophone, a guitar, a fiddle, and an accordion. The most unique instrument on display is the “frottoir” or rubboard, a molded, over-the-shoulder Louisiana invention which replaced the standard wood-frame washboard in Cajun and Zydeco music in 1946.
A few feet away you can take a seat on a bench to watch another video on a larger screen. The selection varies. After Hurricane Katrina, a new exhibit was added on the storm flooding and how the loss of wetlands contributed to the problem. Park Rangers are on hand to answer your questions.
There are a couple other reasons why you might want to visit the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park French Quarter Visitor Center. It’s a good place to find public restrooms if you’re wandering the French Quarter. They also offer free 90-minute French Quarter tours daily at 9:30 am. Tickets are distributed to the first 25 people who show up for tickets after the Center opens at 9. There is a schedule of additional presentations and programs on the website.
Jean Lafitte National Historic Park
French Quarter Visitor Center
419 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA
504-589-2636 ext. 1
Open daily 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Closed December 25 and Mardi Gras