Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Christmas in the Oaks 2020


            New Orleans City Park is known for its collection of live oak trees, Botanical Garden, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. The live oaks are perhaps the most famous part of the park. Some are over six hundred years old and predate the European settlement of Louisiana. The park grounds themselves have a rich and diverse history. The area started out as a dueling ground where male residents of New Orleans could settle their disputes outside of the watchful eyes of city authorities. In the 1850s, a district court created the park out of land left to the city by a deceased plantation owner. By the end of the 19thcentury, the City Park Improvement Association was founded to begin transforming the land into the park that we know today. It was not until the 1980s, however, that one of the park’s most popular and beloved traditions came into existence: Celebration in the Oaks

            In 1984, the Botanical Garden was in need of a new fundraising campaign to fuel the organization’s growth. Mary Rodgers, the chair of the Park’s PR Committee, wanted to drape lights in the Park’s oak trees. However, the idea was too expensive for the time and instead the director of the Botanical Garden, Paul Soniat created a program called “A Tribute to a Christmas Tree” where local artists decorated Christmas Trees. They were displayed in a tent at the Garden. 

            The idea of decorating the oak trees in lights never went away. For a few years, there were small light displays around the Garden. Those in charge of the park believed that a larger light display would be popular, but it took several years for a plan to come into place. In 1987, the oaks at the front of the Park finally were covered in lights. A local energy company designed a way of powering the lights and underwrote the cost of the electricity. By installing the lights at the entrance to the Park, park management had created a whole other way for visitors to experience the lights—in their cars. Before visitors had to walk around the Botanical Garden to view the displays. Now with the lights spread out through the park, guests never had to leave their cars. This meant that many more people could see the lights at any given time. More lights and more people naturally meant growing the size and scope of the event. So Charles Foti, a local sheriff, organized the construction and installation of holiday exhibits including a “Cajun Christmas Village.”       

            By 1991, the Celebration in the Oaks received over 350,000 visitors. The popularity of the event led to the creation of additional garden areas and child’s play areas. Over the years, the Park has added a charity walk/run, guided tours, a miniature train, floats, and a host of other attractions. Like the rest of the city, City Park was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but the organizers of Celebration in the Oaks managed to pull off an abbreviated version in 2005 and as the city recovered from the storm, the celebration grew once again in scope. 

            Currently, the Celebration features nearly 600,000 lights, attracting over 165,000 people per year. The fundraiser provides 13% of City Park’s yearly operating budget. It opened on the Friday after Thanksgiving and closes on January 3. It’s a New Orleans holiday tradition that is not to be missed. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Interview with Bonsai Potting Master

We've got a video of Evan from Underhill Bonsai interviewing Byron Myrick, a legendary bonsai potter. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Fall Book Recommendations

 Now that fall is firmly here and we're all going to spending more time inside--in Louisiana it's the perfect time to go outside--it's time for a couple of book recommendations. 

The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder and the Birth of the American Mafia by Mike Dash 

Dash's book tells the story of Guiseppe "the Clutch Hand" Morello, a Sicilian immigrant who became the first "boss of bosses" in the United States. With a novelist's flair for description and rising tension, Dash entertainingly shares the story of Morello's arrival in the United States and subsequent rise in the criminal underworld before founding the first Mafia family in the US. Dash traces the unglorious rise of organized crime in the United States as newly arrived Italian immigrants blackmailed, bombed, and bludgeoned one another in the pettiest of criminal enterprises. Morello, who organized counterfeiting schemes and largely had others commit crimes under his orders, managed to avoid prosecution for years until the Secret Service set up an extensive sting operation and sent him to jail for 10 years. When Morello was finally released from prison, he became an advisor to his successor, but the world had changed around him and he died as so many of his compatriots did--at the hands of an assassin. 

Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny by Mike Dash 

Instead of the Mafia, Dash focuses on the story of a Dutch East India Company merchant vessel and the rebellion plotted by the ship's captain and one of the company's merchants. The merchant was a radical religious heretic who joined the Company to save himself from debt. The captain merely hated the expedition's leader and wanted to sleep with one of the passengers. In the midst of a profitable spice trading voyage, the two men plotted to kill most of the crew and passengers, steal the ship's store of gold and silver and live the rest of their lives outside the law. Everything was going to plan until the captain accidentally crashed the ship into shoals off the coast of Australia, stranding the crew and passengers hundreds of miles from help and food. The rest of the story just reminds you how often history is more crazy than fiction ever could be.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

New Orleans City Park Video Tour

Traveling to New Orleans is difficult right now. The city has lots to offer visitors besides the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. We've outlined the history of City Park in the past, but since you likely won't be visiting City Park anytime soon, how about a video tour instead? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Underhill Bonsai Video

For years, Doug has maintained an extensive bonsai collection. In the past few years, he has taken that passion for bonsai and opened a bonsai nursery, selling trees and sharing his expertise with the general public. 

Underhill Bonsai engages in educational programs on the third Thursday of every month for the public, that in light of the pandemic, have moved completely online. For those new to the world of bonsai, we have one of those videos for you all to enjoy.