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Arts & Culture

Meet Jean Lafitte and Josie Arlington: New Orleans Christmas Historical Characters

Get acquainted with historical New Orleans figures Jean Lafitte and Josie Arlington in our exclusive interview with their modern representatives.

Jean Lafitte was a French privateer (not to be mistaken for a pirate) who lived in New Orleans in the early 1800s.  Josie Arlington owned a famous brothel in Storyville, New Orleans’ historic red light district, in the late 1800s.  Since both Jean and Josie have had such an impact on the history of our city, we were extremely lucky to score exclusive holiday interviews with them! You might be asking yourself, “How can GoNOLA interview two dead people?”  Easy!  Jean Lafitte and Josie Arlington walk around the French Quarter every holiday season, along with several other iconic personalities from Louisiana History Alive.  If you are wandering the city, you may just run into one of them yourself!  Read below as I pick their brains for a historical perspective on the city.

Jean Lafitte 

Jean Lafitte (Photo by Olivia Brinich)

GoNOLA:  Tell me Jean, how do you earn all your riches?

Lafitte: Well… I’m a privateer.  Some people call me a pirate, but that’s not correct.  Pirates plunder everyone.  I, on the other hand, only steal from our enemies – the British and the Spanish.  Never from the Americans or the French.

GoNOLA: That’s um… admirable.  What would you say has been your greatest contribution to the city of New Orleans?

Lafitte: I assisted Colonel Andrew Jackson in winning the Battle of New Orleans.  He used my ships and men.

GoNOLA: Wait – wasn’t that in exchange for pardon from your piracy activities?

Lafitte: Well yes, but…

GoNOLA:  Ok let’s change the subject.  What are your hobbies?

Jean Lafitte with VooDoo Queen Marie Laveau. (Photo by Ann Marshall Thomas)

Lafitte:  I’m quite the socialite.  I love attending balls.  In fact, there are whispers that I occasionally enjoy a dance with the governor’s wife.  And I mean Governor Claiborne. (Though perhaps Jindal should watch his back!)

GoNOLA:  Hmmm.  It sounds like you enjoy the finer things in life.  What is it that you love about the city of New Orleans?

Lafitte:  I do enjoy the finer things.  And that is why I love this fine city!  It is the most French place in the New World – the only place you can go to an opera and drink foreign coffee.

GoNOLA:  Ok Jean, can you tell us a bit about how you celebrate Christmas?

Lafitte:  My celebration comes after Christmas when I am reveling in the spoils from my warehouse.  I am also known to enjoy several glasses of my homemade eggnog.  I only use the finest French Brandy.

GoNOLA: Thanks, Jean.  I’ll probably be knocking on your door for a glass of that eggnog this holiday season.

Lafitte: Anytime, darling.  Joyeux Noel!

Josie Arlington 

Josie Arlington (Photo by Olivia Brinich)

GoNOLA: I love your dress Josie.  But how can you afford all the latest fashions?

Arlington:  Oh dear, aren’t you sweet and naïve?  Let’s just say… I make a bit of money by providing various forms of entertainment to gentlemen who have a bit of money to spend.  Of course, visitors to Storyville can also enjoy music, cabaret, cards, and a stiff drink.

GoNOLA: Sounds… interesting.  What would you say is your greatest contribution to the city of New Orleans?

Arlington: (chuckles conspiratorially) Well, perhaps you should ask the gentlemen who frequent Storyville, my dear!  But if I’m being frank, I think Storyville’s greatest contribution has been nurturing the beginnings of Jazz.  You see, my gentlemen visitors have never cared much what the musicians are playing.  Jazz has a bit of a naughty quality, which appeals to my customers.

GoNOLA: So what do you do when you aren’t… you know… working?

Arlington:  Between running the house and leaning on all my high-powered government connections?  I’m afraid I don’t have much free time, peach.

GoNOLA: Well how do you celebrate the holidays Josie?

Josie Arlington on Canal Street

Arlington:  Holidays can be quite busy in Storyville!  But all of my ladies do enjoy Thanksgiving.  Each year we all get dolled up and ride in open carriages down Esplanade to the racetracks.  All those snooty uptown ladies pretend to ignore us, but I see them peering over their opera glasses to see what we are wearing.  Even they have to admit we are on the forefront of fashion!

GoNOLA: Well, I’d certainly love to borrow that dress, except for maybe the corset.  Tell me Josie, what is it that you love most about New Orleans?

Arlington: In my experience, people come here to get a little something they can’t get at home. (Chuckles) But I really love the way people in New Orleans are always up for a party.  There is a laissez-faire attitude and a general open-mindedness that is just contagious.

GoNOLA: Wow, thanks Josie.

Arlington: You’re most welcome, dear.  Now, if you know any lonely gentlemen, please send them my way!