Modern history

Part Nine

THE LEAVING OF THE WATERS

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

FROM CAIRO, ILLINOIS, to the Gulf of Mexico, and from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., all across the floodplain of the Mississippi River and beyond, the 1927 flood left a watermark. It changed things. Some changes, direct and tangible ones, came immediately; others, less direct and less tangible, came more slowly.

The first change occurred even before the flood did most of its damage, when the levee below New Orleans was dynamited. The dynamite exploded not only the levee but the levees-only policy, ending forever the argument over whether levees alone could control the Mississippi River, and forcing an admission even from Army engineers that nothing could control the Mississippi. So man would have to find a way to accommodate it.

Finding that way was the final battle of the flood, and this battle was fought in Washington. All parties began in agreement that the federal government should assume responsibility for the river, but this consensus settled almost nothing, for water, like power itself, is a zero-sum game. If one has more, another has less. The levees-only policy had obscured this truth; one of its chief attractions had been its promise to protect all the land in the river’s floodplain. Any new plan would have to allow the river to spread over some land, somewhere. Congress would have to decide whose lands that would be, and the decision would have to combine engineering and politics.

The scope of the legislation also had to be defined, along with who would pay for it. At the least, this legislation would seek to contain the lower Mississippi; at the least, it would be the most ambitious and expensive single piece of legislation Congress had ever passed. Many wanted to make it far more comprehensive and include the entire Mississippi River system. The governor of New Mexico wanted Congress to include in the legislation the prevention of floods on the Canadian River. A senator and two mayors from Oklahoma demanded that the bill solve flooding and shipping problems on the Arkansas, Cimarron, and Canadian. The governor of North Dakota complained about the Missouri; a congressman from Montana complained about the Milk; the governor of Kansas spoke of thirty-two towns and cities inundated in his state, some of which had been flooded seven times from September 1926 to April 1927; congressmen from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati wanted floods on the Ohio addressed.

But it was not Congress or the White House that decided these things. They were settled in a more intimate forum by the Tri-State Flood Control Committee. This committee, like so many others that exercised power, was an ad hoc group, a handful of men, from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Their names were familiar, and they made decisions binding upon each state’s representatives, and they had influence far beyond their states. John Parker was committee vice chairman and with Jim Butler spoke for Louisiana. LeRoy Percy spoke for Mississippi and served as secretary. Arkansas Governor John Martineau spoke for his state and chaired the committee. They, and Hoover, were the ones who mattered.

On September 12, 1927, a month after Coolidge had declared that he would not seek reelection, these men gathered at the home of Colonel John Fordyce in Hot Springs, Arkansas. By the time they met, the political forces demanding legislation were already coming together. In June, several thousand people, among them nearly 150 senators, governors, and congressmen, had attended the Chicago Flood Control Conference; its sole purpose was to generate momentum and pressure for a bill. After it adjourned, a small executive committee had been formed, including Percy, to lobby for a bill. Since then Percy had traveled constantly, meeting privately with northern governors and congressmen, seeing Coolidge and General Jadwin in Washington, hosting Vice President Charles Dawes in Greenville, guiding a U.S. Chamber of Commerce delegation through the flooded region. It seemed that everywhere, as the Associated Press reported, “[i]t remained for the old Roman of the Delta, Senator Leroy [sic] Percy of Greenville, Mississippi, to sound the keynote of these problems.”

Now, in Hot Springs, Percy and his colleagues on the Tri-State Committee were to decide the broad outlines of a bill they would unanimously support. Present were Hoover, Percy, Martineau, Butler, and two others who were among the wealthiest men in the South. All except Hoover were men who could manifest extraordinary grace and charm, but now they had come together to make decisions. They shared little small talk, little comment on difficult travel schedules, not even a discussion of refugees or crops. Their interest was containing the river. What they settled upon would more closely resemble what actually became law than would the initial proposals later made by Coolidge, the House, or the Senate.

IT WAS a palatial setting, the house with tall Corinthian columns and silent smiling black servants, yet it also had a rustic quality, and not far back of the house a pack of hunting dogs barked. Outside the sun blazed, but shade nestled close to the house. The shade, high ceilings, and whirring fans kept the inside cool. The town itself, its main street packed with hotels, several of them elegant, was a resort enveloped in a vast mountain forest. The springs drew the visitors, but good shooting could be found close by. It was the shooting Percy could not forget. Here twenty-five years before he had watched impotently as his young son LeRoy Percy, Jr., died in agony from an infection after a shooting accident. He had avoided Hot Springs since then, but this was not a time for sentiment.

That became clear soon enough as they discussed federal help for the victims. Percy warned that giving relief to victims would “set a precedent” and make passage harder. It could also excite jealousy in members of Congress whose states had suffered in the past without receiving federal relief. They might exorcise their jealousy by losing interest in legislation. Therefore, he concluded, “I am not willing to [support] any other measure which would detract in any way from the Government taking over control of the levees.”

Martineau agreed and made another point: “I believe if Congress were to pass a measure giving relief to those damaged they would feel they had done their duty and…this general plan of [river legislation]…would have to wait months and maybe years.”

No one disagreed. The question was settled. Later Hoover personally drafted a statement for the head of each state’s rehabilitation committee to release, saying, “No relief to flood sufferers by action of Congress is desirable but rather all efforts should be concentrated on formulation and passage of adequate flood control measures.”

The next question was, who would pay for the massive engineering works necessary? Historically, states or local entities had always had to match with cash, land, or rights-of-way the money the federal government spent. But requiring local contributions could cripple any effort to deal with the river. In 1927, before the flood, the Mississippi River Commission had had $5 million on hand for emergency levee work, but 40 percent had gone unspent because local levee boards could not make their matching contributions. Now far more levee districts were destitute and would remain so for the foreseeable future. Yet the levee system could only be as strong as its weakest link; a crevasse in one levee district could threaten hundreds of thousands of people in other levee districts.

Percy, Butler, Martineau, and the others pressed Hoover to agree to waive any local contributions. Hoover agreed with them on the goal but warned that both Congress and the White House “are going to hesitate to let go of the requirement of local contribution for fear of future demand for this sort of thing…. It is a question of tactics.”

Butler suggested a solution: “Wouldn’t it be better for us to consider those amounts expended…already as a contribution already made, so we can get by this point of future contributions?”

Percy nodded an emphatic yes. “I will give you one district,” he said, speaking of his own Mississippi Levee Board. “In July, 1926, the Government had spent $13,500,000 in five years and the district in that time spent $22,537,000.” Overall, he added, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi had spent $168 million, while the federal government had given only $61 million.

The strategy was decided. They would argue that since in the past states and local levee boards had outspent the federal government, the local contribution had already been made. Thus waiving local contributions in this instance would not set a precedent; it would simply give credit for money already spent.

They then moved on to the final issue, the scope of the bill. On this point they disagreed. Martineau wanted a broad bill to include tributaries. One reason was parochial; many of his state’s problems came not from the Mississippi itself but from its tributaries, chiefly the Arkansas, White, and St. Francis Rivers. He also argued: “I believe we have a better chance politically if we take the whole of the Mississippi and all of its tributaries…. [The more] troubles you take care of in this bill, the more support you will have for it, provided you can get enough troubles to take care of to have the support of a majority of the Congress.”

But such a project would be immense. Hoover objected, warning: “What I am trying to do is cut off the flood plain of Kansas, Illinois, Tennessee, and other places…. Pittsburgh is getting ready to attach themselves and Kansas is getting ready. North Dakota has got a scheme and they are all going to be right down hanging them on your hatracks…. I am afraid the whole country will rebel against an enormous program.” Certainly, Coolidge would rebel. If they pursued too comprehensive a bill, they would get nothing. Then Hoover reassured Martineau that a narrow bill would protect his state: “All of the overflows in Arkansas would come within my definition of the flood plain of the lower Mississippi…. It is a well defined flood plain from an engineering standpoint.”

Martineau did not yield. He argued that if they limited the bill they would be seen as selfish. That too could lead to the defeat of legislation.

Once again Butler stepped in with a solution. The War Department was developing a flood control plan that would cover only the lower Mississippi. The War Department would be the ones narrowing the bill, eliminating help elsewhere, and making enemies. Butler suggested that if everyone in the room agreed to use the War Department plan as the framework for legislation, they would have clean hands. “It seems to me,” he said, “that is our answer: ‘This isn’t our bill, this is a bill that was investigated and is what the engineers are now ready to do….’ We may have to promise support on some bill but that won’t be a part of our bill. Deal with the flood plain of the lower Mississippi and take on such additional things as expediency might demand…. Suppose the Illinois River comes along with a meritorious claim from the standpoint of votes, it can be tacked on, if it is necessary and expedient to do it.”

“I agree with Mr. Butler,” Hoover said. So did Percy.

Finally, Martineau too yielded. There were no more issues to resolve, since they did not intend to involve themselves in technical engineering issues. Now they had only to spread their message. Percy noted, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce have fixed a committee meeting in New York to formulate plans. I am on that committee.”

Martineau mentioned that the executive committee of the Chicago conference had also scheduled a meeting to formulate a legislative strategy and pointed out, “Senator Percy is on that.”

So were Hecht and Thomson, whom Butler would speak to. With Percy they would convince both groups to unite behind what had just been agreed to. So in this room in Arkansas these half-dozen men, none of whom served in Congress, had largely decided the fate of the most comprehensive and expensive piece of legislation Congress had ever considered.

It had taken barely half an hour.

THE PATH was not smooth, but legislation moved down it. In the fall of 1927, Butler and Percy began spending weeks at a time in Washington, both of them staying at the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue a few blocks above the White House and the War Department. The governor of Mississippi designated Percy, not any elected representative, to speak officially for the state. Repeatedly, they saw the secretary of war and Coolidge himself, and were reassured. Also in the fall, Jim Thomson, uninvited by Butler, simply moved to Washington with his wife, Genevieve, both of them comfortable there, moving in the highest congressional circles. But Thomson was still not one of the insiders in New Orleans, and though he had spent almost six years pushing the White House, the War Department, and Congress on river issues, he was reduced, he confessed angrily, to “following what I interpret to be the lines suggested in newspaper interviews by Messrs. Hecht and Butler.” Yet despite his displeasure, he too devoted his lobbying energies to supporting the plan decided upon by Hoover, Percy, Butler, and Martineau.

Everything was coordinated. As one strategy document noted, “The first three days [of congressional hearings] will be devoted to a mammoth demonstration that the business interests of the United States demand that Congress give flood control legislation rights-of-way over everything.” On a daily basis Butler, Percy, or Thomson met with the Senate leadership and senators from their own states, and, in the House, with Frank Reid of Illinois, chairman of the House Flood Control Committee, or Louisiana’s Riley Wilson, the committee’s ranking Democrat, whom Butler and other New Orleans financial leaders now were supporting for governor.

The only obstacle was the White House and the Corps of Engineers. Representing Coolidge, Jadwin submitted a proposal developed by the Army that became known as “the Jadwin Plan.” It was the least expensive proposal, and therefore Coolidge liked it, but the chief engineer of every single levee board on the lower Mississippi signed a letter attacking it, and 94 percent of the 300 witnesses who testified before the House criticized it. In his own House testimony, Jadwin dismissed all the criticism, and all competing ideas, contemptuously. One congressman asked, “You do not expect us to accept any plan simply because you present it, and to shut our minds to any other thoughts?”

“Yes,” Jadwin answered bluntly. “I think you ought to do it.”

The members shook their heads incredulously. Then Representative Will Whittington, from the Delta, observed that information Jadwin had given the committee stated that the Mississippi River in its natural state, without any levees, did not flood the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. Whittington inquired, “Am I to be told that [the Delta] is not subject to overflow from any floods of the Mississippi River?…As a matter of history, is not that entire Yazoo basin subject to overflow from the floods of the Mississippi River?”

Jadwin said, “The [data] is the best authority I have on that, Judge, and that indicates that it is not subject to overflow in its natural state.”

Whittington guffawed. “That is news to us.”

But Butler’s warning had been prescient. The Jadwin plan, for all its meanness, was proving useful in focusing the attention of the Congress on the lower Mississippi alone. It seemed that each of the thirty-one states whose rivers drained into the Mississippi wanted something. Even states whose waterways did not drain into the Mississippi wanted something. A California congressman said, “Coming from the Imperial valley, [far] below the uncontrolled waters of the Colorado River, I have an appreciation of the menace of floods as great as anyone in Congress…[but] the Boulder Dam project is not going to be used to embarrass or harass you in the advancement of your legislation.” The audience applauded and stamped its feet in approval. He continued, “We expect to give to your problem of the Mississippi the same sympathetic and earnest and helpful consideration that we expect you of the Mississippi Valley to give to the problems of other parts of the country when they in turn are presented to Congress.”

The Jadwin Plan kept the bill narrow, and Coolidge was threatening to veto broader legislation. Slowly, the bill advanced. Finally, on March 28, 1928, a bill Butler and Percy supported came to a vote in the Senate. In less than an hour and a half it passed unanimously, even though it called for “the greatest expenditure the government has undertaken except in the World War,” the New York Times reported. “For a measure of such importance, concededly one of the most important before Congress in years, the speed with which the Senate acted is believed to be a record…. Today, however, the wheels were greased and the leaders of the two parties demanded quick action and got it.”

But while the House and Senate ironed out differences, Coolidge promised to veto any bill that did not require local contribution. For the next six weeks Congress fought with Coolidge over the question. The Times wrote that “President Coolidge has never shown as much opposition to a measure pending in Congress than he has to this.” The Wall Street Journal said, “The White House has been stirred as seldom or never before…. Now there emerges a new portrait of the Chief Executive—in quite belligerent outline and color.”

The situation required a final exertion of influence. Every interest in the Mississippi valley applied pressure. Butler, Hecht, and Percy helped those outside the valley see that it was in their interest to apply pressure as well. Levee boards owed $819,642,000 in bonds, and repayment would be jeopardized if the region’s economy did not recover. The Investment Bankers Association of America lobbied intensely for the president to sign the bill, and the American Bankers Association resolved: “The disastrous flood that visited the Mississippi Valley in 1927 is by far the most overwhelmingly destructive calamity experienced by our country in generations…. It is the profound conviction of the American Bankers Association representing 20,000 American banks that the control of the Mississippi River is a national problem, should be solved by the nation, and that, cost no matter what it may be, should be borne exclusively by the nation. The bill…should be enacted into law without further delay.”

Coolidge finally relented. He accepted the argument Butler had advanced in Hot Springs, and announced that in consideration of the moneys already paid by states and local governments, he would waive further contributions by them. The total cost of the plan was set at $300 million, but even those citing that estimate conceded that the real cost would run to $1 billion.

On May 15, 1928, Coolidge finished his lunch and was about to leave for a vacation. His secretary reminded him that he had promised to sign the bill before leaving the city, handed it to him, and he signed it. There was no ceremony, no commemorative pens, no gathering of smiling congressmen and senators and interested parties and photographers.

Still, the event did not pass unnoticed. Declared Illinois Congressman Frank Reid, a gritty man who had resisted White House pressure for weeks and generally disliked hyperbole: “The bill changes the policy of the federal government which has existed for 150 years. It is perhaps the greatest engineering feat the world has ever known…. It is the greatest piece of legislation ever enacted by Congress.”

The law had many flaws. Civilian engineers condemned it with virtual unanimity both for its engineering and its policy of niggardly compensation for use of private land, and Hoover privately “unburdened” himself that it exemplified “the viciousness of Army engineers.” Yet the men who controlled the lower Mississippi valley embraced it anyway. They would fix what required fixing later; the law would be changed almost continuously over the next ten years. More important, the law declared that the federal government took full responsibility for the Mississippi River.

In so doing, even in the narrowest sense, the law set a precedent of direct, comprehensive, and vastly expanded federal involvement in local affairs. In the broadest sense, this precedent reflected a major shift in what Americans considered the proper role and obligations of the national government, a shift that both presaged and prepared the way for far greater changes that would soon come.

THE DAY AFTER Coolidge signed the bill into law, the board of directors of the Canal Bank met in Room 326, where so much had happened, voted for a resolution of thanks to James Pierce Butler, and heaped praise on him. He was visibly moved and replied: “I did not expect this action on the Board’s part…. I possibly have been away more than I can reconcile, but I was in the fight and I felt that I had to see it through. I want to thank you for all that you said and to say that I will never let another matter take me away from my very pleasant duties at the Bank as much as this work has done.” Later the New Orleans Times-Picayune would award Butler its Loving Cup, given annually to the person who did the most for the city in the year.

Meanwhile, New Orleans Mayor Arthur O’Keefe, the 300-pound ward heeler and grocer, declared that the coming Sunday should be a day of thanksgiving and prayer in the city. A special Te Deum was sung in St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, and special services were held at the St. Charles Christian Church uptown, at Christ Church in the Garden District, and at dozens of other churches and synagogues. It was rumored that the minister at Trinity Church would ask the congregation to applaud and thank James Thomson, who had just returned to the city from seven months in Washington lobbying full-time for the legislation. Thomson almost never attended church but did this Sunday. The minister spoke of the bill but did not mention him. Thomson sat silently as the service closed, then left quickly with his wife, saying nothing.

A week after the bill was signed, Congressman Reid joined the swashbuckling and corrupt Chicago Mayor Big Bill Thompson on a trip to New Orleans. A crowd estimated in the thousands greeted them, sirens and steamboat whistles sounded salutes, the police and fire department’s brass bands played, and the crowd—turned out by the city’s political machine—cheered. Reid said that without Jim Thomson there would have been no bill.

For Reid there would be an evening banquet in his honor attended by five hundred people, a reception at the elegant City Hall, a reception at Thomson’s paper, and a cruise of Lake Pontchartrain on a yacht. There was no invitation to dine at the Boston Club.

But the power of the clubs had already waned, although perhaps no one at Reid’s banquet yet realized it. Reid and Big Bill had arrived in New Orleans at seven-fifty on Monday evening, May 20, having attended the inauguration of the governor in Baton Rouge earlier in the day. The governor was not Simpson, nor Riley Wilson, the congressman who had bet his political future on the flood control bill and Butler’s support. The new governor was Huey Long.

LONG REPRESENTED a new kind of flood, an inundation that the city had never faced before. Butler informed Hecht, Dufour, and Monroe that he “had had a talk with Mr. Long, who seemed to have some wrong impressions about certain features both as to the facts and the law” regarding the dynamiting of the levee and the situation in St. Bernard and Plaquemines. Nothing changed regarding those payments, but the equation of power shifted. The two parishes, which shared a congressional seat with New Orleans, supported Long in everything he did and helped him wrest control even of city affairs from the city.*

The bankers, the lawyers, the members of the Boston Club and Comus and Momus and Rex and the other Carnival krewes, suddenly found themselves confounded by Long, who treated them as they had treated St. Bernard. They despised him. In the evenings they literally sat around their drawing rooms discussing ways to murder him. He laughed and stripped them of power and forced New Orleans to its knees. Once the Board of Liquidation, led by Monroe, told him they could not approve a bond issue he wanted because, it informed him, it had discovered a technicality that would make the issue illegal. Long replied that if that was the case, then their new discovery must apply to bonds already issued, and therefore they need not be repaid. The board went into executive session, studied the question anew, and found that it had been in error.

Meanwhile, Jim Thomson never stopped trying to help the city or work himself into its inside; in a successful effort to generate money, publicity, and tourists, he was largely responsible for creating the Sugar Bowl. But he was never invited to join the Boston Club or the Louisiana Club, or any of the exclusive Carnival krewes. Despite the violent objections of his editor, he had his two papers support Huey Long; in return state employees had to subscribe to his papers. Supporting Long only confirmed his outsider status. Years later a friend asked him one of those questions that usually elicit a joke, and sometimes a longing: if he had his life to live over, what would he do differently? Bitterly Thomson replied, “I’d never have come to New Orleans.”

WHEN THE FLOOD CONTROL LAW passed, the New Orleans Association of Commerce planned a campaign to guide the coming boom, the boom so certain to follow. New Orleans had once been the wealthiest city in America, and association members were confident it would be again. But the city did not boom. Instead came decline, and the first to fall were the banks.

The first collapse was of the Marine Bank. Leonidas Pool, once Rex, was Marine’s president; he had gotten Isaac Cline to convince the governor to dynamite the levee, and he had been one of those visited by men from St. Bernard carrying shotguns just before the dynamiting. Pool had gambled millions of dollars in loans to sugar plantations early in 1927. The flood made his “sugar paper,” as he called it, worthless. In June 1928, on a Saturday night without any advance notice, the Canal and Marine Banks “merged.” Pool died soon after. His daughter, who went to live in Greenville among the people her father had called “the aristocrats of the earth,” said the bank failure and the flood killed him.

Butler’s Canal Bank, already the South’s largest, grew even larger after the merger. But its growth was like the swelling around an infection; Pool’s losses were too large for even it to absorb. When the Depression hit, it reeled. In 1931 its board reelected Butler president, then less than one month later, under the command of a controlling faction representing Chase Manhattan, it ousted him. Butler returned to Natchez, to his family’s plantation. He too died young. George Champion, later president of Chase Manhattan, ran the bank, but even he could not save it. It closed.

Other New Orleans banks were also weak, weaker perhaps than those in any other city of consequence in the country. After the 1933 bank “holiday” in the Depression, only a single New Orleans bank reopened as the same institution. That was the Whitney, the conservative Whitney, dominated by Blanc Monroe and on whose board sat Doc Meraux.

Rudolph Hecht survived. He became president of the American Bankers Association, a figure important enough in Washington that the Gridiron Club would build a skit around him. But his Hibernia Bank disappeared, one of those that failed to reopen after the bank holiday, although a new bank reopened with the same name and still under his control. Its collapse and Hecht’s questionable dealings led to the most involved litigation in New Orleans history, and in a cross-examination still talked about half a century later among New Orleans lawyers, Hugh Wilkinson proved Hecht a perjurer. But Hecht went on, unperturbed, traveling around the world and doing international business. In 1939, after telling the groundskeeper at his retreat in Pass Christian, Mississippi, to allow some visiting bankers to view his Japanese garden, he was driving back to New Orleans when he ran over a three-year-old boy and kept going. The child died. Witnesses described the car and gave a partial license plate number, and police stopped him less than an hour later. Human blood and flesh were found on his car. But the witnesses were Negroes. He argued that witnesses described the car as black and his was blue. It was dark navy blue. “I know absolutely nothing about the accident,” he said, “and it is inconceivable to me that my car could have struck the child…. [The police] felt it their duty to make a charge against me on the statement of this Negro, whereupon my friends in Gulfport signed a $5000 bond for me and I returned to New Orleans.” A Mississippi grand jury declined to indict him.

NEW ORLEANS had never been open, not in the way cities in the West were, where “old money” was measured in months, nor even in the way cities in the East were, where immigrants could muscle their way into first political and then economic power. New Orleans had been exclusive from the first. When the United States initially gained sovereignty over the city, the existing French and Spanish elite had mocked the Americans, who in turn created their own institutions, including the Carnival krewes. Over the next century, the Americans with their money took precedence over the remnants of the European society, and also took over their pretensions. But before the flood New Orleans had at least accepted transfusions of fresh blood. After the flood the city grew ever more insular. The Boston Club and the finest Mardi Gras krewes closed even more tightly about themselves and seemed to take special pride in excluding newcomers, especially oil company executives. And the city’s elite held grudges: Russell Long, Huey’s son, was elected six times to the U.S. Senate and chaired the Finance Committee for many years, but was never invited to the Comus ball.

The social conservatism intertwined with the financial conservatism; the one magnified the effect of the other. In the 1970s, a local economic study concluded: “[The] social system excludes executives recently transferred to New Orleans and discourages their participation in community issues…. A narrow circle of wealth-holders…represent a closed society whose aims are to preserve their wealth rather than incur risks in an effort to expand it…. This development has reduced the opportunities.” At the same time, Eads Poitevent, a bank president and Boston Club member, conceded: “The long-established New Orleans financial community has often been accused of being a conservative aristocracy that was tight-fisted and wanted to keep things as they have always been. To some extent, that is absolutely true.” As a result, business in the city did not expand; it shrank. Local companies found it more difficult to grow. Large companies looking for headquarters, or even a regional headquarters, put their operations in Houston or Atlanta. Only one Fortune 500 company, Freeport McMoran, has its headquarters in New Orleans.

And so the city decayed. Before the flood New Orleans had vastly more economic activity than any city in the South. Decades later, while in the newest New South such cities as Charlotte and Miami—not to mention Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston—thrived and grew, New Orleans fell far behind its old competitors, and banks even in Memphis now dwarf those in New Orleans. Meanwhile, the city’s social and business elite increasingly went separate ways; in the early 1990s not a single bank president belonged to the Boston Club.

New Orleans had become even more ingrown, and it was dying. Only the port, created by the great river and Eads, remained vital. The city had become a place for tourists, and picture postcards. Perhaps all this had nothing to do with the 1927 flood. Or perhaps it did.

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