New Orleans Museum District: Louisiana Civil War Museum and Ogden MuseumJune 11, 2011 No Comments
The New Orleans Museum District has undergone extensive revitalization in recent years, after sinking into neglect toward the end of the 20th century. Well-connected to the rest of the city via the St. Charles streetcar line, the area now contains entirely refurbished loft apartments and interesting restaurants. But the museums remain the central attractions. Anchored by the National World War II Museum, the district is also home to several smaller attractions. Dad and I visited the Louisiana Civil War Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art on our New Orleans Mardi Gras 2011 trip.
Louisiana Civil War Museum
The oldest museum in Louisiana and one of the largest collections of Confederate artifacts, the Louisiana Civil War Museum opened in 1891. The museum building, known as Confederate Memorial Hall, was actually built specifically to house this collection and has never held anything else.
The museum is the absolute antithesis of anything seen today, giving it a quaint and irresistible charm. The old wooden floors creak and groan with every step. The artifacts are displayed in a series of glass cases with old-fashioned, and in some cases hand-written, descriptive labels. The building smells old and slightly musty.
In order to fully appreciate the museum, it is necessary to understand how it came to be. The War Between the States came to an end in 1865. In the 1880s, when the museum was conceptualized, those who survived the war wanted a place to protect and honor their treasured mementos. Meanwhile, the families of those who gave their lives in the war wanted to pay tribute to their fallen loved ones. All parties agreed that it was important to provide a spot for future generations to learn the lessons of the Civil War. For a full history of this unique museum, visit the official website.
Unlike most modern museums, whose artifacts are often donated by people several times removed from their origins, the collection at the Louisiana Civil War Museum is extremely personal. Take the time to read some of the handwritten tags and labels. You’ll find uniforms donated by widows, rifles donated by sons, and letters contributed by the soldiers who wrote them. This fact, combined with the relatively small space and the age of the building, elicits a surprisingly emotional response in many visitors.
Despite its lack of high-tech thrills, the museum is well worth a visit, even for those with small children. The admission fee is nominal, and all proceeds go directly toward the museum’s upkeep and preservation. The sheer sense of history is simply awe-inspiring.
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Housing the largest collection of Southern art in the world, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art opened next door to Confederate Memorial Hall in 2003. The shiny, modern five-story building creates a visually arresting juxtaposition of old and new that is representative of New Orleans as a whole.
Since its inception, Ogden has been known for its “Ogden After Hours” parties in which museum members and the general public alike are invited to listen to local musicians while enjoying the galleries. The museum was spared from significant damage in Hurricane Katrina, and it reopened with an After Hours party on October 27, 2005. Hoping to draw 100 guests, the party actually drew more than 600, taking its place as one of the biggest post-Katrina cultural events to that date.
Although the museum’s collection is massive, a wide-open floor plan prevents it from feeling overwhelming. Exhibits range from paintings to sculptures to photographs. The Ogden regularly debuts new and touring exhibits, offering something new almost every time you visit.
Dad and I attended one of the legendary After Hours parties, featuring noted New Orleans jazz guitarist Brian Seeger. Admission is only $10 (2011 pricing) and the parties take place every Thursday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. This allows parents to expose kids to the local music scene without keeping them out too late.
The parties are intentionally family-friendly, with a different craft activity for kids offered in the museum each week. Chairs are set up in front of the stage, but it is easy to hear the music throughout the galleries. After the performance, the musical guest is interviewed by a local music writer. This is a great chance to learn more about the musician, and the interviews are recorded for the museum archives.
It is possible to see the highlights of Ogden during the two-hour party, though art buffs may want to return for a closer look. The dress code is casual, but Dad and I felt slightly underdressed in our regular tourist clothes. If you plan to attend the party, you may want to freshen up and change into a slightly dressier shirt. Jeans are fine. A small selection of hors d’oeuvres is available for sale, and the full-service O Bar is open for business.