Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Old U.S. Mint - New Orleans, LA (From Fort to Fed)

400 Esplanade Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70116

            Money: it’s what makes the world go round. They say money cannot buy happiness but I sure as hell would like to test out that hypothesis! Along with millions of other Americans stuck in this purgatory we like to call middle-class, I make just enough to pay the bills and not much to do anything else. I really hate it when I am grocery shopping and I have to buy all the off-brand items such as Dr. Thunder instead of Dr. Pepper and Skillet Partner instead of Hamburger Helper. Don’t you just love those cheesy imitation names? As I stand in the checkout line, meticulously adding up my expenses to make sure I stay within my budget, I look on and see a pregnant twenty year old who already has three kids and is gleefully checking out two carts full of name brand products. Instead of paying, she simply swipes her food stamp card. Sure, there are many people that legitimately need assistance but I think we can all agree that many take advantage of it. I cannot tell you how much this makes my blood boil. This, my friends, is the true fleecing of America! As I’ve always said, “If you can’t feed them, don’t breed them!” Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.
            Apparently, we are not alone, as money shortage was also felt by the government in the early 1800’s. With a rapidly growing nation, the amount of coins grew smaller and smaller. To try and alleviate this problem, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill on March 3, 1835 that would authorize the United States Treasury to establish a mint in Louisiana. It was decided that the mint be constructed in New Orleans so a prime piece of land was needed.

            In 1760, Governor Louis Billouart de KerlĂ©rec of Louisiana ordered that a huge fortified structure be erected along the edge of the then-small city. Built in the 1790’s the massive pentagon-shaped fort was surrounded by a ditch that was twenty feet wide and eight feet in depth, it had sixteen embrasures with an armament of twelve twelve-pounder and eighteen-pounder cannons.  A barracks for one hundred and fifty men and a powder magazine were located inside. On October 25, 1769, a small rebellion took place and led to the execution of several Frenchman on site.
Photo of the mint in 1895.
            By the turn of the nineteenth century, the city had begun to expand and grow around the fort. It was later decided that the fort was no longer needed and it was demolished in 1821. Doing so cleared up the perfect piece of land for this newly ordered mint. Led by architect, William Strickland, construction began a few years later and the mint was complete in 1835. Minting began in 1838 and continued until Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861. Afterwards, the mint was transferred to the Confederacy and used to mint their coins as well as housing their troops. Following the Civil War, the mint returned to full operations by 1879 and was the only southern mint to reopen after the war.
             In addition to the millions of dollars produced, the Old U.S. Mint would be remembered for a darker event that took place in April of 1862. Once the Union took control of the mint, the southerners looked upon the building as a slap in the face to their homeland. Enough was enough for a professional steamboat gambler named William Bruce Mumford. Upon seeing the United States flag being hoisted atop the mint, Mumford ascended the roof, ripped down the flag, shredded it and stuffed pieces of it into his shirt to wear as souvenirs. Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler, the military governor of New Orleans, immediately ordered that Mumford be executed for treason. On
Interior of the mint, now used as a museum.
June 7, 1862, William Mumford was ceremoniously hanged from the very building that he defiantly ascended. The execution was solely a message by Butler to any locals who were contemplating a revolt or any other sort of treasonous acts.

              Minting would officially cease in 1909. Over the next few years, the mint would be transformed for numerous uses. First, the building was used as an assay office for the United States Treasury. In 1932, the assay office closed and the building was converted into a Federal prison, until it closed down in 1943. The Coast Guard then took over the building as a storage facility, which was quickly abandoned and left to decay until it was transferred to the state of Louisiana in 1965. During the Cold War, with a high risk of nuclear war, the old Mint was considered to be the best fallout shelter in the city. By 1981, the mint opened to the public as a State museum site.
              Our resident ghost here is none other than the rowdy rebel himself, William Mumford. Surprisingly, another spirit very close to William’s heart is also said to be strangely attached to the mint. Once arrested, Mumford was detained in the on-site jail. On a daily basis, his elderly mother visited the jail with food for her son while she begged and pleaded for her son’s life. Her demands fell on deaf ears, as William was executed and his mother was left heartbroken until the day she died. Both spirits of the mother and son duo are said to aimlessly wander the Old U.S. Mint at late hours of the night. Disembodied voices have been heard and objects have moved around on their own in this historic landmark. Take a tour of the mint and you will be amazed at the amount of antiques that are on display. It’s just a shame that they do not give away free samples from their years of minting coins!

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