When Lafcadio Hearn led the world to New Orleans’ table
A native of Greece who grew up in Ireland, Lafcadio Hearn — and his pen — arrived in New Orleans in 1877. He would spend a decade in the city, reporting for local newspapers and, more importantly, writing books and articles for national magazines that highlighted local cuisine and culture. Those writings helped establish New Orleans as an exotic, nearly mythical locale in the American consciousness.
There’s no escaping Hearn’s local influence, even if you might not be aware of it. An award bearing his name is awarded by the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University to recognize contributions to the culinary profession. The two-story, Greek Revival double townhouse at 1565-67 Cleveland Ave., where Hearn lived for five years, was declared a landmark by the City Council in 2004. More than a century after his death, the 2012 Krewe of Lafcadio parade debuted in his memory and still rolls every Carnival season.
- In addition to writing for The Times-Democrat, a forerunner of The Times-Picayune, Hearn wrote many books, including “La Cuisine Créole,” a compilation of recipes that probably was the first to draw wide attention to New Orleans’ distinctive cuisine.
- Hearn moved to New Orleans from Cincinnati. At one point, he wrote that New Orleans’ condition “is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.”
- “You do not know your Louisiana coast’s history until you have read Hearn’s ‘Chita,'” read a Times-Picayune story published in 1914, referencing Hearn’s novel set on Last Island.
- The Rex organization paid tribute to Hearn by theming its 1989 parade “Lafcadio Hearn’s Fantastics.” Because the krewe thought so few New Orleanians would remember who he was, it announced the theme early.
- After leaving New Orleans, Hearn moved to Japan in 1890. There, he married a woman from a samurai family — they had four children — and changed his name to Koizumi Yakumo.
- Hearn lost the sight in his left eye as a teenager. He was profoundly nearsighted, but he refused to wear glasses because he feared they would weaken his vision. As a result, he turned his left side away from the camera in photographs.
- Hearn’s writings are still wildly popular in Japan. In 1985, Japanese crown prince Naruhito, the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, visited Tulane University’s Howard-Tilton Library, where he viewed a collection of Hearn’s books.
While Hearn’s isn’t exactly a household name in the Crescent City, he helped create the city’s reputation as a major food city. That reputation endures today, continuing to draw tourists from around the world to savor the exotic atmosphere he evoked.