I posit that this may be the first published mention of DeLille Street as actually existing. I'm just waiting for the city to change the signs.
Who names a baby Anthracite? I would think no one, but there it was, plain as the day, in the Times-Picayune obituaries. Francis Lemulet, recently deceased, left behind, as one of his survivors, a son named Anthracite Lemulet. This called for further investigation.
I am not the kind of busybody to go and pry into someone’s funeral, so I hired a professional. Someone who has to make uncomfortable choices, during all hours of the day, for a living, is known as a professional. Agent 11, with whom I had the pleasure to make contact soon after moving to New Orleans, was willing and able to get me the tale behind and around Anthracite Lemulet’s name.
A few months went by with only sporadic communication with Agent 11. Most of that consisted of brief notes stating that he was following up leads. Truth to tell, I was starting to forget about my curiosity until I received another message, and accompanying invoice, from my man in the field. Agent 11 and I had originally negotiated a reasonable, flat, weekly rate to solve the mystery underlying Anthracite Lemulet’s back story. When he began to send me receipts for expenses, I flatly told him that I was not paying for nights out at Syndey’s or Sweet Lorraine’s or Buffa’s. He retorted that these expenses were justified since he was following up leads. I terminated this mission, and asked for a summary of what he had learned thus far.
I received the following reply:
I regret to inform you that Mr. Anthracite Lemulet is with his father in Heaven. The younger Mr. Lemulet met his demise while still grieving the loss of his father. NOPD sources state there was no evidence of violence to the body. The Coroner’s office agreed with the police department’s assessment that the victim died peaceably. No arrests have been made while detectives continue to follow up leads.
The senior Mr. Lemulet’s motive for bestowing the name in question upon his son is not yet conclusively determined. Please follow these instructions .... .... and you will find the location of the latest information I have thus far unearthed.
Please don’t hesitate to call if I can be of any assistance to you in the future. I found this assignment very stimulating, professionally, and I look forward to working with you again.
With sincere regards,
The ellipses above stand for how many steps I should take in one direction, what quizzical landmark I will see when I get to that point, then how many steps I should take in another direction. There was a treasure map, drawn on a roll of butcher paper, without any features except for a pattern of dashed lines, each dash representing a footstep.
I followed the instructions.
When I was finished, I was standing on the corner of Governor Nicholls and DeLille Streets, facing Saint Augustine’s Church. If I knew what any of this meant, I would be a smarter man than Agent 11. Was I the victim of a practical joke? Did Anthracite Lemulet get his name by inspiration from the Holy Spirit? That is certainly within the limits of the probable, but why the secrecy? Why the opacity of what I was supposed to achieve by walking a winding path from Gentilly down through Treme?
I wasn’t sure.
I walked home on Governor Nicholls Street, and I passed the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. The DeLille Street side of the church is a place of piety. The Governor Nicholls Street side of the church is a place of memorial. I think I know the answer to a riddle, but I don’t know it well enough to say it right. There are bones in the earth.
When I try to explain it to Eric, he says he’s got some crazy ideas, himself. “Everyone has them,” he says. “When you live here long enough, you’ll be lousy with them. It takes some getting used to, but after awhile you won’t mind not being sure what’s going on. Sometimes the best way to tell something is not to describe it, but to provide an example.”
Ask anyone to speculate what it would be like to go through life as Anthracite Lemulet. The person who could tell us from firsthand experience is dead without a so much as his own obituary. I’ve been looking. He merited only a brief mention in the summary of his father’s life. As to the son’s life, it remains unspoken.
Where is his monument on Governor Nicholls Street? There is a cross forged of rusty, iron chains at the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. Anthracite Lemulet was born and died a free man. He was born a few streets away uptown. He died a few streets away downtown. There are bones in New Orleans’ graves.