There are a lot of places in the world I want to visit. If someone starts talking about some place in a fairly positive way I’ll want to go there. It doesn’t matter if it’s a popular tourist spot like Bangkok, Thailand, or somewhere that isn’t really thought of as a travel destination. It should seem what with the entire world basically on my bucket list (although I think experience or life list sounds better) that as soon as I go somewhere I’d cross that place off and consider it done. That hasn’t been the case. I’ve done repeat visits to many places Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Saskatoon, Regina, New York City, and of course New Orleans.
After my first trip to New Orleans I had many regrets. This was the first. My second regret was that I didn’t get to see and do everything I wanted to do. Six days in any city won’t be enough to see and do it all, but I particularly regretted not getting down to Frenchman Street, and not visiting the Backstreet Cultural Museum.
If anyone has watched the television show Treme, or knows a bit about New Orleans history and culture then you’ll probably know about the Mardi Gras Indians. Here’s a little bit of about The Mardi Gras Indians from Mardi Gras New Orleans. “Mardi Gras is full of secrets, and the Mardi Gras Indians are as much a part of that secret society as any other carnival organization. The Mardi Gras Indians are comprised, in large part, of the African-American communities of New Orleans’ inner city. They have paraded for well over a century, yet their parade is perhaps the least recognized Mardi Gras tradition.” I didn’t know anything about the history Mardi Gras Indians until a few years ago.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum is run by local resident Francis Sylvester, and details some unique pieces from the African American community in New Orleans. I learned about this museum in strange way. I was watching the Spike Lee When The Levees Broke, and in one scene there was a hanging sign in the background that said, “Backstreet Cultural Museum.” Of course I googled the name, and after reading a bit about the museum, and its mission to preserve a unique part of New Orleans culture I decided one day I would see it for myself.
I went to New Orleans in June. I had a wonderful time, but I proceeded to do something I’ve become an unfortunate expert in: I procrastinated. It wasn’t like I just stayed inside all day. I went out. I saw quite a bit of New Orleans, just not The Backstreet Cultural Museum. Finally on my last morning I decided I’d visit the museum before my left early that afternoon.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum is run by Francis Sylvester, from his home, and unbeknownst to me at the time it isn’t always open at the exact times that are listed on the website. I knocked, and rang the door bell and there was no answer. A few guys hanging outside a couple houses down told me it was best to call ahead before visiting, but suggested I waited a few minutes. I’d gotten there just before the museum was scheduled to open. I waited for a bit, but after several minutes of no sign I had to leave. I didn’t want to take any chances of not getting a cab back to my Roomorama stay to collect my things, and head to the airport for my flight. I left, disappointed in myself for putting off something I wanted to do until the last possible minute.
A few months later when I read the email saying I’d won a trip back to New Orleans a race of thoughts rushed through my mind. Aside from the whole “is this real?” “aaah I get to go back to New Orleans” and “wow my friend will be psyched when I invite her to come with me” the other thought that ran through my mind was, “I get a second chance.” I got a chance to visit this museum that I missed on my first trip. I knew that my second trip to New Orleans would be short, and I told my friend I was generally good with doing anything else she wanted, but I said that I had to visit The Backstreet Cultural Museum.
I learned from my past mistakes, and phoned to confirm the museum was open. The weekend we were visiting was really busy, and we didn’t get there until about an hour before the museum close. While I would have liked a little more time the fact I got to visit the museum at all was amazing. After I left in June I figured I’d get to go back to New Orleans one day, but I didn’t think that one day would be four months later. The museum is small, but the amount of items on display is pretty incredible. Here are just a few photos.
If you think New Orleans is only partying, Mardi Gras, jazz music, spicy food, and cemeteries then there’s a lot to learn. This museum is one of many examples that shows the unique culture and history of New Orleans. Museum owner France Sylvester was there, and told my friend and I some information about some of the displays. He also let us know that the next afternoon there was going to be a local parade. Of course the parade was happening right after our flight was scheduled to take off to Houston. It would have been great to have gone to the parade, but it wasn’t meant to be. I had my second chance in New Orleans, and one day I’ll be back for a third.
The Backstreet Culture Museum is located at 1116 Henriette Delile Street in New Orleans Treme neighbourhood. Admission is $8 per person. Information about the museum can be found online here. If you are planning to visit the museum make sure to give the museum a call ahead of time to make sure they’re open.
This post not sponsored or endorsed in any way by the Backstreet Cultural Museum. I just thought it was a pretty amazing place, and would highly encourage anyone in New Orleans to visit there.