The Gates of Poydras

The Gates of Poydras:
A Chapter in a Life
Inspired by a True Story

"And a little child shall lead them..."
-Isaiah 11:6 (KJV)

In March 1994, my first grandson was born. In early April, I flew to Colorado Springs, Colorado to see him for the first time and to pickup with helping, if necessary, after my daughter-in-law's mother had left. My last night there, my son decided to rent a video for us to watch --- "The Joy Luck Club." I'm not sure who chose the video --- my guess is it must have been a new one none of us had seen that was getting good reviews.

At first, it was rather strange that, during a conversation much earlier in my visit, I had told them that I didn't care for "men bashing" --- that I had raised three sons and learned even though there are natural male-female differences, that men were not much different from women in many ways --- that I felt men were given a bad rap much of the time --- and that some are just as, or more, sensitive than many women. Early into the movie, my son turned to me and asked, "Well, Mom, is this men-bashing, or what?" We all laughed! But, as the movie went on, it was actually about various aspects of real Asian culture.

At one point, during an exodus of people with the Japanese invasion of China, a woman leaves her twin daughters under a tree by the side of the road. Here I am sitting with a young mother holding her new infant son, my grandson. After the movie was over, my daughter-in-law said something like, "I cannot believe those men treated those women like that --- I'm glad I don't live there! And, I cannot believe a woman would just leave her babies alone by the side of a road!" She thought it was just awful. Grant it, the situation and conditions were very terrible; however, I told her it was universal --- some men will mistreat women no matter what the culture; and what those women endured was universal, as well. I also explained that some women have no choice when it comes to making heart-wrenching decisions regarding the welfare of their children, like the woman leaving her babies under the tree in hopes that someone else could care for them.

After she walked out of the room to put my grandson to bed, I asked my son if he had remembered my telling him about the Poydras Home. He said, "No?" Apparently, I had never shared that with him before, so I sat there with my son, a grown man, and told him everything. We both filled with tears; then, when I went to bed, I cried so hard I had to wear sunglasses all the way home the next day --- even on the plane! After I arrived back home, I knew without a doubt it was time for me to make a call to the Poydras Home.

Backing up...

The year was 1978 when we had moved into a new home we had recently built in Springfield, MO. I awoke one night crying and startled myself when I sat straight up in the bed. Naturally, my husband jumped out of his skin from a sound sleep and asked what in the world was wrong! I simply replied, "Oh, nothing --- it was just a bad dream." "Are you sure?" he asked. I told him I was fine. Relieved, he turned over to go back to sleep. I, on the other hand, lay there wiping away tears as I realized it was the same heartrending dream I had had many times for over 20 years. As always, I dismissed it as just a bad dream --- maybe something I had read or had seen in a movie. I had no idea. I do know I could actually feel the deep emotions of being alone and abandoned like the toddler in the dream, and it was a crushing feeling for such a young child.

The next year, for the Christmas holidays, we were excited as we drove our family down to Louisiana to be with family and friends. At the time, I was the mother of two sons with another one "in the oven." For me, the only sibling to have ever lived in another part of the country for so long, traveling home was always special, especially at Christmas when the winter weather cooperated on our end. As a child, I dreamed of having snow at Christmas, just like in the pictures on Christmas greeting cards which fascinated me so. And, to this day, I am still amazed at the beautiful white flakes gracefully falling to blanket our area like one giant sno-ball --- the kind I ate from a cup every summer in Louisiana! And, I never tire of it. However, traveling hundreds of miles in snow and ice, believe me, can be like a two-sided coin --- beautiful and also a nightmare at the same time. One minute you are in awe, the next you are scared spit less. Through the years, I came to realize how much I miss the simple, green Christmases down South. However, I've felt blessed to have had the best of both worlds.

It was during that time that my husband and I went to visit my brother and sister-in-law at their home on the bayou. My brother brought up the subject of our lives growing up with a father who had a drinking problem much of his life that only worsened after a severe car accident --- and how we learned to cope with various things most kids didn't, yet still turned out to be good kids. Out of the blue, and for the first time in my life, I very casually shared the dream I had had my entire life and never knew why. I explained it in detail as I so vividly see it to this day.

After I finished, my brother looked at me with total surprise and asked, "You mean you don't know what that means?" Startled that he would have any inkling of the meaning of my dream, much less the deep emotional feelings, I replied, "No, I have no idea. I just find it very strange it's always exactly the same and that I awake at the same spot every time." He went on to say that all the years he thought I knew and was surprised to hear our mother had never once mentioned it to me. He then proceeded to explain the meaning of my dream as my husband and I sat at his kitchen table. When he finished, emotions were hurled at me from every direction, and I burst into tears. Thanks to my brother's explanation, from that day forward I never ever had the dream again.

Needless to say, I left my brother's home and went directly back to my Mother to ask her about it in private, away from my dad. I knew a mother's love for her children, and I knew my mother's unwavering, constant, protective care for me and my younger sister all our lives. She denied all of it, of course, saying that my brother was very young and didn't remember or know what he was talking about. She said we were placed in a daycare while she worked. I reminded her there were no daycare facilities in those days. I recognized it as her way of denying, and coping with, the needless guilt she as a mother had endured for years. When I told my sister, who had no recollection whatsoever, she cried and found it depressing.

I decided to let it lay until the time I gathered my thoughts and felt better about doing more research on my own. Still, the curiosity stirred within me about that part of my life I had dreamed about for so many years, and I would not rest until I knew everything to fill that void.

The dream...

In my dream, I was a toddler who was crying, feeling abandoned and alone. The pictures in my mind were always the same. I was in a very huge room, almost overwhelmingly large. The room had very high ceilings with rotating ceiling fans and was surrounded with baby beds. I knew I was a toddler since the crib railing hit me about even with my shoulders where I was standing on the left side of my sister who was sitting in the bed next to me crying. I saw the black silhouettes of two women --- never any faces. However, I sensed and knew the woman on the left was Mother. She was very small and slim. The lady on the right radiated a warmth, even though she was a total stranger. They stood right in front of me, so close to the crib as they talked. Then, Mother turned and walked across the huge room and out the door on the left. I cried and cried --- and that is the point when I always awoke from the dream feeling totally alone.

The reason...

Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs
Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs
Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs
Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs
Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs Me, 2+ yrs
Me, 2 yrs. old, shortly before entering the
Poydras Home

The year was 1950, and things were still very unstable just 5 years after WWII. However, my parents were able to move from half a house on Josephine Street near the Garden District out to Jefferson Parish near the airport where we had an entire house and yard. My mother had bought furniture, new refrigerator, and whatever else was needed for the house. One evening my dad, who had been drinking from depression, came home with the news that he had been unexpectedly laid off of work. My parents quarreled, and my dad left without anyone knowing where he had gone. Not even his mother, my grandmother, knew where he was. My mother was left alone with four children aging from 1 to 13 years old for which to provide. She had never worked more than a few days in her life and was forced to take a job. My aunt kept my brother, and my mother and sister, 10 years older than me at 13, lived with my grandmother. My sister could pretty much handle herself while Mother was at work as things were much different in New Orleans at that time. The problem was who would care for two little ones --- me and my younger sister. Mother felt she had no other choice but to place us in the Poydras Female Orphan Asylum not knowing if she would ever be able to come back for us.

Asylum sounds like a harsh word --- one which most people think of when referring to mental institutions. However, it actually means a "place of refuge and security."

Needless to say, it took months of everyone's searching, but my dad was eventually found and informed by my grandmother that Mother had to place me and my sister in the Poydras Home. He returned as soon as he could before we could be adopted; however, Mother said she did not take us out of Poydras Home for several months after his return. My dad had to prove to the Home that he had a stable job and could provide for us, before they would allow our release. His work took us to Corpus Christi, Texas for a year before we returned to live on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District.

Spring 1985 - my quest continues...

Six years after I had first discovered the meaning of my dream, and three years after my dad had passed away, I traveled down to Louisiana with my two youngest sons (13 and 5) for a visit. While there, I asked my mother to ride with me to New Orleans so I could see the Poydras Home for myself. Mother was reluctant and could not understand why I felt so strongly about seeing the place; however, she finally agreed to go with me. Independent as she knew I was, she knew I would go with or without her; and she didn't want me driving into New Orleans alone with just my 5 yr. old son.

Poydras Home is located on Magazine Street near the Audubon Park and Tulane University vicinity. When I saw it, being the photographer I am, I had to have photos. So, I got out of the car to take the quick shots I wanted while Mother and my son waited in the car. I remembered the gates and the long walk in front!

When I got back into the car, I said, "Mother, I remember the gates and the long walk, but the building seems so much smaller to me than what I remember?" I could tell she was uneasy when she asked, "Why are you wanting pictures of this place? Let's go --- the entire place has been completely remodeled, anyway." My brother had informed me in 1979 that it was no longer an orphanage, but a female nursing home.

When my photos were developed, my sister didn't want to see them --- she still found it to be too depressing. I was relieved with it all, yet I still wanted to know more about a part of my life that had revisited me in my dreams for so many years and seemed so real. Again, to family, I let it lay.

However, after that day in New Orleans, Mother was more and more at ease when talking with me about it. In fact, she seemed almost relieved to know it didn't bother me at all in a negative way and that I knew she did what she had to do for our best interests at the time.

See my first photos below:
(Click thumbnails for full-size)

Top of the Gates

The walk
Front of Poydras Home
My car parked in front
with Mother and son

April 1994...

After arriving home from Colorado Springs spending time with my son, daughter-in-law, and new grandson, I placed my first call to the Poydras Home. When I spoke with the receptionist/secretary and told her my story explaining that I wanted to find my records, she was amazed! She said she had been there for many years and had never heard anything like it! She was the one who informed me the reason the building seemed much larger to me as a toddler was because it WAS! It was actually 3 stories high --- they had to drop the two top stories, keeping the roof so as to not change the outside appearance, to pass Louisiana State laws for nursing home requirements. She then connected me with the Director of Admissions to re-tell my story. She, too, was amazed and asked if I would meet with the Head Administrator the next time I was in Louisiana. I assured her I would.

I was informed that, due to its history of dating back to pre-Civil War days, all the records had been housed at the Tulane University Archives ever since the orphanage had been converted into a nursing home and that the records were no longer open to the public. They had appointed one of their Board of Trustees to take charge. I was given her name to contact and was informed she would be sorting through all the files to get them in order and would search for the records I wanted. Over the next months, we corresponded. I was also informed they would be sending me a book, The History of Poydras Home by Lillian Fortier Zeringer, I would find most interesting. I asked for two so my sister could have a copy. I couldn't wait for it to arrive --- I read the book in one night!

After several letters, I was informed that most likely I would never have access to those records as most, during the time frame to which I was referring, had been accidentally destroyed. However, I continued to hope.

See images below:
(Click thumbnails for full-size)

Very Old Poydras Home
photo I photographed during
my first visit -- note 3 stories!

Poydras Home note card
on which I received several
My letter to Mary Langlois,
Board of Trustees,
in charge of records.
The History of Poydras Home
by Lillian Fortier Zeringer

July 1994...

My very first visit to the Poydras Home was in July 1994. I had returned to the institution that had existed since 1817 and was the 2nd oldest institution in New Orleans, and one of the very first orphanages in the entire country. As I sat and told my story to the Head Administrator, he was truly amazed with my accurate detail and description of the Nursery Ward, which was on the 2nd floor in the early 50's! He also informed me, outside of one woman returning to the Home to search for her records in the 50's, that I was only the 2nd one to their knowledge who had ever returned. I had lunch with the staff that day and vowed to return every time I could to sing for the ladies --- it was my way of "giving back," in some small way, what they did to help Mother in her time of need. Since July 1994, I have had a close relationship with the Poydras Home and have been back on numerous occasions, as my time and health permits.

July 1999...

While Mother was visiting me in July 1999 in the Ozarks, I walked out to the mailbox, saw a letter from the Poydras Home, came inside and went into my bedroom to open it. Inside that envelope were pristine copies of the official records I wanted of the Application for Admission into the Poydras Asylum, 5354 Magazine Street! I had waited 5 years for those records; but, in actuality, it was more like 20 YEARS since it was December 1979 when I first discovered the meaning of my dream.

For years, before she passed away at 88 years old, Mother knew she could talk freely with me about the Poydras Home. We had many, many good talks that each time seemed to help lift the load she had carried. She was comfortable knowing she was blessed to have had the Poydras Home to care for her daughters; and she knew, without a doubt, I felt the same about our passage through the gates of Poydras.

Copyright September 12, 2009
by Ashleigh Austin

What lies behind us and what lies before us
are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Below are the photos I took during my first visit to
the Poydras Home. It should be noted that
remodeling and expansion continued as needs
existed in the years following.
(Click thumbnails for full-size)

The Beautiful Gates
( July 1994)

The Home from a distance
(July 1994)
A side view
(July 1994)
The marble plaque,
originally at the top
of the old building,
now hanging in the hall.
(July 1994)

(July 1994)

(July 1994)
(July 1994)
(July 1994)

(July 1994)
Julien Poydras portrait
(July 1994)
Phoebe Bryant Hunter portrait
The leader of the compassionate
group of women who worked to
establish a home for children.
If you look closely, you will see
Vonda Englehardt at work, the
secretary/receptionist with whom
I first shared my story. In Feb.
2007, after 19 years of service, she retired the Poydras Home
as Administrative Assistant.
(July 1994)

Side Entrance
(July 1994)
Side view looking toward
Magazine Street
(July 1994)
A touch of beauty
Poydras Home
(July 1994)

Photos from other visits...

Photo of Poydras Home
Expansion Plans
(July 1997)

In Hallway Entrance
(July 1997)

Singing for the Ladies
(July 1997)

Singing for the Ladies
(July 1997)
Under the New Arbor at
Side Entrance to
(December 1997)

By the orginal Dinner Bell
located at side of building
(December 1997)

Singing for the Ladies
(August 2000)
In Main Hallway
(August 2000)
What a Surprise Blessing I
received on this trip!

This small infant crib was found
under piles of rubble in a storage
building from when Poydras
Home was converted into a
Nursing Home. It is the only
crib left from the original
Nursery! It took a little work to
restore, but what priceless history!
(August 2000)

A beautiful walk towards
the Main Entrance.
(August 2000)
Standing at the Main Entrance
(August 2000)
Piecing together yet another
part of Julien Poydras history.
Let's see what is says!
(August 2000)

Julien de Lallande Poydras
is buried on the grounds of the
old Poydras School in New
Roads, LA in Point Coupee
Parish where his plantation
was located.
(August 2000)

Julien Poydras established the
State's first public schools in
Point Coupee Parish in the early
1880s. Poydras School is now a
museum and cultural center.
(August 2000)
Julien de Lallande Poydras
portrait in Dining Hall
(April 2005)

Pulling the Dinner Bell chain?
(April 2005)
Red Honeysuckle on
Arbor Entrance
(April 2005)
Front grounds facing corner
of Magazine St. & Jefferson Ave.
(April 2005)

Inside Main Entrance with
marble plaque from original
3-story Poydras Home roof.
(April 2005)

Main Hallway Entry
(April 2005)
In Main Hallway
(April 2005)

Board of Directors Meeting
(April 2005)
With Vonda Englehardt
(April 2005)
Pale Pink Oleander
for the Ladies
(April 2005)

To be continued...

Martin Buxbaum Beauty Quote

(Click thumbnail for full-size)
Artist - Unknown

Click HERE for more about the Poydras Home

Special thanks and appreciation to my sister, husband, and friends for their
assistance in traveling with me to visit the Poydras Home.


Enter South Louisiana

The Southern Style of Ashleigh Austin


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