Wednesday, May 11, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (5/11/22): Why... in New Orleans?

 This past week I was in New Orleans... 

... that fabled city along a bend of the Mississippi, home to classic jazz, crawfish etouffee, po boy sandwiches, and a confluence of many cultures from around the world.  

It's a colorful place with a long and complicated history, and for this traveler, a nearly endless source of great SRS questions.  Here are two that popped up for me this past week.  Can you help me figure them out?  

1. One of the great symbols of New Orleans are the steamboats that used to ply the river. They're wedding cakes on the water, full of color, decoration, and outsized components.  They don't use propellers, they use giant paddlewheels driven by large steam engines.  One of the most noticeable parts of a traditional steamboat are the smokestacks.  In this image of the Natchez  riverboat "City of New Orleans," you can see that the top of the smokestack ends in an incredibly elaborate patterning at the very top.  Since you see this kind of thing on nearly all steamboat smokestacks, that made me wonder--is that patterning at the top purely decorative, or does it have some kind of function?  What can you find out? 

2. While New Orleans is a generally colorful place, three colors seem to dominate: purple, gold, and green.  Is this color scheme really a thing?  Or am I making a vast overgeneralization?  

3.  There also seems to be an awful lot of fleur de lis in the decoration of New Orleans, you see them absolutely everywhere (including between the smokestacks above!):  Why?  

As always, be sure to tell us what you found out.. and HOW you found out!  (Tell us your process and citations.  We want to learn from you.)   

Search on!  


  1. Question #3 - The fleur-de-lis in New Orleans

    I've heard of the fleur-de-lis (and remember seeing it a lot when I was in the Boy Scouts), plus even the Saints (New Orleans' NFL team) uses it as its logo (source: And, I seem to remember that it has something to do with history. But, I don't know the details, so I'll look them up.

    First query: fleur de lis.

    Source: - The symbol was associated with the French monarchy; according to legend, it dates back to the reign of Frankish King Clovis (466-511 CE). As well, the pope gave Charlemagne a banner that was covered with fleur-de-lis. And, the fact that there are three points signifies the Christian Holy Trinity.

    Source: - It was associated with European monarchs, but especially with the French monarchy. And, it represents saints, particularly the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. That said, its use in what is now France appears to predate Christianity, as Roman coins from Gaul had a design that looked like it. As well, it's also been used in other countries, but it's most closely associated with France (particularly its monarchy).

    It is used some in America, in areas that were once ruled by France (including New Orleans). And, it's been used a lot in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit, in 2005.

    Second search query: fleur de lis new orleans

    Lots of results, but I want at least one that seems trustworthy.

    Source ( - it's the site for The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate): : It had long been a symbol of New Orleans (and its French heritage), but really took off in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, as it represented strength and determination, rebuilding the city, and defiance against the storm. And, in 2017, they represented what the city was able to endure and to recover from, and represented rebirth.

    Conclusion: It's a symbol of New Orleans, and represents the city's French heritage. However, it became more popular after Hurricane Katrina (2005), and represented its residents' determination to rebuild the city in the wake of that storm. And, it is a symbol of that city's rebirth.

  2. Question 2 (the colors purple, gold, and green in New Orleans)

    Search query #1: new orleans purple gold green

    Source: (site that focuses on Mardi Gras in New Orleans) - They're the colors for New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebration, with each being said (in 1892) to represent three different virtues (gold = power, green = faith, purple = justice). And, the story is that they were selected in 1872 to honor a Russian grand duke who was visiting. But, it's a story that doesn't quite fit the facts.

    The real story (according to historian Errol Laborde, who studied it) is this: The carnival king did say (in 1872, for the first rex parade) that those would be the three colors for Mardi Gras, but he never said why. At that point, Laborde asked why. And, after investigating, he concluded that the three had to do with how its organizers decided that the Rex parade needed a flag with three colors: Purple, for royalty ("rex" means "king"); gold, since heraldry needed a metal and gold was fit for a king; and green, since heraldry also needed a color, and since green went the best with purple and gold.

    Source: - It indicates the 1892 story of what the three colors symbolize, and states that the three Mardi Gras colors are seen year-round throughout New Orleans.

    Second search query (because I want to get to the bottom of this): new orleans purple gold green origin

    Source: - An article written by Errol Laborde in 2020, which explains his findings in more detail. They do date back to a proclamation by the 1872 carnival king, but it's unclear why he chose those three rather than some other ones (he never bothered to explain why), plus none of the other explanations can be verified. That, and the popular explanation for what they mean was debunked in 1971.

    25 years later, Laborde and others who were researching were able to deduce why those three were selected. They were as follows:

    * The carnival king needed a flag, which needed three colors (since the America, British, and French flags are all tri-colored). Red, white, and blue were dismissed, since they were colors for republics and revolution, which would not be appropriate for a king.
    * Purple was likely chosen because it's long been connected with royalty.
    * They also followed the rules of heraldry (which the people who organized the Rex event were likely familiar with), and those fields need both a metal (gold or silver [white]) and a color (black, green, purple, blue, and red). So, gold was chosen (since white was widely used), and green was chosen, since black didn't go so well with gold and purple.

    Conclusion: The three colors represent Mardi Gras, and are based on what was chosen for it back in 1872 (the selection of which was related to heraldry), though a separate explanation was invented in 1892. Now, though, it's a matter of civic pride for the city, and for its Mardi Gras celebration.

    Steamboats had tall smokestacks. The boats originally had boilers fired by wood. Along with the smoke there would often be flaming embers coming up from the furnace and out of the top of the smokestack. Those embers could and did start fires when they landed on the top deck or cargo. Tall stacks would give the embers a better chance to burn out before reaching the deck. In addition, the top of the stacks were "fluted". Fluting consisted of wire or steel mesh and acted like a small fence that would break the embers into small pieces. Smaller embers were more likely to burn out faster than larger pieces. As fancier boats were built, the fluting became very ornamental and eventually came to be considered an essential decorative element of the smokestack

    [spark arrester] Tried this on Wikipedia as recommended some famous person--DR Did not tell me anything new
    However this showed up First page is a great pix of the boat having just taken on a load of filthy coal. Black smoke too.

    Colours: [new orleans purple, gold, and green.] the only agreement I could find is that these are Mardi Gras colors. Seems to be alot of mythology concerning the origin though.

    Fleur de lis: Wikipedia works for this one. In the US, the fleur-de-lis symbols tend to be along or near the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Fleurs-de-lis crossed the Atlantic along with Europeans going to the New World, especially with French settlers. Their presence on North American flags and coats of arms usually recalls the involvement of French settlers in the history of the town or region concerned, and in some cases the persisting presence there of a population descended from such settlers.

  4. I forgot this one:
    Fleur de lis encore: From 1604 what is now eastern Canada was extensively populated by French people. Eventually the area became British property and in about 1754 most of the now 10,000 French had been removed. 1764 they were allowed to return under certain conditions: dispering themselves and swearing loyalty to British Crown.
    Many Acadians from France and the American colonies settled in Louisiana. Bringing there symbol with them.

  5. from the SERP:
    "Aside from the history of the Mardi Gras colors, the Mardi Gras King in 1982 gave each color its own meaning: purple for justice, green means faith, and gold represent power."
    beyond function… the girl gotta be stylin'
    high-falutin' boats
    would seem that the Natchez should be sportin' a bale of cotton instead of a fleur de lis between the funnels
    fire from fuel
    am interesting read… long… a lot of side-wheelers
    American Queen - NYT
    top of the AQ funnels

    1. Remmij - Great catch. The photo in the blog post is NOT of the "Natchez," but of the riverboat "The City of New Orleans." Two different boats dock at that particular point in the river, and I happened to catch "The City of New Orleans," while the Natchez was out and about.

      Now do you see the fleur di lis?

      Thanks for the eagle eye.

    2. good to have you back Capt. Russell… I should have seen "The City of NO" on the pilot house… I stand corrected… where's AI when I needed itshehim?
      many Natchez(Natchezi?)
      blazing funnels, 1870
      "The Natchez IX is modeled not after the original Natchez, but rather the steamboats Hudson and Virginia"
      no bale?
      City of NOLA
      I see it now… “Jumer’s Casino”
      "The Fleur-de-lis Meaning in Religion In Christianity, lilies symbolize purity and chastity, which may be why the fleur-de-lis historically represents the Virgin Mary. Coins from the 11th century, noble seals, statues, and stained-glass windows depict Mary holding the flower."
      the flur in slavery symbolism

    3. In

      The steamboat "New Orleans" drops anchor in 1812 after trek from Pittsburgh

      YouTube video: How the steamboat era transformed New Orleans

  6. In

    Twain meticulously studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for two and a half years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859.

    Also mentions boiler explosions and even Charles Dickens commented on the issue in 1842

    Searched [ boiler explosions steamboats]

    2011, The Greatest Maritime Disaster in U.S. History:

    More lives than in Titanic. It was overlooked and mentions: "The Sultana explosion can be linked with many industry and legislation improvements."

    And a closer look to the Natchez's funnel in

    1. allazgos interesantes Ramón – ¡eres un buscador de búsquedas! Menos mal que Elon no fabrica cohetes marcianos a vapor... todavía...
      ¿Cuántos po'boy's consumió Dan mientras estaba en Nueva Orleans?
      por cierto - buen vistazo a la tapa/corona del embudo

    2. Happy Teacher's Day, Dr. Russell!

      In June 2012, Google published this post inviting us to join and take part of Google Power Searching MOOC which started in July 2012.

      Some days before that (July), I saw the invitation on Google+ with Ricardo Blanco and Ricardo Zamora. I joined and since that day, I'm following Dr.
      Russell; learning, knowing, discovering, practicing so much that is impossible to say in words. I can only say: Thank You, Dr. Russell. Plus, reading and knowing people and friends in the Blog from all over the world is amazing

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Different topic but interesting.

      It's a door or not?

      Curiosity (thread) says it's "pareidolia." I'm not sure because the whole world sees the same. However it's interesting and always curious

    5. Pink water in Oaxaca. Pretty but not good

  7. an alternate "steamboat" for mathlady… (all beyond my capacity)
    new yorker
    MacTutor History of Mathematics
    Goo books

    1. Belated thanks. I’ve been in another world, figuratively and literally.
      I’d never heard of AG – topology is not my favorite area of math. He did lead a colorful life.
      Coincidentally, almost the same day a UK math newsletter had the following:
      which I found more illuminating about his work. It ties into the film Good Will Hunting.
      Another coincidence: I recently visited one of the sites important in AG’s life.