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Commemoration of bicentennial Battle of New Orleans faces its own battle

10th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christian Villere and Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writers

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s favorite topic is his state’s upcoming, massive celebration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. Funded generously, through his auspices, the commemoration will highlight how our national anthem came from the Battle of Baltimore, and how this second conflict against our former colonial masters helped create the American identity. Millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of planning have gone into the events. And, Maryland expects to earn millions in tourist dollars for its efforts.

But here in Louisiana, in the only state that can boast of victory in battle against the British in the entire war, not one dollar has been allocated to celebrate this bicentennial.

Local military historian Tim Pickles has been on a lonely quest to make sure that the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans not only is observed, but will prove an economic and historical boost for the Pelican State.

In an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, Pickles outlined the difficulties Louisiana faces at this late stage in adequately celebrating the Bicen?tennial of the Battle on Jan. 8, 2015. “Our event follows Mary?land’s grand ‘Star Spangled Celebration’ which has been in the planning stages for two years and has an announced budget of $32 million. I have had indications from contacts in Maryland that many of their people are interested in joining us for our historical event but as we are still rather up in the air as to what the local communities are interested in supporting I have not been able to tell them anything about what will be happening.”

That’s the problem. Pickles has been trying to explain to elected officials and civic leaders the importance of commemorating the bicentennial. And, they are only now seeming to get the message.

“We are starting from scratch, but we can end up with a core of living historians that will be invaluable for both the tourism and movie industry.” Pickles serves as point man for a board mandated to put on a celebration, but no one in Baton Rouge thought to give it a budget. “The commission was originally put together with no money at the start…The commission is formed, but it isn’t funded.”

He hopes that “soon it might be,” and has begun planning a commemoration worthy of the people who gave their lives to save New Orleans from Wellington’s Peninsular Troops on the fields of Chalmette. “An idea that I started working on in 2005 is a month-long series of recreations and historical events to commemorate the entire New Orleans campaign, including the naval Battle of Lake Bourgne, and end with a Grand Victory Ball in mid-January. And our idea would be that the site for the recreated battles could remain as a permanent site as a sort of Southern version of Colonial Williamsburg to provide a permanent tourist attraction.”

“The battlefield for the event would cost anywhere between $250,000 to $500,000 depending on how the planning comes together.” While raising money in our current economic climate may seem like an arduous proposition, Pickles believes there are ways to attract the financing necessary for the event.

It is an area at which the military historian excels. Pickles serves as the chairman of the Louisiana Living History Foundation. With a background in of staging battles for the movies and television, Pickles was hired by the National Park Service and Louisiana Museum Foundation in 2003 to “write, produce, and cast a commemoration for the Louisiana Purchase.”

The event was very successful, and he is looking to make the event for the celebration of the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial event even more successful.

But that will require, Pickles told The Weekly, “get[ting] the city and the state behind it.” So, far, from Governor Jindal to Mayor Landrieu, there has been little interest in the current, stressed budgetary environment.

In the meantime, he has spent his time “approach[ing] museums and historical societies to let them know it’s happening.”

And that outreach, so far, is bearing some fruit. “We have had tremendous help and encouragement from the Meraux Foundation and The Honorary British Consul General Mr. James J. Coleman,” Pickles explained. “We have interest from international bodies including historical societies and the British Army but as yet it has not been possible to move forward with these entities.” One venue abreast of the Battle of New Orleans Military Commission struggles is the Louisiana Bicentennial Military Commission.

Another member of the Bicentennial Commission, Bill Hyland, echoes Mr. Pickles’ sentiments. “It is necessary to use this occasion to educate Louisiana and the rest of the United States about the significance of this piece of history.” Mr. Hyland also wants, “to ensure the event be presented to ensure repeat cultural tourism.”

The Bicentennial Military Commission is in the midst of planning the celebration of Louisiana’s bicentennial year.
The Battle of New Orleans Military Commission has not met in over a year. “There are people all over the world interested in the efforts intended to take place, and it’s difficult to get them excited about it when the commission has not met in over a year.”

“We are hoping to bring in travelers from around the world and the state,” says Director of Boards and Commissions for Jay Dardenne, Julie Vezinot.. With?out those travelers coming in to New Orleans, local business owners would lose out on a possible uptick in sales, and the local governments would forgo a sizable amount of sales tax revenue. A major event could provide a generous economic benefit to the city from all the myriad of tourists eager to see the commemoration.

Pickles goes on to explain that this would be, “a world-class event in an incredible location, which can be used as a springboard for other endeavors.” The potential for celebrating the battle is huge. The commemoration could be executed as “ a one-day event,” or there could be a much longer observance, he explained, with the greater potential to benefit the state.

“We could also do a month-long celebration going from December 17 to January 8.” The month-long celebration would take anywhere from two years to five years to put together properly. As someone who works in movies and television staging military battles, Pickles knows what he is talking about when it comes to planning.

The history of the city of New Orleans runs as rich and as deep as the culture itself. As a result, the preservation of the city’s history must be as high a priority as the preservation of its culture. With the recent influx of new residents from around the country, and the world, he maintained, it becomes even more of a priority we make certain the history of the city stays remembered.

This article was originally published in the December 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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