New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Thursday, June 04, 2020
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Devil's Elbow

In the forties and fifties in New Orleans, the Illinois Central railroad had, inbound to the city, railroad tracks that ran along where Earhart Blvd now lies. There was an outbound set of tracks that crossed Carrolton Ave to the right of where Cloverland Dairy was located. These inbound and outbound tracks formed a large V if they could be seen from an airplane. The neighborhood that was situated between those tracks was called “The Devil’s Elbow” as I was growing up there in the forties and fifties.

I lived in the 8800 block of Fig St and walked from there to Lafayette school on Carrollton Ave and Walmsley. At the intersection of Fig and Monroe Streets was the crossing of the Railroad tracks. There we would turn and wave to our Mom as she stood in front of our house as we walked to school.

At the corner of Fig Street and Eagle Street there stood two grocery stores. Johnson’s was owned my an older Swede fellow we called Mr Johnson and across Fig Street from his store was Cali’s Market. The Cali family, Mr Frank, and his sister Miss Rose ran that store as long as I can remember. I remember buying groceries there with the ration stamps of WW II. The house right next door to Johnson’s grocery was the home of a member of “Doolittle’s Raiders” as I found out many years later when reading a book about the raid on Japan during WWII.

Several blocks down Eagle Street at the intersection of Olive and Eagle Streets was a neighborhood pub called “Klein’s.” This was considered by us to be the “Heart” of “The Devil’s Elbow.” I notice now, when I read the Times Picayune online, that when they write of this neighborhood they call it the “Hollygrove” neighborhood. Well, I was born and raised in that neighborhood and never, not even one time, had I ever heard of it referred to as “Hollygrove.” I think that is a fabrication made up by foreign reporters now working at the Times Picayune!

Anyway, at Klien’s bar there was a large sign on the side of the bar that had the names of all the guys from the “Devil’s Elbow” who served in the military in WW II. My uncle’s name was right at the top. Charlie, the owner of Klien’s, also had a flagpole outside the bar and raised the flag every day up that pole. As teenagers we hung around outside Klien’s. One day, as Charlie was lowering the flag, several of us bet him that he was too old to climb up that pole. He took us up on our dare and climbed right on up to the top of the pole, but just as he got there the pole bent over from Charlie’s weight. Luckily it bent over the roof of the bar. When Charlie let go of that pole he fell onto the tin roof of his bar and rolled off only to land on the sidewalk in front of his bar. Took him several weeks to recuperate with a couple broken ribs.

He got even with me in sort of a fashion one cold winter night as we hung around outside his bar though. Above the door of the bar outside the building was a tin telephone sign. When we jumped up and banged that sign it would sound just like thunder, so we’d jump up, bang the sign and yell thunder. This one cold night, as I did this several times, old Charlie came out with a bucket of cold water and as I jumped up to hit the sign and call out "Thunderrrr" for the hundredth time that night, Charlie threw the bucket of water on me and yelled, "Rainnnnnnn.” Sure broke me from doing that again.

When I got old enough (16) Charlie hired me to deliver beer around the neighborhood on nights when fights were on TV. He had bought a brand new 1955 Yellow and White Ford. He let me drive that beauty even though I didn’t have a DL yet! I worked at Klien’s until joining the Air Force in 1955 where I stayed for 26 years.