Historical fiction research report 2

As research continues into New Orleans 1910, I begin to look for who the movers and shakers were, and what was happening in the Big Easy.

Through surfing websites on Domino’s sugar (I wanted to know whether it was cane or beet, and it’s cane still, most of it from Louisiana) I found the website of Edward Branley. He’s a NOLA (that’s New Orleans, Louisiana) teacher and author who has written books on the history. Through is site, I rabbit-holed to a master’s thesis on Albert Baldwin Wood. I read that he had created the drainage systems that carried away flood water and eventually sewage, and helped provide fresh water. It was because of him the city expanded. And during Hurricane Katrina, his pumps kept working, even when all the newer ones failed.

A. Baldwin Wood and others, 1915

According to Wikipedia, Wood began working for the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans in 1899, and began patenting his inventions in 1913. So that means that in between he was inventing cool things. This picture is on Wikipedia. It says he’s in the center, but I don’t trust that necessarily, so I look up other pictures of him. That leads me to the Biloxi Historical Society

If you’ve read any of my Victorian mysteries, you know how much I love technology. Victrolas, stereoscopes, cool wagon parts. And sewage systems. The best sign of an advanced civilization is a good sewage system!

So now I have a sugar factory, a 9-year-old Louis Armstrong, and a hydraulics engineer. 

Historical fiction research report 1

I recently received an email from Bouchercon 2025, the big mystery convention being held in November 2025 in New Orleans. They are putting together an anthology. I entered last year’s anthology for San Diego, and wrote a special story for it: Murder Steampunk Style. It didn’t get accepted.

So I’m trying again, but I live in San Diego, not New Orleans. The instructions say the story should have something to do with the Big Easy. I’ve been there three times, I know some history, I’ve done some reading (history, of course, but also fiction such as Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, Ellen Byron, Alexandra Ripley). One of my strongest memories from visiting was seeing the Domino Sugar factory on the banks of the Mississippi River. I do like me some technology. I look on Google Maps and it’s Domino Sugar Chalmette. I found their website, but it occurred to me that if I write about a body buried in Domino Sugar, people working there might be offended, or the company might. 

I love writing historical novels, so what if I made it historical? Yes, people in the South know their family history, but perhaps it would be distant enough that it would be ok. I look at the brief history timeline on the Domino website, and it looks like the earliest possible would be 1909. On May 17, the refinery commenced operation. So give it a chance to get rolling – I’ll do 1910.

First picture searching “New Orleans 1910” cinches it for me, an uploaded photograph “by” Mark Savad on a fine art commercial site. Did he colorize it? Create it with AI? I don’t know, but later I find the black and white version.

1910 image of New Orleans

But the source doesn’t matter because it’s evocative and this is the inspiration stage. I kept looking for images from New Orleans in 1910 and decided to start a Pinterest board to stow them. Then I added the Pinterest extension to my Chrome browser, so I can add pictures as I come upon them. I add the one of the Domino plant.

Somehow I stumble on Louis Armstrong (serendipity!), who I know is from New Orleans, and I wonder how old he would be in 1910 so I check the Wikipedia page and he would be 9 years old. This would be that early part of his life when he worked for and had dinner with a Jewish family. I remember that was why he wore a Star of David in later life.

Much later in his life, Armstrong wrote about his very young life in “Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La, the Year of 1907”, and it’s been studied. I searched but couldn’t find the entire document transcribed online (looks like his house museum archive may have the original). The Wikipedia article found their info from his booklet in a collection book, which I find online used for $10 so I ordered it.

I will now continue gathering more pics and info about the city in 1910, and thinking about Louis Armstrong as the possible character.