Martial and Maguerite May Casteix, my grandparents, were party animals, at least in the context of partying in the twenties and thirties. Their partying ways were hampered with the passage of the Volstead Act in 1920 which became the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and rendered the sale of alcohol illegal; Prohibition as we know it.
There were few exceptions to the production and sale of alcohol, medicinal uses being one of them. A few distilleries stayed open making medicinal alcohol. The Buffalo Trace Distillery was one of them, although it wasn’t called Buffalo Trace back then.
Martial was a pharmacist and owned a number of drug stores in New Orleans as mentioned elsewhere on this blog. That meant he had access to medicinal alcohol as long as he could get enough of his doctor friends to write scripts for a bottle or two. Evidently, he was successful in those efforts. The doctors were probably all invited to the party, too.
From what I can gather from my dad’s tales of their parties, they didn’t just throw cocktail parties where you showed up, munched a few hors de vers, or durves—snacks—sipped a few cocktails and engaged in conversations with old friends. That was too dull for them. Their parties often had themes and even surprises.
Scavenger hunts seemed to be a favorite theme. The guests got an invitation but no location for the party. Instead, the invitation included a clue to a location. The invitees had to figure out the clue then go to that location. Upon arrival, they would be met by an employee of one of the pharmacies who would give them the next clue to find the next location. That went on and on until the invitee ultimately ended up at the party. I imagine this made for some interesting conversations once everyone arrived at the party
One clue I remember MB mentioning was “Charlie Chaplin’s Pants.” That was supposed to tell the invitee an exact location in New Orleans. For the younger readers, Charlie Chaplin (on the right) was a famous comedian/actor in the silent movies of the time. Everyone back then knew who Charlie was and what his pants were like. (Can any of you figure out the location from the clue? The answer is at the end of this post.*)
With alcohol being illegal for personal consumption, their parties ran something of a risk, although it was minimal (this was New Orleans after all). The cops mostly looked the other way unless the Feds were somehow involved. In that case, the cops pretended they were actually serious about this prohibition silliness.
With this in mind, Martial and May cooked up a prank for one of their parties. They planned to have the cops raid the party. Of course, the cops were friends and agreed to simulate a raid. This definitely qualified as one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” notions that didn’t go quite as planned.
Part way through the party after everyone has had a few adult beverages, the cops show up with loud whistle blowing and lots of yelling, “THIS IS A RAID! You are all under arrest! No one move!”
Despite the warning, EVERYONE MOVED!
Pandemonium ensued, and the party guests, fearful a picture of them being hauled off to jail might show up in the Picayune, abandoned ship! Post haste! As in very fast! The cops got run over in the confusion, and one poor guest literally jumped out a window.
And the party was on the second floor!
The window-jumping guest sustained a broken arm, and the festivities ended for that evening. But I imagine that only barely slowed Martial and May down.
But it seemed like a good idea at the time…
* Clue Answer: Toulouse and Broad. For those not from NOLA, that is the well-known intersection of Toulouse Street and Broad Street.
The picture is of Martial and May about 1920ish taken down at La Terre Promise (The Promised Land) Plantation downriver from New Orleans. I love this picture, because I feel it captures May’s mischievous spirit. Martial wears a serious business-like expression in every pic I have seen of him. Both died before I was born.