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History of Shrimping in Morgan City

February 5, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

Morgan City is a Louisiana town rooted in tradition. Our biggest event of the year kicks off Labor Day weekend, when this year will mark the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival’s 85th Anniversary. It is the oldest harvest festival in Louisiana and a point of pride that has weathered storm after storm.

The Early Years (1920s-1960s)

Morgan City was put on the map with the lumber business in the 1800s. The cypress swamps provided tremendous opportunity and financial gain– until the supply became depleted. Fortuitously, just as the lumber trade was declining and the population waning from the Great Depression, the first heaping boatload of jumbo shrimp sailed down the Atchafalaya River and arrived in the Morgan City port from the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters.

“Why then this old boy from Florida sent one of his 24 shrimp boats down here to fish out of Morgan City– and, shrimping, he made a one-day trip and was about to sink his boat with the shrimp,” recalled TR Naquin, an early shrimper-turned-oil entrepreneur.

The tremendous haul of shrimp breathed new life into the area. Local members of the Gulf Coast Seafood Producers and Trappers Association joined crab fishermen, dock workers, oystermen, frog and alligator hunters who celebrated with a street parade– the beginnings of the modern-day shrimp festival. Overnight, 10 or 15 boats came up from Florida, kicking off the local shrimping industry.

Suddenly, there were jobs and people moving from other parts of Louisiana, as well as states like Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. Freezing houses sprung up to meet the demand of the expanding sector, new shipyards sprouted, schools were built, and infrastructure improvements were made.

Prior to the shrimping years, people had been working for 10 or 15 cents an hour. Now their wages were effectively doubled. First Street bars became popular hangouts to drink these wages, gamble, and fight. Rum boats and Chicago gangsters passed through the area during the “Roaring Twenties.”

Shrimping was a dangerous job in those early years when boats were small, engines were weak, and weather forecasts were a guess at best. Drowning, fires, explosions, and disabling injuries from shrimping equipment were commonplace. In 1937, festival chairman Paul Acklen LeBlanc pronounced the first “Blessing of the Fleet” to call upon God’s help in bringing the small wooden boats safely back to port.

Soon, technological innovations caught up, making it possible for shrimpers to take longer, safer trips; catch more, and preserve their catches for transport to major cities throughout the U.S. And so, Morgan City became known as “the shrimping capital of the world,” responsible for 25 percent of the nation’s annual shrimp harvest.

The Middle Years (1950s-2000s)

Oil became the next boon to Morgan City during the 1950s and linked up with the local shrimp festival in 1967. Times were tough for shrimpers. Regulations tightened, fuel costs increased, and workers were in short supply. Environmental changes like erosion and the shrinking Louisiana wetlands led to diminishing shrimp populations. Hurricane Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Isaac rocked an already-struggling ecosystem. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill only deepened the crisis.

Local fishermen will tell you the worst of it came from overseas competition. During the 1990s, Gulf shrimpers could fetch up to $4.50 a pound. Now, 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in America derives from farms in Southeast Asia and Latin America, where sellers offer high volumes for 75 cents to $1.50 a pound.

Modern Day (2000s-2020s)

Despite the hardships, Louisiana remains America’s top shrimp producer, with more than 100 million pounds exported annually. We continue to preserve the culture and traditions that made Morgan City great, while waiting for “the next boom.”

Since the Shrimp and Oil Festival’s inception, it has earned nationwide accolades as “Festival of the Year” in 2006, 2007, 2014, and 2015. Time Magazine described the crustacean celebration as “the best, most unusual, the most down-home, the most moving, and the most fun that the country has to offer.”

More than 145,000 people flood the area to partake in a celebration of the unique way that two different industries have come together to support a community. There is something for everyone with live music, arts and crafts vendors, a children’s village, car shows, baseball and softball tournaments, cooking contests, historic tours, and fireworks.

Additionally, the Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum in Patterson has opened a display titled, “From Berwick Bay to Étouffée: Shrimping in Louisiana” through September 2020. The museum itself is an old replica of a lighthouse built on the property of historic shrimper “Butch” Felterman Jr. His personal tribute to the industry features shrimp boat models, photographs, maritime equipment, and other artifacts spanning 1937 to 1988.

Unique Festival Name, Unique People

Parker Conrad came to Morgan City from a wealthy family in Jefferson Island, striking out on his own during the Great Depression to build shrimp boats. He explained: “These people who go after fishing and shrimping are the kind of people who work for themselves. They’re ambitious. They work hard. Time doesn’t mean anything to them. If they have to work around the clock, they do. So, the background of most of the people here has been very good, because they’ve made a living trapping, fishing, or whatever, worked for themselves.”

It’s this hardworking spirit, which provided the economic lifeblood to the area, through rain and shine, for more than half-a-century, that we recognize with this historic look back into the history of Morgan City shrimping.

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Morgan City Hurricanes

January 28, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

“Morgan City Hurricanes” sounds like a sports team moniker, but this post pertains to the storms that have devastated St. Mary Parish over the years. No one likes to make the news as the target for hurricanes, but for resilient Louisianans, it’s a fact of life. Our area is affected by tropical storm winds and rainfall every 2.5 years, directly hit for a few hours every 8 years, and struck by a major hurricane every 24.5 years. Some of us are still recovering from the most recent landfall in 2019. Continue reading to learn about the three most significant hurricanes to pass through Morgan City, Louisiana.

Hurricane Juan (October 28, 1985)

Hurricane Juan formed in the central Gulf of Mexico and looped offshore twice. By the time Juan made landfall in Morgan City, peak winds had reached 85 mph. The storm was noted for its erratic movements and tremendous amount of rainfall– over 12 inches at a time– which caused flooding in 42 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi were also affected.

People who remember this event recall the mass exodus of more than 2,000 state residents from their homes, including the evacuation of shelters. All told, Juan was responsible for 12 deaths and $1.5 billion in damage.

Hurricane Andrew (August 26, 1992)

Category 5 Hurricane Andrew holds the distinction as the second-most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. After crossing Florida and circling the Gulf of Mexico, it reached Louisiana as a category 3 storm, 20 miles southwest of Morgan City. Maximum winds up to 115 mph caused significant damage to houses in Morgan City, Berwick, and Patterson– $150 million worth in St. Mary Parish alone.

We were fortunate to avoid the full force of the storm, which reached sustained winds of 175 mph and damage totaling $27.3 billion spanning Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and the Bahamas. More than 2,000 Louisiana residents evacuated their homes to the safety of two municipal shelters. Residents remember the heroism of rescuers who risked it all to save the young, the elderly, and the trapped. Sixty-five people died in the storm overall, but none in our neighborhoods, thanks to the organized evacuation efforts.

Hurricane Barry (July 13, 2019)

Category 1 Hurricane Barry moved through Morgan City like a freight train, raising the Atchafalaya River to levels few had seen before. Electricity was knocked out for a third of all residents, roofs blew off, large debris blew off the highway, and trees toppled. Even though Barry reached sustained winds of 75 mph, it didn’t stop one couple from marrying during the tropical storm; the optimists viewed the hurricane wind and rain as “a sign of good luck” and a “family tradition” of sorts, as the bride’s grandparents, too, tied the knot during a hurricane nearly 70 years prior.

A local coffee shop served $1,000 worth of donuts and made 23 pots of coffee during the storm. These stories are a true testament to the grit and determination of Morgan City residents. Though there was only one fatality, the storm caused $600 million in damage from the Florida panhandle to the upper Texas coast.

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Famous People from Morgan City

January 23, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

Morgan City has a rich and colorful history. In 1876, the town’s name was changed from Brashear City in honor of Charles Morgan, steamship and rail magnate, who dredged the Atchafalaya Channel to accommodate large sea-faring vessels. Ever the entrepreneur, Morgan played a pivotal role in the development of commerce and transportation throughout the south from 1850 until his death in 1878.

Also known as the gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, Morgan City was the birthplace and home of many notable people, including politicians, professional athletes, famous musicians, and businessmen.

Edwin Hawley Dwyer

Edwin “Eddy” Dyer was born in 1899 in Morgan City. He was a natural athlete and in school excelled in track and field, baseball, and football. The left-handed Dwyer went on to play Major League Baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, where he pitched in 129 games over six seasons. Dwyer later managed the Cardinals with great success, before leaving the sport to tend to real estate ventures in Texas.

Raymond Emile Poole, a.k.a. Mo B. Dick

The singer, music producer, and rapper Raymond E. Poole is better known as Mo B. Dick. Born in 1965, he was one of the founders of the Medicine Men, which produced the majority of No Limit Records‘ releases in the late 1990s. Today, he is busy producing music for TV shows, movie soundtracks, and video games. As a teen, he taught himself to play guitar and is a member of the funk band, Merging Traffic Fellowship.

Anthony Joseph Guarisco, Jr.

Anthony “Tony” Guarisco, born in 1938, represented Senate District 21 (including the Louisiana parishes of St. Mary, St. Martin, and Assumption) from 1976–1988. The former Democratic Senator comes from a large Italian-American family in Morgan City. In the late 70s, Guarisco successfully sponsored a bill to allow doctors in Louisiana to prescribe medical marijuana for those in chemotherapy treatment and who suffer from glaucoma.

Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt 

Elmer Pratt was born in Morgan City, where his father worked in the scrap metal business. He served two tours in Vietnam, studied political science at UCLA, and after receiving multiple honors for his military service, became a high-ranking member of the Black Panthers in the late ’60s. Elmer, also known as Geronimo Pratt, served nearly three decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder.

The conviction was later vacated after it was determined that prosecution hid evidence that could have influenced jurors. Pratt used his experience to work as a human rights activist for others who were unjustly convicted.

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Haunted Morgan City

January 21, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

History, in Acadiana, exists in the form of books, county records, old photographs, and local legends. However, in Morgan City, history still feels very much alive– in an unsettling way. For years, residents of this small city and the surrounding area have noticed unexplainable phenomena– everything from weird shape-shifting mists, to feelings of being watched, and in some instances, the sighting of ghostly apparitions.

In fact, there were so many accounts of paranormal events that The Travel Channel set up shop to try to get to the bottom of it all. The ensuing series, “The Ghosts of Morgan City,” may have provided some insight into these otherworldly happenings– depending on what you’re willing to believe.

Why is Morgan City Haunted?

Paranormal experts think that ghosts are spirits who cannot or will not transition into the afterlife. Usually, this is because they were killed under violent or tragic circumstances, or because they still have a score to settle.

Purported Morgan City ghosts include Ada Lebouef, the first woman ever executed in Louisiana, a father and daughter who died in a horrendous train accident, and the victims of a quadruple murder that took place in a home that once stood on Lima Street (three of these ghosts are children who allegedly love to play with dolls).

With a history that includes Civil War and yellow fever hospitals where people died in agony, and visits by pirates who lied, cheated, and killed their way into riches, it’s no wonder the Cajun Coast is a paranormal hot spot.

How Do You Solve This Problem?

While there’s no surefire way to rid an area of unwelcome spirits, many paranormal experts believe that any attempt to right the wrongs of the past may give them closure. In the case of Ada Lebouef, exposing her possibly unfair trial may be enough to rid her presence from the area. Other ghosts need to be told, strongly, that it’s OK to leave their suffering and travel to the “other side.”

For particularly nefarious or stubborn spirits, it may not even be possible ever to eradicate their presence; they are just a part of the community like anyone else.

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Shrimping & Petroleum: The Lifeblood of Morgan City’s Economy

January 17, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

More than 70 years ago, the petroleum industry was born in the marshes of Morgan City. From its fledgling beginnings in the coastal wetlands to its rapid growth in the 1980s and beyond, the oil and gas industry has changed the landscape of Morgan City, becoming one of the driving forces in the economy.

Shrimping and gas drive economic growth

The lumber mills dominated the city’s economy prior the Great Depression, along with fishing and trapping. But by the 1930s, this industry began a slow decline. It was about this time that massive quantities of shrimp were discovered off the shores—here and in neighboring Berwick. Shrimp trawling became big business, and thousands of people from all over the country flocked to Morgan City to take advantage of the profitable shrimping industry.

In the summer of 1935, the Gulf Coast Seafood Producers and Trappers Association held the inaugural “Blessing of the Fleet,” a celebration that gradually transformed into an annual festival that is renowned throughout Louisiana and the south. Today it is known as the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival– a moniker that was adopted in 1967 when offshore drilling was well-established in the region.

The event, held on Labor Day weekend every year, recognizes the hard-working people who labor on shrimp boats and offshore oil rigs, often spending months away from family and friends.

Offshore oil and gas industry

Apart from New Orleans, Morgan City is the only port city with a channel linking the Atchafalaya River to the Gulf of Mexico, making it an ideal spot for offshore prospecting. While shrimping continued to sustain a large sector of Morgan City’s economic life, the offshore oil and gas industry took center stage by the mid-1960s. Money was poured into improving the city’s infrastructure, with new shipyards, support bases, schools, roads, and housing developments constructed.

Offshore drilling brought more than jobs, people, and investment to Morgan City– it ushered in modern technologies, some that would be developed for purposes other than petroleum production.

A town shaped by the “black gold rush”

“I think the oil companies were very good for this area; I really do, because they paid us good wages, we had good benefits. We had good working schedules…I really feel thankful that I went to work for Shell. I went to work by accident. I was not looking for a job. But they took care of me. They raised my family. They raised my kids. They put my kids through college,” recounts Morgan City resident Alden Vining, who was hired by Shell Oil in 1957.

From a small hamlet whose economic base was built on cypress timber, animals furs, and shell crushing, Morgan City has changed tremendously in recent decades. 

State and city planners continue to investigate ways to use Morgan City’s strategically located waterways to attract new industries and grow its economy.

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Morgan City High School Sports

January 15, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

Kelly green and white are the colors of Morgan City High School, which opened its doors in 1911. According to the 2015 U.S. News & World Report “Best High Schools,” Morgan City High School was ranked a Bronze Medal School. The school’s athletic offerings for young men and women are diverse. Students can take part in:

  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Bowling
  • Outdoor Track and Field
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Softball
  • Golf

A brief history of Morgan City High School

The class of 1911 had just six graduates, but the 1912-1913 school term had more than 650 enrollments. By 1918, many new families were moving to the area, working in shipyards to meet the needs of WWI. Given the growing number of students, the original school building was much too cramped, sparking the construction of a new, $40,000 brick building, located on the corner of Third Street and Brashear. The new MCHS building was completed in 1922.

In the 1955 school year, Morgan City High School had to expand its campus once again to accommodate better the influx of people drawn by the burgeoning oil and gas industry. Land was purchased on Marguerite Street that had enough room to create a baseball park and football stadium for the school’s athletic programs.

In the fall of 2014, Morgan City High School was bestowed with a new media center, modern library and student commons area to the tune of $3,500,000. The 8,000s square-foot library featured multi-media production areas and a computer lab.

Morgan City Boxing

In the 1930s, Morgan City High School boasted one of the best boxing teams in Louisiana. In 1932, the boxing team tied for second place.

From 1931-1935, MCHS student Linden Bonner won his weight class in four of the first five Louisiana State High School Boxing Championship Tournaments. He was later named the 1936 Southern A.A.U. Champion and in 2013, Linden Bonner was inducted to the Louisiana Boxing Hall of Fame.

Championships and achievements

Morgan City High School was won numerous championships in several sports:

  • 1913: Morgan City Tigers won their first state championship in football
  • 1922 and 1923: The Tigers claimed their second and third state champions in football
  • 1957: The Tigers football team went 10-0 to win the District 5-AA Championships
  • 1972: The Tiger football team was the District 6-AAA Champions and the top-ranked team in the state
  • 1973: Morgan City High School won the Class AAA Baseball State Championship
  • 1974: MCHS won the 1974 Class AAAA Cross Country State Championship
  • 1984: Morgan City High School won the Class AAA Softball State Championship
  • 1989: The Tiger baseball team, under Gayle Robinson and Coach Tim Hymel, were the District 7-AAA Champions
  • 1990: Boys basketball team advances to Class AAA semifinals in the Top 24 Tournament of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association
  • 2015: Members of the MCHS Track & Field team won the Class AAAA 4×100 Relay State Championship
  • 2016: The Lady Tiger Bowlers finished the season as State Runner-Up

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Top Things to do in Morgan City

January 15, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

Morgan City, Louisiana, is much more than the “Jumbo Shrimp Capital of the World.” This picturesque riverfront town has tons of Cajun restaurants and beautiful waterways where you can fish, go crabbing, or explore the biodiverse swamplands– home to egrets, otters, bald eagles and alligators.

Just 70 miles from New Orleans, this unassuming town has plenty of interesting attractions and things to do for people of all ages. Here is a round-up of our top five.

Explore the Atchafalaya River 

Experience the natural beauty of the Atchafalaya River and Basin Swamp, where ancient oaks and cypress trees abound. Get up close and personal with local wildlife while learning about this important ecosystem. You can explore on canoe or kayak and have several Cajun Coast paddling trails to choose from.

Tour Mr. Charlie – A Real Offshore Drilling Rig

Ever wonder what it’s like to be on an offshore drilling rig? Take a walk down to the International Petroleum Museum & Exposition, and tour “Mr. Charlie,” a rig that drilled hundreds of wells off the shores of Morgan City from 1954 to 1986. This one-of-a-kind structure was the very first submersible and portable drilling rig that helped to launch modern offshore oil drilling technology. A tour of Mr. Charlie can help you appreciate the importance of the petroleum industry and how it changed the landscape of Morgan City.

Songs on the Bayou Festival

If six days of music, entertainment, and culture sound enticing, mark your calendars for the Songs on the Bayou Festival in Morgan City. The event will take place March 25th – March 29th, 2020 and promises an authentic Bayou experience. The songwriter’s festival will highlight the local music scene, including rising talent in the genres of Zydeco, Outlaw Country, Cajun and more. More than 100 performers are scheduled at this family-friendly festival, which includes workshops, sunset “pickin” parties and songwriter shows.

Shopping on Main Street

Morgan City’s historic district is a haven for unique finds! You can easily spend hours on Main Street, where locally-owned boutiques sit next to cozy cafes and beautiful churches. There are wonderful home accessories and gift options at Sherry’s Intuitions, and it’s also a great spot for watching boats on the Atchafalaya River.

Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival

Immerse yourself in the rich culture of Cajun country at Morgan City’s famous Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival. This family-friendly event will take place Thursday, August 29th through Monday, September 2nd, and has more than 100 vendors selling handmade items, a Children’s Village with fun activities, street parades, food, an art show, fireworks and music in the park. Entrance is free!

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