Rebels in the water: Bayou St. John
In my travels, I have heard tell of an inordinate number of cars ending up in the waters of Bayou St. John over the years. New Orleans residents may remember all the cars that searchers found submerged near Harrison Avenue when they were searching for Terrilyn Monette, who went missing back in 2013. Well it turns out cars in the bayou has been a thing since the advent of automobiles.
Consider this “wild ride” from the historic Times-Picayune database:
On February 23, 1958, Bobby Gray, age 18, was driving along the newly-paved Wisner Avenue near Mirabeau when supposedly his brakes failed and his car went “zigzagging crazily” for about 900 feet before plunging into Bayou St. John. As it sank to the bayou’s murky floor, to a depth of around 15 feet, Bobby rolled down his window. When he tried to swim out (he could not swim), his “trouser cuff…snagged on the handle of the sunken car’s window lift.” (EEK!)
Luckily, his 15-year-old cousin, Richard Holt, was following close behind in another car. When he saw his cousin’s car swerve into the water, he leapt out, dived in, and rescued Bobby.
Later on, the boys were taken to Charity Hospital. At this point, the article is a bit unclear: “Apparently neither of the youths was hurt in the incident about 2:30am.” Was it late at night when the accident happened? Or just late at night when they finally reported to the hospital? Did anyone check Bobby’s breaks when they pulled the car out of the water? Look, I’m glad the boys were alright, but I’m just wondering if a bit of teenage tomfoolery might have been at play here….
Also, can you imagine that murky bayou water in the dark? Or rather, illuminated by the warbled glow of submerged headlights? OMG CREEPY. NO THANK YOU. Although of course I would dive in there to save a loved one if it came to it!
Also, this: “Police said confusion arose at the scene when all three youths [the third being the driver of the second car] left the accident locale to change from their wet clothing.” A taxi driver had witnessed the accident and called the cops, and when they arrived on the scene they thought the driver was still stuck in the car. They were prepping a diver to go down and search for him when the three boys showed up.
Really? You just drove your car into the bayou and almost drowned, but you’re gonna head home and change your clothes before you go report the accident?
Maybe they were hiding their alcohol!
Did anyone think of that?!
I’m sure these “youths” learned their lesson, but still. In the pixelated photo of the boys included with the article, the two of them look like regular James Deans, leaning up against a brick wall in their denim jackets. And is that a cigarette one of them is rolling?!
I think my brain has taken over by the 1950s! I guess I’ve been “submerged” in the 1950s bayou for too long!
- Times-Picayune, 23 Feb. 1958, p. 12. NewsBank, infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/image/v2:1223BCE5B718A166@EANX-NB-12C117247468B7DF@2436258-12BE1FE9DC6DD045@11-12C1421E02A381B0@?p=AMNEWS. Accessed 21 Mar. 2017.
Cassie Pruyn is a New Orleans based poet who is currently working on a narrative history of Bayou St. John in New Orleans. You can see her posts and poetry on her website.