- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2001

NEW ORLEANS — The well-entrenched encampment at 929 Camp St. is ready for battle. Cannons? Got 'em. Swords? Sure, all of them made right here in this bastion of the South. Rifles? Yes, but they may need a little repair after 140 years.
The Confederate Museum is under threat of eviction, and the enemy this time is not the Yankees. Instead, the threat comes from gentrification, and the museum doesn't mince words about it.
"We are fighting for our survival," reads the bold-lettered sign on the 110-year-old building's rustic doors, through which pass approximately 23,000 people a year.
The museum, one of the world's oldest and most substantial collections of Confederate memorabilia, is being threatened with displacement by a wealthy tax-exempt foundation that claims title to the land on which the museum sits.
The New Orleans University Foundation, with $42 million in assets, is currently building two new edifices, a gleaming new art museum and a library — with only the dusty Confederates standing in their way.
The foundation's two buildings are currently being constructed on both sides of the Confederate Museum, which is an admittedly ramshackle, rust-colored Civil War outpost, a historical building from another era amidst this up-and-coming warehouse district.
"I don't know that there is overwhelming public sentiment for it," noted Brian Schwaner, a spokesman for the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce. "But it has been there forever."
The museum's curator, Pat Ricci, was more blunt: "We are hardly politically correct these days."
The impressive array of Confederate relics is housed in a room that was once the site of the wake of Confederate hero Jefferson Davis, a place where 60,000 mourners paid their final tribute to the Southern leader in 1893. One can almost hear the walls — cut from Louisiana red cypress — talk, and they say that history sits within these 3,000 square feet.
On display are tattered war flags, misshapen bullets, blue-tinted eyeglasses (used by sharpshooters to avoid the glare of the sun), decaying flannel uniforms, yellowed letters and fading photographs — 5,000 artifacts in all.
New Orleans may have fallen quickly in the 1862 War Between the States, but it has outlasted just about every other city as far as holding onto the memory of old Dixie.
For the longest time, nobody coveted the space Mrs. Ricci's museum occupies. The neighborhood was a flophouse haven, full of sidewalk winos and rough-hewn merchants who had no inclination to court the throngs of tourists that flock to the French Quarter six blocks to the east. A native has to have some place to call home, after all, and Skid Row kept away the pesky out-of-towners.
But the 1984 World's Fair sparked new economic and cultural interest in the neighborhood, as similar urban overhauls became the vogue throughout the country.
So when the foundation arrived at the idea of building a new art museum, it started checking out possible locations among the old ice cream factories and coffee-bean businesses near the Confederate Museum.
It bought the library on one side of the museum first, and the vacant lot on the other next. Then the construction began, making a sandwich of the old Memorial Hall, home of the Confederate Museum.
"We had — still have — a lot of damage from that work," Mrs. Ricci said. She was patriotically clad in a gray polo shirt with an etching of the museum and the words "Confederate Memorial Hall" embroidered on the upper left side.
"We've had water damage, pressure cracks. When we had hail damage, we couldn't get to our roof to fix it because of the construction," she said.
But the old museum, already teetering, was dealt another blow by the foundation in December, when its legal team concluded that the Confederate building did not even belong to the museum; it was given by an old New Orleans family 50 years ago to Tulane University.
The foundation spent $425,000 to obtain the title from Tulane, and their April press release proclaimed that the museum, now on foundation property, "is in need of extensive structural attention and restoration, and its future use is under consideration."
"What they said to us is that they object to the fact that you have Confederate flags," said the museum's attorney, James Carriere. "They said that we had to vacate because they objected to the name. That was right upfront."
But Foundation Director Elizabeth Williams disputes Mr. Carriere's implication that her organization is driven by anti-Confederate sentiments.
"We have purchased the building," Miss Williams said. "We want to have a passageway between our buildings on either side of the property. And now we want to occupy that building. They are trying to make it into some kind of assault on the Confederacy, and that's not the case. We would want to occupy that building if it were a restaurant or an office-supply company."
A sign at the construction site declares that the Ogden Museum of Southern Art will open this year. However, both sides agree that the future of the Confederate Museum will be decided in a courtroom.
"If I were a gambling man, I'd bet on the museum," said Mr. Carriere, whose Confederate blood links him to the Battle of Shiloh.
But Miss Williams refused to make any predictions.
"All I can do is sound like a reasonable person and say that I am sure this will hit the courts, since we have not been able to resolve the issue of ownership through negotiation," she said.

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