From my lecture’s program…

Brief History of the Mascot

 The Mascot debuted on February 18, 1882. Founded by J.S. Bossier, Joseph Livesey, and George Osmond, during its thirteen-year run the weekly illustrated journal inspired multiple libel suits, frequent jail time for its editors, various office shoot-outs that resulted in the deaths of three people in separate incidents, and duels between its editors and some of New Orleans’ most prominent and public citizens. The uproar and the tremendous popularity the Mascot was afforded in its hometown even made the pages of the New York Times and Los Angeles Herald. While most newspapers of its day used architecture, animals, or classic art designs in their logos, the Mascot used a woman as its symbol for its ruthless “truth seeking.” Ironically, the newspaper that equally enraged and delighted citizens took its name from the 19th century French comic opera La Mascotte about a peasant girl who brings good luck to everyone as long as she remains a virgin. The Mascot heroine, while virginal, had no qualms about openly criticizing and holding accountable powerful men that frequently operated under a centuries-old protective shroud of authority and privilege.

The Gilded Age in America was a time when many Southerners struggled to hold on to their old customs, while the country around them raced toward the 20th century. During a time when many editors needed to be as quick with the pistol as they were with the pen, freedom of the press often meant the freedom for men to violently retaliate against newsmen by whom they felt slandered. There was a complex shift in the social strata that still valued the right for all to safeguard their reputation, but adopted the dangerous precedent of now legally excusing those who fought and killed in vindication of their name. Men who believed they were slandered demanded justice first in a hybrid dueling-vengeance fashion that half resembled the rigidity of the old dueling code and half a Wild West shoot-em-up. Nevertheless, while dueling and murder now inescapably warranted legal action, the New Orleans judicial system, in taking one step toward progress by prosecuting those involved, still held on to its antebellum beliefs, as evidenced by the relatively light or nonexistent punishment of those who murdered or attempted to murder for the sake of their good name. The courts could not prevent newspapers from printing what they wanted, but they could grant leniency, and did, to those who chose to act out their enmity with revolvers. As witness and commentator to this age, no publication captured the corruption, scandal, and political shift in New Orleans during this time of transition quite like the Mascot.

New Orleans sought to maintain a measure of civility but it was impossible to sustain while functioning under a system of opportunistic vigilantism. Personal autonomy always exists within the bounds of law and order, and during this time citizens struggled to find a balance between the two, only to have it result in the exoneration of senseless murders and the validation and acceptance of violent retaliation. The old saying “the truth hurts” is still relevant today, but in Gilded Age New Orleans printing the truth not only hurt, it often resulted in death.

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