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VERIFY: Does New Orleans have an actual birthday?

NEW ORLEANS -- The city of New Orleans will mark its 300th anniversary in 2018, but when is the Big Easy’s big day?

It was back on May 7, 2013, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu tweeted “New Orleans was founded 295 years ago today. Happy Birthday #NOLA!”

Now, as New Orleans prepares to usher in its third century, it will mark it with a huge fireworks show on the Mississippi River, near where the city was founded, on May 6.

We know that the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and his men arrived at modern-day New Orleans in 1718. But claims of a certain day when they dropped anchor have always made Tulane professor Rich Campanella scratch his head.

“We want history to provide concise and succinct, neat answers,” he said. “And history … usually does things in a more messy manner.”

Campanella has literally written the book -- well, several books -- on the history of New Orleans.

He noted that it was September 1717 when Bienville go the go-ahead to sail from Biloxi to a patch of high land along the Mississippi River.

Campanella said it was probably a few months later, sometime between mid-March and mid-April, when Bienville dropped anchor near where Jackson Square sits today.

It was 250 years later, in 1968, when the city celebrated its 250th anniversary. In true New Orleans fashion, it was a swanky party thrown at The Roosevelt.

The date? May 7th.

Campanella said he believes that celebration led others to assume May 7 was the actual day Bienville planted his flag along the river levee and founded New Orleans.

“And then somehow this made it to Wikipedia and probably that was the route that got it into the speech for the state of the city in 2013,” Campanella said.

Still, he said, it’s unlikely Bienville landed at New Orleans on that actual day.

“May 7 has gained some momentum, but again, there’s no documentation there,” Campanella said. “It sounds a little late in terms of the actual foundation.”

While the time of year is right, we can rate the claim that Bienville founded New Orleans on May 6 or 7, 1718, as false.

On the other hand, we can verify that spring is a great time to celebrate the city we call home.

“We have French Quarter Fest, we have Jazz Fest, the weather is lovely, there’s no hurricanes, it’s not hot,” Campanella said. “So it was rather serendipitous that Bienville got started at that time."

VERIFY sources:

Rich Campanella

New Orleans Tricentennial

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