Alton Moran’s home office is a treasure chest of Louisiana’s past.
The retired attorney has collected Louisiana memorabilia for more than a half century.
Moran has a number of significant documents including a letter from Zachary Taylor, who writes that he looks forward to living in Baton Rouge. There are documents signed by the Marquis de Lafayette as well as the inaugural speeches of early governors.
These are important pieces of Louisiana history. But to Moran, his most significant items are those that relate to the everyday activities of the local people.
“My interest is in the social history,” he said. “I’m interested more in how the people lived, what kind of lives the people lived. The menus, the photos, they are windows to the past, frozen images.”
Moran has shelves of albums organized by the types of materials they contain. Many document early Baton Rouge through postcards.
“Picture postcards didn’t come along in the United States until about 1898,” said Moran, who explained how the age of a postcard can be determined.
The earliest postcards, called private mailing cards, had solid, blank backs. The person sending the card wrote the message on the front on any piece of background or open space around the picture.
“You couldn’t write on the back,” Moran said. “Only the address was on the back.”
In 1907, the back was split into two sections with half for the message and half for the address.
Postcards from 1917 until the 1930s had white borders around the picture on the front. In the 1930s, cards were printed on linen stock.
“Linen cards existed until the late ’40s, and then you had chrome (a type of film),” he said.
Occasionally photographs for postcards were “doctored” by the photographer.
“They would remove things if they didn’t want them in,” said Moran, who showed two cards taken about the same time on Third Street. One had a Democratic headquarters sign. In the second card, the sign had been removed.
“Sometimes the photographer would add people in a picture or take electric wires out,” Moran said.
One of Moran’s rarest postcards is of Murrell Springs, a popular picnic area near the Monte Sano Bayou.
“People traveled by horse and buggy to the area,” said Moran, who described the location as near Copolymer on Scenic Highway.
Another postcard shows the St. Louis Street School, which later became the courthouse.
The building started about 1857 as the Academy School, later became the St. Louis Street School and then the courthouse.
“When the 1920s courthouse (now City Court) was built, the old courthouse was still on the property,” Moran said. The old building was later torn down.
Menus are also an important part of Moran’s collection. A 1905 menu from the old Istrouma Hotel at Third and Florida streets offered a number of gourmet selections.
Dinner, which cost 75 cents, was served from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and included canapés of Russian caviar, green turtle soup, filet of beef or roast western turkey, oyster dressing, cauliflower au gratin, small onions in cream and several desserts.
Moran has menus from such restaurants no longer in business as the Broadmoor Steak House and Giamanco’s Suburban Bakery.
“These menus are all connected with the way people lived — what we ate, what we did for pleasure,” Moran said.
Several albums contain advertisements from old Baton Rouge businesses. Another album is filled with envelopes giving the return addresses of local businesses. Others are filled with legal letters.
“All of this is like a time machine,” Moran said. “It’s the closest thing we are going to get of glimpses of what was.”
Two important albums are filled with photographs of Louisiana plantation homes, including some that are no longer in existence.
Moran’s collection includes albums of carefully documented photographs. A number of photos relate to the Flood of 1912, “a big flood,” Moran said.
There are two scenes of Morley, a lumber town in the southern part of West Baton Rouge Parish, that flooded after the Torras Crevasse (levee break). Notes on the photos document the location as “Colored Town” and “Front St.,” both “in path of Torras Crevasse 1912.”
Other photos show sports events including a 1906 baseball game between LSU and Mississippi State.
“There were no stands,” Moran said. “People were just standing around.”
The collection includes old LSU catalogs, alumni publications and a program from the 1926 dedication of the “new” LSU campus.
One of the most interesting albums contains front page tear sheets from Louisiana newspapers. These include a Baton Rouge Tri-Weekly Gazette and Comet from 1865, the New Iberia Louisiana Sugar-Bowl from 1881, the West Baton Rouge Sugar Planter from 1859, the Baton Rouge Weekly Truth from 1885, the Daily Advocate from 1856, the Donaldsonville Chief from 1877, the Pointe Coupee Echo from 1869 and the American Progress, a paper Huey Long published to promote himself, from 1934.
“These newspapers are not a whole lot different from today,” Moran said. “They contain a lot of the same things.”
Moran was born in Pascagoula, Miss. His family later moved to Baton Rouge. He graduated from Redemptorist High School, LSU and the Paul M. Hebert Law Center.
After graduation Moran took a job with the Defense Intelligence Agency, where he worked as a special agent in counterintelligence.
He later served as an assistant district attorney, a federal magistrate, public defender and in private practice. He is retired.
Moran has many interests including art, gardening and sports.
His love of history came from his two grandmothers, one in Mississippi and one in Louisiana.
“My grandmother in Mississippi was a real storyteller, and my one in Louisiana got me interested in the past,” he said.
Over the years, Moran has acquired his collection at sales, auctions, flea markets and “anywhere I think there will be something I’m interested in.” The walls of his office are lined with his extensive collection of Louisiana books.
And what will he do with his collection?
“I plan on living a few more years, and then my wife will probably have a big garage sale,” he said with a smile.