With all the times I’ve been to City Hall, I just recently noticed the tall sculpture in Duncan Plaza that honors former Mayor “Chep” Morrison. Who is the artist and what is the story behind it?
The 40-foot monument honors Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison, better known as Chep. He was mayor of New Orleans from 1946 until 1961, when he left City Hall to become President John F. Kennedy’s ambassador to the Organization of American States. He and his 7-year-old son Randy died in a plane crash in Mexico in May 1964.
In July 1964, the state Legislature authorized a memorial to Morrison. Gov. John McKeithen formed a committee, chaired by Capt. Neville Levy, to plan the memorial. The group recommended a $200,000 sculpture and statue of the late mayor as well as a fountain and reflecting pool in Duncan Plaza across from City Hall (which was built during Morrison’s mayoral tenure). Noted sculptor and artist Lin Emery created a fountain and pool featuring nickel silver kinetic sculptures — including aquamobiles resembling birds and dolphins, which moved under the weight of falling water. The memorial was dedicated in October 1966.
Emery also designed the Morrison monument, which is constructed of cast aluminum and topped by a 9-foot-tall statue of the former mayor. “I have envisioned the column as symbolizing not only the height which Mr. Morrison had climbed during his lifetime, but as an indication that he would have climbed even higher had not his tragic death cut short his career,” Emery told The Times-Picayune in January 1965.
New Orleans activists staged sit-ins in New Orleans in the 1960s to protest segregation at lunch counters.
On the sides of the monument are inscriptions related to Morrison’s career as a politician, U.S. Army officer and ambassador. The monument was dedicated on Jan. 18, 1971, which would have been Morrison’s 59th birthday. The ceremony featured McKeithen, Lt. Gov. C.C. “Taddy” Aycock, Mayor Moon Landrieu and future Lt. Gov. Jimmy Fitzmorris, a close Morrison friend who served on the New Orleans City Council while Morrison was mayor. Morrison’s mother and his two surviving children, Corinne and deLesseps Jr. (known as Toni), also attended.
Although the monument remains, the pool and fountain fell into disrepair. Repairs were launched in 1977 but the fountain and reflecting pool were filled in by 1987.
The Carrollton Avenue building was designed by the local architectural firm Favrot and Livaudais Ltd. The facade features references to its use as a dairy, including a frieze featuring a cow’s head and bowls of milk.