Zatarain's Shrine from state library of louisiana

Zatarain's shrine included Christmas decorations, religious pictures, sayings, crutches, keys and more.

Hey Blake,

I grew up in the 800 block of Leontine Street in Uptown New Orleans. Zatarain’s had a factory nearby on Valmont Street. I remember a shotgun house across the street that we called Zatarain’s Shrine. It was very strange and filled with display cases with animal skeletons and stuffed animals, like something out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. What can you add to my memory about this place?

Fred

Dear Fred,

Emile Antoine Zatarain Sr., born in New Orleans in 1866, is best known as the founder of Zatarain’s, the company famous for its Creole mustard, crab boil, seasonings, spices and other products. It began in 1889 when Zatarain, a grocer, introduced his Pa-Poose root beer extract, then began experimenting with other flavors and products. In 1900, Zatarain built a food manufacturing factory at 926 Valmont St., across the street from his residence.

In the 1920s he established a religious shrine at his home. It apparently began as a Christmas display and grew larger after the 1929 death of his wife Charlotte. In a January 1930 newspaper ad, Zatarain promised to “keep it lit all night every night … so you may see it for its beauty and holy spiritual effect.” The 1938 WPA New Orleans City Guide refers to the place as “Zatarain’s Sanctuary of Christian Divine Healing.”

“Within the shrine is a large wooden cross, at which several hundred keys have been left for St. Peter to ‘open the way’ for those who wish favors granted. … Numerous crutches have been left at the shrine, attesting to the cures of various afflictions.” The guide describes a feature called “Elisha’s Healing Well,” which was decorated with numerous ornaments, illuminated by underwater lights and contained “holy goldfish.” There also were statues, sacred objects and paintings, though there was no mention of the animal displays you remember.

Zatarain took out a 1938 newspaper ad encouraging people to “come see how God inspired man to change a chicken yard into a beautiful heavenly home.” Describing himself as a “Christian worker,” he said no monetary donations would be accepted and that the display was “for God’s people of every religious creed or nationality.” In the ad, he wrote, “It would take you a full day to see it, still you see enough in a few minutes to make you better in mind, body, spirit and soul.”

Zatarain died in 1959. His family sold the company in 1963 and it changed hands several times before being acquired in 2003 by McCormick, the world’s largest spice company.