Thursday, May 19, 2011

The House Of The Rising Sun

There is a house in New Orleans
They call "The Rising Sun"
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
But which house is the actual one?

On a whim this morning, ChrisMac and I decided to track down the house that inspired the 19th Century folk song "House Of The Rising Sun". A version of the song became a huge hit for The Animals in 1964. The Animals' version changes the narrative of the song. Originally, it was written from the point of view of a woman who had descended into a life of degradation. In the Animals' version, the subject is a male, whose father was now a gambler and drunkard. "House Of The Rising Sun" had also been recorded by several artists both before and after The Animals' version including Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton and Woody Guthrie. But, where is the actual house that inspired the song? Does it still exist? Did it ever exist? The Macs decided to put their shoes to the pavement and find out.

The phrase "House of the rising Sun" was a well known euphemism for a brothel, but it could also refer to a certain women's prison that used a rising Sun as a logo. Either way, there are a number of places in the New Orleans area that purport to be the inspiration for the song. Here are the ones we checked out:

  • 333 Bourbon Street. It's a bar and it's pretty obvious that they're just using the name for the recognition factor. There's no connection to the song here. 
  • 826-830 St. Louis Street. Most guidebooks in the area claim that this is the inspiration for the actual house. It is said that the house was a brothel in the 1860's and was named for its madam, Marianne LeSoleil Levant, "Le Soleil Levant" being the French words for "rising Sun".
  • 1614 Esplanade Avenue. It is currently known as The Nola Art House. This place actually does look like it could have possibly been a brothel. I'm not sure what its connection to the phrase "Rising Sun" is, but a small number of gudebooks and the Nola Art House wikipedia page claim that it was the inspiration for the song. Some entries also claim that Marianne LeSoleil Levant operated out of here rather than on St. Louis Street, but that seems to be mis-information that has been constantly re-printed.
  • 535 Conti Street. This is the former location of a placed called the Rising Sun hotel. It burned down in 1822.

It could even be that there was never a real house and that whoever wrote the lyrics just made the whole thing up. We will probably never know the real story, but it was pretty fun to make up our own "House Of The Rising Sun" New Orleans tour.

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