From the Historic New Orleans Collection, Hallmarks of Summer in New Orleans | Entertainment/Life

It’s summer and life isn’t exactly easy in New Orleans, where the heat and the threat of hurricanes last for months. But for three centuries and more, residents have found ways to not only survive, but thrive during the season. For some, it means breaking out of a rut. For others, it’s to cool off by any means necessary—including 30-minute snow lines.

Escape to the North

“Although a winter resort, New Orleans is primarily a summer town—a town of gallery houses, gardens, flowers, and shops opening wide to the street,” Julian Ralph wrote in an 1892 New Orleans report for Harper’s New Monthly magazine. While modern residents may scoff at the characterization of New Orleans as a “summer city,” Ralph goes on to describe Caribbean-influenced architecture that makes the summer heat bearable—but only slightly. Anyone who could afford to do so, he wrote, was leaving the city: “Americans … exchange warmth for mountains and forests. The rich among the Creoles tend to go to France, and there are many who divide the year in this way.

Snow and ice to beat the heat

In this photo by Harold Bakke, a boy eats an ice cream cone in the courtyard of the Desire housing projects in the late 1980s. (T

New York has its Mister Softee trucks, but New Orleans has its snowboard stands. When temperatures are high, groups of New Orleanians can be seen queuing in front of matchbook-sized display cases, waiting for the sweet, icy refreshment of powdered ice piled high and covered in brightly colored syrup. Entire books have been written about the joys of New Orleans snowballs (or “snowballs” or “snowballs”), such as Megan Braden-Perry’s Crescent City Snow: The Ultimate Guide to New Orleans Snowball Stands. Many residents stick with their preferred neighborhood spot, but others have been known to play snow bingo, aiming to hit as many different stands around town as possible.

Beach to the east

Lincoln Beach

Press photos of Lincoln Beach taken in 1955, shortly after its opening in 1954 (THNOC, gift of an anonymous donor, 2022.0016.2)

Lincoln Beach was Jim Crow’s answer to Pontchartrain Beach, the lakefront amusement park that catered only to whites during segregation. In 1954, the city opened Lincoln Beach on a 17-acre lakefront site in East New Orleans. Its amenities and entertainment paled in comparison to the larger, more luxurious Pontchartrain Beach, but it still had “two swimming pools … bathhouse, restaurant, rides and attractions,” according to writer James Cullen’s site story for Antigravity magazine. For more than a decade, it has given the city’s people of color a place to cool off in the summer. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, demand plummeted as African-Americans were eventually allowed onto Pontchartrain Beach. Lincoln Beach closed a year later.

A city that floods

Street flooding has been a part of New Orleans life since the beginning. Especially in the summer, storms find a way to bring everyday life to a halt, despite the development of city levees and drainage systems. Residents are well aware of the ritual of moving their vehicles to higher ground before heavy rains.

A woman and child hold on to an “exit only” sign surrounded by water in the flooded parking lot of K&B Drugstore

In May 1978, cars can be seen in a K&B parking lot huddled against the side of the pharmacy to avoid rainwater, while a woman and child wait out the flood on a sign. (THNOC, photo by Luis Castrillo, 1985.143.1)

For children and the young at heart, street flooding is an opportunity to step outside the ordinary. A constant feature of summer storms are local news footage and photos of people making the most of them, floating down their blocks in kayaks, canoes and inner tubes.

A decadent end of summer

Labor Day weekend usually marks the official end of summer here in the United States, but in New Orleans, the real end of the season is Southern Decadence, the annual LGBTQ+ pride weekend that includes parties galore and the hottest and sweatiest parade of the year . As the event’s official history says, “Southern Decadence began in 1972 with a group of friends who playfully called themselves ‘The Decadents.’ … All were young, mostly in college or recent graduates, and included men and women, black and white, gay and straight.”

One of the Decadents was leaving town to return to Chicago and was complaining about the lack of entertainment over the holiday weekend, so the group threw a coming-out party “marked by a spicy kick and a lot of drug use, especially marijuana and LSD.” (It was the ’70s, after all.) The following year, the group began its tradition of parading on the Sunday before Labor Day, soon adopting the New Orleans custom of appointing a grand marshal to lead the procession.

Fifty years later, Southern Decadence is a New Orleans institution and a mainstay of the tourist economy, drawing thousands of visitors to the city to be entertained.

Editor’s note: This story is an excerpt from a post on the first draft of The Historic New Orleans Collection blog. Visit to read more.

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