You can’t say you’ve experienced New Orleans unless you’ve spent quality time in the Lower Ninth Ward. Your first stop should should be the House of Dance & Feathers, a one-room museum located in the backyard of longtime L9 resident Ronald Lewis. The man has spent a lifetime participating in Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, Skull and Bone Gangs, and Mardi Gras Indian parades. His house, along with others in the neighborhood, was decimated by Hurricane Katrina, but he returned and rebuilt as quickly as he could. Now, Lewis’ little museum serves as an archive for the area’s rich cultural heritage—and his vivacious storytelling makes it all come to life.
To visit the House, call Lewis at 504-957-2678 a day or two in advance and let him know you’d like to stop by. He’s graciously accommodating, except on Sundays ’cause Sundays are for churching. Let him know your ETA and he’ll be waiting for you on his front porch. Five minutes in, he’ll unlock the doors to the House of Dance & Feathers, which is literally a small house built by architecture students post-Katrina and stuffed floor to ceiling with wildly feathered Mardi Gras costumes, colorful second-line umbrellas, painted drum skins, worn photographs, and other ephemera.
Lewis lets you explore the collection at your leisure but is happy to answer questions as you go, pointing out unique souvenirs and playing videos from past marches. He has a beaming smile and a terrific personality and he’s not shy about anything: He’ll tell you exactly how he felt about the government response to Katrina; he even has a wall plastered with front pages of newspapers from the time. He’ll tell you about his grandkids and his neighbors and how he learned to hand-bead all of those stunning costumes when he was just eight years old.
Don’t be surprised if you spend an hour picking his brain—you might even be his only visitors that day. Lewis does not charge admission, but the House is a registered charity and small donations are appreciated. Or better yet, buy a copy of the House’s eponymous book, a photographic tribute to one of the most vibrant and resilient communities in America.
Tip: After your tour of the House of Dance & Feathers, pay a visit to the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum, founded in 2011 to tell the story of rebuilding a decimated neighborhood post-Katrina.
1317 Tupelo St., New Orleans, LA; 504-957-2678.