Louisiana Division/City Archives   New Orleans Public Library

Image of the Month
October 2008

After a September filled with natural disasters--Hurricanes Gustav and Ike--and an ongoing global financial crisis, we definitely need a smile. So this month's image presents Mayor Sidney J. Barthelemy, dressed in an old-time bathing suit, duking it out with a plastic inflated shark. This photo op preceded His Honor’s actual descent into the actual shark tank at the Aquarium of the Americas! This happened on August 28, 1990, several days before the Aquarium opened its doors to the public. According to the Times-Picayune, Barthelemy had bet that Ron Forman, director of the Audubon Institute (operator of the Aquarium), would not have the facility ready in time for a September 1 deadline. Forman, however, was successful and the Mayor—not he—had to take the plunge. In the words of Christy Harrison, writing for the Picayune,
“…the mayor, bedecked in a black-and-white-striped "swim costume," jumped into the Gulf of Mexico exhibit and joined sand tiger, nurse, lemon and brown sharks. A musician played taps and circling sharks stretched their jaws, giving an ominous tone to the stunt, which was aimed at promoting New Orleans and the aquarium. But it wasn’t all that dangerous. Three divers kept the sharks at bay with batons. And the toothy fish weren’t really hungry. “He had to swim on an off day,” said Mark D’Vorak, a spokesman from the mayor’s office. “We took which days they eat into consideration. The sharks, which are fed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, were fed Monday afternoon [the Mayor’s swim took place on a Tuesday]….With pressure from 400,000 gallons of water and the absence of scuba gear, the mayor’s dip lasted less than a minute, but the crowd of about 50 onlookers applauded and chuckled. “Some say sharks would never bother a politician,” Barthelemy said, “because they extend professional courtesy.””
A photograph of Mayor Barthelemy’s “preliminary bout” with the plastic shark was made into a poster (probably a limited edition), copies of which were distributed to friends and supporters of the Aquarium project. Ours, complete with the Mayor’s autograph, came to the City Archives with other memorabilia from the Barthelemy administration.

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