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Blake Pontchartrain: the seal of New Orleans

The curious design of the city's official seal

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Hey Blake,

I enjoyed your column about the origins of the official city flag. What about the city seal? What's its story?

Dear reader,

  While the origins of the city flag are clear, the story behind the city seal is a little murkier. According to the New Orleans Public Library, we know that on Feb. 17, 1805 the Legislative Council of the Territory of Orleans authorized the mayor "to procure and use a seal on all official acts and documents." But when the city was divided into three separate municipalities in 1836, each subdivision adopted a seal of its own.

  According to the 1938 New Orleans City Guide, the city seal we see today likely was adopted in 1852 with the reunion of the municipalities. That year, records show the City Council authorized Mayor A.D. Crossman to order a city seal, which was engraved and printed for $16.

  "A description of the seal and an explanation of its symbolism are lacking," City Guide writers noted in 1938: "Below and partly within the semicircular inscription City of New Orleans, an Indian brave and maiden stand on each side of a shield, upon which a recumbent nude figure is shown saluting the sun rising above mountains and sea." That recumbent figure sometimes is referred to as Neptune, god of the waters and sea, or Father Mississippi, representing Old Man River. "Above the shield are twenty-five circularly grouped stars, and below, an alligator," the City Guide added.

  In an article in The Times-Picayune in 1968, the city's 250th anniversary, Maj. Henry Morris, future New Orleans Police Department Superintendent, who at the time was chairman of the Police Historical Society, said his research found that a grouping of 13 stars on the seal symbolize the original 13 colonies. Other stars on the seal represented states admitted between 1791 to 1836. He said three stars on each side, totaling six, represented six states admitted to the Union between 1837 and 1850.

  Since 2003, the city also has used a logo featuring a stylized fleur de lis. "Colored a futuristic industrial silver, the art deco design is meant to connote industry, strength and progress, even as it recognizes New Orleans' history and tradition," the graphic designer who developed the logo told The Times-Picayune in December 2002.

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