The origin of "Who dat" and other things you didn't know about New Orleans

By: Stuart J. Fischer, MD

By Stuart J. Fischer, MD

“Who dat” didn’t start with the New Orleans Saints. Some say the phrase goes back to vaudeville shows in the late 1800s and was used by jazz musicians in the 1920s. Others think it started as a cheer for two Louisiana high school football teams and was then picked up by a New Orleans sportscaster who helped make a recording with five Saints players doing a background chant of “Who dat?” to a vocal of When the Saints Go Marching In. Since then it has become a rallying cry for the team and the city—“Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints ?”

The city of New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company and named for the Duke of Orleans. From 1763–1801, the city was under Spanish rule. The French Quarter or Vieux Carre (Old Square) was laid out as a grid in 1721 and is an area 6 blocks by 13 blocks.

New Orleans is sometimes called the “Crescent City” because it was built on a curve of the Mississippi River. Some parts of the city are 5 feet to 10 feet below sea level. New Orleans is also known as the “Big Easy.”

The Battle of New Orleans (December 1814–January 1815) actually took place after the War of 1812 had ended. A treaty had been signed in Europe but word did not reach Louisiana until February 1815. General Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson became famous for his defense of the city, and the area known as Place D’Armes was re­named Jackson Square in his honor. A statue of Old Hickory on horseback stands in the center of the square.

St. Louis Cathedral, whose three spires overlook Jackson Square, is the oldest continuously operating Catholic cathedral in the United States. It was built in 1727 to honor King Louis IX of France and has been rebuilt twice since that time.

Riverboats have long been a part of travel on the Mississippi River. The Steamboat Natchez and the Creole Queen still operate daily river cruises. The large paddlewheel at the back of the Creole Queen is 24 feet wide and 20 feet in diameter.

Cajuns, or Acadians, are descended from French settlers who lived in Nova Scotia and eastern Canada but were expelled by the British in the mid-eighteenth century during a war between France and Britain. They came to Louisiana to live under a French government. One part of the state, known as Acadiana, consists of 22 parishes with many descendants of Cajun settlers.

John James Audubon, the famous naturalist and bird watcher, lived in New Orleans in the 1820s. Three public places—Audubon Park in the Garden District, the Audubon Zoo, and the Audubon Aquarium—are named after him.

Louis Armstrong—famous trumpeter, singer, and musician—was born and raised in New Orleans. A park named in his honor is located near the French Quarter on N. Rampart St. The park will soon become the site of The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. The New Orleans International Airport is also named after the jazz great. NOW