| In 1883, Simon Hernsheim engaged well-known architect Thomas Sully to design a home that would reflect his stature in the community. Sully did not disappoint. The result was a beautiful 3-story Italianate mansion (the only one of Sully's houses in the Italianate style still standing). Later renovations have changed the house's exterior appearance somewhat, but it's still beautiful. Its interior features are considered among the grandest of any late 19th century Louisiana home still standing. One of the most striking is the mahogany stairwell - it rises to meet a fantastic domed stained glass skylight. The original stained glass chandelier hangs in what was once the family dining room. Other outstanding features are paneled mahogany ceilings, 12-foot solid mahogany doors, antique fireplaces and frescoed friezes. One room contains the original built-in breakfront, the only surviving piece of its kind in any residence designed by Thomas Sully.
Now known as the elegant Columns Hotel, its current owners have restored the historic home to its original grandeur. It has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Sadly, Mr. Hernsheim's life didn't end well. In 1898, after the death of his wife and some burdensome family difficulties, Simon Hernsheim committed suicide by use of poison. His heirs, hoping to keep his memory alive, donated $50,000 to the newly established Fisk Free Public Library in his name. This gift allowed the fledgling library to purchase badly needed new books. Some of the money was, also, invested and the interest from the Hernsheim Fund allowed what would eventually become the New Orleans Public Library to continue to grow its collections for many years to come.
According to reports of staff and guests, the Columns Hotel houses three gentle and unassuming resident spirits - a man, a woman and a child. The well-dressed man, who has appeared often, seems to take on the duty of host, making sure everything is okay with his guests.
I like to think that this is Mr. Hernsheim, re-living happier days, still enjoying the home he built from the rewards of his labor and the golden age of the American cigar. -- Nancy