|Memories of the Little Fort
|I received the following message about the Old Spanish Fort from Sally Schoen Breithoff.
Her memories of the Fort were so interesting and her story of Sunny Schiro's dedicated efforts
to save it so intriguing, I asked permission to share her story and she kindly agreed. Mrs.
Schiro put years of work into researching and attempting to preserve Spanish Fort for future
generations. How I wish her efforts had come to fruition. It's sad to watch a piece of history
disappear a little more with every passing day.
Many, many thanks to Sally for sharing this with us.
And belated thanks, as well, for her efforts and the efforts of Lake Vista
Women's Club for their work on behalf of the "little fort." Nancy
|If you have any suggestions as to what may have happened to Sunny Schiro's extensive
research into the "little fort," I'd love to hear from you. I'm already in the process of
checking with the City Archives and the Tulane Archives. Nancy
~ ~ ~
I've found vintage images of the grave at Spanish Fort that identify it as the final resting
place of Spanish soldier, Sancho Pablo That fits more with the legend I've always heard,
which is similar to the one Sally reported, except with a different ending. In the version I'm
familiar with, the Chief kills the Spanish officer who's in love with his daughter; his body is
buried at the Fort, where the daughter comes to mourn every night thereafter. And, on
certain moonlit nights, the sound of a woman's cries can still be heard, carried by the lake
breezes, wafting through the branches of the old oak trees, as the Indian maiden grieves
eternally for her lost love. Or so the legend goes! Nancy
|The Old Spanish Fort, Bayou St. John at Lake Pontchartrain
|Ruins of Old Spanish Fort and grave of Sancho Pablo, 2007
I have very fond memories of the Old Spanish Fort. I attended St. Pius X School from 3rd
grade, 1958, to 8th grade, 1964. Often times at the end of the year, our class picnic would be
held at the Old Spanish Fort. We would all pack a lunch and walk down the lanes of Lake
Vista to the little fort. I can remember boys digging for arrowheads...and find them. Those of
us who did not have the foresight to bring a shovel were out of luck.
We would climb over all of the rocks and sit on top and feel the breeze from Lake
Pontchartrain. The grave site was always an interesting attraction. The legend that we heard
as youngsters was that it was the grave of an Indian Princess, who fell in love with a soldier.
Her father, the Chief, did not approve and in an attempt to kill the soldier, killed his daughter
instead, who had stepped in front of her true love. It may have been made up by our teachers
to impress upon us the depth of true love, however, I do not think so.
Many years later, my husband and I bought a house in Lake Vista and, as a young mother, I
found myself being welcomed into the Lake Vista Women's Club. There were many very
sweet and lovely ladies that I became friends with during that period of my life. One very
interesting woman I met was Sunny Schiro, the wife of past mayor of New Orleans, Victor H.
Schiro. Sunny was passionate about, as she called it, "the little fort." She was trying to find
support through the LVWC to help with the process of making the little fort a National
Historic Landmark. As I recall, she said that if it had the status of being on the National
Historic Registry, then we could get federal grant money to save the fort.
One large problem that we ran into at the time (1977) was that the land was under the control
of the Levee Board of New Orleans. The Levee Board had a plan to block the flow of the Bayou
at Robert E. Lee Boulevard. There was a waterfall built there close to the bridge over the
The levee itself had to meet that Waterfall Blockade in order to protect the area from
flooding. The Levee Board then began raising the levee by piling dirt on top of the little fort,
including the Live Oak trees that had been estimated at being over 100 years old. Some of the
Live Oak trees died because their roots need air. There was an attempt to put little brick walls
around some of the trees to allow their roots to breathe.
But I am afraid that Sunny and the rest of us from the Lake Vista Women's Club were very
small potatoes going against the mighty and powerful Levee Board of New Orleans.
Sunny had a vast amount of data about the history of the little fort. Much of my knowledge
comes from speaking with her. She, also, told me that the grave site was not verified, but
legend had it as the site of an Indian Princess. If it had been the grave of a U.S. soldier it
would have been of greater interest to the Department of the Interior. But the final resting
place of an Indian Princess did not carry as much weight with the Federal Government as that
of a soldier. Sunny could not validate that it was the grave of a soldier.
Another problem was that the fort had not seen any real action. Had the British chosen the
Lake approach, instead of the River approach (which was much more heavily fortified), Old
Spanish Fort would be the site of celebration and re-enactment on each January 8th
[anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans].
This site of the Old Spanish Fort carries such fond memories for me and is so closely tied to
my grammar school days, that I was honored and very enthusiastic to help Sunny Schiro with
her project. However, as far as I know, she was never able to achieve her dream for the "little
In 1979, we moved to another home in West Lakeshore, which made me ineligible for the
Lake Vista Club. I kept in contact with Sunny and tried to help her for awhile, but family
responsibilities increased and eventually I lost touch with her and the project of the "little
fort." I regret that happening. I wish we could have saved the fort for future picnickers and
Thank you for allowing me to share my memories of the little fort.
Sally Schoen Breithoff