On Monday (3.3) night, Will Trufant stood in the doorway of his Marigny home wearing a pair of bright yellow rubber gloves. Behind him, a row of framed, vintage New Orleans art lined the hallway floor. Momus 1917. Jazz Fest 1980. An aroma akin to a campfire wafted through the building. “This is what we were able to salvage from my Grandfather’s office. I’m trying to scrub off the smoke and chemicals.”
On February 24, a four alarm fire ravaged the historic Garden District house that five generations of his family have occupied. Now, Trufant is picking up the pieces with his family. Yet, he is grateful that there are pieces to pick up. The result is an uncharacteristically optimistic disposition for the victim of a disaster.
Trufant walked into his kitchen and opened a box of glass slides designed for a turn of the century magic lantern (a predecessor to the motion picture). “I want to donate these to NOMA. We donated a bunch of paintings to them in 1915. I don’t have the skills to save these, but they probably do. So, it seems appropriate.”
The last donation to the museum was made by Chapman Hyams. Hyams also owned the lot next to the Trufant family house. When Will’s great-grandfather Nathaniel married his daughter in 1892, Hyams built them the home at the corner of Chestnut Street and Phillip Street as a wedding gift. Five generations of his family have lived there since. Most recently, his parents and grandmother lived there. As the scion says, “Find a great place and stick it.”
On the 24th, Trufant was driving through the CBD when he got a call from his father about the fire. “I turned left instead of right.” When he arrived on Phillip Street, he found the house aflame.
Trufant’s 87-year-old grandmother was taking a shower when the blaze broke out on the third floor, but escaped unharmed. Firefighters began to fight the blaze. Trufant speculates that the fire began in a third floor air conditioning unit and then spread. However, the cause is not what he is focused on.
“The New Orleans Fire Department did an amazing job. That’s why we still have these items to clean.” He describes how the firefighters understood that the water battling the blaze upstairs would flow down to the first floor and took proactive action. NOFD took all of the art off of the walls and pushed them and the antique furniture to a protected space in the center of the room.
“The dining room table is a gorgeous old table that falls under the ‘antique’ label. But, it’s still the dining room table. Just in my time, we’ve had countless wonderful meals and great times sitting at it. It also happened an uncountable number of times before I’ve gotten my turn. Thanks to the NOFD, this centerpiece that helps bring the family together will continue to be used for hopefully many more evenings together to come.”
And then there are the Mardi Gras doubloons. Trufant notes that they are made of actual silver. Sitting next to them are century old printing plates depicting parade floats. The cleaning process unearthed his late grandfather’s treasure trove of New Orleans artifacts.
“My grandfather. I wouldn’t quite call him a hoarder, but he was a lover of history. And, a lover of Carnival. He kept a ton of old things. If it was Carnival related, he had it. You look at this stuff, and wonder ‘What burned up? What did we lose?’ but you also look at it and think, ‘Look what we didn’t lose. Look at what we have discovered. Look at what we can salvage because of the NOFD’.”
The incident served not just as a reminder of the family’s material treasures, but the human ones as well. “Because, we’ve lived there so long, we know all the neighbors. They all unlocked their doors and made sure that my grandmother had a place to sit and was taken care of during the fire.”
The support continued in the following days also. Friends have provided help from housing to shampoo. “Literally, everyone we’ve talked to has asked, ‘How can we help? What can we do?’”
The day after the fire, one of the NOFD Captains even came back to the house to check in with the family and make sure that they were doing as well as circumstances permit.
The next step is rebuilding. The Trufants already has a temporary roof in place and plans to fully restore the structure. Trufant notes that the water damage means that they will have to strip the building down to the studs.
The similarity to the Storm is not lost on the family. “The upside of a housefire with water damage is that everyone here knows how to deal with water damage. Thankfully, it’s not August.”
And of course, they remembered to clear the refrigerator. “After the fire was out, and NOFD cleared us to go in again, we went to the ‘fridge. My brother-in-law and I even found two cold beers inside. So, we sat down and drank them.”
Then, Will Trufant went back to cleaning the smoke off of his past… and future.