Tragedy on Lake Pontchartrain- 1931

 

Drowning Victims

Top row (left to right)Roy Frederick Ennemoser,  Lucille Doublet,  Alma Gagnet

Bottom row (left to right)Nettie Bennett, George Labeaud,  Elva Gagnet 

When it was confirmed on Monday morning, 8 June 1931, that six young friends from the Treme neighborhood had drowned the day before in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain; hundreds of  relatives, friends and neighbors crowded into the homes of the deceased to comfort their families. Within a day or two, crowds would return to the same homes to view the bodies of the victims and to attend church services being held at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church on St. Philip Street.

Ranging in ages from sixteen to twenty- five, all six (listed above) left the city early Sunday morning (June 7 ) for a picnic at a camp located just across Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish. Three others were with them: Louis Gagnet, Milton Labeaud, and Isabella Sayas. Fortunately, these three would survive and live to recount the story of what happened that dreadful day.

The day proved to be lots of fun as all six continued to hold hands and walk together in the water. They selected a section of the lake where the water was no more than knee deep since most of them could not swim. Around 3 P.M., as they all continued to hold hands, they happened to stray from their original path and were suddenly sucked below by some strong force. A large sinkhole, brought on by recent dredgings in the lake, was the cause of the tragic ending to six lives. The sisters, Alma and Elva Gagnet, were discovered with their hands clasped together in death. This fact helped to collaborate the witnesses’ account of the six holding  hands as they disappeared.

The body of Nettie Bennett was recovered a few minutes after she drowned. Within an hour, Roy Ennemoser and his fiancé, Lucille Doublet were discovered  by searching parties using grappling hooks to drag the lake. Darkness set in and everything came to a halt.

The search was resumed early the next day, Monday, June 8, 1931, as two fishermen, Robert and Lucien Boutee of  North Shore, braved the high winds and rough waters to recover the last victims: Elva Gagnet, Alma Gagnet and George Labeaud.

Four of the victims were to have been married soon: George Labeaud to Elva Gagnet, and Roy Frederick Ennemoser to Lucille Doublet. George had been saving money for his marriage to Elva, so his mother decided to use the savings to purchase a tomb for her son. He was buried here along with his fiancée and her sister, Alma Gagnet.

 

Grave

Labeaud Tomb  [St. Louis Cemetery #2]

Siblings Elva, Alma and Louis Gagnet lived at 1018 North Derbigny while Roy Ennemore was at 1021 North Derbigny. Nettie Bennet was right in the next block at 913 North  Derbigny and Lucille Doublet at 928 North Derbigny. George Labeaud resided at 1214 North Johnson. George’s brother, Milton Labeaud, was one of the three witnesses to the entire incident.

In an editorial dated June 13, 1931 in the Louisiana Weekly entitled ” The Unfortunate Six” the city leaders of New Orleans were strongly blamed for the tragic deaths of these 6 young people. It stated:

Little did the unfortunate six, whose souls have been claimed by the waters of Lake Pontchartrain think on Sunday last, that their bodies were to be offered in sacrifice for the failure of the local municipality to provide its Negro citizenry with an adequate bathing beach…But what care the city fathers? They (whites) have West End, Spanish Fort, and Milneburg, and what do we have?….If the lives of six whites had been lost, there would be stern protests from the business men of the city demanding that immediate steps be taken to make impossible such a catastrophe again.”

The editorial ended by stating that our people have been guaranteed a bathing beach for next year (1932). ” But, may the time never again present itself when dredging will be permitted near the shore, and no signal or warning in view to guide those who go swimming for recreation.”

For further understanding on this topic please read the following two articles on this blog: Summertime at Seabrook (1928-1945)  January 19, 2013 +  On Segregated Shores: The Story of Lincoln Beach (1938-1964)  January 19, 2013.

Sources:  Times- Picayune 8 June 1931 p.1; Times-Picayune  9 June 1931 p.20; New Orleans Item 8 June, 1931 p.7; Louisiana Weekly 13 June 1931 p. 1&4; Photo of Labeaud tomb (courtesy of Phil Gagnet).

A special thanks to Jane Gillardoni Badon for bringing this story to my attention and for the oral history she provided on her uncle, George Labeaud, who was one of the six victims. Genard Smith also was very helpful with the stories she remembers of her mother, Isabella Sayas, a survivor in this tragedy. Finally, a special thanks to Phil Gagnet for submitting the grave photo to us.

Lolita V. Cherrie

19 thoughts on “Tragedy on Lake Pontchartrain- 1931

  1. Lucille Doublet was my distant cousin, the daughter of Anthony Doublet and Emily Adams (A. C. Adams Jr. and Sophie Pedesclaux). I came across this story during my genealogical research about a year ago, but you have provided much more detail and context for this tragedy. Thanks again for the great work you do.

    • Hi all,
      My name is Louis Gagnier III, Louis Gagnet was my grandfather. I heard that he was in the military and they changed his name from Gagnet to Gagnier, which he never corrected. Alma and Elva were his sisters. I remember as a child he would tell me the story of this event and how it affected him. I’m interested in connecting with other Gagnet’s
      Louis Gagnier III

      • Hey I’m Dorian Celestain. Louis is Alphonsine Gagnet’s brother. Alphonsine is my great Grandma Gloria (still alive) mother. Makes Louis my 2 great grand uncle.. Lol

  2. Thanks Lolita for another enlightenment. I love that you and Jane brought this forth together. Jackie Grooms James.

  3. I believe this was my Grandfather’s brothers kids.
    My Dad was born in 1917. Must have been his cousins?
    Phil Gagnet

  4. Lucille Doublet’s nephew Claude Doublet of Mobile is a U.S. Air Force veteran retired MFD FIREFIGHTER.Claude is now in his early 80’s and is the widower of Bernice Hickman, my wife’s cousin and a descendant of the Creole family Colin which was changed by the British to Collins.

  5. I was doing some research on the St Louis II Cemetery, and I came across the tomb where George L. Labeaud, Elva Gagnet and Alma Gagnet were buried. I wasn’t looking them up, specifically, but the fact that they’d all died on the same day, and were all so young, jumpd out at me, and kind of caught at my heart. It seemed clear that there had been some kind of tragedy. Thanks so much for making this information available.

  6. Milton Labeaud was my mother’s (Alice Soublet Mathieu) brother-in-law. Mabel Soublet Labeaud was my mother’s sister. I use to visit Milton and went fishing with
    Milton when he lived on North Johnson St. Jane I went to St. Aug with your father (Donald).

  7. Hi Louis,
    Several months ago you informed us that you were the grandson of Louis Gagnier who was the surviving brother of Alma and Elva Gagnet. We just received a comment from Dorian Celestain (please read) who states she is the g-granddaughter of Alphonsine Gagnet, another surviving sister of this family. If you are interested in connecting with them, please send me an email to ( Lolitac454@aol.com) and I will send you their contact information.

    • My grandmother Marietta was Louis Gagnet sister and the sister of the two that died . She was raising her sisters since their mother died when they were young.

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