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.
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