Page 1. " Waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store "
D H Holmes department store in 1946
Public DomainD H Holmes department store in 1946

In the 1840s Daniel Henry Holmes established a number of department stores in and around New Orleans. His company's main building on Canal Street became something of a city landmark and its entrance beneath the clock was well known as a meeting place.

Statue of Ignatius J Reilly under the clock at D H Holmes
GNU Free Documentation LicenseStatue of Ignatius J Reilly under the clock at D H Holmes. Photo by Infrogmation.

John Kennedy Toole's novel opens with Ignatius J Reilly waiting for his mother under the clock. A statue of Ignatius by William Ludwig was set up on the spot in 1996. It has survived a number of attempts to steal it, as well as the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

D H Holmes reached its zenith in the early 1980s when the company had 21 stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The arrival of retail giants like Macy's and the development of shopping malls, however, led to a swift decline and the chain was finally sold to Dillard's in 1989.

The Canal Street building is now a hotel.

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Page 2. " She had driven him downtown in the old Plymouth "


1946 Plymouth De Luxe
GNU Free Documentation License1946 Plymouth De Luxe. Photo by Lars-Göran Lindgren.

Introduced in July 1928, the Plymouth was Chrysler's first attempt at a low-cost automobile to compete with the likes of Ford and Chevrolet. In the 1930s, it was credited with helping the Chrysler corporation to survive the depression. The styling and specification of the late 1930s models changed only gradually until the introduction in the 1950s of Chrysler's 'Forward Look' styling that gave their products a much more contemporary feel

The Plymouth marque dropped out of use after 2000.

Page 2. " he had wandered into the Penny Arcade on Royal Street "

Penny arcades were first developed in the late 19th century and were mostly seen in temporary settings such as amusement parks or travelling fairs. They grew in popularity throughout the 30s and 40s and included a mixture of games for amusement such as bagatelle or pinball, and, where the law allowed, low-stakes gambling machines like one-armed bandits.

The arcades also featured novelty machines including fortune-telling automatons, crane grabbers and booths where aspiring pop stars could cut their own records on cardboard discs. In 1947 or 1948, Tennessee Williams and some friends used one of these recording booths at Pennyland on Royal Street in New Orleans to produce a number of discs that included singing, conversation and comic parodies of Williams' most famous plays. 

Page 3. " This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs and lesbians "


Bourbon Street
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBourbon Street - Credit: Heroiclife

This is Ignatius in full rant and it perfectly conjures the image of New Orleans as, in his eyes, some kind of human swamp. The use of the word 'jade' is particularly apt given Ignatius's interest in the medieval world

The OED defines it as a bad-tempered woman or a worn-out horse. It has a Middle English origin and, in its horse sense at least, was used by Chaucer. There's a brief disussion on its meaning here.

Page 4. " that Hoboken near the Gulf of Mexico "

As one of the most diverse cities in the USA, the New Orleans dialect has been subject to influences including French, Spanish, German and a variety of African languages. There was also a mixing of the English spoken in eastern and midland USA as a result of river traffic from the Ohio into the Mississippi River.

New Orleanians are able to distinguish a speaker's city neighbourhood by their accent, one of the most well-known of these being that spoken by the 'Yats'. The name comes from the common greeting "Where y'at?" and signifies lower- and middle-class white New Orleanians, many of whom have a partly Irish heritage. The result is an accent that is very similar to what would have been spoken in the New Jersey city of Hoboken, now heavily gentrified, at the time Toole was writing.

"Doc" Hawley, a Mississippi River boatman and all-round Yat can be heard telling tales and talking about life after the hurricane at the podcast project One Voice at a Time.

Page 4. " You wanna give me half a dozen wine cakes too? "


A Bundt Cake
GNU Free Documentation LicenseA Bundt Cake. Photo by Jonathunder

There are several different recipes for wine cake, but one that would be suitable for baking in batches for sale in a bakery uses small bundt tins to make a dome-shaped confection with a depression in the centre. Wine is mixed in with the batter and the alcohol bakes off to leave the flavour. A wine syrup can be poured over for extra indulgence.


Page 5. " This is a clear case for the Civil Liberties Union "

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was formed in 1920 from an older organisation known as the National Civil Liberties Bureau. The organisation has a broad remit which includes religious liberty, the separation of church and state, drug law reform, prisoners' rights, affirmative action to redress discrimination, and the rights and welfare of immigrants

Public DomainJim Crow

Inevitably, ACLU regularly arouses controversy as it pursues an unambiguous line on freedom of speech and expression. The same organisation that, in 1954, was instrumental in the move to ban racial segregation in US public schools and which, in 1967, successfully argued against state bans on interracial marriage, was also the organisation that, in 1977, opposed a ban on Neo-Nazi parades in the village of Stokie, Illinois.


Page 6. " Would you say a rosary for a communiss? "

The famous quote from Karl Marx that religion is the opium of the people is usually taken as an expression of the atheist nature of the communist movement. But Marx's activities as a communist actually began in a group called the League of the Just, founded by German workers in Paris in 1836 with the aim of "establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth, based on the ideals of love of one's neighbour, equality and justice". In 1847, the Communist League was created out of the League of the Just and the Communist Correspondence Committee of Bruxelles and, later that year, the new organisation issued the Communist Manifesto.

The thread of Christian Communism has continued from its 17th-century precedents such as the Plymouth Colony and the True Levellers through to the present day. It is based on the idea that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as an ideal social system.

Public DomainGramsci

A report from the Vatican that the founder of the Communist Party of Italy, Antonio Gramsci, converted back to Catholicism on his deathbed is, however, treated with a lot of scepticism in most quarters.


Page 9. " Sometimes he sits himself down and drinks two, three Dr. Nuts at one time "

Dr. Nut was an intensely sweet, almond-flavoured carbonated drink produced by the World Bottling Company of New Orleans. This site gives more details on Ignatius's favourite drink.

Page 9. " riding on top in one of those Greyhound Scenicruisers "

The Scenicruiser was a 40-foot, split-level bus that was introduced on premium routes across the USA by the Greyhound Bus Company in 1954. With its silver-grey streamlined body and its 360-degree observation deck, it became an instantly recognisable piece of American style. This is not surprising, given that the initial designs were by Raymond Loewy who also designed the Coca-Cola bottle and the Lucky Strike cigarette pack.

Page 10. " Do you remember the time that I went to Baton Rouge "

Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana, is 80 miles north of New Orleans, meaning that Igantius's hellish bus trip would have taken nearly two hours. The city was named by French explorers after a red cedar pole hung with animal carcasses that marked the boundary between the hunting grounds of two local tribes. It is home to the State University of Louisiana.

Page 12. " his membership card in the St Odo of Cluny Holy Name Society "

Local Holy Name societies are affiliated to the original "Confraternity of the most Holy Names of God and Jesus" and approval for setting one up has to be sought from the Dominican Order. Membership is restricted to practising Catholic males over the age of 18 who must go through an induction ceremony to pass from novitiate to full member.

Although the original idea was to discourage blasphemy, a wider remit of charitable purposes and moral rectitude has developed over the years.

Cluny Abbey
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCluny Abbey - Credit: Sacred Destinations
St. Odo of Cluny, who lived from c.878 to 942, was known as a great reformer of monasteries. In 927 he became the second abbot of Cluny Abbey in France. Severely devout and, like Ignatius J Reilly, at odds with the material world, St. Odo laid great stress on humility, obedience, self-denial and especially chastity.

Page 13. " my ass be in Angola now for sure "

Angola is the name given to the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The land on which the prison was built originally comprised four plantations, one of which was called Angola reflecting the African country of origin of most of its slave workers.

Like Alcatraz, it is an institution that has embedded itself into American culture. Much of Steven King's novel The Green Mile was based on Angola's death row of the 1930s and the movie Dead Man Walking was partly filmed there.

Blues singer Leadbelly spent four years in Angola and it has been referenced many times in popular music by artists as diverse as Gill Scott Heron and Ray Davies.

Page 16. " We got enough bombs and things already "

A melted clock from a WWII atomic explosion
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA melted clock from a WWII atomic explosion - Credit: James
John Kennedy Toole was writing and revising A Confederacy of Dunces at perhaps the most tense point of the Cold War. In November 1960 America began its first nuclear submarine patrols with the USS George Washington, which had successfully launched a Polaris missile from underwater only three months before. In October 1961 the USSR exploded the world's most powerful nuclear bomb, known in the West as Tsar Bomba. And by October 1962 the world faced the very real possibility of all-out nuclear war before pulling back from the brink as the Cuban Missile Crisis was defused.


Page 22. " a post supporting a wrought iron balcony "
Wrought iron balconies
GNU Free Documentation LicenseWrought iron balconies - Credit: Infrogmation

The wrought iron balconies of the French Quarter in New Orleans are a tourist attraction in themselves. They are endlessly photographed by visitors and appear in most of the travel literature about the city.

Despite the name, most of the buildings in the French Quarter are of Spanish design. It was the Spanish who were the colonial masters of New Orleans at the time of the great fire of 1788, which destroyed over 850 houses. New houses were constructed in less flammable materials. The craze for fancy balconies was begun by the Baroness Micaela Almonaster de Pontalba, who added them to the fashionable terraces she had built around Jackson Square.

The low-temperature smelting and hammering used to manufacture wrought iron produces a very pure material, making it much more resistant to corrosion and far less brittle than cast iron.

Page 25. " Ignatius was writing in one of his Big Chief tablets "

Big Chief tablets were blocks of writing paper with widely spaced lines intended to help children acquire neatness in their handwriting. They were originally manufactured in Missouri by the Western Tablet Company and were known for the low resistance of their paper, which made writing with a sharpened pencil difficult, and for the image of a Native American chief in full headdress on their covers.