Tall Ships Herald New Orleans' 300th Anniversary


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Massive ships with towering masts and billowing sails are heading for New Orleans' wharves on the Mississippi River as the city's 300th anniversary celebration kicks into high gear.

The vessels with sails hung from masts more than 100 feet tall were expected to arrive at city wharves by midday — a picturesque beginning to a week of events heralding the city's founding as a riverside trading post by Jean Baptiste le Moyne de Bienville. Historians say the explorer, an early governor of the French colony of Louisiana, established the settlement on a high spot at a bend in the Mississippi River that afforded a clear view of approaching ships.

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One of the tall ships visiting Thursday, the Elissa, is a restored vessel built in Scotland in 1877, according to event organizers. Others were built more recently but some look like throwbacks to ships that might have plied the lower Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico centuries ago.

The tall ships, along with more modern Navy ships from the United States, Canada and France, are in New Orleans for the annual Navy Week celebration, as well as the tri-centennial. Tours of the ships begin Friday.

Scattered events marking the city's founding in the spring of 1718 have been going on for months, including historical exhibits on topics as diverse as Catholicism in the city, the roles played in the city's development by generations of women and the work of various artists.

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The arrival of the tall ships gives the commemoration a higher profile and central focus. And it comes ahead of other events including Saturday's "International Welcome Ceremony" at Jackson Square in the French Quarter. The city bills it as an event welcoming dignitaries from countries around the world that have contributed to New Orleans' history and culture.

On Sunday, at Louis Armstrong Park just outside the French Quarter, the city holds a "citywide family reunion" during which jazz musicians — including local favorites Terrence Blanchard, Kermit Ruffins and Ledisi — will take part in the shooting of a video celebrating International Jazz Day, which is April 30.

The 300th anniversary is the backdrop for a series of discussions Friday on issues facing modern cities, including climate change, poverty and security, moderated by editors of the news website Axios. And the city, a destination for international tourism, has scheduled a media "sneak peek" at the new terminal for the Louis Armstrong International Airport next Wednesday.

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– by AP reporter Kevin McGill

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