85 years later L’Observateur is still reporting the news
By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 14, 1998
RESERVE – The year was 1913. World War I was in the future. And a newnewspaper hit the streets in St. John the Baptist Parish, launched by the34-year-old Wallace Lasseigne.
It was L’Observateur, now in its 85th year of operation. And one lady inReserve has very clear memories of her beloved father – his daughter, Leslie Mabile, now 87 years young.
“My daddy was a crackerjack man, and I was the only one in the family to take an interest in the paper,” she said.
That’s an understatement, since “Miss Les” worked for the paper for more than 30 years as a typesetter, first under her father’s watchful eye, then under later owner Joe Lucia until the late 1960s.
“I used to love my job,” she observed with her characteristic cheerfulness. “I used to love to opaque.”Lasseigne grew up in New Orleans on Frenchmen Street and decided to return home when his father, Charles Lasseigne, sold his beloved Les Meschacebe to Eugene Dumez Jr. in 1909. Lasseigne had just set up a job-press shop after having worked for his father for nine years. He desperately needed cash.”He had a few chickens and had decided to kill a rooster to feed his family,” added Lasseigne’s granddaughter, Gloria Mabile Triche of Reserve.
But a man came in and bought some posters for 75 cents, so the rooster lived, she said.
Lasseigne ran his job-printing shop for four years until, using a hand- cranked press, ran off the inaugural issue of L’Observateur on Jan. 18,1913.
Lasseigne had studied journalism in Ruston and knew a thing or two about the business, which he learned from his father. He was unhappy with thepolitics and wanted to start a quality publication from the outset.
“In presenting L’Observateur to the public, we present an up-to-date, clean, free and independent newspaper, a newspaper which will not be controlled by any ‘clique or ring,’ but will defend the interest of the people within its power.”With those words in that first issue, Lasseigne started his 37-year career with St. John Parish’s homegrown newspaper.The tiny paper, scornfully called a “cigarette paper” by its detractors, helped lead the upheaval which ejected a corrupt political administration in office for 16 years. Along the way in the three-year battle Lasseignelanded in jail twice on libel charges. He never went to trial, though, and heearned the community’s respect.
“He put the truth where it belonged,” Mabile said, smiling. “That mind wasas sharp as a tack until the day he died.””He was a great story-teller,” recalled Triche. “He always said a joke wasfunnier in French than in English.”L’Observateur was printed half in French, half in English, each letter set by hand, until a Linotype machine was purchased in 1940.
In 1949, when Lasseigne sold L’Observateur to a partnership which included Joseph Lucia (editor), Milton J. Landry (printer) and Arthur J.Louque (printer), the format finally changed to an all-English language newspaper.
In the first issue published by the new owners, that of June 30, 1949, Lasseigne wrote: “It gives me great pleasure to know that the paper I found in 1913 has continued until now and shall remain in operation. I am happy that I cantake into retirement with me the memory of many pleasant days and many wonderful people.”L’Observateur, indeed, has quite a lineage. In 1852 the main plant for LeMeschacebe and L’Avant Coureur newspapers, covering St. John and St.Charles parishes, respectively, arrived in Lucy on the steamer Mary Foley by their first editor, Hypolite Prudent deBautte (who used the pen name of Prudent d’artly). Their first issues appeared on Jan. 23, 1853.Five years later the papers were sold to Eugene Dumez and remained in business until the Union invasion in 1862.
On Oct. 14, 1865, both newspapers returned to publication, and Dumez diedin 1878 in a flu epidemic. Both papers ceased publication on Oct. 14, 1878.L’Avant Coureur never re-appeared as, by that time, the St. Charles Heraldhad appeared in St. Charles Parish.Three months later, in January 1879, Le Meschacebe reappeared under the editorship of Charles Lasseigne, who was also publishing La Ruche Louisianais, another French-language journal. He published both papers for10 years, then Le Meschacebe alone for 20 more before selling to Eugene Dumez Jr., who ceased its French language usage.The French language fonts were salvaged by Wallace Lasseigne, who used them in 1913 in launching L’Observateur.
Meanwhile, Le Meschacebe was sold by Dumez Jr. to John D. Reynaud, whocontinued it for 28 years in Lucy. Publication ceased in mid-1942.Years passed. L’Observateur moved from Reserve in July 1959 to abuilding shared with Bank of St. John on Main Street, LaPlace. It changedprinting technique from linotype to offset press in 1967. In November1974, it moved again, this time to its own building behind the bank where it is still located. It was sold to Joseph “Tardy” Lucia Jr. in 1977 and toWick Communications in 1985.
Lasseigne died on July 28, 1966, at the age of 88.
His dream remains alive.
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