My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Saturday, July 7, 2012

FRIDAY'S FAMOUS - William Joseph Imbert (1883-1921)

William Joseph Imbert was the husband of Odille L. Fortier (1887-1956), my first cousin, 3x removed. Doubtlessly, no one in our family has ever heard of him. He may be more of a "forgotten" than a "famous" but during his time he certainly was well known in New Orleans, especially where he worked as a waiter at the Grunewald Hotel.

Odille Fortier was the fourth of six children born to Omer Auguste Fortier (1855-1897) and Laura Octavia Eslava (1859-1910). Omer was the older brother of Odalie Fortier Horst (1857-1920), my great-great-grandmother; he was the sixth of eleven children born to my 3x-great-grandparents Jacques Omer Fortier (1813-1867) and Augustine Melanie Laperle Degruy (1822-1872).

Odille and Billy Imbert, as he was called, were married in May 1911 in New Orleans. Odille was 23 and Billy was 27 at the time. Odille's father had died over a decade before and her mother had just died the previous year. Billy's father had died before 1900 and his mother was remarried to a carpenter who did odd jobs for a living. They were on their own, and no doubt planning the perfect life together.

The couple welcomed their first child nine months after their wedding, Marguerite Mary (born February 22, 1912). Two sons soon followed - William Joseph (b. July 28, 1913) and Wallace (b. 1920). 

On Sunday, May 29, 1921 William J. Imbert died of an apparent heart attack. The story of Billy's death appeared in the New Orleans Picayune newspaper on May 30, 1921. It included more of who the man was - and what made him so famous in 'The Big Easy'.
from Picayune
May 30, 1921

"Billy", Perfect Waiter, Is Dead
William J. Imbert, Won Distinction from Life of Service

"It is said that the great prince of Conde lived one day too long for his fame. Such is not the case with "Billy" Imbert, who was buried Monday morning from his home at 3305 Canal street, and who will be remembered by all Orleanians as the most perfect waiter that ever served the prominent and exclusive sets of this community.
William J. Imbert, or "Billy" as he was known, for the past eighteen and a half years, has been an employee of the Grunewald Hotel, and for the past twelve years its head waiter. He was found dead at home Sunday morning by his wife, having been the victim of a sudden attack of heart trouble. His death was not only a cause of profound sorrow for his wife and three little children, but to thousands of Orleanians, who had come to regard "Billy" as a genius in his line. Employees at the hotel were downcast when his death was known, and in subdued whispers discussed it all morning among themselves. Hardly a well-known guest, who came to the Grill for Sunday breakfast but he was greeted with the whispered salutation: "Billy died this morning."
If ever there was such a thing as a genius in the art of catering to people, "Billy" Imbert deserved that title. By his courtesy, kindness, vigilance, and through his eternal habit of deffering to the whims of his guest, he conquered nearly everyone who came to know him.

Two sets of people knew "Billy" well - men in public life who frequented the Grunewald and persons who move about in the social world. Hardly a distinguished visitor to the Grunewald who does not remember "Billy". Sportsmen who frequented the Lake Shore Club will all testify to his qualities; millionaires who shot duck at the Delta Club all learned to esteem him. Society matrons whose affairs depended upon the success of the service have praised him.
The Grunevald Hotel
[now the Roosevelt New Orleans]
Imbert had been with the Grunewald for 12 1/2 years. Theodore Grunewald, president of the company, esteemed him highly. It was he who with Mr. Grunewald made the first inspection of the present Grunewald annex. It was he who presided over the parties served on the old Josephine, in the days when service was akin to genius. When the Creole Sue was brought here "Billy" was among those who took the first spin on her through Lake Pontchartrain. Racing folk who came to New Orleans in the winter will miss him, especially the copper king. "Millionaire Clarke" as he was called, who always insisted on "Billy" serving his party while he was here.
"Billy's" last great triumph was the luncheon served here to President Harding. It was he who managed this affair throughout and it was his ability to manage such things that brought from visiting newspapermen the statement that it was the best arranged and served affair they had ever attended.
"Billy" was 38 years old."
 Odille was left widowed at the age of 34. Their children were just 9-, 7-, and 1-years old. Young Wallace died after an illness at the age of twelve, on November 21, 1932. Odille died on April 15, 1956. Both Marguerite and William each married and gave their mother nine grandchildren. Billy and Odille are buried at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans.

"The Cave" Nightclub

NOTE: "The Cave", considered by some as the first nightclub in the United States, featured waterfalls, stalactites and chorus girls dancing to Dixieland jazz. The Grunewald Hotel was opened in 1893; in 1908 an expansion adding 400 rooms was completed. It was heavily damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina but was reopened in 2009 after a $170 million renovation. Governor Huey Long stayed in a 12th-floor suite, during his stays in Louisiana when he was a U.S. Senator.