Florabelle Robicheaux was featured as an extra in the first Tarzan movie. It starred Elmo Lincoln as the Ape Man, and it was shot in Morgan City, LA in 1918. Executive producers thought Mlle. Robicheaux could be the “colored Clara Bow.”
Floribelle Robicheaux grew up on Ursulines Street in New Orleans. When she was 42, and still unmarried, she rented the back rooms of 2216 Esplanade Avenue, the rooms that are currently known as the Pelican Suite. She had spent the last few years in Los Angeles and New York City. As she was taking a break between film shoots, she decided to spend her downtime in the city that she always thought of as home.
It was 1945, and Henry O’Reilly, a native of Glidden, Iowa, was granted 72 hours of shore leave from the minesweeper, USS Admirable, that was docked at the Esplanade Avenue Wharf. He rented the rooms that are currently the Clio Suite at La Belle Esplanade bed and breakfast. Seaman O’Reilly was the ripe age of 19, having seen two years of honorable service in the U.S. Navy after lying about his age at enlistment.
Mlle. Robicheaux and SN O’Reilly met at breakfast. They discussed an editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune regarding the state of the motion picture industry and its influence on the decline of public morals during wartime. SN O’Reilly asked Mlle. Robicheaux if she would be interested in taking a walk down Esplanade Avenue to the Delgado Art Museum and she gladly consented. They walked up to City Park but stopped along the way at Terranova’s Grocery for bottles of Dr. Nut soda pop and a sandwich to eat on Dovecote Island.
There was a collection of Claude Monet paintings on display at the museum, which was free in those days, and Florabelle told Hank that she had already seen them in the Louvre. “They look better in New Orleans,” she said.
After enjoying the artwork on display, the couple walked under the shade of the Dueling Oak to Dovecote Island. The shared a muffaletta. As they fed the last crumbs of their bread to the ducks in the surrounding lagoon, their hands touched, greasy with olive salad and prosciutto. Was it the oil that allowed a spark to pass between them? Was it the ambient humidity? Was it the city itself? Was it their own natural attraction? They always preferred to think it was the latter.
Later that evening, SN O’Reilly carved his initials and Florabelle Robicheaux’s initials enclosed by a heart in one of the palm trees in the back garden of 2216 Esplanade Avenue. That tree was cut down in 2006 after having been struck by lightning, not once, but twice.
The happy couple eventually settled on Kerlerec Street, nearby. Whenever they passed 2216 Esplanade Avenue on their evening strolls, they shared a heartfelt kiss. Mrs. O’Reilly died in 1965. Commodore (ret) O’Reilly passed away a few days after his wife.