There are three buildings still standing in New Orleans where it is most likely young George Herriman spent his childhood days: St. Augustine Church, the site of the Herriman & Chessé tailor shop, and this handsomely restored Creole cottage on the corner of Burgundy and Kerlerac streets (or, during Herriman’s time, the corner of Craps and History). Here was the Chessé family home, just blocks from the Herriman home on Villere street.
More than cousins, the Herrimans and Chessés might best be considered one family. Justine Olivier raised her two Herriman sons in the Chessé family, and throughout their time in New Orleans, the Herrimans and Chessés worked together, worshipped together and — though there is no record of it — surely socialized together. Extended family members, including the Esnards, intermarried, deepening the family ties.
As with the Herrimans, members of the Chessé family moved from New Orleans where they would self-identify, or “pass,” as white. These include Ralph Chessé, who went on to become an accomplished painter and puppeteer. During his remarkable career, Ralph worked with the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theatre Project, staging marionette shows including an all-puppet adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s drama The Emperor Jones. (Although not identifying as Black, in this and other works, Chessé explored racial themes in his work.) Other members of the Chessé family include Ralph’s son Bruce Chessé, also a puppeteer, and film editor Matt Chessé. Cousins to the Herrimans and Chessés include the writer Norman Rush, former commander of Joint Task Force Katrina Lt. General Russel L. Honoré (ret.), and the various members of New Orleans’ musical Boutté family. In 2018, singer John Boutté honored his ties to the Herrimans and Chessés by voicing the part of Krazy Kat in the song “Happy Land,” recorded with New Orleans’ Panorama Jazz Band.