07 April 2010


I enjoy urban legends because of the challenge they present in examining the truth of their claims. The one copied below has been identified as originating as far back as 1955 (there are numerous web sites debunking it), but now with a Hurricane Katrina twist. I place it in the ridicule-of-government category, which has a long tradition in the U.S., especially of the proverbial hapless bureaucrat.

Even though the essentials of urban legends are made up (in this case, the denial of a loan by the HFA because of the supposed lack of title before 1803), frequently, they contain other factual errors, as does this one, that are used to propel the story. For example, France did not acquire the Louisiana Territory by conquest from Spain. In 1800, Spain willingly traded it to France, by the Treaty of San Ildefonso, for a small kingdom in northern Italy (essentially present-day Tuscany), elevating the son-in-law of the King of Spain to the title of king, rather than merely duke.

Second, Spain did not acquire rights to North America by way of Columbus, but through claims associated with Spanish explorations from 1513 to 1543, culminating in those of Hernando Desoto (he might have traveled through a part of Mississippi).

Third, Queen Isabella did not sell her crown jewels to finance the first voyage of Columbus; he was financed by Luis de Santangel, a member of a Jewish converso family (his grandfather had converted to Christianity). (Jewish web sites crow that it was not Isabella’s jewelry but Spanish Jewry which made Columbus’ discoveries possible!)

As far as the central claim of the story, that it is impossible to have land titles before 1803 when the U.S. took control of New Orleans--this is not true. Go to the web site of The Historic New Orleans Collection (<http://www.hnoc.org/>), a museum, research, and publications institution (on Royal Street) and its Manuscripts Division and you can see that it possesses numerous land documents (available online) showing land ownership, some originating as Spanish colonial land grants. Land was occupied, surveyed, licensed and recorded by the Spanish and French governors. When the U.S. took over in 1803, there were four boards of commissioners established, the last in 1812, to settle all claims.

Part of rebuilding New Orleans caused residents often to be challenged with the task of tracing home titles back potentially hundreds of years. With a community rich with history stretching back over two centuries, houses have been passed along through generations of family, sometimes making it quite difficult to establish ownership. Here's a great letter an attorney wrote to the FHA on behalf of a client:

You have to love this lawyer........

A New Orleans lawyer sought an FHA loan for a client. He was told the loan would be granted if he could prove satisfactory title to a parcel of property being offered as collateral. The title to the property dated back to 1803, which took the lawyer three months to track down. After sending the information to the FHA, he received the following reply.

(Actual reply from FHA):

"Upon review of your letter adjoining your client's loan application, we note that the request is supported by an Abstract of Title. While we compliment the able manner in which you have prepared and presented the application, we must point out that you have only cleared title to the proposed collateral property back to 1803. Before final approval can be accorded, it will be necessary to clear the title back to its origin."

Annoyed, the lawyer responded as follows:
(Actual response):

"Your letter regarding title in Case No.189156 has been received. I note that you wish to have title extended further than the 206 years covered by the present application.
I was unaware that any educated person in this country, particularly those working in the property area, would not know that Louisiana was purchased by the United States from France, in 1803 the year of origin identified in our application. For the edification of uninformed FHA bureaucrats, the title to the land prior to U.S. ownership was obtained from France, which had acquired it by Right of Conquest from Spain. The land came into the possession of Spain by Right of Discovery made in the year 1492 by a sea captain named Christopher Columbus, who had been granted the privilege of seeking a new route to India by the Spanish monarch, Queen Isabella.

The good Queen Isabella, being a pious woman and almost as careful about titles as the FHA, took the precaution of securing the blessing of the Pope before she sold her jewels to finance Columbus's expedition...Now the Pope, as I'm sure you may know, is the emissary of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God, it is commonly accepted, created this world. Therefore, I believe it is safe to presume that God also made that part of the world called Louisiana . God, therefore, would be the owner of origin and His origins date back to before the beginning of time, the world as we know it, and the FHA. I hope you find God's original claim to be satisfactory. Now, may we have our loan?"

The loan was immediately approved.

No comments: