Damien Marchessault was born in Quebec in 1818. He later moved to New Orleans as many French-Canadians were known to do. There he became known as an avid drinker and carousing gambler.
Not much is known about when or why he moved to Los Angeles but once there he started a business selling ice cream with Victor Beaudry, also a French Canadian and brother to Prudent Beaudry, who would become Mayor of Los Angeles. They would haul ice from Mount San Antonio, near Mt. Baldy down via slides and burro. At the ice cream shop they would not only sell ice cream but iced alcohol and wine from Vignes’s vineyard. Vignes had a nephew named Pierre Sainsevain.
When Antonio Coronel (AKA Don Coronel) became mayor of Los Angeles in 1853 he appointed Marchessault as the water overseer as he had experience with the ice being shipped to the city. Coronel expected Marchessault to overhaul the water system of Los Angeles as it was poorly constructed and falling apart. Needless to say, Marchessault was not a hydro-architect; he was a drunk, gambling, ice cream salesman. But somehow, he passed off a working water system that instead of running above ground like a river, ran underground, beneath the streets.
Six years later Marchessault became the mayor of Los Angeles and appointed Pierre Sainsevain as the water overseer. He meant to further modernize the water system of Los Angeles. But as he grew older he began to drink more and gamble more. He entered in a number of heavy debts that he would never escape from. He eventually resigned from Mayor and took over the job of water overseer again to try and repair what his administration had destroyed. But it was too late.
The city street of Los Angeles began sinking and falling apart. The structural integrity of the whole city had been compromised. In 1868, more than two years after leaving office, Marchessault snuck into the city council chambers and shot himself in the head. He left the following note for his wife:
My Dear Mary: - By my drinking to excess, and gambling also, I have involved myself to the amount of about three thousand dollars which I have borrowed from time to time from friends and acquaintances. Under the promise to return the same the following day, which I have often failed to do. To such and extend have I gone in this way that I am now ashamed to meet my fellow man on the street; besides that, I have deeply wronged you as a husband, by spending my money instead of maintaining you as it become a husband to do. Though you have near complained of my miserable conduct, you nevertheless have suffered too much. I therefore, to save you from farther disgrace and trouble, being that I cannot maintain you respectably, I shall end this state of thing this very morning. Of course, in all this, there is no blame-attached contrary you have asked me to permit you to earn money honestly by teaching and I refused. You have always been true to me. If I write these few lines, it is to set you a night before this wicked world, to keep slander from blaming you in way manner whatever. Now, my dear beloved, I hope that you will pardon me, and also Mr. Sainsevain. It is time to part, God bless you, and may you be happy yet, your husband Damien Marchesseault.
I meant to fix the streets and bring the up to code
But my family blood repeats and sprouts the seed it sowed.
And now I've mixed myself with things that I regret.
I borrow tax as cash for drinking and roulette.
When the pipes burst they couldn't find me.
I was slaking my thirst, pulling the cork free.
I know I let this wither and rot
But now I'll do the right thing.
You know I've always tried to be good
But now I hope you can forget. Me.
You don’t complain about the looseness of my ways.
How I’ve been reckless while I hunt for dying days.
I've broken all by vows and break them here again.
What doesn’t kill you now will slowly kill you then.
So when the road fell they couldn’t find me.
I was embarrassed as hell prying the church key.
I know I let this wither and rot
But now I’ll do the right thing.
You know I’ve always tried to be good
but now I hope you can forget what I’ve done.
Don’t let them think that you’re involved with me at all.
Just pardon Sainsevain, don’t let my city fall.
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