Sunday, April 19, 2015

New Orleans' Metairie Cemetery wanderings and Anne Rice

“But the sky was never quite the same shade of blue again.”
                  ~Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

Continuing with my Metairie Cemetery experience, I’ve noted some of the incredible mausoleums but I should probably take a step back to explain how I arrived at the cemetery. For starters, the Canal Street streetcar line ends just across the street from Greenwood Cemetery which I only photographed from the outside and did not enter because of time. I have a flight voucher that expires in the next few weeks and I desperately need to decide on a place to travel. I’m tempted to return to New Orleans this summer just so that I have a bit more time. With the conference, meet up’s, and rushing out to cemeteries the day of giving my conference paper, I really didn’t have much time to meander and take in the city as I did last year. That’s okay. Each travel experience is different but I do wish that I had more time to take in these cemeteries.
When you’re facing the entrance of Greenwood Cemetery, if you look to the left you’ll see Metairie Cemetery in the distance. You actually have to cross the entrance (and on ramp) of Interstate 10, to arrive at the pedestrian entrance near the front left corner of the cemetery. You basically enter near The Army of Tennessee, La. Div. tomb. I was with two other members of the American Culture Association Cemeteries and Gravemarkers group and as soon as we figured out how to enter the pedestrian entrance, the woman in the group (I can’t recall her name) basically said, “If we separate, I’ll see you later at Odd Fellows Rest”… and after that, we didn’t see her again.

I walked around with a gentleman named Francis who teaches at an Art college in Connecticut. He also really wanted to see Metairie Cemetery so we made a great pair. He was friendly and chatting… and for the most part we wanted to see the same things. He was also very much interested in seeing those connected to the Civil War which I felt that I needed to do as I mentioned in my last post. RVA Street Cred—“I saw where Jefferson Davis was originally buried” :p

Aside from this, I really wanted to see the Anne Rice tomb which holds her late husband Stan Rice because well… do I have to explain to this audience?!? My teen years included the resurgence of her Vampire Chronicles and I was every bit of a fan back then.

When we arrived at the Metairie Funeral Home which is at the very front entrance of the cemetery, Frances and I walked right into a service. We were both pretty hot and sweaty from making it that far so we clearly looked a little tourist-y. You can imagine what the heat had done to my make-up. Surprisingly when I used the restroom, I could tell that my eyeliner was still in place and not melted down my face.  I’m sure this happens all the time and one of the workers was kind enough to take us to the front entrance to pick up some maps.

Jefferson Davis was the first trek… but after that, I had my heart set on the Anne Rice tomb.

Each time I’ve come to New Orleans, I walked by her former homes. This excursion was more walking by her future home. Mr. Rice’s tomb reads “permanently sealed” so unless Ms. Rice decides that her eternal rest is going to be a departure from her previously plans of RIPing with her hubby, this will be where she comes home.

It’s a little too easy to be critical in a place like Metairie where the mausoleums are on such a grand scale. By Metairie standards, the Anne Rice tomb (as the cemetery calls it and it’s noted on their People of Interest map—one of three maps with important places in the cemetery to visit) is quite modest. It’s a white mausoleum with four columns and two grand flower pots in the front. The door has some stunning scroll work but you actually have to be quite close to it to see the detail. It is made up of roses and a vine with a basic cross in the middle. Inside the tomb is a stain glass window—blue background with a bouquet with various red, purple, pink, white and yellow flowers. The vase resembles the actually vases that flank the tomb. Below the bouquet is the name Rice. Above it reads, “May perpetual light shine upon them O Lord”. The inside of the tomb appears to be white marble.

To the direct right of the Rice tomb is the Brown mausoleum which includes stain glass windows on the side but a more modern and perhaps whimsical typeface of their family name. To the right front part of the tomb is a feminized angel (that my fella actually says appears to be somewhat sexualized pose).

The angel is clearly female with breasts and a navel (which my fella also wonders why an angel who was never born needs a navel?). She is somewhat scantily clad and appears to be in a fainting pose throwing her arms back against her detailed bird-like wings. I’m no Art Historian so I don’t have the vocabulary for the sculpture. There is a great deal of detail in her wings, her hair, and her floral crown. The stain glass window on the side of the mausoleum that faces the Rice tomb appears to be two Magnolia blooms. There are also Magnolia trees around the tomb. The entire surrounding appears to be much more landscaped. Either way, these are some gorgeous tombs.

Finally on my list of must-sees was one of the most popularly photographed crying angel. It was such a sunny day that it was difficult to take pictures through the glass without getting reflections.

There were some surprises. While I expected to see the pyramid, I had no idea that I would walk right into the Henry Egan Ruined Castle which looks like, well, a ruined castle. Since this post is going a bit long, I’ll write about that in my next post.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

a (legal) stroll through a closed cemetery in New Orleans

“The most dangerous flower is one that grows on a grave.”

Jarod Kintz

Odd Fellows Rest
5055 Canal Street, New Orleans

The name Odd Fellows refers to a number of friendly societies and fraternal organizations. It also refers to a number of Lodges with histories dating back to the 18th century who were set up to protect and care for their members and communities at a time when there was no welfare state, trade unions or National Health Service. The aim was (and still is) to provide help to members and communities when they need it.

Located in New Orleans, Odd Fellows Rest is located on Canal Street near numerous other “Cities of the Dead”.

The thing about this cemetery that makes it so special is that due to vandalism, it is not open to the public. Some of the members of our American Culture Association Cemeteries and Gravemarkers  group estimated that the cemetery hadn’t been opened since the 1970s. When we met the cemetery caretaker, Michael, he said that the cemetery has been closed since WWII.

The land for Odd Fellows Rest was purchased in 1847 by the Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The property, adjoining St. Patrick Cemetery No. 2 at the intersection of Canal Street and Metairie Road (now City Park Avenue), was purchased for $700 and later enlarged by donations of land from benefactors and the Firemen’s Charitable Association.

In 1849, the new cemetery was dedicated with a large ceremony and a grand procession which bore the cemeteries first 16 remains of former Odd Fellows members, relocated from other cemeteries.

Michael said that this cemetery never had perpetual care. He also noted that it is a misconception that New Orleans includes so many above ground burials in elaborate stone crypts and mausoleums due to concerns that the area is built on a swamp. Odd Fellows Rest, along with the other cemeteries in the vicinity, is situated above the flood plain. The above ground burials happened to be more popular during the heyday of these cemeteries.

Nature takes back what man has made
The Odd Fellows organization was devastated by the Civil War. After the war, membership decreased by 60% and simply never recovered. That being noted, there is one last living Odd Fellow who is in his 80s. He’s the last living by at least 50 years!!!

In the 1970s, the cemetery was condemned with an estimate of 1 million dollars to relocate the remains and demolish the cemetery. Fortunately, the Highway Administration saved the cemetery. Yep, you read that correctly. The plans for the highway would have run right through the cemetery but their plans changed and because of that the government did not want to *waste* their money demolishing a cemetery.

In the early 1980s, a local organization Save Our Cemeteries repaired a section of the Odd Fellows wall vaults. You can see in some of my pictures that their current conditions are pretty bad.

Howard Association
Odd Fellows Rest contains several notable tombs and monuments. One is for the Howard Association, a group composed of young men whose mission was to provide emergency aid during the yellow fever epidemic. The tomb features an intricate bas-relief of the organization’s founder, John Howard.

Morrison Marker
It’s always nice to have a “guide” (bless his heart, Michael was supposed to open the gate for our group but he played tour guide as well!) who knows the stories behind the markers. He shared that Morrison had four children die from yellow fever.

Fairchild tomb
The cast iron gates surrounding the cemetery bear symbols of fraternity tied to the Odd Fellows, like the widow and her children, the beehive, the all-seeing eyes of Diety, the world, the cornucopia, the Order’s initials, the five-pointed stars, and the Bible. Sadly, many of these symbols have been stolen by vandals. There is some amazing artwork but unless something is done, it will be destroyed by nature. So much of this cemetery has already been lost.

Fairchild Tomb

Michael also shared that 85% of the cemetery is made up of orphaned tombs. There are 25 individual tombs maintained by families. The cemetery is open on All Saints Day and by request for family members.

There was practically no record keeping and the original burial records are lost although the records can be somewhat put back together with microfilm copies. 

Michael holding three links that someone found in the cemetery

Often used by the Freemasons and Independent Order of Odd Fellows. It symbolizes human industry, faith, education, and domestic virtues.

FLT in Chain Links   
A symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization. Stands for Friendship, Love, and Truth.

Hand Holding Heart  

The hand holding a heart is a symbol used by the I.O.O.F (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) and Masons, both fraternal organizations. It symbolizes charity.

I took many more pictures since this isn't a cemetery that others get to see very often. I'll probably upload as many as possible to Find a Grave  just so others have access.
There's amazing detail in this artwork but this tomb is slowly being destroyed. How long before this is broken?