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Metairie Cemetery Archives - Edward Branley - The NOLA History Guy
Metairie Cemetery Entrance 1880s

Metairie Cemetery Entrance 1880s

The Metairie Cemetery Entrance was at Metairie Road and Pontchartrain Boulevard in the 1880s.

metairie cemetery entrance

Metairie Cemetery Entrance

Charles Roscoe Savage photo of Metairie Cemetery in the 1880s. BYU Digital Collections reference:

A view through a vine- covered archway of two men with their luggage at the base of a small mound with a statue on the top. Hand-tinted. Note: Written on the back- Transferred from P-167.

This entrance was for pedestrians. The Metairie Cemetery Association (MCA) constructed an automobile entrance on Pontchartrain Blvd. in the 1900s. The photographer stands with his back to the New Basin Canal. The tumulus seen through the vine-covered entrance arch is that of the Army of Tennessee (Louisiana Division). The equestrian statue on top is of Albert Sidney Johnson.

Evolution

This entrance evolved as visitors arrived in automobiles more than on foot. The cemetery had an access gate just west of the Metairie Road-Pontchartrain Blvd. entrance. This allowed hearses and other horse-drawn vehicles access. Automobiles required a better entrance. The MCA added one about twenty years after this photo. Pedestrians could still enter the cemetery from here. The MCA later removed the brick archway. They replaced it with a lower fence.

The city filled the New Basin Canal, starting in 1948. By 1949, the section by the cemetery was filled. The Pontchartrain Expressway consists of an overpass over Metairie Road. Out of concern for pedestrian safety, MCA locked the entrance permanently in the 1950s. The entrance is now accessible.

Modern view

With the archway/entrance gone, the cemetery developed the entrance area for more tombs. The most notable new construction is the Benson Tomb. It now stands to the left of where Savage stood for this photo.

Army of Tennessee (Louisiana Division)

This tumulus is one of several burial sites for rebels who fought in the Southern Rebellion. The most notable veteran interred here is P.G.T. Beauregard.

Vaccaro Tomb – Metairie Cemetery

Vaccaro Tomb – Metairie Cemetery

The Guiseppe Vaccaro tomb stands on Metairie Avenue.

vaccaro tomb

Vaccaro Tomb

Tomb of Guiseppe (Joseph) Vaccaro in Metairie Cemetery. The tomb stands on Metairie Avenue, which is part of the original “race track” section. The tomb was built in the 1920s. This Frank B. More photo is undated, but taken on the day of an interment. The Vaccaro Brothers, Guiseppe, Felix, and Luca, came to America with their father, Stefano. They started Vaccaro Brothers Company, a business to import coconuts and bananas from Honduras to New Orleans in 1899. That business later becomes the Dole Fruit Company.

Joseph built a “double” style tomb for his family. This allowed the owners to bury two family members within a year. Our law says a vault in an above-ground tomb may be re-used after a year and a day has passed since the last internment. So, if you have a double, hopefully the family doesn’t suffer extended tragedy.

Standard Fruit Company

The brothers re-organized the company as Standard Fruit Company in 1924. So, like Sam Zemurray’s United Fruit Company, the Vaccaros involved themselves in Central American Governments. They helped create the “Banana Republics.” To handle the increased volume of business, the Vaccaros bought almost every ice plant in the New Orleans area. Standard Fruit operated services to the ships transporting their bananas. They acquired their own ships in the early 1920s. The company changed its name in 1926 to Standard Fruit & Steamship Company.

Vaccaros to Dole

While the story is fascinating and we’ll come back to it, I’m just nicking this from Wikipedia, on why Dole Foods is traced back to the Vaccaros.

Standard Fruit continued operations until 1964 when it was purchased by Castle & Cooke, an agricultural and real estate company founded in 1851 by S. N. Castle and A. S. Cooke which had become one of the five largest companies operating in the Territory of Hawaii.[10] James Dole‘s Hawaiian Pineapple Company was a supplier of Castle & Cooke since 1906, and Castle & Cooke had been selling Dole branded bananas since 1927.[11] David H. Murdock bought the company in 1985 and in 1991 renamed Castle & Cooke to the Dole Food Company. Murdock split the two companies into two separate companies, Dole plc and Castle & Cooke, Inc., in 1995.[10]

The majority of the land and operations that became Dole Food Company was directly from Standard Fruit, leading to the Vaccaro brothers’ enterprise being considered the first incarnation of the Dole Food Company.[3]

So, the family faded as the company joined a conglomerate.

Thanks as always to the Earl K. Long Library at my alma mater, the University of New Orleans

Funeral Procession Jefferson Davis, 1889

Funeral Procession Jefferson Davis, 1889

The Traitor Davis died in New Orleans in 1899. The city gave him a grand funeral procession.

funeral procession of the traitor davis

Funeral Procession of the Traitor Davis

Jefferson Davis died in the Garden District on December 6, 1889. They city held a massive funeral procession for Davis on 11-December. This is the Library of Congress summary for this photo of the procession:

Photo shows coffin in horse-drawn wagon as the “funeral procession for Jefferson Davis winds through the French Quarter in New Orleans on December 11, 1889. An estimated 200,000 people lined the streets. Davis died early on December 6, and over 70,000 people viewed his remains at New Orleans City Hall. The body was laid to rest in a vault in Metairie Cemetery, then was taken to Richmond in 1893 and reinterred at Hollywood Cemetery.” (Source: Papers of Jefferson Davis Web site at Rice University, 2009)

Additional notes

This is a concise summary of the event. Some additional notes:

Beauvoir

Davis’ last home was the Beauvoir Estate, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi. While he did not maintain a house in New Orleans, he was frequently the guest of White League families in the Garden District.

Metairie Cemetery

As mentioned in the LOC summary, the Traitor Davis was initially interred in Metairie, before being moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. The specific location of Davis’ vault was in the Army of Northern Virginia (Louisiana Division) tumulus. He was interred in a vault near the entrance. Davis’ signature was engraved and inlaid with gold in the marble covering the vault. When he was re-interred, that vault was permanently sealed.

Royal Street, 1889

Streetcar tracks are visible in the photo, as are electric poles. While commercial electrification began in the mid-1880s, electrification of street rail was still a few years away. The main line using the streetcar tracks at this time was the “Jackson Depot” line. this later morphed into the Desire line by the 1920s.

The Jackson Depot line ran from Canal and St. Charles Street, up to Delord (later Howard), making its way to the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad (later Illinois Central) station on Clio Street. It wound its way back to Carondelet Street, crossed to the downtown side and Bourbon Street, terminating at the Pontchartrain Railroad/L&N station on Elysian Fields. It then returned via Royal Street.

Metairie Cemetery Traffic Pattern

Metairie Cemetery Traffic Pattern

Metairie Cemetery traffic pattern was important on All Saints Day.

metairie cemetery traffic pattern

Metairie Cemetery traffic pattern

Ad in the Times-Picayune, 28-October-1962, for Metairie Cemetery. The cemetery stood next to the New Canal for over eighty years. The city filled in the canal in 1949-1950. They then built the Pontchartrain Expressway, connecting Lakeview with downtown, in 1954. It took a few years to complete the ground-level access at Metairie Road. By 1962, the cemetery decided to explain the traffic flow to visitors:

Highway service and traffic lanes are now completed in the Metairie Cemetery area to accomodate autos entering Metairie Cemetery. If you plan to visit the Cemetery on All Saints’ Day, or the preceding day to place flowers, we suggest that you use the road guide printed below.

Visitors driving in from the west turned off Veterans Highway at Bellaire Drive. Bellaire is the first street on the Orleans Parish side of the 17th Street Canal. As Veterans evolved, this pattern altered slightly. Now, drivers turn right at Vets and Fleur-de-Lis. Since Bellaire no longer connects directly with Veterans, drivers go up to the light at Fleur-de-Lis, then curve around from there.

This route didn’t change after the construction of the I-10/I-610 highways over the canal. Just follow the service road. The sights along the way changed over time, from the country club, to New Orleans Academy (a military school), to the local LDS Temple. Now, the area along the service road is all residential.

Busy day

All Saints’ Day continues to be one of the busiest days for local cemeteries. Since All Saints’ is a “holy day of obligation” for Roman Catholics, many companies took the day off. So, folks would attend Mass at their parish church, then head to the cemeteries to spruce up the family tombs. This was important, because of the next day, All Souls’ Day. All the Saints were already in heaven. The Souls in purgatory needed to get out of the holding pen and up to heaven. You knew that maw-maw went on to her reward. Paw-paw, on the other hand, you had your doubts. So, fixing up the tomb to show you cared became an important ritual.

 

 

Freret’s Cenotaph

Freret’s Cenotaph

Freret’s Cenotaph remained on paper when the Washington Artillery chose another design.

Freret's Cenotaph

Freret’s Cenotaph

“Front elevation design for the Washington Artillery Monument (tomb).” by James Freret. Like most architects in New Orleans, Freret  worked on spec. He drafted concept drawings to accompany proposals for buildings and monuments. This drawing illustrates Freret’s concept for the Washington Artillery Association monument. The monument stands in Metairie Cemetery. So, when Freret lost the bid, he filed away the drawings. Those illustrations eventually found their way to the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University.

Washington Monument Association

The United States Army formed the Washington Artillery (WA) in 1838. The unit now operates as the 141st Field Artillery Battalion. While originally an Army unit, they’re now part of the Louisiana Army National Guard. After the Southern Rebellion, veterans of the WA formed the Washington Artillery Association. Their mission was mutual aid and remembrance of the members of the unit. In 1879, the Association decided to build a monument. It would be a memorial to fallen members of the unit. They raised funds and solicited proposals from architectural firms.

James Freret responded to their request for proposal. He submitted the concept shown above. He submitted a design for a tomb. The number of vaults isn’t clear from the drawing. Freret envisioned an obelisk. So, Egyptian pyramids and obelisks were quite popular in burial architecture in the late 19th Century. Therefore, Freret expected his design to be appealing.

Different direction

freret's cenotaph

Invitation to the dedication of the Washington Artillery Monument, 1880. Card features a sketch of Charles Orleans’ design, including the Doyle sculpture.

The Association passed on Freret’s design. They chose a design by architect Charles A. Orleans. Mr. Orleans represented the Hinsdale-Doyle Granite Co. of New York. The Association changed their original plans for a tomb. They shifted the specifications to that of a cenotaph. This reduced the construction costs. Orleans selected the sculptor Alexander Doyle to create a statue. Doyle produced a sculpture of a WA private, wearing the uniform of the rebellion period.

The WA moved past the direct connection of the Metairie Cemetery monument to the rebellion. So, the 141st expanded the scope of the monument. While the statue remains, they included other battle honors. The cenotaph lists honors from other. conflicts. Given the backlash against “Confederate monuments” in recent years, perhaps Freret’s design would have been better in the long run.

Washington Artillery Cenotaph

Washington Artillery Cenotaph

Metairie Cemetery is the site of the Washington Artillery Cenotaph.

washington artillery cenotaph

Washington Artillery Cenotaph

George Mugnier photo (courtesy NOPL) of the Washington Artillery Cenotaph in Metairie Cemetery. A “cenotaph” is an empty tomb. They serve as monuments to people buried elsewhere. So, the United States Army formed the Washington Artillery (WA) in 1838. It is now the 141st Field Artillery Regiment. The unit is attached to the Louisiana National Guard. In 1861, the government of Louisiana took control of the unit. It was a battalion at the time. WA fought as part of the main rebel force. WA re-organized in the 1870s.

The Monument

The Washington Artillery Association raised funds for a monument to the battalion in 1879. The unit consisted of four companies at the time. Additionally, a fought with the Army of Tennessee. So, the association accepted proposals from various architects, They chose the design submitted by Charles A. Orleans. Orleans proposal included a sculpture by Alexander Doyle. Doyle imagined a figure of an artillery private, holding a “sponge.” The sponge was fixed to a ramrod. Gunners used them to clean out a just-fired gun. So, the cenotaph’s price tag was $10,000. Donations ranging from $25 to $250 came in to cover the costs.

While the unit fought for twenty years in the Union Army, the monument honors the rebel years. The roll of the dead listed members of the unit killed during that period. The battle honors initially engraved on the cenotaph began with Bull Run. Mexican War honors were not listed. The  list of engagements shows just how active and effective the unit was.

Dedication

The Association dedicated the cenotaph on February 23, 1880. A thousand people came out to honor the unit. The unit and its veterans association updated the cenotaph, expanding the battle honors as the battalion returned to active duty with the Army. The 141st hold a memorial annually at the cenotaph, as part of the unit’s heritage and traditions.