Entering Metairie Cemetery before the expressway, 1930s.
Entering Metairie Cemetery
Franck Studios photo of Metairie Cemetery, from the 1930s. The perspective is from the Metairie Road side. The original entrance to the cemetery stands just behind the photographer. The New Canal flowed past Metairie Cemetery at this time.
Charles T. Howard acquired the land for the cemetery in 1871. The cemetery opened in 1872. By the 1930s, the “racetrack” portion of the cemetery stood for sixty years. Tombs filled what was the infield of the old Metairie Race Course. The cemetery expanded to the lake side of the oval.
Metairie Road and the New Canal
Metairie Cemetery overlooked the New Canal for almost eighty years. While the Metairie Race Course predated the canal by a few years, the canal defined the neighborhood. So, visitors rode the Canal streetcar to the end of the line at City Park Avenue. They walked past Greenwood and Cypress Grove cemeteries to the canal. Entering Metairie Cemetery meant crossing the canal. They approached the corner entrance. The equestrian statue of Albert Sidney Johnston atop the Army of Tennessee (Louisiana Division) tumulus loomed over the entrance. If you paused just after walking past the tumulus, this was what you saw.
The Receiving Chapel
Magnificent tombs present themselves upon entering Metairie Cemetery. The structure to the right of that gorgeous palm tree is the Receiving Chapel. The Metairie Cemetery Association used it as a temporary mausoleum for decades. Say you purchased a plot in the cemetery and had your tomb designed. Before it was completed, a loved one passed away. The cemetery “received” their remains, interring them in the Receiving Chapel. When your tomb was complete, they transferred the casket. Another use for this mausoleum was the year-and-a-day rule. Tombs may be re-used, but only after a year and a day from the previous burial. So, say maw-maw passes, and paw-paw follows a couple of months later. The cemetery association made room in the Receiving Chapel, until paw-paw could join his beloved for eternity.
Use the old entrance
Rather than driving in from Pontchartrain Boulevard, try entering Metairie Cemetery via the original entrance. It’s a different experience from when the New Canal flowed, but worth it to experience a bit of the history.
Metairie Cemetery at the turn of the 20th Century.
Detroit Publishing Company postcard of Metairie Cemetery, circa 1905. The state granted the Metairie Cemetery Association a charter in 1872. So, at the time of this photo, the cemetery was about thirty years old.
The cemetery sits on the Metairie Ridge, next to Bayou Metairie. The Metairie Race Course, occupied the location prior to the cemetery. The race track opened in 1838. Metairie Race Course operated until 1861. The horse track became an army encampment in 1862. That camp stood empty after the rebels ran from the city.
Racetrack to Cemetery
Charles T. Howard, desired to join the Metairie Jockey Club. The club owned Metairie Race Course. Howard was a local businessman. The membership declined his application. Outraged, Howard vowed to buy the race track. He told the membership it would become a cemetery. Both club and race course declared bankruptcy after the rebellion. Howard acquired the property. He formed the Metairie Cemetery Association. The corporation hired architect Benjamin Morgan Harrod to convert the property into a cemetery.
Harrod’s incorporated the racing oval into the cemetery’s design. Rows of tombs and copings, like the one in this photo, follow that pattern. The race track’s infield became “Millionaire’s Row.” Charles Howard’s tomb stands along the infield.
Detroit Publishing Company
This publisher sold postcards from across the United States. They built their catalog by encouraging local photographers. A photographer in, say, New Orleans, shot film in and around their home. They sent the exposed film to Detroit Publishing. The company developed the film. They sent new film back. If the company found postcard potential, they printed the photos. The company sent prints to artists in the photograph’s locale. The artists colorized the photos. They returned them to Detroit Publishing. The company produced the postcards. They sold postcards to newstands, hotels, etc.
Detroit Publishing Company postcards grew in popularity. Collectors kept them. Benefactors donated the collections to libraries. Additionally, heirs to Detroit Publishing Company donated the company’s prints to the Library of Congress.
Angelo Brocato, Sr, founder of Brocato’s Ice Cream
Brocato Family tomb, Metairie Cemetery
Angelo Brocato, Sr – Ice Cream and Pastries
Angelo Brocato, Sr, was born in Cefalù, Sicily, on May 25, 1875. At the age of twelve, he apprenciced in an ice cream shop in the Sicilian city of Palermo. Brocato emigrated to the United States, coming to New Orleans, where he plied his trade. He soon opened his own shop, on Decatur Street. At this time the Italian groceries like Central and Progress were anchors on Decatur Street. The French Market was across the street. So, this combination was perfect for an ice cream shop. That shop grew in popularity. By 1905, Brocato needed a bigger location. He moved the shop to the 500 block of Ursulines Street. Brocato’s clientele kept growing, to the point where Angelo moved the shop in 1921, to 612-614 Ursulines. This location is now occupied by the Croissant d’Or coffee shop. You can still Angelo Brocato’s name in the tiles at the front door.
From the French Quarter to Mid-City
Brocato’s sold their ice cream and pastries at 612-614 Ursulines from 1921 to 1978. The family purchased a building on N. Carrollton Avenue that year. Much of the Sicilian community moved away from the French Quarter to Mid-City in the early 1900s. Still, Brocato’s stayed for over fifty years. Now, the shop is a Mid-City institution. Angelo Sr’s ice cream, along with his Italian Ices, fig cookies, cannolis, and other goodies define Mid-City. The French Quarter store closed in 1981. The family returned to the Quarter in 1984. Brocato’s opened a second store in the Lower Pontalba Building, at the corner of Rue Chartres and Rue St. Ann. This shop closed after the 1984 World’s Fair closed.
Angelo Brocato, Sr passed away on July 25, 1946. He was buried in Metairie Cemetery. His son, Angelo, Jr, continued to run the business until his death in 1982. Angelo Jr is also buried in the family tomb.
The Brocato tomb is typical of many “double tombs” in New Orleans. The BVM statue is a common addition on tombs owned by Catholic families.