Tombs, Ovens, All Souls, the preparation was all for today.
Tombs, Ovens, All Souls.
Illustration from the 1870s, A Cemetery Walk, (Tombs and “Ovens.”) shows the scene in a New Orleans cemetery. The tombs on the right are typical of the city’s older cemeteries, particularly the Creole/Catholic St. Louis Numbers 1 and 2 cemeteries. Both feature an outside wall. The wall surrounded tombs of many styles and designs. While St. Louis Number 2 is better planned, the older cemetery features haphazard layouts and walkways. Many people went out to the cemetery on All Saints Day, November 1st, to spruce up the family tomb.
Praying to the Saints
The Catholic Church observed a calendar full of honors to various saints. While some “saints” were fictional, most were real people, recognized by the Church to be in Heaven. Martyrs receive canonization for giving their lives to God. Other Saints require more detailed documentation. Some saints receive a sort of “fast-track” path to canonization. The cause of others may take decades to achieve the desired result. Once declared a saint, the Church designates a feast day for them. Their cult (not a derogatory term in this context) then celebrate the saint’s life on that day.
If everyone in heaven is a saint in the eyes of God, that’s a lot more saints than there are days in the year. So, the Church marks 1-November as the catch-all date. In New Orleans, offices and other businesses closed on All Saints, ostensibly so folks could go to Mass.
Praying for the Souls
Catholics pray to the Saints for intercession. (Note that the saints don’t perform miracles, etc. The faithful ask the saints to put in a good word with God for the request.) They pray for those who have passed away, in the hopes that they are in that number of saints. Families visited their dead in simple and elaborate tombs. They also prayed for those in the “ovens” — niches in the cemetery’s walls.
Metairie Cemetery traffic pattern was important on All Saints Day.
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.
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 remained on paper when the Washington Artillery chose another design.
“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.
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.
Metairie Cemetery is the site of the 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 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.
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.
The First Chalmette Monument was the Grand Army of the Republic monument.
First Chalmette Monument
Photo of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Monument, by George François Mugnier. Undated photo, likely from the 1880s. This monument stands in the Chalmette National Cemetery, on the end closest to the river. The Latin inscription translates to, “While they are silent, they shout.” Locals referred to it as the “First Chalmette Monument.” The 1907 obelisk claimed the title “Chalmette Monument” upon its completion.
Chalmette National Cemetery
New Orleanians buried Enslaved Americans, along with troops fighting on both sides of the Southern Rebellion, as early as 1861, in Chalmette. So, in 1864, the Union Army formalized this burial ground. They designated 17.5 acres of land from the “back” of the Chalmette battlefield as a National Cemetery. Locals know this area as the “British side” of the battlefield. The British advanced to this location on 8-January-1815. Of the approximately 15,000 people buried in the cemetery, over 6,500 are unidentified. Additionally, most of these are United States Colored Troops (USCT), whose graves are marked only by numbered headstones. While most of the burials here date to the Southern Rebellion, four veterans of the 1815 battle rest here.
Grand Army of the Republic
The Grand Army of the Republic was a Union Army and Navy veterans organization, founded in 1866, at Springfield, Illinois. The organization claimed membership of 410,000 by the 1890s. Union veterans established local chapters, known as “posts” across the country, including many cities in the former rebel states. The GAR post in New Orleans funded and erected the monument in Chalmette Cemetery in 1874. It stands on the river side of the cemetery, because that side was the main entrance for years. So, over time, the levee system along the Mississippi River grew, swallowing up River Road near the cemetery.
The National Park Service took over management of both the battlefield and cemetery in 1933. They moved the entrance from the river side to the St. Bernard Highway (LA 46) side. Visitors now enter the cemetery from St. Bernard Highway, circle around the GAR monument at the other end, and exit back to the highway.
Metairie Cemetery main entrance in the early 1900s.
Metairie Cemetery main entrance
Postcard from the V. O. Hammon Collection, Newberry Library, University of Illinois. The Metairie Cemetery main entrance at Pontchartrain Boulevard and Metairie Road, in the early 1900s. The handwritten caption says, “Left, Moriarity (sic) Monument, right, Army of Tennessee Statue of Albert Sidney Johnston.” The water in the foreground is the west bank of the New Canal. The two monuments mentioned are behind the gatehouse and its green fence.
Pontchartrain Boulevard and Metairie Road
Prior to the closure of the New Canal (1949), the Metairie Cemetery main entrance stood here at the Southeast corner of the property. Visitors to the Cemetery crossed the canal at the Metairie Road bridge, entering under the archways visible in this postcard. Funeral processions went directly from here to the specific tomb, mausoleum, or coping. In cases where a tomb wasn’t ready for the deceased, the remains were placed in the Receiving Vault. This chapel/vault stands directly behind the gatehouse. The cemetery demolished this gatehouse after the entrance was moved. So, this corner now features the (Tom) Benson family vault. Additionally, a small fence and gate stands on the corner.
Moriarty at the Metairie Cemetery Main Entrance
Daniel A. Moriarty immigrated to New Orleans from Ireland. He arrived poor and amassed a good bit of wealth in the second half of the 19th Century. Moriarty married Mary Farrell, a New Orleans woman who came from money. She was a good bit older than her husband. The combination of his poor Irish roots and the age difference of the couple left them out of “polite society.” When Mary died, Daniel built an 80-foot monument on top of the tomb. The four sculptures at the base of the monument are, Faith, Hope, Charity, and Memory. So, the urban legend/joke is that it’s Faith, Hope, Charity, and Mrs. Moriarty. Given Daniel’s disdain for New Orleans Society, there may be more than a grain of truth in the legend.
After the city filled in the New Canal in 1949-1950, they built the Pontchartrain Expressway. The cemetery moved the main entrance to its current location up Pontchartrain Boulevard.