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.
Cypress Grove was also known as Fireman’s Cemetery.
Cypress Grove Cemetery
Theodore Lilienthal photo of Cypress Grove Cemetery, ca. 1882. The cemetery stands at the end of Canal Street, at City Park Avenue. The Firemen’s Charitable and Benevolent Association (FCBA) owns the cemetery. Additionally, they acquired the property across the street and founded Greenwood Cemetery. Cypress Grove features a number of private tombs and copings. Maunsel White, who fought at the Battle of New Orleans, is buried here.
FCBA entered the cemetery business for the same reasons other community organizations did. Burying your loved ones wasn’t cheap. Firefighting was a volunteer job in the 19th century. The dangers of protecting lives and property meant fireman (no women at this time) died in the line of duty. The families of those volunteers were often unable to bury them. So, the firemen organized a burial society. They purchased property in “backatown.” That became the cemetery. Several fire companies across the city built mausoleums in Cypress Grove.
Photographers like Lilienthal created a market for 3-D images. They printed two of the same image on a card, spaced out to fit an optical viewer. The user looked in the viewer and saw the image in three dimensions. Like the modern-day Viewmaster system, these 3-D cards attracted buyers across the world. Lilienthal created a number of image series. His studio at 121 Canal Street (old address system) sold the stereograph cards. He expanded that into newsstands and drugstores. Lilienthal’s studio produced a range of photography. He did portraits, outdoor contract work, etc. While that sort of work was usually one-offs, as any modern photographer does, the stereographs created a repeating revenue stream.
This particular stereo became part of the Rowles Stereograph Collection. Grant Rowles was a photographer and collector of stereo cards. Louisiana State Museum curates the collection. Fun stuff!
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.
NOPSI 934 and 935 were Canal Line Arch roofs in the 1960s.
NOPSI 934 and 935 at the Cemeteries Terminal, 17-Feb-1960. Photographer unknown. Thanks to Aaron for the find.
Canal Line Arch Roofs
900-series streetcars operating as Canal Line arch roofs, 17-February-1960. I can’t make out the ads on either streetcar; if you can, let me know! NOPSI 934 and 935 sit at the Cemeteries Terminal. Tennessee Williams mentions the “cemeteries” in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” While Williams employs a bit of artistic license, connecting Elysian Fields to the cemeteries, this is the real-life basis.
Perley A. Thomas streetcars
The arch roof design dates back to 1915. New Orleans Railway and Light Company (NORwy&Lt) acquired several from the Southern Car Company. Perley Thomas designed the streetcars. New Orleanians liked them. The streetcars offered decent seating and lots of windows for ventilation. Thomas opened his own streetcar company in High Point, NC. He took the arch roof design with him. NORwy&Lt’s successor company, New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) purchased two production runs of the arch roofs. They ordered the 800-series in 1923. NOPSI worked with Thomas, changing aspects of the design. That produced the 900 series. So, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, three generations of arch roofs operated in the city. The original 400s, then the 800s and 900s.
NOPSI kept 35 of the 900 series when they discontinued streetcar service on Canal in 1964.
The streetcar tracks at Canal Street and City Park Avenue underwent numerous changes over the years. After the West End line converted to bus service, the city cut the streetcar tracks back. Instead of turning left upon reaching City Park Avenue, the Canal line arch roofs terminated on Canal Street. They stopped in between Cypress Grove Cemetery and Odd Fellows Rest.
NOPSI designed this iteration of the terminal with two tracks and a double crossover. This is similar to the terminal built at S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues uptown. When NOPSI discontinued belt service on the St. Charles, Tulane switched to buses. St. Charles ended at S. Claiborne. That location remains the line’s endpoint today.
Back on Canal Street, the line used this terminal until 1964. When NORTA restored streetcar service on Canal in 2004, they built a single-track terminal. This was meant to be temporary. The line now ends in the 5500 block of Canal Boulevard, between Greenwood and St. Patrick No. 3 cemeteries.