Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tombstone Project

Please consider using and contributing to USGenWeb's Tombstone project. Tombstonetranscriptionproject. It could become a very valuable research tool as well as a way to preserve some of the gravestones and tombs that we are losing to the elements. Every little thing that you do makes a difference and it costs you nothing (well maybe a little time; but it's worth it).
A significant problem we have in the New Orleans cemeteries is "sugaring" of the doors of our tombs. It is very expensive to replace these doors and takes time and effort to research the information that was originally engraved on it. There is similar wear due to weather on gravemarkers as well. This is why I recommend to all the use of the project and similar digital preservation.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"The 'Fun' in Funeral"

I have heard stories from the older ones in my family about funerals in New Orleans that they recalled attending. I just assumed that they were embellished over time. The eccentric air and the unusual behavior seemed to be more a part of the storytelling than the actual events. Recently, I have come to the conclusion that it is possible that these family stories may actually have an air of truth to them.
Many of the stories include drinking, music,dancing, fights and of course, food. It is completely improper not to provide food and beverages after, if not before a funeral around here. A cousin from New York commented to me recently that one of the things she loves the most about attending New Orleans' funerals is the deviled eggs. "you can't get them much in New York and they're definitely not served at a funeral!" I don't know if this is true or not, but I found it a rather interesting comment.
It is not that we don't take our funerals seriously; we just feel that there are less taboos. If you want to have a jazz band follow you to the cemetery and celebrate your life, then so be it. If you want to have your collection of Monster Trucks and race cars surrounding your tomb at burial, so be it. If your family members get drunk and fight in the parking lot, well that happens too. Photographs are taken and there is a general air of community and yes, celebration.
What sparked this latest rumination was an article in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans written by Chris Rose. Mrs. Antionette K-Doe has died and Mr. Rose attended the funeral. Antoinette was the husband of our own R&B legend, the late Mr. Ernie K-Doe. Mr. Rose describes in his article the scene of the horse drawn hearse and the odd mix of folks "beaming in anticipation of a classic New Orleans street throwdown." and this was the line of his article that struck me. Many of our funerals are indeed "New Orleans street throwdowns", to borrow his description. I realized upon reading this that sometimes when a funeral passes me; I don't even realize it is a funeral until I actually lay eyes on something that resembles a hearse.
At Mrs K-Doe's funeral the procession included the Mardi Gras Indians and horn players as well as the Baby Dolls marching club (which I'm thinking are not anything near baby dolls anymore) but what I loved the most was that the late Ernie K-Doe, as Mr. Rose puts it, became the first man to attend his own widow's funeral. A mannequin of his likeness was seated in the mule drawn carriage behind the hearse. Mr. Rose describes the scene of the parade and describes, "the mannequin of a dead eccentric musician lording over the proceedings from high atop his carriage throne..."
Hmm, I thought, I'm sorry I missed that one. Their really aren't any rules about joining a jazz funeral on its route, or any other kind of funeral in New Orleans for that matter! Don't mistake me on this point though. New Orleans is a tough place to live sometimes. It is not always Mardi Gras in the Big Easy. Most days are a trial. So, we celebrate the lives and the strength of the people that are able to live in the city and contribute to it in their own special way. It is only natural that we have a last hurrah for them! and, well, it's always a good excuse for a party.
You can read Chris Rose's article on; it appeared in print on Sunday, March 8, 2009 in the Times-Picayune

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Racing Time and Beating the Elements

The above photograph was taken last year in St. Charles Borromeo cemetery. Several of these tombs are the burial places of my own ancestors and the families that they lived with and loved during colonial times and onward. These are in the worst condition and are considered in "ruins". It is for this reason that we have finally decided to jump into perserving some of our tombs and are currently in the research phase of doing so. As our information seeking unfolds I will share our findings. New Orleans is, unfortunately, as many other southeastern La areas, always fighting the elements. Humidity and water seem to be our most ancient enemy and probably will continue to be. Although most of the burial are above ground there is still the wear of the weather on the marble and plaster of the tombs. Some of our below ground burials simply have no gravemarker of significance (read illiegible). As we begin to outline a process of restoration for gravestones and tombs, I will post in here. We have quite a bit of information to sift through so it may take some time. I really just wanted to put this out there for those of you who are dealing with the issues of location and preservation. So be sure to check back. Those who know me are well aware of my obsession with preserving tombs and so I encourage others to consider embarking on their own preservation. It is part of our history. It usually is the last mark of a life lived and even the most insignificant among the departed had a life and a story to tell. So, if we can at least preserve their memories for others, maybe people like us will come along and preserve ours. I wanted to share with you my latest website find as I research; ; check it out! really interesting!