Unknown child’s grave, Holt Cemetery (Edward J. Branley photo)
Holt Cemetery – New Orleans’ Potter’s Field
Holt Cemetery is located next to Delgado Community College in Mid City/City Park. Etablished in 1879 as a potter’s field for the city, Holt is for families who can’t afford burials in private cemeteries may bury their loved ones at Holt. The tradition is that a family retains “ownership” of a plot if they keep it up, and can re-use the plot for other family members. What ends up happening, however, is the graves fall into neglect, and the cemetery ground reclaims them over time. Then another family will bury a loved one in what appears to be open space.
You can see the process beginning with this grave. There’s no headstone or permanent structure. The wood frame will fall apart, and grass is already overtaking the interior of the plot. There are other graves that are regularly cared for inside Holt, as well as a few permanent monuments. The largest monument in the cemetery is to Charles “Buddy” Bolden, the trumpet player who was one of the earliest jazz musicians in the city.
Cycles of Disrepair
Holt Cemetery goes through phases of disrepair and renewal. Since it’s a city property, it isn’t cared for like the private cemeteries, or even the city cemeteries that are mostly above-ground tombs and copings. Holt will go through a phase of neglect, where grass and weeds will overwhelm the plots. Volunteers will come in, clean the place out, and the graves will once again be visible. Hurricane Katrina’s flood waters wiped out a large number of earlier graves, but most of the permanent monuments survived.
There are so many stories in this cemetery. Forgotten men, women, and children, as well as loved ones who are remembered, but the families just couldn’t make more-lasting memorials.
This photo is one of several from June of 2005. The images were scanned from film, and I uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons.
Varney tomb in St. Louis Cemetery Number One (Edward Branley photo)
My cemeteries website, Cities of the Dead (dot net) has been neglected by me since I started my NOLA History Guy page/project. I plead the excuse that the history books need to get sold! As a result, a lot of dust gathered here. I really, really want to create a proper wiki for cemetery stuff, though, so it’s time to get about that.
Here’s the plan: This site will consist of a blog and a wiki. The blog (you’re there now) will be the free-form section. I walk through cemeteries all the time, taking photos, making observations. Those observations will go here. I’ll post entries for the wiki here first, to see what sort of feedback and comments are generated. For example, a wiki entry for a cemetery will need a start/landing page, as well as a history page. This blog will be the sounding board for those. Editing a wiki isn’t difficult, but all too many folks won’t take the time to do it. They’ll comment on a blog.
Additionally, some things just don’t fit the wiki format. Maybe just a quick observation while on a walk, or a poem inspired by a tomb or statue. They can easily go on the blog, and we can discuss whether they should go into the wiki.
The cemetery wiki will be more structured, an attempt to organize the stuff from the blog. Cemeteries organized chronologically, by neighborhood, etc. Historical facts. Personalities. Significant monuments/tombs/graves. I’ve tried to block this out a bit, and will update everyone with some mind-maps as the project develops. For now, I’m going to install mediawiki on the server and see if I can find a simple wiki that I can use as a template for style.
The wiki should be a community project, so I encourage anyone interested to get involved! More on that as we go forward.