holt cemetery 2005

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┬áCollege 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.