Tag Archives: Lafayette Cemetery

A big, big book of New Orleans cemetery photographs

Consecrated Ground: Funerary Art of New OrleansConsecrated Ground: Funerary Art of New Orleans by Lisa L Cook
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you truly love someone, impress her with this magnificent book. It’s 12×15 inches and chock full of black-and-white photos of grave monuments in New Orleans. Cook focuses on the old favorites of Metairie Cemetery’s lovely marble maidens and Holt Cemetery’s handmade tributes, but she also ranges into the less-often viewed St. Louis #3 and St. Patrick cemeteries, documenting beauties where even a dedicated cemetery maven might fear to tread.

Cook’s kooky perspective initially disorients the viewer. Often her photos are tilted to the left, swaying drunkenly across the uneven ground. Cook is fascinated by telling details on the monuments before her: the lopped-off branches on a wrought-iron fence, the grain of stone in an angel’s robe, the words “No Fer-goat” hand-lettered on a board, the stone feathers on a broad-chested double-headed eagle, the tendons crossing the back of a bronze hand, the coils of a maiden’s ringlets. The elements that capture her attention make this wonderfully idiosyncratic book a window into the soul of the artist behind it.

In addition to some truly spectacular photos of angels and muses, Cook features some pinnacles of ironwork. I don’t remember ever seeing such a fine collection of it elsewhere. She also turns her camera onto broken tombs and vandalized statuary which, in perspective of the wonders surrounding it in this book, make the damage that much more poignant. She drives her point in the most telling way possible.

Also included in the book are Cook’s beautiful pencil sketches, a brief historical essay of each on the nine graveyards she visits, a key to cemetery symbolism, and a bibliography.

This huge book is clearly a labor of love. It’s worth finding space on your shelves for it.

This review originally appeared in Morbid Curiosity #6, after I met Cook at the Association for Gravestone Studies’ conference in San Francisco.

There are some bargain-priced copies at Amazon: Consecrated Ground: Funerary Art of New Orleans

View all my reviews

An in-depth examination of New Orleans cemeteries

New Orleans Architecture Vol III: The CemeteriesNew Orleans Architecture Vol III: The Cemeteries by Leonard V. Huber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sponsored by the Friends of the Cabildo (an historic preservation volunteer organization), New Orleans Architecture, Vol. 3 is a continuation of their books detailing the past of this extraordinarily multicultural city. New Orleans Architecture #3 is a superbly comprehensive work, containing much to appeal to scholars, aficionados of cemetery imagery, and artists looking for evocative source material. Exceptionally designed, it manages to supply in-depth data while remaining accessible and inviting.

Chapters contributed by different writers are consistently excellent, covering subjects in a lively and fast-moving fashion. It is quite apparent the various authors were united and inspired by love and fascination for their subject.

Hundreds of crisply reproduced black-and-white photographs (with an 8-page “color album” section) chronicle “A Brief History of New Orleans Cemeteries,” “Influences in 19th-Century Funerary Architecture,” and even the amazing variety of “Cemetery Ironwork.” As an example of the thorough and well-organized nature of this book, the latter chapter has sections on crosses (44 different designs photographed and illustrated), gates and railings, spikes and terminals.

The mostly modest-sized photos are intended to illustrate the rich funerary architecture of the Crescent City rather than to serve as stand-alone “works of art,” yet the artistry of the creators of these monuments to the dearly departed — and the sensitivity and technical skill of the photographers — makes this book a treat for the eyes.

An essay by Bernard Lemann, “Thoughts on New Orleans and Preservation: A Cemetery Elegy” concludes the book. Arguing for minimal restoration that does not disrupt the atmosphere of a decaying old cemetery, he writes, “weeds atop a wall or parapet, the wild, aggressive roots, and the dank, gaping crypt with a glimpse of an antique cast iron casket are appropriate complements to the homely inscriptions that feed the ruminative mood of the cemetery stroller.” Lemann adds, “Such signs of oblivion are of course symbolic messages.”

As one compares the drearily utilitarian modern cemeteries to the rich and imaginative testaments to grief and reverence crafted in stone depicted here, it is difficult to avoid thinking that the “march of progress” proceeds backward as well as forward.

Copies are available on Amazon: New Orleans Architecture Vol III: The Cemeteries

This review was originally published in Morbid Curiosity #4.

View all my reviews

In honor of Mardi Gras

New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the DeadNew Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead by Florence Mason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jammed with photographs and packed with fascinating information, this coffee-table book takes a seldom-seen perspective on graveyards. It doesn’t in any sense skimp on the history of the New Orleans dead, nor does it neglect the craftsmanship of the city’s memorials — but looks instead into the relationships the living maintain with their predecessors.

The relationships between the living and cemeteries has long fascinated me. In Death’s Garden, I collected together essays on how the living visit, use, maintain or neglect, and generally interact with the dead in their communities. Florence here focuses on similar relationships with the graveyards in and around the city, stretching out to include the Fleming Cemetery of Bayou Barataria.

Florence’s subjects range from the Day of the Dead celebrations in Louisiana, to the traditions of decorating graves on birthdays and other occasions, as well as visiting one’s ancestors just to gossip or serenade. At first I felt the chapters highlighting the living decorators or musicians were perhaps too intimate, probing too close to the losses these subjects had suffered, but in retrospect, I think it’s good to focus on the survivors. Too often in my own work, I’ve focused on the tragedies suffered by the dead, who are clearly past feeling them.

Florence is wise, I think, to choose these examples and show how we all could benefit from growing closer to the dead in our communities. He quite rightly points out that without a connection — or a use — for the neighborhood graveyard, the memorials become neglected, vandalized, and before long, an important historical monument is forever lost. New Orleans has its Save Our Cemeteries organization, but most communities are not that lucky. I hope Florence inspires his readers to become involved in cemetery preservation, whatever their reasons.

Florence is the author of the City of the Dead booklet on St. Louis Cemetery #1 (which I’ll review soon). While that booklet is absolutely required for anyone interested in graveyards, New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead provides a valuable perspective that is too rarely found anywhere else. In addition, Mason Florence’s beautiful photographs—both in color and infrared—stand up against any others in your collection. Very recommended.

The book is available on Amazon: New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead

View all my reviews

This review originally appeared in Morbid Curiosity #4.