Some of the most exciting architecture in New Orleans is found in its cemeteries.
Because of the water table and weather-related flooding, for centuries many City residents have been interring their dead above ground in elaborate family mausoleums to ensure that rising waters would never disturb the bodies of their loved ones. Flowers, statues, flags, photographs, notes and personal mementos also attest to how intensively these cities of the dead are inhabited by the City’s living descendents. To an uncommon degree, the people of New Orleans maintain an active conversation with those who are beyond the grave.
That interactivity is part of the reason I found the final resting place for the City’s poorest residents—a potter’s field called Holt Cemetery—so ennobling when I was in New Orleans last week.
No one at Holt can afford an above-ground mausoleum. Primarily owned by poor, black families, the Cemetery’s tiny plots have been handed down for generations, and stay in families as long as their gravesites are maintained. Loved ones are buried in wooden caskets that rapidly decompose in the moist ground, allowing for quick and continued reuse of each plot. In the middle of the Cemetery, there is a massive oak tree where cowrie shells, Kew beads, bottles of beer and other offerings hang from the branches or are tucked among the roots.
I took the pictures below on Wednesday. Getting away can help you see your work or even some part of your life differently. To me, Holt said something about reverence and human dignity that I’ve rarely heard spoken in such a powerful way.
In a week where the logistics made it difficult to pull together a regular newsletter, the pictures below serve as an irregular one.
In Memory of Celista Denise Allen. Sunrise 8-22-1964. Sunset 7-5-016. Missing You.
Loving Memory Percy I. Dominick. The Real Master P. 8-14-48. 3-06-18. Rest in Heaven. We Love You.
Resting. James Broogh. Nov.15, 1888. May 18, 1940.
In Loving Memories. George Jr. Walker 5-3-1930 to 8-5-2014. "Who Dat--Hoopin Hollin"
In Loving Memory. James Martin 1918. Lee Maxwell 1915. Francis Sandford 1927. Willie Nadison 1923. John Woods 1933. Leona Teems 1937. William Woods 1948. George 1955....
Just buried beyond the oak tree's shade.
A long view. A turbulent rest. "Nothing Can Keep Him Down."
Have a good week. I'll see you next Sunday.
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