Shanna Riley March 4th, 2008
On Saturday, March 1, my boyfriend and I set out to get some information on cemeteries in and around the parish seat of Plaquemine, Louisiana. I was able to borrow a GPS receiver from my mother, and after packing up my camera, a notebook and pens, I plotted out my course.
The game plan was to first visit Grace Memorial Park on Bayou Jacob Road in Plaquemine - a cemetery I use to visit often in my teens; it's simply a beautiful, peaceful place. From there, we would travel out to the River Road - Hwy. 405 - and attempt to get down all of the cemeteries between Plaquemine and White Castle on, and just off of, the old highway.
Things never go exactly according to plan, and though we deviated off the path a couple of times, we were able to do just that. The end result was cemetery shots, addresses, and GPS coordinates for seven cemeteries. It was no small feat and it took us all day long, but we had such fun doing it!
I am absolutely blessed to have a boyfriend that enjoys doing such things with me. He was an enormous help, often getting some of the cemetery shots that had to be taken from across roads or walking around and making sure the GPS receiver was working properly. We dawdled off the path to take pictures and observe some old homes, a burning sugar cane field, the Mississippi River, and even Nottoway Plantation - we made sure to make it a relaxing, non-rushed day. The end result was that we had a delightful time, and were still able to record information for a number of Iberville Parish cemeteries.
Our first stop, as planned, was the lovely Grace Memorial Park. The cemetery office, alone, makes this cemetery worth a visit; a beautiful, one-story pink Victorian home done in white trim. The cemetery is well-kept and quiet - fields stretch out across the road and a murky bayou winds behind it; though there are homes a ways down the road on either side, the cemetery itself sits in a fairly remote spot. The only sounds, when you are there, are the passing cars and the wind through the trees.
The cemetery, interestingly, holds a "famous interment" - that of the young and talented singer Amie Comeaux. At only twenty-one, the up and coming songstress lost her life in a car accident on I-12.
After leaving the serenity of Grace Memorial Park, we headed back towards Plaquemine on Bayou Jacob Road and came across a sprawling, somewhat-dilapidated graveyard. The small, green sign told us this was Little Zion Baptist Church #1 Cemetery. A good number of the graves were broken or unreadable, and many others in just a sad and rundown state. There were a number of what I call "done by hand" markers, as well. I always find these touching, as I've mentioned before. Some were simple concrete markers, the wording done by finger or crude tool while the cement was still wet. Others used decal stickers, like those from a local hardware store, to record names of the deceased and mark their final resting place. The cemetery sits right on the bayou, and is in sharp contrast to the golf course and million-dollar homes across the muddy waters and to the right of this old cemetery.
Little Zion was a treasure trove of interest, though. We spent a few good hours there recording the graves we were able to, and taking shots of the cemetery itself; some of the graves went back as far as the early 1900s. For all its ramshackle layout and markers, it was a unique and interesting burial ground. Though the families may have not had enough money to mark their loved ones' hallowed ground with fancy headstones or white marbled angels, they had put care, thought, and time into doing something to record and preserve the graves. Sometimes, in their own way, these cemeteries can be even more lovely than their well-groomed, more extravagant counterparts.
After leaving Little Zion (dusty and covered in ant bites - known graving foes), we traveled into the heart of Plaquemine in an attempt to find its old, historical cemetery. Somehow, we got lost and ended up finding another cemetery - which was just fine with me! Old Homestead Cemetery sits on the corner of Capt. T.T. Harris Blvd. and Calvin St. in Plaquemine, and I was able to piece together a small bio from the information on the two marble plaques on the cemetery gate:
This cemetery was put together and maintained by the Homestead Burial Association, which was organized and chartered on August 2, 1875. Original signers consisted of Jerry Williams, James Preston, Joseph Zander, Elizabeth Hamilton, and others. A complete and detailed restoration of the original cemetery was begun in 1989 and was completed in 1995. Since 1989, the volunteer custodian has been Wendol O. Williams.
The land and restoration was bequested by Wendol O. Williams and Cora M. Williams, in memory of the deceased members of the Williams family and their predecessors.
We didn't venture into the cemetery, as it was growing later and our stomachs were rumbling. As I explained, I wasn't here to take graving shots (I just sort of got carried away at Little Zion), my main goal was to record the cemeteries themselves. Graving itself would be done later, once I had sent the correct info for these cemeteries to the admins at FAG.
It wasn't long before we found the cemetery we'd set out to find before - St. Johns Cemetery on Federal Street. The cemetery is huge, taking up an entire city block, and is filled with many old, large above ground tombs. I found it all very reminiscent of the cemeteries in New Orleans. Again, we didn't go inside, but got down the pertinent information and decided to hunt down some lunch.
After a delicious meal at Fat Daddy's (which I highly recommend to anyone in the area), we struck out on the second part of our mission - the illustrious River Road. I am a consummate devotee of this winding old highway that follows the great Mississippi River, separated by the man-made levee and dotted with historic homes, landmarks, and sites. As a teen, one of my favorite stretches of the River Road to go driving and exploring on was that between White Castle and Plaquemine. Now, for the first time in close to ten years, I would be returning to an old favorite haunt.
It wasn't long before we came upon our first burial ground, as St. Raphael Cemetery is not far down the road once you get onto it from Plaquemine; though the cemetery is officially in Point Pleasant (though some claim its in Bayou Goula). There are two listings for this cemetery on FAG, and I'm attempting to clear up the confusion. While one has the correct GPS coordinates, another has the correct listing of a "famous interment" for Brigadier General Paul Octave Hebert (1818-1880). I am attempting to get these two listings (and another errant St. Raphael with one entry) all merged into one.
St. Raphael is an old cemetery with beautiful, large graves of a by-gone era mixed in with newer, granite and more modern headstones. Its a fusion of past and present, and though the cemetery is well known and oft-visited, its upkeep leaves a little to be desired. Many of the older graves need tending to and the grass was entirely too high. It's a shame to see such a large, important, and lovely burial ground falling into disrepair.
After leaving St. Raphael, we traveled down the River Road until we saw a graveyard off in the distance. Very small but neat, the little cemetery had no sign - or anything at all - to indicate what it was. Directly across the small, barely paved road were a few small homes and at one of them, an elderly woman was getting her mail. I went up to her and introduced myself, explaining I was culling information about Iberville Parish cemeteries for genealogical research (not an untruth, and easier than trying to explain the concept of the FAG website!). She was more than happy to help, and told me the cemetery we were at was called Mt. Olive Baptist Church Cemetery. I snapped a few grave photographs just in case the cemetery wasn't already listed on FAG (you can't list a cemetery without at least one grave entry).
Behind the homes were miles of sugar cane fields, the closest of which were in the process of being burned. I got some great shots of the burning fields from the highway. The fire seemed awfully close to the homes - but there was a huge tractor putting around dousing the closest flames with water; it appeared to all be under control but I sure wouldn't want my home that close to a massive burning field!
Back to the quaint, little cemetery...I was able to snap two "done by hand" graves I found so precious and touching - that of Earline Tatney and Oneal Tatney. The elderly lady who helped us, I didn't get her name, I have to mention stopped me as I was walking off and told, me with a grin, "I sure do like your cute, little car." I smiled back and thanked her - we were in my Miata that day with the top down and Sylvia, my car, certainly was looking "cute".
We left and headed on down the highway, towards White Castle. Soon we saw another cemetery on a little lane off of the River Road. Though this cemetery sat directly behind a church, neither had a sign or anything to indicate a name! Frustrated, but not daunted, I walked to a neighboring house and knocked on the door. The kind gentleman, after I explained my Iberviille Parish-cemetery-genealogical-research, told us the graveyard was named Asbury Independent Methodist Church Cemetery. This was the location I found the almost-one-hundred year old, Mr. James Hankston from yesterday's post.
All-in-all, I found it a very successful trip. I spent a couple of hours compiling all of the information - correct names, addresses, GPS coordinates, cemetery shots, etc to send to the admins at FAG. As of this writing, the pages have not yet been updated but I trust they will be soon. The admins work on the site in their free time, and they get hundreds of emails.
Again, I just have to say how excited and proud I am to be the Iberville Parish Keeper, and I plan to do my utmost to ensure the cemetery listings for my parish are up-to-date and as accurate as possible.