Forgotten Mausoleum November 2, 2011Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
From behind I could not tell if it was a cloak-draped Pieta, or from its diminutive size, some sort of gnome. The other women, eldest daughter and daughter-in-law, stood with our mother while David and I wandered off to reconnoiter with the restlessness of men. We had gotten lost trying to find the tomb, and we had both gone off to establish our exact position on the map. He went off one way and I circled around the other to determine first what was atop the mausoleum.
It turned out to be a draped urn crowning the neoclassical pediment, beneath which was the arc of a carved banner inset that bore no visible sign of inscription or or mortar traces of a lost carving piece. A frieze of Justice was set into the pediment beneath the curved arc, suggesting the shared mausoleum of some ecumenical legal order. Greenwood is a civic rather than religious cemetery, established in 19852 by The Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association. The pediment is slowly being consumed by black mold from each end.
The ovens are mostly unlabeled, the stone fronts pieces long gone, revealing the brick and mortar that seale the individual internments. The last legible internment was in 1999, and the oldest Grace McNulty, 1921, who left her husband Walter G. McNulty a widow until he passed in 1963. I suggest is was an ecumenical mausoleum not only because it was in Greenwood and bore no religious adornment, but also because of one well set of deeply worn fronts piece bearing inscriptions in Arabic and English for Rahael and Kahlil Zaney, died 1921 and 1936 respectively
Greenwood (and St. Patrick No. 1, which I visited later) were moderately busy with visitors, mostly the elderly with a handful of middle-aged daughter with parents in tow. The burials at Greenwood and St. Patrick seemed to fall into three categories: The neat Perpetual Care tombs with their small brass plaques, with fresh coats of whitewash over the stones; those showing signs of family maintenance–fresh flowers or abandoned glass vases, the scattered marble fragments of the low raised graves free of weeds and debris; and the clearly abandoned, some no longer bearing any label of who is buried there. There were no flowers at this mostly forgotten musoleum at midday, no sign of anyone one to have the blackening stone pressure washed or replace the lost fronts pieces.
I saw no children until late in the afternoon, wandering St. Patrick No. 1 looking for another family tomb. where Seymour “Cy” Joseph Mathe and Stella Hilbert, my grandfather’s eldest sister whom we children knew in their later day as “Aunt Taunte”. Their names do not appear on the raised grave beneath the stone carved Hilbert Comeaux, but there is a traditional flower urn bearing the initials SJM. There is nothing to indicate Aunt Taunte is buried there. I left a small pot of Rouses mums, screwing it into the earth inside the raised stone box, and poured out a bottle of water, hoping perhaps they would root. I doubt it.
When I was wandering St. Patrick on the wrong side of Canal Street, relying on my mother’s nod to the Uptown side when she mentioned that tomb, I saw one young man in a Jesuit uniform with his parents, but clearly even the Parochial Schools no longer observe All Saints Day as a holiday, much less the public schools, although my sister observed that in her day even those were closed because so many children were absent.
My nephew and his wife had driven eight hours from Nashville in part to visit his grandfather and his Uncle Paul, my brother, in Greenwood. he had hoped I could pull the children out of school but Matthew was sick and I did not want him to miss his science tutor during homeroom that afternoon, and Killian had classes. The Jesuits of Loyola also do not observe All Saints Day as holiday from class. I am sure there was a Mass (which I am certain my daughter did not attend) but the centuries-old tradition of visiting the family tombs is off their radar.
Next year I will make sure they come, and that we visit the Hilbert Comeaux tomb as well. I will have their grandmother tell them the story of her girlhood visits to the Plaquemines Parish plantations where they lived (Cy built Stella, later the home of the one of the Perez brothers) for his bride in the 1920s. In my mother’s youth the house and grounds of Stella were kept for the Mathe’s by an old black couple who had stayed on after Emancipation, and she treasured the rides (forbidden by her father but taken anyway) in front of her uncle on the saddle of his great black stallion Midnight.
Stella Hilbert Mathe may not have her name on the tomb, but what is remembered lives.