In New Orleans, most folks are buried in above-ground tombs. The level of subterranean water is high enough that coffins tend to pop up out of the ground. An exception is Holt cemetery, where the graves are in the ground and the care is homespun. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
“It’s a cemetery for mostly people who don’t have the money to build those big magnificent tombs. So there are a lot of handmade, homemade tombs, made with found objects, with materials that are just lying around, very impermanent materials. It’s a lot of very improvised memorials. Very personalized as well.”
Rob Florence is the author of New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead.
“It’s one of the things that’s very moving about this cemetery. You can tell that people have put a lot of thought and a lot of time and a lot of devotion into these memorials and within a year or even six months, it’s not going to be there.”
Henry Nickerson is one of the volunteer groundskeepers at Holt Cemetery.
“I grew up in this yard , and many years ago I came with my father and saw a lot of graves that was like they is now, and I just thought of doing a lot of volunteer work. Sometimes, I get paid, sometimes I don’t. A lot of elderly people, after they died, their family just forgot about them. And for some crazy, unknown reason, year after year, I just come back doing the same thing. And when I tell people I work at the graveyard, they (say) ‘the graveyard?’ And I say, well, somebody got to do it. I would hope when they bury me here, hopefully somebody’ll pass and put a flower on my grave.”
November 1st, All Saints’ Day, is the time when folks in New Orleans traditionally come to pay their respects and leave flowers on the family plot.
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation, with additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’m Jim Metzner.