“I dig art. With a shovel. In the cemetery.”
― Jarod Kintz
Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans is one of the city’s largest and most historic cemeteries. If you’ve ever flown into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and headed toward the city, you’ve probably seen it via the highway. I was on the edge of the seat in the shuttle trying to get a better view of the city. Entering the cemetery did not disappoint. It is grand… a little overwhelming even.
In 1838, a group of investors chose this location to build a horse racing track and club, naming it the Metairie Race Course. The race track thrived in the antebellum decades. Everything changed during the American Civil War. Metairie was converted to Camp Moore for the Confederate Army. It was abandoned when the Union Navy invaded the city in 1862.
Charles T. Howard, a wealthy businessman from Baltimore had moved to New Orleans before the Civil War. He built a house and donated to local charities but no matter what he did he was never granted access to the exclusive clubs, such as the Metairie Jockey Club. Howard vowed revenge stating that he would one day buy the race track and clubhouse and turn them into a graveyard. Howard, in fact, bought the property less than a decade after the war. Metairie Cemetery was intended to be for the wealthy and elite with the original interior portion of the race track’s infield sectioned off and sold to the wealthiest of families. The elaborate tombs built in this section became known as “Millionaire’s Row.”
Growing up outside of the Capital of the Confederacy, a great deal of my young education seemed to connect with local historic attractions which focus on the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. While this isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I understand and respect that this is a significant attraction to many historians and tourists. Some of the more significant burial sites in Metairie Cemetery were for veterans of the Civil War. One that is especially close to home (literally), is connected to the Army of Northern Virginia, Louisiana Division, Benevolent Association, who built a tumulus (a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves) in the eastern curve of the original race track’s infield interior. Atop the tumulus stands a 38 foot column, upon which is a statue of Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The tumulus was dedicated on May 10, 1881. When Confederate President Jefferson Davis died in 1889 during a visit New Orleans, he was buried in one of the front vaults of this tumulus. In 1893, Davis was reinterred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA.
Metairie Cemetery holds the graves of over 9,000 people, amongst those many distinctive persons and families. It includes at least nine governors of the state of Louisiana; seven mayors of New Orleans; 49 kings of Carnival; and three Confederate generals, including P.G.T. Beauregard and Richard “Dick” Taylor, son of U.S. President Zachary Taylor.
I am not meaning any disrespect but the juxtaposition of discussing another tomb strikes me as a bit humorous…The former tomb of Storyville madam Josie Arlington was another one of my lists of must-sees. I’ll note that while I was taking pictures and even noticing this tomb, I had no idea whom it belonged to or why it was even significant. I simply thought the sculpture was stunning.
Josie Arlington (1864 – February 14, 1914) was a brothel madam in the Storyville district of New Orleans. Arlington was born Mary Deubler. She began working as a prostitute in 1881, supporting her family on her earnings. She opened a brothel on Customhouse Street in 1895. The establishment, locally known as The Arlington, was famous for its opulence since it offered about a dozen girls at any time, as well as a live sex 'circus' that could be viewed for an extra cost. Though it had a reputation for depravity, Josie claimed that no virgin was ever defiled or exploited by her business.
Arlington was buried at Metairie Cemetery in a tomb designed by Albert Weiblen. The famous grave features a bronze female figure which has been said to leave its post at the door of the monument and walk around the other graves. When the grave became a tourist attraction, Arlington's family was mortified and moved her body to another location within the cemetery. The monument’s bronze female figure is thought to symbolize a virginal girl being turned away from the Arlington door, following Arlington's claim in life that no woman's innocence was taken on the grounds of her establishment.