Archives Month – Cemetery District/Canal Street Cemeteries Part 2

The records of the Clerk of Civil District Court’s Office, which date back to the 1700s, represent the rich history of New Orleans and its diverse communities. Our archives can be used for property, family history, architectural, and landscaping research.

Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery

Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery in the 1960s. Photo by L.S. Delaune, from the Times-Picayune Archive via https://www.nola.com/gambit/news/blake_pontchartrain/article_cb951486-cde4-11eb-8dc1-430c99496740.html

The Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery holds a bit of intrigue because, unlike the rest of the cemeteries that have been discussed, it has been closed to the public for the past several years. Odd Fellows Rest was established in 1849 by a fraternal society known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The Odd Fellows originated in England in the 1700s. No one is quite sure of how the society got its name, as its early history is largely undocumented. The most popular theory lies in the context of what a fraternal organization was in the time of its forming, or in this case, what a fraternal order was not. It was unusual for common laboring men to associate themselves together and form a fraternity for social unity and fellowship, so the men who did this were called odd. Another theory is that Odd Fellows were men who engaged in various odd trades that did not have enough numbers to create specific unions or guilds. These assorted types of laborers banded together and paid dues to assist members who were ill or had passed away.1

Side gate entrance to Odd Fellows Rest, with Odd Fellow symbols. Photo by Janine Smith, August 2021

Odd Fellows made their way to the United States in the early 1800s and by the 1830s the Independent Order of Odd Fellows had established themselves as the Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in New Orleans. The society amended their charter with an Orleans Parish notary in 1921 and reference that an earlier charter was executed by the State of Louisiana in 1894.

Spearing J.Zach. 1921 March 26. Vol 23, Act 1253

The amended charter was executed by notary, J. Zach Spearing, on March 26, 1921. Additions were made to the first, fifth, and eighth articles of the 1894 charter. From the amendment, the reader can learn that the domicile of the society was Crowley, Louisiana, which remained an active lodge until 2018.

Spearing J.Zach. 1921 March 26. Vol 23, Act 1253

The remainder of the amended charter does not inform the purpose of the organization nor does it give any further insight into the fraternal association itself. However, according to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ website, their mission is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”2 As Peter Dedek, author of The Cemeteries of New Orleans put it, they were and are a society with “goals strikingly similar to those of most other New Orleans benevolent societies.”3

Perhaps a more eloquent way to illustrate their mission is to quote the poem delivered at the dedication of Odd Fellow’s Rest on February 26, 1849.

“There Odd Fellowship, its untold treasure heaps. We seek to dry the Widow’s gushing tears- We seek to calm the trembling Orphan’s fears- We seek to raise Humanity above The ills of life, by ministries of love. And when the tale is told, and Man resigns his Trust, We seek, in Friendship’s name, to monument his dust.”4

The poem was read by Brother Geo. W Christy, a member of the Odd Fellows and also an Orleans Parish notary whose records can be located in the Clerk’s Office.

The land that Odd Fellows Rest sits upon once belonged to Henry Bier, James Caldwell, and George Allan. The men sold the triangular shaped portion of ground to Henry Mitchell on February 12, 1848, before notary, Daniel Israel Ricardo, as featured in the survey below.

Ricardo, Daniel Israel. 1848 February 12. Vol 15, Act 2434.

A little over two months later, Henry Mitchell sold that triangular portion of ground to the Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows as represented by James D. Stewart, the “right worshipful Grand Master.” The legal description of the property is as follows: “a certain piece or portion of ground situate… on the Metairie Road and having the following measurements to wit; two hundred and twenty four feet, nine inches and seven lines front on the centerplate line of Canal Street, two hundred and ninety seven feet, eleven inches front on the line of St. Patrick Cemetery; two hundred feet front on the Metairie Road; and ninety five feet front on the line and Cypress Grove Cemetery as per sketch of the same hereto annexed for reference.”

Ricardo, Daniel Israel. 1848 April 24. Vol 16, Act 2626

The triangular portion of ground was sold for $700 on April 24, 1848, before notary, Daniel Israel Ricardo.

Notice the signature of James Stewart where he is identified as “Grand Master.”

Ricardo, Daniel Israel. 1848 April 24. Vol 16, Act 2626

Less than a year later, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows held their ceremony to consecrate Odd Fellows Rest. The article in the 1849 Times-Picayune describes a ceremony that was something to behold.

“At about 10 o’clock A.M. nearly one thousand members of the order from different lodges of the city, all of which were represented, assembled in the Place d’Armes, where a procession was formed… The procession, with its bands of music, the showy regalia of the members, and the splendid funeral car, drawn by six white horses, with black housings, formed a scene picturesque and beautiful in the extreme, and it was gazed upon with feelings of awe and respect as it marched to the sound of solemn music through the principal streets of the city… The funeral car… formed a grand feature in the procession and exalted general interest. It was got up with excellent taste, surmounted by a coffin and bearing inside sixteen boxes, containing the ashes of Odd Fellows collected from different cemeteries.”5

The procession made its way from Place d’Armes (present-day Jackson Square) through the city to the canal where passenger barges carried the members and carriages to the final stretch of the procession to Odd Fellows Rest for the consecration of the ground.

According to the article, a stand for the ceremony was erected opposite of the receiving vault, which is believed to be the earliest structure in Odd Fellows Rest (pictured below). The receiving vault was used for receiving the ashes of the sixteen Odd Fellows mentioned in the article.

This rope design tomb is thought to be the earliest structure in Odd Fellows Rest, used as the receiving vault.
Photo by Janine Smith, July 2021.

Building Contract for Wall Vaults

Wall vaults along City Park Avenue. Photo courtesy of Michael Duplantier.

A few years after the consecration ceremony, a building contract was drawn up for the construction of wall vaults (as pictured above) in the Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery. The Cemetery Committee, acting on behalf of the “Board of Odd Fellows Rest,” met before notary, William Monaghan, on August 29, 1853, and was comprised of members, George Bowditch, John Stroud, Gardina Smith, and Edward Edgar. The Committee contracted with John Mitchell, listed as builder, for the erection of forty-eight vaults.

Monaghan, William. 1853 August 29. Vol 9, Act 1534

The specifications for the vaults required them to be built “…on that side of the Rest adjoining Metairie Road (now City Park Avenue), and also adjoining the vaults already built and running on a parallel line with the boundary of said Rest and Road, and of the same depth as those already built.”

The vaults were built four tiers high as evidenced by the photo above and were built with openings of 20″ x 26″ to be covered with marble. “The upper and lower part of each vault to be covered with slabs of Slate or North River Flagging one inch in thickness…”

Monaghan, William. 1853 August 29. Vol 9, Act 1534

The “…brickwork was to be laid in mortar mixed in the same portion of cement, sand, and of the same quality as that used in the walls of the New Custom House in this city…The roof to be furnished with pipes to lead off the water. ”

The work was to be completed by October 1, 1853, for the sum of $1,536, according to the contract.

Monaghan, William. 1853 August 29. Vol 9, Act 1534

The wall vaults make up two sides of the triangular enclosure for Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery.

Wall vaults along City Park Avenue. Photo by Janine Smith, August 2021.

The Howard Association

Within the cemetery itself, there are several notable tombs, including the Howard Association tomb.

Photo by Janine Smith, July 2021.

Jo Ann Carrigan, author of The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana 1796-1905, states that the Howard Association was “Unquestionably the most important of the New Orleans societies established to relieve the sick and destitute…”6

According to a survey completed by the U.S. Department of the Interior for the National Register of Historic Places, the tomb of the Howard Association “…is a mound of dirt surmounted by an obelisk with the likeness of the English philanthropist John Howard, for whom the benevolent association was named. Interred within are the bodies of the young men who formed the society to assist the victims of the fellow fever and cholera epidemics in New Orleans.”7

As inscribed on the tomb, the Howard Association incorporated with the State of Louisiana on February 28, 1842. When the original charter expired, the association reincorporated on June 29, 1867, before notary, Selim Magner, as shown below.

In the first article, the organization’s name was established as the “Howard Association of New Orleans” and its official seal was to include the head of John Howard (similarly to the bust located on the tomb) with the name of the association engraved below.

The second article states the purpose of the Howard Association, which was “to relieve destitute sick in period of epidemics.”

During epidemic outbreaks, the members of the Howard Association would seek out those in need of medical attention, specifically the indigent. In the early history of the Howard Association, members provided the nursing and medical care themselves, covering their respective portions of the city on foot and by carriages. By the mid-1800s, the Howards served more as organizers and fundraisers, paying physicians and nurses to care for the sick.8

When local outbreaks occurred in New Orleans, members of the Howard Association in the city left a registry/roster at pharmacies for individuals to list their names and addresses. Later in the day, members would check on those who had signed the lists and provide care for them. Duties of the association included “…daily and nightly rounds; visiting patients, checking on families requesting relief, visiting new cases, purchasing and sometimes administering medicines, assigning new cases to physicians employed by the association, hiring and assigning nurses, sometimes acting as a nurse himself, and so on, day after day, night after night throughout the epidemic.”9

One such member interred within the Howard Association tomb in Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery is Daniel Israel Ricardo. His inscription lists him as the secretary of the association from its foundation in 1837. Not only was he the notary responsible for executing several act related to the land on which Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery sits, but Ricardo was also an Odd Fellow himself as evidenced in the 1847 meeting minutes below.

[James] D. Stewart was also mentioned as being present at the meeting. D.G.M. stands for “Deputy Grand Master”, or Deputy Presiding Officer.10

About three years later, Henry Bier was identified as the R.W. D.G. Master, pro tem, or temporary “Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master” in the Odd Fellows August 17, 1850, Special Session, pictured above. Henry Bier, as referenced earlier in this post, was one of three individuals who sold the triangular portion of ground, which would later become Odd Fellows Rest, to Henry Mitchell. Henry Mitchell subsequently sold the ground to James Stewart, the Grand Master of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows. It appears, Henry Bier was both an Odd Fellow and a committee member of the Howard Association as attested by his name on the association’s tomb below.

Metairie Ridge Cemeteries 1853

In 1853, representatives from various societies and institutions appeared before notary, Hilary Breton Cenas, because “…some trifling mistakes have been made in surveying, laying off, fencing, and ditching…” of several cemeteries on Metairie Ridge, and the representatives were “…in consideration of the premises and with the view of quieting all differences of opinion which has already arisen or which might hereafter arise to the boundaries and locations of the said respective properties or graveyards.”

Cenas, Hilary. 1853 April 18. Vol 56, Folio 533-535

Representatives of St. Patrick’s Church, namely “Right Reverend” Archbishop Antoine Blanc, Wilhelmus Bogart and Josiah Cole of Charity Hospital, George Bowditch and Georg Shaw of Odd Fellows Rest, George Jonas, Daniel Goodman, and Benjamin Florence of the Hebrew congregation – The Dispersed of Judah, and the Firemen’s Charitable Association met on April 18, 1853.

The notarial act served as documentation of the “…intrusions or encroachments which have been made upon Bienville [Street] and some other street and by which some of the partition fences and ditches may not be exactly where they ought to be.”

Cenas, Hilary. 1853 April 18. Vol 56, Folio 533-535

The act mentions that because the of discrepancies, “…the said Societies and Institutions have caused a plan of all said properties, fences, streets, etc. to be drawn by A. G. Blanchard, Surveyor, under date of the Twenty Second day of March last passed, and which has been duly deposited in this Office as Plan No ‘Two’ in Book of Plans No Three.”

The Plan Book Plan referenced in the act is featured below.

With the creation of the plan, the agreement states “these presents [representatives] and in their said several capacities, adopt the aforesaid plan as showing the respective rights, boundaries, and partitions of the said several properties, the names of the said several associations or societies being thereon, clearly traced upon for the showing to whom or what society or association it belongs…”

Gates of Prayer Cemetery

Gates of Prayer, Photo by Janine Smith, August 2021

By the mid-1800s, the Jewish community in New Orleans was flourishing, and there were at least three congregations in operation at the time: Shangarai Chassed (Gates of Mercy), Nefutzoth Yehudah (Dispersed of Judah, which was briefly mentioned above) and Shaarei Tefiloh (Gates of Prayer).11 Many other Jewish congregations emerged afterward and so did their respective cemeteries. Several Jewish cemeteries that developed between the 1850-1900s still remain throughout New Orleans today.

Gates of Prayer is nestled along Canal Street, and the burials there consists of multiple Jewish congregations as a result of merges. The cemetery was originally called the Tememe Derech Cemetery, which opened in 1864. Burials for Congregation Chevre Thilim (Society of the Psalms) and Congregation Beth Israel, which formed from the merging of Tememe Derech and Chevre Mikveh Israel (Hope of Israel, which will be discussed momentarily) Congregations, are also located in the Gates of Prayer Cemetery.12

The Congregation Gates of Prayer acquired the cemetery in portions. The first section was acquired in 1939 as a large portion of ground that fronts on Canal Street, and at that time, the name was changed from the Tememe Derech Cemetery to the Gates of Prayer Cemetery.

We will highlight a portion of the cemetery located on Bernadotte Street behind the Mortuary Haunted House, the late PJ MacMahon and Sons Funeral Home, which operated as a family-owned business from 1930 until 1985, when it merged with a larger funeral home corporation.

Below is an act of donation from The Mikveh Israel Association of New Orleans and Chevre Mikveh Israel (Hope of Israel) to the Congregation Gates of Prayer, executed by notary A. Melville Wolfson on May 8, 1950.

Wolfson, A. Melville. 1950 May 8. Vol 19, Act 134

The donation was for a certain portion of ground in the Suburb Jackson intended for burying grounds in Square 16, lots 23 and 24 measuring each at 30′ x 150′.

Property diagram located on a city paving certificate attached to the act of donation.

Mikveh Israel Association had acquired the property from Arnauld Richard Clague in an act of sale executed by notary, Joseph Cohn, on February 13, 1865. The reader might recall that we featured Joseph Cohn in relation to his notarial acts and service to the Jewish community in a Archives Month blog post in October 2020.

The donee, Gates of Prayer, agreed to the maintain said property as a burial ground and to make “perpetual care” available for the maintenance of graves as provided by the “Gates of Prayer Perpetual Trust Fund.” A copy of the trust fund was paraphed “ne varietur” by Wolfson, a Latin term meaning “it must not be altered.”

The plan for Perpetual Care Trust Fund was created in 1938, and it dictated how the congregation was to carry out the perpetual care of the cemetery. Perpetual care, as defined by the congregation’s by-laws, called for on-going “maintenance in its entirety of a cemetery plot, foundation, coping, and headstone, and in addition a marker on the graves so indicating, and further, the inscription of the deceased on the tablet of the Medahr House.”

The plan also requests that members should pay a one-time fee of $110 per grave in order to reap the benefits from the Perpetual Care Trust Fund. The following benefits were included in the fee.

The act of donation further states that one year from the date of the act, the Metaher House, a traditional chapel for the cleansing of bodies in preparation for burial6, would be demolished to make room for more burial ground.

The donee would now have the right to change the name of the cemetery from Mikveh Israel to “Gates of Prayer Bernadotte Street” but agreed to “…never remove the iron fence facing Bernadotte Street…” as stated in the act below.

Wolfson, A. Melville. 1950 May 8. Vol 19, Act 134

Other stipulations included keeping an entrance on Bernadotte Street, “…burials of non-Jews shall not be permitted” and “owners of burial sites shall never cover the plot with cement.”

As pictured below, the iron fence and entrance on Bernadotte Street still stands. Readers may also notice that unlike some of the other cemeteries that these posts have explored, the majority of the burials are underground, as is the tradition in Jewish cemeteries.13

Gates of Prayer, Bernadotte Street entrance. Photo by Janine Smith, August 2021.

The act states that the Mikveh Israel Association “…sold certain burial plots to individuals, with the agreement and obligation that the said burial plots should never be subject to any assessment tax or other charge; accordingly the burial plots immediately hereinafter described as being located in Section B Row ten (10) graves 131 and 132 and identified on the blue print annexed hereto as the Beekman and Rosa Beekman Plots and shall forever remain free of any charge for dues… and shall be entitled to be maintained under perpetual care…”

Additionally Gates of Prayer would not be “…obligated to make any repairs to foundations, coping, headstones, lettering, etc., nor does it agree to fill graves that are sinking or may sink” except for the plots under perpetual care provisions.

What makes the blueprint of the attached plans unique is that unlike traditional blueprints that capture property dimensions and sometimes the floorplan of a house, this plan identifies the burial plots in this section of the cemetery once belonging to the Congregation Chevre Mikveh Israel, and now acquired by the Congregation Gates of Prayer. The plots are labeled with names and dates of interment or are marked as open or reserved.

Many of the names in the first few rows can be identified on the headstones in the cemetery today.

Surnames like Seelig, Sternburg, Haspel, and Mayer can be identified on the left side (Section B).

The surnames Levy, Sherman, Marx, and Solomon can be identified on the right side (Section A).

Notice the headstone for Beryl Wolfson on the left side of the headstone in the image below. Beryl Wolfson was an Orleans Parish notary and a likely relation of the notary who executed the act of donation, A. Melville Wolfson.

Headstone of Beryl Wolfson, an Orleans Parish notary in Gates of Prayer Cemetery. Photo by Janine Smith, August 2021.

As stated in the act, the cemetery was originally owned by the Congregation Chevre Mikveh Israel and the Chevre Mikveh Israel Association. The Congregation Chevre Mikveh Israel officially chartered on May 1, 1887, by the (unnamed) district attorney.

Mortgage Office Book 353, Folio 170. 1887 May 1.

Article II stated that the purpose of the congregation was “…to be, to wit, first [to] worship in common the God of Israel. Second, to bury deceased members according to the ritual adopted by this congregation, which shall be Minhag [Polin].”

Article III directed that the “Mode of worship of this congregation shall be in conformity of ‘Minhag [Polin]’ which shall not be changed for any other.”

Minhag Polin is a Jewish style of service and rites by those who identify as Lithuanian, what is otherwise known as a Litvak congregation.7

Mortgage Office Book 353, Folio 171. 1887 May 1.

The Clerk’s Office has a rich amount of history pertaining to benevolent societies, the Jewish community, and cemeteries. If there are any particular interests that you would like to learn about, please contact the Clerk’s Office. We are happy to assist.

Sources:

  1. The Name “Odd Fellows” – Independent Order of Odd Fellows (odd-fellows.org)
  2. https://odd-fellows.org/about/our-mission/
  3. Dedek, Peter B. The Cemeteries of New Orleans: a Cultural History. Louisiana State University Press, 2017. pp. 112
  4. “Consecration of the Odd Fellows Rest.” Times-Picayune, 27 Feb. 1849, p. 2. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current.
  5. “Consecration of the Odd Fellows Rest.” Times-Picayune, 27 Feb. 1849, p. 2. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current.
  6. Carrigan, Jo Ann. The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905. University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2015, pp. 346
  7. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/b4e44121-41fb-4aa5-8a83-2e0c0f5851a7
  8. Carrigan, Jo Ann. The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905. University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2015, pp. 347
  9. Carrigan, Jo Ann. The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905. University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2015, pp. 347-8
  10. https://odd-fellows.org/member-resources/ioof-acronyms-abbreviations/
  11. Simon, Andrew and The Greater New Orleans Archivists. Jew of New Orleans: An Archival Guide. The Greater New Orleans Archivists, 1998.
  12. http://iajgscemetery.org/usa/louisiana-la/new-orleans-orleans-parish
  13. Paredes, Sergio. “Odd Fellows Cemeteries.” The Three Links Odd Cast. Hanson, Toby, LeBouef, Eddie, Duplantier, Michael, and Ford, Emily. 30 Oct. 2020. iTunes app.
  14. http://www.oakandlaurel.com/blog/the-canal-street-cemeteries-a-landscape-history-part-three
  15. http://www.isjl.org/louisiana-new-orleans-orthodox-congregations-encyclopedia.html

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