Genealogy tools, New Orleans

Louisiana birth records

Finding old birth records in Louisiana can be a bit tricky.

Take my grandmother as an example. She was born along Bayou Boeuf in 1913. It was the same year the Model T started rolling off the assembly line in Detroit so the world was definitely changing and advancing. However, Louisiana wouldn’t start keeping statewide birth records for another five years.

Because she was Catholic, I found her baptism record, which made note of her birth date as well as the day she was baptized – no doubt screaming at the top of her lungs when the water hit her head. I have to imagine she was already a spitfire in the making.

Church records are a great resource if your ancestor was Catholic. Many of the records in south Louisiana have been published and can be found in local libraries.

Another thing to consider is whether your ancestor lived in New Orleans. For Louisiana records, New Orleans is always the great exception. Records there go further back than in any other city.

Family Search’s database of New Orleans birth records goes back to 1819. Search here.

Sadly, the images of the certificates themselves aren’t online. However, this is a good index that includes the parents’ names.

Happy searching!

New Orleans

The dainty, sweet, cocaine-addicted ward of a Supreme Court justice

If you read Joseph Arsenne Breaux’s Wikipedia page, you’ll quickly learn that he had a remarkable life. He became the first lawyer in Iberia Parish, launched a newspaper, distributed food during a yellow fever epidemic, traveled to Nova Scotia to learn about his Acadian ancestry, reformed public education, expanded free health care and served as the ninth chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. It’s a wonder he and his wife found the time to take in an orphan.

I’m not sure what spurred Chief Justice Breaux and his wife, Eugenie, to adopt Mae Bolian. Perhaps it was the fact that they had no children of their own. Perhaps it was the fact that Eugenie was an orphan herself after losing her parents to a hurricane. What I do know is that Mae was a bit of a problem child. Sort of the Paris Hilton of her day.

I’m also not really sure how Mae’s story began. She was born about 1883. She later gave her place of birth as Colorado, and there is a little Mae Bolian on the 1885 Colorado census. Perhaps that’s her.

By 1900, she was living in the Poydras Female Orphan Asylum – just one of numerous girls with no other home. It was an enormous place full of staircases and soaring ceilings. That’s a snapshot of a dormitory room above.

1900 also was the year Mae went to work for Judge Breaux as a stenographer. She would work for him until 1915 and also lived in the family home. Perhaps she aged out of the orphanage and had nowhere else to go. Regardless, she was soon being characterized as his adopted daughter. I doubt that there was a legal arrangement given that she was 16 or 17 when this occurred.

1915 was the year Mae started scandalizing New Orleans society. A bout with catarrh led to a raging cocaine addiction. Mae left the Breaux home and moved in with a friend, who tried to break Mae of her drug addiction. The intervention didn’t work. Once she stopped being able to get cocaine in Louisiana, Mae took a trip to California and returned with a pile of cocaine that she placed in a safety deposit vault at the bank.

Just before Thanksgiving, she checked into the Grunewald Hotel and started sending suicide letters to friends and loved ones. A maid at the Breaux home received a letter instructing her to shroud Mae’s body. The maid, who’d been going to the hotel weekly to do Mae’s nails and massage her face, alerted the hotel instead. Mae was found unconscious and gasping for breath. It was thought that she wouldn’t recover. She proved resilient and recovered within days.

A friend described Mae as “a dainty, sweet creature” and then asked for a policeman to guard her home upon Mae’s release from the hospital.

1916 was the year Mae went to jail. Months after her overdose, she showed up at the hospital and told a nurse that she planned to kill the doctor who had attended her. She then went home, where police shortly arrived to arrest her. Newspaper reports said she arrived at the jailhouse neatly attired in expensive clothes and laughing at her predicament.

While bunking in the parish prison, Mae found time to write. She wrote a 20-page letter to the district attorney protesting claims she was insane. She was vehemently opposed to a mental examination. A grand jury was called to review the case.

A convenient agreement ended the saga. Mae’s brother, Walter, agreed to let his sister live with him in Chicago. Getting Mae out of the city and the state seemed to satisfy local authorities. She was placed on a train, alone, and the investigation into her sanity was dropped.

1917 was the year Mae married. She wed prominent architect Henry Collier Cooke in Galveston. Three hours after the wedding, they were on a train headed east to make their home in New Orleans.

Henry was considerably older than his bride. This was his second marriage. His first wife died in 1915.

1920 was the year Mae became a widow. Henry died of cirrhosis in Mineral Wells, Texas.

1926 was the year Judge Breaux died at age 89. Newspapers listed all 40 of his honorary pallbearers, who included the governor. No mention was made of Mae.

Genealogy tools, New Orleans

The secret recipe for easily researching Louisiana death records

Searching death records in Louisiana used to be rather frustrating.

In days of olde, your only resource was the Secretary of State’s Office for records old enough to be released to the general public. True, the state helpfully put together online indexes, but you still had to request the death certificates by mail or drive to the State Archives in Baton Rouge and laboriously find records on microfilm.

Fortunately for those of us who have an irrational fear of microfilm readers (I’m raising my hand here), there’s an easier way. Best of all, you don’t have to live in Louisiana to utilize it although it might require a tank of gas.

The Church of Latter Day Saints has death records for every parish in Louisiana. Now, curb your enthusiasm for a moment.

If your great-great grandfather died in Louisiana but outside New Orleans in 1840, you’re out of luck. Only New Orleans and the adjoining Jefferson Parish started keeping records before 1911. And, if I’m being honest, most parishes (outside Orleans and Jefferson) weren’t good at insisting on death certificates until closer to the 1920s.

Not to curb your enthusiasm any further, but I should point out that I’ve yet to find death certificates for my great-great grandparents John S. Hebert and Rosalie Penisson even though they died in the 1920s. My guess is the family called a priest instead of a doctor because their deaths are dutifully recorded in church records. But it also could have been that the doctor just couldn’t be bothered.

Dr. B. A. Taber – the register of vital statistics for the town of Jennings – even made a joke about filling out death certificates in 1913 (see newspaper clipping below). Do you get the sense that he wasn’t keen on paperwork?

Here’s what the Church of Latter Day Saints has:

And .- just like the Secretary of State records – they’re searchable. Here’s the difference. The certificates at the Church of Latter Day Saints have been digitalized.

When you find a certificate you’d like to view in the Church of Latter Day Saints’ index, you can view early Orleans records with the click of your mouse from the comfort of your home. For other death records, you can view with the click of a mouse at a Family History Center. No microfilm!

There are Family History Centers across the globe and across the U.S. The pandemic’s made researching a little tricky in Baton Rouge. The center is currently closed although I’ve been able to email a church member and make arrangements to spend a few hours on a Saturday happily researching. Take my advice and call or email ahead.

The Church of Latter Day Saints has done a tremendous job of collecting records and making them accessible. You don’t have to be a member of the church to research their records. When I was a teen, my Southern Baptist grandmother took me, her Catholic granddaughter, to a Family History Center in Arizona. I’ve been a fan of their work ever since.

Happy searching!

New Orleans, Penisson Family

A dying sister’s letter to her brother

Myrrha Font

Someone’s done a fabulous job of posting the letters and pictures of the Salvador Font-Celestine Penisson family. The Fonts spent much of their married life in New Orleans raising an enormous family. Judging from the correspondence left behind, they were a family who liked to write letters and get together for gatherings.

I’m related to them indirectly through Celestine since the Penissions figure into my family tree. So, I spent a Saturday evening reading through the family letters. One in particular broke my heart.

Salvador and Celestine’s oldest child, Fred, married Leonore Jones and had a large family of one son and six daughters. Only the son, Fred. Jr., married, but his sisters reveled in his family once his children started arriving.

Myrrha, Fred Jr.’s youngest sister, praised each of her brother’s children in a letter she wrote for his birthday while being treated for tuberculosis at a sanatorium in Covington.

She described her eldest niece, Marion, as a lovely girl with a brilliant career. Marion may have been enrolled by that point at Tulane University, quite an achievement for a young lady in 1919.

Nephew Billy was sure to give his parents plenty of happy days.

And, the baby – Allie – was an original who’d apparently been asking about her aunt even though she was only 7 at the time. Myrrha vowed to write Allie a letter of her own.

Whether Myrrha got the opportunity to write that letter is doubtful. She confessed to her brother that she was no better than she’d been before arriving at the sanatorium. A week later, she died.

In her letter, she admitted to a weak spirit, despondency and worrying about choking to death. Yet, she also hoped to stand the trial with patience should it come. She faced death with bravery and a strong faith. Hopefully, death was swift.

New Orleans, Uncategorized

Louisiana’s Madame X

An impulsive moment brought me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in November, where I discovered a Louisiana connection. More on that in a moment.

Months ago, before my Instagram account was hacked by someone in Nigeria, I saw an ad for a conversation between Nigella Lawson and Ina Garten in Brooklyn. I thought about it for a week and then bought two tickets. I love their cookbooks, their cooking shows and their social media. And, the last time we were in New York, the Twin Towers still stood. So, why not take a trip to New York City and admire the fall colors?

We spent a beautiful, breezy November week walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, exploring DUMBO, admiring awe-inspiring churches, choking back tears at the 9/11 Museum, visiting the biggest bookstore ever, stepping carefully away from a sidewalk rat, seeing two renowned cooks and rambling through the rain at Central Park before my husband dropped me off at the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you’ve never been to this museum, I have to insist that you go – even if you’re not in the area to see two cooks talk about the danger of cooking with a mandolin.

The museum wasn’t on the itinerary this trip. We’ve been before, and my husband can speed walk through a museum faster than an elderly mall walker. But I really, really wanted to go. I couldn’t stop thinking about that ancient Egyptian temple built thousands of years ago along the Nile and transplanted, block by block, to the Met. I wanted to turn the corner once again for the big reveal of that temple in the middle of Manhattan. So, we compromised. I went to the Met. My husband went to the Carlyle and sat in the sumptuous bar soaking up the atmosphere and chasing away the rain with hot toddies.

If you’ve never been to the Metropolitan, take a moment to study the floor plan and develop a battle plan since this is a huge museum. I circled the galleries containing the art I just had to see. However, I kept getting distracted. I planned, for example, to visit the Astor Chinese Garden Court. I did not plan to be stopped in my tracks by gorgeous, kimono-inspired fashion on my way to the court.

Another distraction was Madame X.

Currently on view in Gallery 771, this stunning portrait by John Singer Sargent features Madame Pierre Gautreau, who was born as Virginie Amélie Avegno in New Orleans on Jan 29, 1859. The painting was considered risque (look at the amount of pale white skin on display, the figure-revealing dress, the strap inching down her shoulder) in the 1880s, prompting Sargent to mask the subject’s identity by referring to her as Madame X.

I wanted to know more about Madame X. A long piece in a December 1984 edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper filled in the rest of her story.

Amelie was born in New Orleans, supposedly in a house that still stands on Toulouse Street. Today, it’s a towering, salmon-colored townhome worth millions of dollars. No doubt, it was equally as nice in Amelie’s time. That’s it above in a drawing from the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Her father was Anatole Placide Avegno, a merchant’s son who raised his own regiment to fight in the Civil War. Unfortunately, he had a flair for fashion that led him to outfit the regiment in brightly colored uniforms that included flared pantaloons. He stood out on the battlefield and soon was fatally wounded. He tried to get back home only to die on the way.

Her mother was Marie Virginie de Ternant, who spent her childhood drifting between France and her family’s sprawling plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish.

Paris is a common thread in the family history. After Marie Virginie’s father died young, her mother found solace in Paris and retreated there often with her young daughter in tow. Marie Virginie would make the same trek with her own daughter years later after becoming a young widow.

It was in Paris that Amelie became the bride of banker and ship owner Pierre Gautreau (pictured above). Her uncle traveled from Louisiana to walk her down the aisle. Married life didn’t prevent Amelie from making the rounds of Parisian society. She was known for her beauty. Artist Edward Simmons wrote that she “walked as Virgil speaks of goddesses – sliding – and seems to take no steps.”

Amelie also wasn’t shy. She flaunted her cleavage and was rumored to be unfaithful to her husband. At the beach, she hired a strong man to carry her, Cleopatra like, across the hot sands.

As soon as he saw her, Sargent became obsessed with painting her portrait. Her skin, he later said was “uniform lavender or blotting paper color all over.” That would probably be the arsenic Amelie used to drain the color from her skin.

Amelie sat 30 times for the portrait. Sargent was exacting in his approach, even choosing the sassy dress she wore. He was young and ambitious. He wanted this to be a sensation. Both he and Amelie were social climbers. They viewed the portrait as an opportunity to cheekily dazzle French society.

Problems emerged long before the portrait was shown to the public. Sargent tired of Amelie’s “hopeless laziness.” Amelie, no doubt, was restless about the long sittings. She had a young daughter and social engagements. Still, Amelie seemed pleased with Sargent’s work.

The portrait was designed to titillate. In the original version, one dress strap snaked down Amelie’s shoulder. The black dress is a sharp contrast to the sickly shade of porcelain skin on display in an apparent nod to the complexion of consumption patients.

The unveiling at the Salon of 1884 was a disaster. Amelie became a caricature, the Morticia Addams of her day. Critics compared her to a corpse. “The bluish coloring atrocious,” the New York Times sniped.

Amelie’s mother was mortified, saying her daughter was lost. Certainly, society shunned Amelie, forcing her to take the arm of low ranking escorts when she went to the opera. Sargent fled to London, taking the painting with him. His ambition took a deep dive.

It wasn’t until 1916 that he sold the painting to the Met. All those years later, the debacle was fresh in his mind. He didn’t want Amelie’s name attached to the portrait because of “the row I had with the lady years ago.” Amelie became Madame X. Today, the museum identifies her as Madame Pierre Gautreau. Sargent restored the fallen dress strap to its proper place on her shoulder before relinquishing what he called his best work.

Amelie died a year before her portrait made its way to the Met. She outlived her husband and daughter even though she was only 56 when she died. She’s buried in France, the country that shunned her allure. Today, she’s a sensation.

Murder and mayhem, New Orleans

The man who was – or wasn’t – buried alive

See “2” on the 1870 map of New Orleans? Potter’s field – and the scene of so much uproar on May 25, 1875 – would have been in that vicinity.

The New Orleans press must have perked up on May 29, 1875, when wagon driver James “Jim” Conners was arrested.

Most of the police blotter for that day is rather humdrum. Charles Ford was brought in for pilfering ice along the levee. John Whitman was brought in for stealing a shirt from a woman’s clothes line. And, then there’s Mr. Conners. His alleged crime? Burying a man who wasn’t quite dead.

The story goes like this.

Conners was a driver for Charity Hospital, the hospital for the poor in New Orleans. One of his jobs was to take bodies to potter’s field, otherwise known as Locust Grove Cemeteries Nos. 1 and 2, and deliver them for burial in the graveyard for the “friendless and moneyless.” It couldn’t have been a fun job, but Conners wasn’t known as a fun guy. More on that later.

On May 25, 1875, Conners was summoned to collect the body of Tennessee native George Banks, a teenager who died of small pox, and the remains of an infant. The job didn’t go well from the outset. Banks’ body smelled so bad that a little boy riding with Conners hopped off the wagon. However, a lonely drive with two corpses would be the least of Conners’ problems.

The wagon and driver were a familiar sight to the people who lived around the cemeteries. They all knew the tall, red-faced man in the white hat who drove Charity wagon No. 1 by sight, if not by name.

Melinda Smith later said she was visiting a neighbor on Locust Street when she saw the charity wagon that May day. It was stopped, and she thought it had broken down. Approaching the wagon, she saw Conners trying to hammer down the lid of Banks’ coffin. When that didn’t work, he took the baby’s coffin and placed it on top of it. Amidst Conners’ struggle with the coffin, Smith said she saw a hand emerge from it and try to push off the lid.

Alarmed, she told Conners he was carrying a live man to the graveyard. Conners told her to leave before he slapped her in the mouth. Smith didn’t leave, and her cries attracted a crowd.

Mary Thompson was putting clothes on the line when she heard the commotion. Like Smith, she insisted Banks was alive. She claimed Banks seemed too weak to sit up but raised his hands and his feet as Conners struggled to keep the lid on the coffin.

Other neighbors materialized, all with their own stories of raised hands and groans from the coffin. They followed the wagon to the cemetery as Conners warned them they would catch small pox. Undeterred, a woman who spoke German urged the grave digger to intervene. The grave digger shrugged and said Banks was dead enough for the doctor to sign the death certificate.

A man named William Harrison said he managed to pry the lid off the coffin and saw Banks’ toes twitch and breast move. He said Banks was naked with a cobblestone on his stomach.

Somehow, the sexton was able to admit Conners and his wagon into the cemetery without letting the crowd follow him through the gate. Banks was placed in his grave with spadefuls of mud clods covering his coffin, but that wouldn’t be the end of the saga.

The uproar reached the press, who turned up at the cemetery and wrote eloquently in Dickensian fashion about mausoleums of regret, naked terrors and 50 babies’ weary little bodies stacked up instead of interred. They interviewed the sexton, only referred to as Schwartz, who said the coffin was jolted to pieces by the wagon, the man was most certainly dead and Jim was well suited for his job because he wasn’t tender or good hearted.

Found at the warehouse where the city stored its wagons, Conners said the people in the neighborhood just didn’t like him for some reason although he couldn’t explain why. It also emerged that Conners had gotten into a fight with a coworker a few months prior and accidentally shot a woman who happened to be walking past. This was partly invention by the press. News clippings clearly indicate that it was the coworker who shot the woman.

Conners was arrested in Banks’ death. By June, he was indicted on a murder charge. By January, the case was dismissed in Conners’ favor.

Reading the testimony presented by the defense, it’s clear why the “buried alive” case died. Sorry, I do love a good pun. It seems that Banks was not only merely dead but really most sincerely dead at the hospital, long before he left for his final journey to the cemetery. What the crowd likely saw that day was a coffin and then a body jolted by a rickety wagon.

As for Banks’ burial spot … well, it’s complicated. The neighborhood wasn’t happy about having a poorly maintained potter’s field amongst it, especially after the yellow fever epidemic of 1879. The city decided to build a school on the land … without moving any of the graves. That’s a story for another day.

New Orleans

Luling Mansion: A house of tragedy hidden in a New Orleans neighborhood

The Luling Mansion has its own sign and an elaborate security system barring anyone from getting too close

We were bumping along New Orleans streets near the Fairgrounds this weekend (the city is sinking, taking the asphalt with it) when we stumbled across a mansion.

That’s not to say the Esplanade area of New Orleans lacks for mansions. There are plenty of columned beauties presiding over Bayou St. John near City Park. The Luling Mansion is different because it’s not on the water – at least not any longer.

In 1865, when the Lulings built their mansion, they set it on 30 acres that stretched all the way to the bayou. That bayou would supposedly be the scene of a great tragedy that caused them to lose interest in the city and their home. Now more modest, gingerbread-trimmed houses in all hues block the bayou view, hiding the mansion from those who don’t accidentally stumble across it while dodging potholes on Leda Court.

Peeling plaster can’t hide the beauty of those verandas.

I thought the house was abandoned when I hopped onto the sidewalk to look at it. An impressive secure entrance – you enter through a cage and punch in a code to step onto the grounds – convinced me otherwise. As of a few years ago, the house was an apartment building. I assume it still is.

The house’s unique appearance intrigued me. I had to learn more because every house has a story. This house’s story is a sad one that teaches us there often is a seed of truth in stories passed down through the decades. I’ll explain.

Newspaper articles tell me that a wealthy businessman named Florenz Luling had the mansion built as his family home soon after marrying Georgine Hermann. Florenz was a German immigrant who moved to the U.S. and became a successful merchant. Georgine was a New Orleans native with an impressive pedigree. Her ancestral home is an impressive mansion in the Vieux Carre. The young couple lived on Bourbon Street while their Esplanade mansion was constructed. They would live in their mansion for exactly six years.

Why they left seems to be a source of confusion and speculation. From the New Orleans newspaper:

“According to a multitude of unsourced accounts, soon after the family moved in, Luling’s son — or, according to some accounts, both of his sons — drowned in nearby Bayou St. John. Heartbroken, the story goes, the Lulings sold the property and left New Orleans. 

Newspaper accounts of the drowning(s) couldn’t be found. Neither is the event mentioned in F.A. Luling’s 1906 Times-Picayune obituary (which, incidentally, gives his first name as “Frederick” instead of Florenz for reasons unclear).

Regardless, whether because of the supposed drownings, some sort of financial reversal or another reason altogether, the Lulings did, indeed, move out of the mansion just six years after its completion.”

The Lulings had five children. Only one, Alice, would live into adulthood. Alice married into the English nobility and died a titled lady in London, where she’s buried along with her parents.

But back to the mansion … It was an opulent, 22-room concoction of Italian marble, frescos, cupids and imported carpet. There was a bowling alley, an observatory and cedar closets. The Lulings were the Spellings of their day. And they wouldn’t last 10 years in the house.

Here’s where legend creeps into the story. Like the newspaper published, legend has it that the Lulings left because they were distraught after two of their children drowned in Bayou St. John. And here’s where legend is like a game of Telephone. Something gets twisted in each retelling, but there’s still a bit of the original message. It’s just garbled.

Hermann drowned in Mississippi but was brought back to New Orleans.

According to a family tree on Ancestry, the Lulings had two sons: Carl and Hermann. Carl died age 1 in 1863, before the house was built. Hermann died age 11 in 1871, making his death coincide with the family’s departure from their mansion. Their deaths are recorded in the city’s records.

And, wouldn’t you know it? Poor Hermann did drown. Not in Bayou St. John in front of the palatial mansion, but in Mississippi, where, no doubt, the family was vacationing.

Hermann didn’t die alone. Another member of the household died with him that day.

The Lulings in 1870.

A big house requires lots of servants. Certainly, the Luling Mansion had room for them. The 1870 census shows the Lulings were outnumbered by paid staff: There was a gardener, a watchman and four domestic servants for a family that numbered four.

See Margaret Egan on the census record? She was with little Hermann while he fished from a Mississippi wharf in April 1871. When Hermann fell into the water, Margaret jumped in after him despite not knowing how to swim. Little Hermann clung to the maid and drowned with her. The Lulings brought Hermann’s body back to New Orleans and put their mansion on the market just two months later.

And, there you have it: Two drownings in the same household followed by a family’s abrupt departure. We’ll probably never know if the Lulings left New Orleans because of what happened in Mississippi, but the timing lends weight to the story that they did.

New Orleans

The trouble with being mayor

New Orleans’ mayor is in a bit of trouble for partying at Mardi Gras without a mask. That’s a no-no when you’re the person who put a citywide mask mandate in place.

In the 1800s, the mayor of New Orleans had different problems: Orphans.

It was the mayor’s job to keep track of the city’s orphans and dispose of them. Fortunately, there were plenty of orphanages because there were countless children, from day-old babies to delinquent adolescents, to place. I do wonder: Did people bring babies in baskets to the Mayor’s Office? Were misbehaving children marched into the Mayor’s Office?

You have to wonder what happened to 14-year-old Bertha Guth, who got herself sent to the House of Good Shepherd for robbing a house and trying to set fire to it in 1875. She’s one of the entries in a transcription of the mayor’s records published on the New Orleans Public Library’s website.

Here’s a strange tale. Poor Mr. Brown didn’t even know the name of the lady who left her son with him.

Children ended up in orphanages because their mothers died, their fathers disappeared – or in the case of a 2-month-old with no name referenced in the above image – they were left at a stranger’s house for a short span of time that stretched into weeks.

The library has a lot of records like this in its digital collection. Enjoy: http://archives.nolalibrary.org/~nopl/spec/speclist.htm

New Orleans

A neighborhood cemetery among wedding cake houses in New Orleans

We drove to New Orleans at the crack of dawn (OK, 7 a.m.) Saturday to have breakfast with a former co-worker from my political days. She was in town for a wedding and couldn’t remember exactly what she’d had to drink the night before on Bourbon Street. All she knew was the drinking started at 1 p.m. and continued into the night.

After a bleary-eyed breakfast in the Central Business District, we dropped her off at the next venue in the 3-day wedding weekend and realized we still had the entire day ahead of us. So, we headed to Bourbon Street. Just kidding.

We went in search of an old neighborhood grocery store in Uptown New Orleans. It’s tucked between the wedding cake homes of St. Charles and the eclectic vibe of Magazine Street. It’s also catty corner to a cemetery that seems out of place.

Most cemeteries in New Orleans are sprawling cities with miles of mausoleums. I’ve always thought the mausoleums look like miniature homes. Some families even decorate them for the holidays.

Gates of Prayer – Joseph Street is different. It’s the third oldest Jewish cemetery in New Orleans, but it’s pretty small. The land was purchased in 1850. The gates were firmly locked when we visited, probably because of past vandalism.

We had to settle for peeking through the iron fence that encircles the cemetery. There wasn’t a mausoleum in sight. In fact, it looked a cemetery you’d see in the midwest with rows of headstones. In a city that usually buries its dead above ground because of the water table, that seems foreign.

Here, in a tree-lined neighborhood of an often violent city is where so many of New Orleans’ early Jewish immigrants found eternal rest. It should be a peaceful spot. It often hasn’t been with gravestones smashed by vandals.

Martha was the wife of Abraham Stabinksy. She died of a blood clot.

One of the first headstones I saw was for Martha Oppenheimer Stabinsky, who died in 1900 at age 33 after three years in New Orleans. She was a native of Germany.

Joseph’s gravestone is lying on the ground when it should be upright.

Three years after Martha died, Joseph Reitzes was laid to rest. Joseph died at just 48 from tuberculosis. His gravestone is really hard to read, but his death certificate says he was born in Romania.

The Goldenbergs have a pretty headstone with their names set on a stone scroll amid a vine of flowers. Dutiful Benjamin took on the care of his mother and siblings when his father died. He later married, got involved in the shoe business and lived in a pretty home on Camp Street.

His wife was Henrietta Weil, who went by Yetta. She died decades after him and now rests beside him in the city cemetery.

Josephine Mayer also has a rather elaborate gravestone. Josephine was already a widow when she died age 46 in 1901. She died in her son-in-law’s sprawling home in the Audubon neighborhood at 1404 Octavia St.

From her obit, I got the sense that her mother’s family, the Gumbels, were rather a big deal in New Orleans. Indeed, they were. The Gumbels immigrated to New Orleans from Bavaria and built a business empire that started in cotton and evolved into notions. They became millionaires with huge homes in the city and summer homes up north. Josephine’s son, Norman, didn’t do too badly himself. There’s a library at Tulane named for him.

We enjoyed our visit to the city cemetery even if we had to settle for visiting it through the bars that protect it.