Melinda Martinez - Alexandria Town Talk
Editor's note: This is part 2 in a series about the Old Rapides Cemetery which is the oldest cemetery in Rapides Parish.
There are tombstones and fences in the Old Rapides Cemetery that have some of the greatest works of art that one could ever imagine, said Paul Price, a historian with the Historic Rapides Cemetery Preservation Society.
"I want you to feast your eyes on this tree-lined arcade leading up to the Ashley fence," he said. "This is a real -picture taker."
Kneeling beside the fence, Price points out the motif's details.
"This is a mossy oak tree," he said. "And this is a lamb. The lamb under the mossy oak. This is really special."
There used to be a matching gate but it is unknown what happened to it but Price hopes someone has it in storage. The preservation society would like to have it restored.
Within the fence is a 25-foot monument.
"Can you imagine the weight?" said Price. "Imagine the muscle power it took to put that in place."
It was most likely delivered by train, said Mike Wynne, also a historian with the preservation society.
"And when the train got here, that was only the beginning of the work," said Price.
Price walks towards the grave of Mrs. Mary Josephine Girard talking about the hand-carved marble angel that sits atop. The statue has one arm raised and the other holds a bouquet of flowers by its side. Its gaze is upwards.
It came from either Philadelphia or New York and probably weighs half a ton, said Wynne.
"This is the largest and most delicately carved figure in the cemetery," said. Price
"This is a work of art," said Wynne. "There is nothing like this in all of Central Louisiana. And it was shipped just to put on the grave."
Another monument, the Hynson monument, Price points out, is made out of sandstone. Wynne said they don't know where the sandstone came from but it wasn't from around here. But Price disagrees.
"Well, it possibly came from here," he said. "We owe our existence to a fluke of geography. The Catahoula sandstone deposits go all the way from west to east. From East Texas to Mississippi. And it crosses the Red River in two places."
Walking through the cemetery, Wynne points out the hand-carved marble box grave belonging to a five-year-old boy, William Prescott. The marble came from New England.
"And this is my favorite of all these tombstones," said Wynne. "I have never seen, in all my years of visiting graveyards, ever seen a magnificent structure like this."
Price clears away the bottom of the monument to reveal the name "Struthers Phil-A."
"Struthers & Son of Philadelphia was an imminent carver and producer of monuments for cemeteries - nationally," said Price. "Imagine the expense of the purest white marble ordered from Philadelphia with this exquisite detail. There's no telling what it cost."
But even the slabs covering the graves such as the one belonging to a little girl, Miriam Hyams, were works of art, said Wynne. Miriam died in 1844 in a steamboat collision between the Desoto and Buckeye.
"The persons who hand carved these tombs, in this case Wilson & Company in New Orleans, took pride in their work and put their name on the tombstone," he said. "The man who carved this tombstone in New Orleans, shipped down river by boat, put his name on it and I always thought that was a sign of professionalism."
"We have better carvings - I think - than the American Cemetery in Natchitoches," said Mike Tudor who is also a historian with the society.
"And quite frankly, anywhere in North Louisiana," added Wynne. "Alexandria and Pineville are much older than Shreveport."
These are just a few of the tombstones and fences with exceptional artistic details. And one of the reasons that the Historic Rapides Cemetery Preservation Society, under the leadership of Tudor, is working to create a cemetery district complete with tours. It would include all four cemeteries located in downtown Pineville. The Rapides Cemetery, the Methodist Cemetery, the Jewish Cemetery and the Mount Olivet Cemetery would be promoted as a historical tourism destination.
The Historic Rapides Cemetery Preservation Society will be meeting with the Pineville Downtown Development District on June 14 to discuss a possible cemetery district.
"The Pineville Downtown Development District is a relatively new creation, which is to promote downtown, so we're hoping that they would help us focus on this," said Tudor.
The Old Rapides Cemetery dates back over 200 years to when the Spanish ruled the area. It has been on the National Register since 1979. It is located near the Gillis-Long Bridge, better known as the Jackson Street Bridge.
According to "Under the Shade of Trees: History and Stories of the Old Rapides Cemetery" by Father Chad Partain, Bobby Downs Hynson and Andrea Wilson Warren, the cemetery was known as the Old Catholic Cemetery prior to being called the Rapides Cemetery.
"The preservation of the history of this cemetery is vitally important for Central Louisiana - actually all of Louisiana," said Wynne. "But it's also about tourism - bringing tourist dollars into Central Louisiana."
The society is also looking for volunteers to be tour guides and to help with the upkeep of the cemetery.
"We're trying to assemble a citizens group to help maintain the cemetery to its best so that tours from around the nation can come here," said Wynne.
The society has also put together a pamphlet about the history of the Rapides Cemetery which also includes the history of 26 people buried there.
"We could have done 100-150 but we chose 26 very important yet varied individuals representative of the community," said Wynne.
Those wishing to volunteer to do tours or maintenance can contact Mike Wynn at (318) 487-8805 or Paul Price at (318) 201-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preservation Society touts historical uniqueness of Rapides Cemetery
Old Rapides Cemetery has exceptional artistic details on tombs, fences