Sunlight dappled the headstones under a large oak tree, located in the midst of the hustle and bustle of what is now the Fremaux Town Center in Slidell. The cemetery is overgrown, but names on the headstones reveal a history that goes back more than 150 years.
Albert Claude Sr., of Slidell, will turn 101 in December. He’s a living link to those buried there, and the mention of their names brings back clear memories. Several family members buried there were born before Slidell was chartered in 1882.
Claude said his grandmother’s sister is the mother of Virgil Anderson Sr., whose grave is marked with a headstone. Another headstone reads “Athos Claude,” his grandfather.
He remembers his grandmother telling him Athos Claude fought in the Civil War.
Eva Baham, a retired professor of history from Southern University in Baton Rouge, has conducted research that shows that Athos Claude enlisted in the Navy and was a steward on the USS Hartford under Flag Officer David Farragut. Virgil Anderson Sr. was a member of the Louisiana Guard that also fought with the Union.
“When people are buried that close together, it indicates they are related,” said Albert Claude’s son, Richard Claude. He remembers seeing the cemetery while hunting as a teenager with his father. It was a larger cemetery, he recalls, with many wooden crosses and handmade markers that are now gone.
A representative with Stirling Properties, which oversees the 80-acre Fremaux Town Center development off Interstate 10, said the cemetery has been surveyed and has not been disturbed. At some point during the development, it will be cleaned up and fenced for the families to have access to the site.
Slidell City Councilman Glynn Pichon oversees District A, which includes the cemetery. For now, he said, the area is taped off and not safe to enter. There are many unmarked graves, and people could fall into them. He welcomes the solution to maintain the cemetery.
“I think it should be known we have this great piece of history in our backyard,” Pichon said.
Other names at the cemetery include Mariah Means, and Rosa, John and Laura Williams. “The Meanses were kinfolk,” Albert Claude said. “When I went to New Orleans to work, I stayed with them.”
Claude said his great-grandfather came here from France, and his great-grandmother was Native American. Their son, Athos Claude, was Abner Claude’s father. Abner had three children with his first wife. She died, and he had seven more children with his second wife, including Albert Claude Sr., who was born Dec. 3, 1914.
Abner Claude owned several homes around the cemetery, which were lost during the Depression, he said. “Dad worked for the railroad,” Claude said, and also owned Claude’s Corner, a restaurant that was destroyed by fire.
Claude remembers that people would have wakes in their houses. Sometimes the bodies were stretched out on ironing boards.
They would walk to wakes as far as Bonfouca, an area he said extended to what is now Thompson Road and to Big Branch near Lacombe.
“We didn’t take the roads; we went through the woods,” he said. When he was a teenager, the family went to a wake in Bonfouca and “the only way to find it was they had set stumps on fire.”
“We’d go to Bonfouca, Bayou Vincent, everywhere,” he said. They would also go to “suppers,” which were dinners and dances held to raise money to meet needs in the community.
“We didn’t have money, but we was happy.”
He and his siblings grew up in the family home in a neighborhood that is now Griffith Park. He said “the city took over” the homes in his neighborhood to make way for municipal buildings.
“I remember when the horses and cows used to walk down the street,” he said, and where people lived before the highways and bridges were built.
He would walk from Slidell to “The Village.” He went to church at Mount Zion Church on Brakefield Street, which burned down, and then to Hartzell Church on Indian Village Road, he said. He attended the first St. Tammany Training School, which also burned down.
His first job was to deliver items from the local drugstore by bike. He worked in an ammunition depot in Oklahoma while serving in the Navy during WWII. He worked 31 years for the U.S. Postal Service and received the last mail delivery to arrive in Slidell by train.
After their marriage, he and his wife bought a piece of land and raised seven children. He still lives there independently, with the help of his family.
Baham said she found the Claudes in the census back in the 1850s. From her research, she said, the cemetery is “intergenerational.”
“It’s the historical connection and what it says about the area” that makes it important, she said.