A cemetery is supposed to be a quiet, peaceful place but on Saturday, the historic Lutheran Cemetery was alive with about 100 volunteers, many using noisy string-trimmers to whack down tall grass and weeds while the rest raked and piled the debris at the ends of the rows of forlorn concrete crypts.
Located at 1735 Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive, between Brooks Park and City Park in old South Baton Rouge, the historic 8-acre site, which has graves dating back to the 1800s, is neglected for most of the year.
Nearly filled with about 7,000 above-ground and sometimes double-stacked crypts, many of which are crumbling from neglect, it also, historians suspect, hosts an unknown number of unmarked slave graves from the Richland Plantation — what is now City Park.
“This cemetery depends upon the kindness of strangers to keep it up,” said event organizer Lillie Petit Gallagher, of the Friends of City Park. “Even though it is the Lutheran Cemetery, having been founded in 1872 by the Lutheran Benevolent Society, it is really not affiliated with the Lutheran Church, however the Trinity Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge has adopted it.”
Clean-up volunteers included members of Trinity Lutheran Church; O’Brien House, a drug and alcohol treatment facility; a half-dozen students from the pre-dental program at LSU; a few neighbors; and a troop of Boy Scouts.
“Benjamin Franklin said, ‘you can judge a culture by the way it treats its dead and keeps its sacred spaces,’ ” Gallagher said. “This is a sacred space and the heirs of the people buried here are scattered all across the country so we are taking care of it for them.”
Not all the heirs are that far away, however. Darrell Williams, his mother Artimese Washington, and his young nephews Jarese Williams and Cottrell Williams Jr., read about the clean-up in The Advocate and came out to put a fresh coat of white paint on the crypts of his father and brother.
After searching awhile they found the double-stacked crypts. Washington laid her right hand on the crypts and quietly wept while her son and his nephews organized their tools and brushes.
“I think it’s just wonderful,” Washington said when asked about the clean-up. “We’ve been hoping and praying for something like this.”
“It’s good they are helping out and giving back to the community,” her son said as he brushed on the paint.
The Rev. David Buss, Trinity Lutheran’s pastor, said he was pleased with the relatively large turnout. “This shows how a community can love the community of the people who are buried here.”
Further up the hill from the Williams family’s crypt, a half-dozen Boy Scouts of Troop 169, which meets at a Trinity Lutheran Church property, were pulling tall weeds from the narrow spaces between crypts then passing handfuls down a line to be piled for later pick-up.
Scoutmaster Clinton Summers said they were out at Camp Avondale and came back to town to participate, then would return there for the rest of the weekend. “Scouting is based on service so we thought it would be a good opportunity for the boys,” he said.
Scout Brenden Gilly, 14, a student at St. Michael and member of Grace Community Bible Church, said, “We just want to help out. It is in really bad condition, and it sets a bad example. We need to get some new headstones. Some of them don’t even have any.”
On top of the hill, under sprawling live oaks, LSU pre-dental students Joci Carey and Brianna Burns also were pulling weeds.
“We just want to get it looking nice again,” Carey said. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
“It looks bad — it’s disrespectful to let it get this bad,” added Burns.
Over the top of the hill, away from the noisy string-trimmers, Trinity Lutheran member Pat Hoth said she has participated in previous clean-ups and was here because it needs to be done, and she enjoys it.
“Every time I’ve been here, someone has asked me ‘have you seen somebody with this name,’ and sometimes I can say ‘yes’ and sometimes I can’t,” Hoth said. “There are some new headstones which shows that maybe cleaning it up helps some people find their families. I think that’s fantastic.”
The organizers provided a noon lunch of jambalaya, and Quiana Lynell and her Gospel Notes provided inspirational music.