On Oct. 30, visitors to the Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church cemetery will take a walk through time as they listen to stories of those laid to rest in the old cemetery featuring towering, ornate above-ground tombs.
Margaret Canella, founder of The Joseph Landry Foundation, organizers of the cemetery tour, encourages visitors to bring their flashlight for the after-dark tour of cemetery, which dates back to the early 1800s.
The cemetery serves as a resting place for members of Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church, St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Smoke Bend. A number of Donaldsonville’s former residents will be portrayed by reenactors. Much of the information Canella is using for the tour was found in an 1881 article published in the Donaldsonville Chief.
This event is planned for Oct. 30, two days before All Saints Day. It will be held immediately following the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church.
The Joseph Landry Foundation was formed in 2008 by heirs of Joseph Landry and Anne Bujol. After many years of work, the group is almost ready to begin the preservation work on the tomb, Canella said, adding that they also plan to do preservation work on some of the other deteriorating tombs, funds permitting.
Canella said the tour also is a way to highlight the history and culture of the Donaldsonville area and increase tourism footprint. She's hoping visitors will stop by local restaurants and shop at local businesses before and after the tour.
The foundation turned to New Orleans' Emily Ford and Nick Black for their expertise in cemetery preservation.
Ford works for the City of New Orleans as the superintendent of cemeteries and is owner of Oak and Laurel Cemetery Preservation LLC. Ford said she has admired the Landry tomb for several year and considers it a masterpiece for its time. "Even in New Orleans cemeteries, we don't have much that survives from before the 1850s,” Ford said.
Black studied art and art history at Nicholls State University and attended North Kent College in London to receive his diploma in marine surveying and restoration. He grew up appreciating the unique traditions and architecture of the Crescent City and learned, early in life, the distinctive designs of the city’s cemeteries.
With a background in art and art history Black's talents lie in the period-correct renewal of family tombs, whether it be a simple cleaning or more detailed inscription work and repair, he works to help reestablish the former glory of these reverent places, Canella said. Black is the owner of NOLA Cemetery Renewal.
Canella said New Orleans and Louisiana have a rich tradition in celebrating the lives of the deceased, a tradition that dates back centuries. "As years go by, we remember our loved ones by visiting their final resting place," Canella said. "Whether this is on All Saints Day, Easter or just passing through, it is the respect we show that honors those who are in a better place.
"For many, the time eventually comes where we are unable to reach these resting sites until it is our own time to enter there," she said. "When this occurs, the next generation is looked upon to attend these places and honor them as we once did."
Time and Louisiana's extreme climate have taken a toll on many of the above-ground tombs.
"Unfortunately, there are many graves in our city where families are no longer present," she said.
Canella said people can help preserve these gravesites by supporting the foundation's cemetery tour.
Tickets for the tour are $20 and can be purchased at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church, at the event, or by emailing Canella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor's Note: This story was changed on Oct. 6 to correct the date of the event.)