Depending on who you ask, a cemetery is preserved by the involvement of families who have ancestors buried there, by maintenance, by thoughtful landscape management, by using good repair materials. But an historic cemetery is also best preserved by understanding its history. Despite the common adage that cemeteries are “outdoor museums,” they are in no way that static. They are amalgamations – in a very small space, usually – of decades and centuries of intervention, construction, and memory. Understanding the biography of any given cemetery is the key to its preservation.
Some layers of a cemetery’s history can be more important than others. In the case of New Orleans cemeteries, the period between roughly 1880 and 1915 represented a crucial turning point in construction, management, and architecture. Today, we examine this period and why it matters.