Hugh Joseph McDonald (1848 – 1895) was a stonecutter and tomb builder who spent most of his life within blocks of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. He was a Civil War veteran, a state representative, local politician, and skilled craftsman. He apprenticed with stonecutters and tomb builders who carried on a long tradition of stewardship to New Orleans cemeteries and, in turn, he mentored those who took his place. He was active during a time of great technological, stylistic, and material changes to the crafts of masonry and monument carving. As an artisan and as a member of his community, he earned his name, written in stone, among the tombs of New Orleans.
Hugh McDonald spent his early life in Pass Christian, Mississippi. At the start of the Civil War, he was only thirteen years old, yet both newspaper and military documentation show that he joined the Confederate Fourth Louisiana Regiment in 1861. Stated his obituary:
…the boy, fascinated with the prospect of military glory, ran away with the regiment when it started for the front. He was too small to carry the regulation musket, and so a gun was fabricated for him in Paris and brought over by blockade runners. On being released from the hospital [after being wounded at the Battle of Shiloh], he entered General [James] Longstreet’s corps and served in Virginia, being present at the battle of Chancellorsville, and on the scene when General Stonewall Jackson was killed. He was captured and was in prison at Camp Douglas for three months.
After Treaty of Appomattox, McDonald returned to Pass Christian briefly, and soon afterward moved to New Orleans where he lived on Melpomene Street, near what is now South Robertson. He became active in the local Democratic Party, a function which would lead to larger political roles and eventually a state congressional seat in the 1870s. He also entered the stonecutting trade at this time, beginning as an apprentice to J. Frederick Birchmeier, a sexton and stonecutter whose work is prominent within the walls of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. In 1872, he married Louisiana native Mary Jane Condon.
In 1875, McDonald became foreman of J. Frederick Birchmeier’s marble shop. In this capacity, he mentored a young stonecutter named Gottlieb Huber, son of Mathias Huber. Three years later, he would depart from Birchmeier’s employ and begin his own business, located between South Rampart and South Basin Streets on Washington (today these streets are known as Danneel and Saratoga, respectively). He also moved his residence to this area, near Lafayette Cemetery No. 2 and St. Joseph’s Cemetery. This year, 1878, was a tragic year for both McDonald and the city of New Orleans as a whole. The yellow fever epidemic of 1878 claimed two of McDonalds’ sons, Robbie Gibson (two years old) and James Lee (seven years old). McDonald’s other two sons, Hugh Jr. and Edward Leo, survived into adulthood.
The epidemic of 1878, however, would prove to be a catalyst for the methods and materials used by McDonald and his contemporaries for building tombs and carving closure tablets. The greater need for burial space and the close professional relationships between craftsmen like McDonald, Birchmeier, Huber, Hagan, Joseph F. Callico and others, led these men to construct nearly identical tombs, developing models from which each man borrowed. As all of the above listed craftsmen would become sextons of Lafayette Cemeteries No. 1 and 2, their position would also allow them to purchase adjoining lots and develop them with numerous identical tombs, a phenomenon that is visible in the cemeteries even today.
In 1884, Hugh J. McDonald, at the age of thirty-six, became sexton of Lafayette Cemeteries No. 1 and 2, a position he would hold for eleven years. In 1890, he and his family moved to Conery Street, across Prytania from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, although he maintained his stonecutting business near Lafayette Cemetery No. 2. Much of his surviving signed work is typical of period style, although some distinguishing elements appear to be influenced by his personal taste. More than any other craftsman, McDonald’s work is characterized by barrel-vaulted roofs, tablet surrounds fashioned of Georgia Creole marble, and the use of ivy symbolism.
On October 21, 1895, Hugh J. McDonald died of consumption his home on Conery Street – he was forty-seven years old. The tragedy of his early death was not lost on his friends and family in New Orleans, however. His funeral was “an immense concourse honoring the dead, Rev. Father Clarke of St. Alphonsus church, officiated.”
Days after Hugh J. McDonald was buried, his wife Mary Jane Condon published an advertisement in the Daily Picayune stating that the family business would not be interrupted; Gottlieb Huber would manage McDonald’s marble yard until Hugh McDonald, Jr., was old enough to do so on his own. Thus the long mentor-apprentice tradition among the stonecutters and tomb builders of the Fourth District continued into the twentieth century.
The life of Hugh J. McDonald was both typical and atypical among craftsmen of his time and place. A success story among Irish immigrants in New Orleans, his influence in politics, civics, and craft endures. Yet his story is only as important as the context in which it unfolded, and the larger community of which he was a part. Evidence of this community, with Hugh McDonald as a member, lives on in the structures and stonework of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
 “Hugh J. McDonald: A Popular Politician and Veteran Soldier Passes Away,” Daily Picayune, October 22, 1895, 3; State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Division of Archives, Records Management, and History, Orleans Parish Death Indices 1877-1895, Vol. 109, 777. County Antrim is located on the northern coast of what is today Northern Ireland.
 State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Division of Archives, Records Management, and History, Vital Records Indices, 1877-1895, Vol. 92, 540.
 As of 2013, more than eighty individual lots bear the signature of J. Frederick Birchmeier.
 United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, New Orleans Ward 17 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration), Roll T624-525, page 17B.
 Grahams Crescent City Directory for 1867 (New Orleans: A. Graham, 1866), 99, 224; Soards’ New Orleans City Directory for 1875 (New Orleans: Soards Publishers, 1875), 457; Soards’ New Orleans Directory for 1876 (New Orleans: Soards Publishing Company, 1876), 453; Soards’ New Orleans Directory for 1877 (New Orleans: L. Soards & Co., 1877), 460; Edwards’ Annual Directory…in the City of New Orleans, for 1872 (New Orleans: Southern Publishing Company, 1872), 62, 289.
 “Legislative Aspirants,” Daily Picayune, October 31, 1881, page 2; Louisiana State House of Representatives, Official Journal of the Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana at the Regular Session, Begun and Held at New Orleans, January 12, 1880 (New Orleans: The New Orleans Democrat Office, 1880), 182-183.
 Williams Research Center, Historic New Orleans Collection, “Miscellaneous Correspondence and Records Pertinent to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Microfilm Reels 87-37-L. Page 124 in untitled sexton’s ledger book. The latest sale of a wall vault by a sexton in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 dated to 1880. The subsequent record documenting the removal of remains from the Sixth Street wall vaults appears to be Vault No. 3, Peter Hanson, died April 25, 1876.
 Soards’ New Orleans Directory for 1886 (New Orleans: L. Soards & Co. Printers, 1886), 488; Soards’ New Orleans Directory for 1887 (New Orleans: L. Soards & Co. Publishers, 1887), 516; Soards’ New Orleans Directory for 1893 (New Orleans: L. Soards Publisher, 1893), 506; Soards’ New Orleans Directory for 1894 (New Orleans: L. Soards Publishing, 1894), 508; Soards’ New Orleans Directory for 1895, Vol. XXII (New Orleans: L. Soards, Publisher 1895), 534.
 “Hugh J. McDonald: A Popular Politician and Veteran Soldier Passes Away,” Daily Picayune, October, 22, 1895, page 3.
 Daily Picayune, October 27, 1895, page 6.