Talbert-Pierson Cemetery, Vernon Parish, Louisiana

A couple of weeks ago I was idly Googling “grave houses”, I don’t even remember why. I was under the impression that the only cemetery that had them in Louisiana was Istre Cemetery in Acadia Parish. It’s only about an hour from Abbeville and I’ve taken photos there a couple of times. But to my surprise, another cemetery was mentioned in the results: Talbert-Pierson in Vernon Parish, near Pitkin. So of course I resolved to go there as soon as possible. Last weekend was unusually cool and, except for some early morning showers, clear, so off I went. It’s about 2 hours from Abbeville, but I was in Lafayette Saturday morning for the Friends of the Library sale, and it was only about 90 minutes from there.

What I find the most interesting about grave houses is that no one really knows what their original purpose was. It could have been spiritual, or just practical, as a way of protecting graves from animals and weather, or some combination of the two. Every once in a while someone will construct a new one, but always in a cemetery where there are older ones, and says it’s “tradition”. But nothing starts as a tradition. People like to claim they’re a “Cajun tradition” in the areas that have them, but that’s flatly untrue—if it was, there’d be hundreds or thousands of them all over south Louisiana. (Added to which, Vernon Parish is Central Louisiana and doesn’t have a particularly strong Cajun influence.) They’re much more common in the upland or mountain south, so it’s more likely the first ones were constructed by someone who’d moved south from, say, North Carolina or Kentucky. And other people liked them, so more got built, and then it became a tradition in that cemetery.

Talbert-Pierson has more grave houses than Istre, about a dozen as compared to 3 or 4. They’re also in much better shape; although with one exception over a grave from 2003, they’re over the graves of people who died in the late 18th/early 19th century, so I assume some caretaking is going on. They’re different in design as well: where the ones in Istre are exactly like miniature houses (complete with windows and locking doors) that completely enclose the grave, the one in Talbert-Pierson are more open. They’re like picket fences holding up a roof, and most of the burial mounds are covered in shells. (Vernon Parish is well inland, but the Calcasieu River is nearby.)

As always, these are some digital shots and film will follow:

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery

Talbert-Pierson Cemetery

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The HooDoo Honey
    Mar 22, 2016 @ 12:50:22

    Maybe they original builders wanted to build a mausoleum but couldn’t afford a stone/marble one

  2. Sarah
    Mar 22, 2016 @ 16:42:46

    Possibly, although they originated in a part of the south where mausoleums aren’t really the norm.

  3. Jami Craft
    Mar 23, 2016 @ 09:28:54

    Prewitts chapel in Vernon parish also has these in there grave yard which is located in the plainview community

  4. Sarah
    Mar 23, 2016 @ 09:45:26

    Thank you for the comment. Possibly there are more of these in Louisiana than anyone thought!

  5. Clinton Calhoun
    Mar 23, 2016 @ 10:36:46

    This was the last project I worked with my grandfather, Joseph Dionne on. He took it upon himself to restore all of the houses. We spent countless hours in the heat and cold out there. May God rest his soul.

  6. Sarah
    Mar 23, 2016 @ 10:56:49

    Thank you for the comment and for your work. I could tell they’d all been recently restored.

  7. Paul Ringo
    Mar 24, 2016 @ 18:40:44

    Thank you so much for this article. I live in SW Louisiana and have never seen one of these. The first thing that crossed my mind was barracks for soldiers just from a glance. Very interesting. I’ll have to check around and start paying attention.

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