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:
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