Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Post-mortem but not post-racial

Richard Campanella has a feature column today about the legend of the Girod Street Cemetery.  When I was a kid, people used to joke that because the Superdome was built on top of this abandoned graveyard the football team who played there was cursed to forever play football poorly because the spirit world cares greatly about such things.*

Later I learned that the field didn't actually lie on top of the old graveyard but it wasn't until seeing this article that I realized neither did any part of the building, actually.  According to Campanella's graphic, the nearest the cemetery's boundary comes to the Dome is a portion of present day Champions Square and the Dome parking garage.

Anyway, the important thing for any of the still superstitious among us to note is that the process of decommissioning the graveyard did involve moving the bodies as well as the headstones which is, you know, probably good.**

But Campanella also points out that the removal process conformed to certain mores of the day.
On a dreary morning in early January 1957, a small group of religious leaders gathered inside the Girod Street Cemetery to witness the Right Rev. Girault M. Jones, bishop of the Archdiocese of Louisiana, revoke and annul the Sentence of Consecration that, according to Episcopalian canon, had made this ground sacred.

Workers then began extracting thousands of cast-iron and cypress caskets and readied them for their final journey. Racial segregation persisted even in death: black corpses went to Providence Memorial Park on Airline Drive, and the white dead, including the skeletons unearthed in the so-called yellow fever mound, went to Hope Mausoleum on Canal Street.

For some of the bodies, this was their second cross-town move, the first having occurred between St. Louis No. 1 and Girod 135 years earlier.
So, not only does gentrification hound us even beyond death so too does redlining. Or at least, in 1957 it did.

* Many of the superstitious among us could not help but notice also that the Saints, who moved into the Superdome in 1975, did not achieve their first winning season until 1987, only a few months after Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans and celebrated a Mass in the Dome.  Undoubtedly this must have exorcised whatever restless malevolent spirits still lingered.

** They missed some. Read the article. 

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