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“Sunny, honey, money, funny!”

March 23, 2010
Given Tomb

This Metairie Cemetery tomb says it best.

My first trip to New Orleans was a little over 2 years ago. My friend Phoebe suggested using her favorite taxi driver to bring me to the French Quarter, a 70-something year old Egyptian man named Hassan. I called him on my way out of Kansas City, and he was there smiling at me when I arrived, always greeting me the same way each time we talked, “Sunny, honey, funny, money!” Hassan told me his story of living in a FEMA trailer for months and months on his own property, working around the clock giving tours and driving his taxi van, saving all his money to help his son finish college. The Times-Picayune had written a story on him, which he handed to me on our drive. Hassan explained how the city had changed after the storm and fed my wide-eyed tourist excitement. Life was different post-Katrina, which is the obvious demarcation for time here: pre- and post-Katrina. Hassan was the perfect ambassador, my first introduction to the city, and I know I first saw this city through his eyes.

Metairie Tom

Stained glass and sculptures are common at Metairie Cemetery.

As we drove by the City Park exit, I could see the Metairie Cemetery, which floored me. All of the graves are above ground. Hassan explained that New Orleans is below sea-level. The city is soggy, there are no basements, and bodies buried in the ground would eventually float out. Hassan’s thick accent and the visual of tombs from the 1800s as I descended into the city for the first time is such a powerful memory. I still think now, after moving here, that the spirit of the city can be partially attributed to bodies that spend their first year after death above ground, rejoining their families after the first year to make room for the next family member to decay in the same small room. Fascinating.

So when my friend Jennifer suggested we spend Friday afternoon visiting cemeteries, I was all in. Our first stop was Metairie Cemetery, right off Hwy 10, which is beautiful and very well-kept, vaults with stained glass windows and sidewalks.

NO Cemetery

Overgrown with weeds at the N.O. Cemetery.

And then we went to the New Orleans Cemetery on Hillary, in the middle of Uptown, which is overgrown and crumbling. If you check out the Google maps of both places, you can see the New Orleans Cemetery plots all have green on the top of them, overgrown with weeds and grass. Many of the vaults were open, marble and concrete crumbled on the ground, the open vault doubling as trash receptacles. Such a stark contrast between the 2 cemeteries.

Broken tomb

Open, empty vault at N.O. Cemetery.

If you want to know more, this is a good brief article on burials in New Orleans: Cities of the Dead.

Last but not least, I saw this tombstone at the Metairie Cemetery. I put a lot of stock into names and love when people truly embody their birth names: writers named Riddle, surfers named Finn. This is possibly my favorite name of all time: Pfingstay, especially engraved on stone, weighing down the ground, with an urn dedicated to Mother. That thing isn’t going anywhere.


Mother Effing Stay

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jay permalink
    March 23, 2010 2:13 pm

    Check out Holt cemetery behind Delgado for the wildest of them all- wooden markers, strange offerings, hand lettered stones. It’s actually the indigent burial place for the city, but when I first moved here we just called it the voodoo cemetery.

  2. Michael Craig permalink
    October 31, 2010 6:16 pm

    My mother’s maiden name is Betty Pfingstay. She was born in Selah Washington. Her father was Henry. He was born in Mansfield Ohio in 1886 to George Pfingstay. George had two sisters, Katherine and Mary and two brothers William and Henry. Apparently, almost all the Pfingstays that I could resource were from the Mansfield area and are of German descent.

    My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that during immigration an unknown german took the name because it around the time of pentecost. The german word for pentecost is Pfingstag.

    When I lived in Germany I could never find anyone with the surname Pfingstay.

    It would be interesting to find out more about who is buried there…all the material I have shows everyone has roots back to Mansfield, Ohio.

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