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Cypress Grove Cemetery became the first cemetery built to honor New Orleans volunteer firemen and their families. It is sometimes called the Fireman's Cemetery. It was made possible in 1838 by New Orleans philanthropist Stephen Henderson whose estate left property to the Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association. The charitable association sold this property to fund the purchase of the cemetery site at the end of Canal Street and the former banks of Bayou Metairie.
Even though the name depicts a grove of Louisiana’s state tree, the bald cypress, there are very few on the premises. However, there are many other native trees, like the live oak and magnolia. The cemetery has many interesting tombs and monuments including a broken column for Irad Ferry. Ferry was a volunteer fire fighter of the Mississippi Fire Company #2 who had died in one of New Orleans infamous blazes. There are also tombs for the Soon On Tong Association, and two tombs that resemble churches more then tombs. The Charles L. Leeds tomb is constructed entirely of cast iron and now has long since rusted. Leeds owned one of the largest iron processing companies in the region. On the other hand the Soon On Tong Association was built in the early 1900s for the Chinese immigrants that lived in New Orleans. Within the tomb is a small fireplace where relatives would burn prayer notes for the deceased. This cemetery is a very picturesque setting and is located at the very end of the Canal Streetcar Line.
Architect Frederick Wilkinson patterned the grand entrance pylons and lodges after Egyptian ceremonial architecture. Crowning this imposing entrance was the motto: “Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”
Shortly after opening the cemetery, the remains of volunteer firemen entombed elsewhere were moved to Cypress Grove. Volunteer fire companies built elaborate multi-vault tombs to enshrine their fallen members. The vaults of Perseverance Fire Co. No. 13 are erected at the entrance of Cypress Grove. This tomb was designed by architect John Barrett in 1840. The twin tombs of the Philadelphia Fire Engine Co. No. 14 and that of the Eagle Co. No. 7 were erected in the 1840’s.
In time, other societies joined the volunteer firemen in building impressive monuments for their members at Cypress Grove. Leading architects and craftsmen were called upon to design and build tombs commemorating the lives of New Orleans’s most prominent citizens. Crafted in marble, granite, and cast iron, tombs at Cypress Grove are among the nation’s leading examples of memorial architecture.
January 25th, 2013
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