Local photographer and writer Gary Waggoner has just published a hardbound “photo journal” titled Historical Cemeteries Of Imperial Calcasieu.
Unless you have a really big thing for cemeteries, you’ll be most likely to value this book as a large collection of photographs. The shots will be especially appealing if you’re a fan of nature photography or of nature scenes that feature darkness, dark skies, stark shadows and fog or mist. There are many dozens of photographs in the book — some black and white; some color; some as large as 8 1/2 by 8 1/2.
Waggoner has been collecting digital photos of cemeteries in Louisiana and other states for 20 years. As digital photography became more sophisticated, he chose to narrow his focus to cemeteries in Imperial Calcasieu, which includes the parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jeff Davis.
To prepare this book, he visited 184 cemeteries, 154 of which are represented in the volume. Some of the graveyards are quite old.
Waggoner writes that he was looking for “interesting and beautiful details that can often go unnoticed … Art and beauty can be found even in disarray and damage of aging elements … Situations such as deterioration and weathering create interesting sights. Cracking, breakage and crumbling, in addition to staining, lichen, etc., were creating unique and engaging displays” in the cemeteries.
In his informative afterword, Waggoner states that on the tombstones, personalized epitaphs are rare; they are far outnumbered by such general statements as “RIP” or “Gone But Not Forgotten.”
The tombstones shown often have art that indicates the hobby or occupation of the deceased. Stones often have Masonic symbols as well as such Christian symbols as the gates of heaven or the Sacred Heart.
Stones and graves may be decorated with items that show the interests of the deceased. One old figurine appears to be a frog in a baseball cap and uniform. In fact, statuettes of frogs seem to have been fairly common features of children’s graves in the past. Other figurines depicted baby turtles, a puppy, a farm boy and many, many angels.
Various graves are accompanied by a stuffed animal, full bottles of beer and Coca-Cola, a can of Dr. Pepper, cigarettes and a giant troll doll, which had actually been attached to a statuette of a child with some sort of belt. The figurine appeared to be wearing a faded red necktie.
Waggoner says placement of the tombstone so that it faces east indicates the deceased will “rise up toward the sunrise on judgement day.”
Early stones tended to be made of white marble or limestone. Around 1950, one begins to see the granite stones, which are far more resistant to the damaging effects of the environment.
Homemade tombstones include those made with molds and concrete and with welded steel. One photo shows a deteriorated wooden cross to which a smaller plastic cross had been attached by barbed wire. One cross is made of horseshoes welded together.
In some places, mourners compensated for lack of cemetery space by placing one (or more) above-ground crypts on top of another.
Waggoner says the majority of cemeteries he saw were “generally well-maintained.” Graves that rely solely on maintenance by descendants tend not to fare well in the long-term. Waggoner drives this home by quoting the ancient Roman thinker Cicero: “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
In conclusion, he asserts that “most gravesites [in the area] represent simple, practical sensibilities without need of extravagant displays of status or money.”
Materials in the back of the book include brief histories of Imperial Calcasieu and the Atakapa Indian Nation. A list of the cemeteries in Imperial Calcasieu runs for three pages. If I counted correctly, there are 16 cemeteries in Lake Charles.
The 171-page volume retails for $36. If you’d like more information, contact Waggoner at 287-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cormier To Speak On Lost Lake Charles
The Beauregard Museum and the City of DeRidder will host “Coffee with the Curator,” a fall SWLA history series, at 2 pm on the second Thursday of each month from October through December at the Beauregard Museum, 120 South Washington Street in downtown DeRidder.
On Thursday, Oct. 10, 2 pm, Adley Cormier, author of the fine short history Lost Lake Charles, will give a presentation. As you might expect, he’ll be showing historical photography of Lake Charles. A topic receiving particular attention in his presentation will be Gerstner Field, a World War I airfield south of Lake Charles. The series is free; donations will be accepted.
Here’s the rest of the schedule:
On Thursday, Nov. 14, 2 pm, Everett Lueck, a geologist and railroad historian from Spring, Texas, will share some Louisiana railroad history. Lueck, the director of railroad operations at the Southern Forest Heritage Museum in Long Leaf, La., will also talk about the history of the museum and its most recent projects.
On Thursday, Dec. 12, 2 pm, Rickey Robertson will speak on the Louisiana Maneuvers and military bases in Louisiana during World War II. After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, the U.S. felt a need for large-scale maneuvers that would teach troops contemporary strategy and get them used to a semi-tropical climate. The exercises took place on a 3,400-square-mile portion of land that stretched from the Sabine to the Calcasieu River and as far north as Shreveport. A total of 400,000 U.S. troops participated.
Robertson is a historical researcher and writer at Stephen F. Austin State University. He is a Peason Ridge Heritage Family member and possesses an extensive private collection of Louisiana military memorabilia.
Lake Charles will be represented again at the “Christmas with the Curator” event at 10 am Thursday, Dec. 19 at the War Memorial Civic Center, 250 West 7th Street in DeRidder. (Note that all the other events in the series take place at the Beauregard Museum.) For more information, call the Beauregard Museum at 463-8148 or e-mail email@example.com.
Local Artists’ Profiles
The Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Arts Council of Southwest Louisiana are working together on a project to create profiles of local artists. The profiles, which will be posted on visitlakecharles.org, will contain biographical information; the artist’s aesthetic viewpoints and goals; and reproductions of works for each artist. You can get more information at visitlakecharles.org/artist.
Also from the Convention and Visitors Bureau comes news of Lake Charles’ very first Cast Iron Cook-off, which is set for November 1 and 2 at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Experts in cast iron cooking and in the cooking implements will contribute to an exposition, cooking demonstrations, food booths and a cook-off competition.
The expositions will include new and innovative cast iron products as well as work from artisan cast iron makers.
Guests at the event will be able to sample any dish prepared by those in the competition. Geno Delafose and a number of other local musicians will perform. Proceeds will benefit United Way. Need to know more? Visit visitlakecharles.org/castiron.
Hunting For A New Home
Sadly, I have to find a new home for my Labrador Retriever puppy. He needs to have a much bigger yard than mine to run in. And it would benefit him to be walked more than I can walk him.
His name is Beckett, but it would be easy to give him a new name at this point. He would make a great hunting dog. He runs like the wind and can retrieve anything. At six months, he is at the ideal age for training. He is a very good-looking and fit dog.
There is no cost for Beckett. Just promise you’ll give him a good home. The person who takes him will also get a large crate with two doors and any food or dog supplies that are still around. I will pay for any shots.
If you’d like to know more, please call my wife at 419-8121 or me at 433-8502.