An excerpt from my book, “Louisiana’s Sacred Places: Churches, Cemeteries and Voodoo” Postage-free signed copies available by clicking on the title.
Grace Church Cemetery
Shadows of the past come alive inside the holy grounds of the Grace Church cemetery. In a ghoulish art exhibit, shadowed headstones shrouded by weeping strands of moss share poetic epitaphs of beloved children, prominent aristocrats and fallen war heroes. The early settlers of West Feliciana whisper centuries-old tales of hardships and profits.
Stretching across the headstones the sprawling oaks appear to be caressing the dearly departed. It is a land of moving contrasts, the living and the dead. Freshly sprouted leaves glisten inside a web of wrinkled bark filled with weeping moss. And resurrection vines crawl along the branches nurtured by the humid air. A poetic epitaph says it all: “He is not dead, but sleepeth.”
One of the church’s charter members, Ira Smith, rests beneath the guard of a storied oak, its branches heavy with Spanish moss. Under its protector, it appears Smith was quite the loner, one that moves against the grain and his home unlike the rest. The stone tomb, built in an Egyptian Revival design, holds a rusted chain-link door. Built to house multiple burials, the church brochure notes it was rendered useless when a descendant threw the key into the Mississippi River.
Just past the Smith tomb is a far greater story, a mysterious tomb, its design long-lost to crumbling neglect. It appears to have stone columns, approximately 36 inches tall, then a brick roof. Vines cover the stained pedestal, while the ghostly façade begs a closer look. Split in two, a thick crack moves across the empty headstone cove, it looks as if a supernatural hero has blast the tomb apart, rescuing the imprisoned spirit.
Almost hiding from the more elite gravesites, it seems to summon those who are highly sensitive to the spectral world. So many questions: who are they, how did they die, what is their story? Peering inside the crack, a piercing scream echoes across the quiet jungle of oaks. Walking around the back is an open door and stairs leading to a dark abyss.
A grieving husband buried his wife in the tomb and in its design he asked for a deep ten-foot cove adjacent to the tomb. Concrete steps lead to this cavernous abode, and it is said the widower would step down the stairs and sit in a rocking chair to visit with his wife. He would rock in the chair and talk with her, keep her company as she lay alone in the afterlife.
In examining the room the church was most surprised to find no bugs, snakes or creepy crawlers of any kind. All it needed was a good sweeping as leaves had blown into the gravesite. It has stayed pure and the door remains open today. However, the family has moved the body to a family tomb. Could it be his wife’s spirit is waiting on her lover, to hear her husband’s sweet voice?
All material in this blog is copyrighted by Deborah Burst