An excerpt from the book, Spirits of the Bayou: Sanctuaries, Cemeteries and Hauntings
North of New Orleans, Mandeville shares much of the European history of its neighbor just thirty-five miles south of Lake Pontchartrain. The historic town still carries its charming legacy. Known for its ozone water and sweet smell of pines, it’s a place where people go to escape the hustle of city life. In the nineteenth century Mandeville became a gateway for both physical and mental healing.
Along the lakefront, oaks shade a long trail of green space while the gazebo is filled with musicians strumming their guitars. People walk their dogs along the cement seawall and in the warmer months, sunbathers steal away a day of daydreaming.
Steamship service once ran between New Orleans and Mandeville and the lakefront became a busy weekend getaway. Homes were built as summer retreats and at one time a hotel graced the area for the comfort of visitors. The ferry service from the big city ended in 1936 as rail became a popular form of service.
Once the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway opened in 1956, an influx of people from New Orleans moved to what is commonly called the Northshore to raise their families. Although the parish has seen a major increase in population, the town of Mandeville has retained its historic charm.
Several groups have emerged to preserve the community’s historic buildings and landmarks along with helping to educate residents and visitors on the history of Mandeville. The Mandeville Cemetery is a benefactor of such a bold endeavor.
The Mandeville Cemetery borders a bayou, the Little Bayou Castine, and the popular Tammany Trace, a tree-lined bike and jogging trail. According to the tombstones, the graves date to the pre-civil war era as far back as 1835. New and old graves now rest side-by-side in a delightful mix of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.
Limited funding to help repair and restore some of the oldest graves has been allocated in the Mandeville city budget.The cemetery has a total of 561 graves that include both above and below ground graves with a total of 2,267 people buried. Some graves are literally crumbling to the ground.
Members of the cemetery group try to locate descendants of the family to engage their help in maintaining the gravesites. Joseph Yarbrough, a cemetery archaeologist, has prepared a map of the cemetery in hopes of bringing together an organized effort to reach families and highlight the graves that are in dire need of repair.
Perhaps one of the most prominent tombs in the cemetery is the Theophile Prudhomme tomb. Resembling a miniature church, the tomb’s white wash has faded away revealing its stunning build of masonry. Marble steps lead to what would be the door of an ordinary church, but here it leads to a recessed opening covered with a board which seems to be hiding a list of the dearly departed. Above the door is the name, Theophile Prudhomme, etched in the stone.
There is a total of seven historic tombs that can house more than one person, including that of the Civil War Captain Joseph Taylor. And of course there is a generous collection of historic headstones as well as wrought iron fences.
Taylor’s grave sits just off the interior road and gains quite a bit of interest in that his headstone is still visible but his brick tomb is fading fast. The bricks are unsettled with gaping holes in the top portion. According to the stone, Taylor was born in New York, and died at the age of forty-five on Oct. 16, 1877. But there ends his story.
The Mandeville Cemetery, like all cemeteries, is a fortress of history, and perhaps more importantly, a repository of the lives of those who live there. They have so much to offer, so much to share, a buried treasure lost forever.