Lakelawn Metairie Cemetery- Graveyard to New Orleans' Rich and Powerful
Hours and Info
Location: 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70124
Hours: 8:00am - 5:00pm 7 days
Maintained by: Privately held and maintained
*all photos were taken by and are the property of the author*
Lakelawn Metaire Cemetery at Dawn
Delgado Sarcophagus style tomb
The Legend of Metairie Lakelawn's Founding
A Carpetbagger's Revenge?
The story goes that Metairie Racecourse, a private club of New Orleans' rich and powerful, would not admit a Yankee carpetbagger during the Civil War's Reconstruction period. After repeated attempts, said carpetbagger decided getting even was better than getting mad.
He angrily announced at a membership meeting, having been rejected again, that he was going to buy their precious track and turn it into a cemetery! Of course everyone laughed and laughed...
Over the next few years as money grew tighter, many of those in charge fell on hard times, and soon enough the race course was put up for sale, where it was purchased by that same Yankee, who did just what he promised.
Not only was it turned into a graveyard, but the most elegant one in the city, so much so that those same people who denied him membership are all buried inside its gates!
Metairie Lakelawn's Millionaire's Row
The Race Course Succumbs
The truth is a little more complicated, of course. During the Civil War portions of Metairie's grounds had been taken over by the Army and turned into "Camp Walker," an ill-fated training camp.
In placing it there, military folks were thinking: Conveniently close to the city and port of New Orleans. Excellent!
New Orleanians were thinking: Entertainment! Excellent!
As would happen again with Storyville before WWI, having young soldiers too close to New Orleans was into too much of temptation. Wives, girlfriends, families and the curious would picnic at the course, watching and cheering the men on, generally being a distraction.
Once they'd gone home the men would slip into town for a little unsanctioned "R-and-R."
It wasn't long before the Army moved its operation to the swamps of Tangipahoa.
With the men gone to war and steadily deteriorating living conditions, the Race Course was closed from 1861-1865. When it reopened it tried to go on as before, but without its former luster. Struggling to stay afloat they started hosting prizefighting matches- illegal within city limits- but to no avail.
While they fought to stay afloat there was fighting in the membership, and a splinter group evolved. This group went on to found the Louisiana Jockey Club, known today as the Fair Grounds Racetrack.
It was in fact one of those "rebels" who bought the track in 1872 for $120,000 who immediately turned it into a cemetery.
As the place to be buried, Lakelawn Metairie has many notable people within its bounds, including 11 Louisiana governors,9 New Orleans mayors, dozens of Confederate notables and blue blooded businessmen beyond count.
Many of the stories deserve a page of their own, and those will be linked below, but here are just a few of the amazing tombs and their stories.
The Egan's Ruined Castle
The Egan Family's "Ruined Castle"
Although it appears that something horrible's happened to the Egan monument, it was designed to look like the ruined chapel on their family estates in Ireland.
The caskets are underneath in a vault.
The inscription reads:
Lieutenant Colonel HENRY I. EGAN
Killed at Amelia Springs, Va
While in command of
Sharpshooters, Gordon's Division,
Covering Retreat of Lee's Army
April 6, 1865. Aged 24 years
Dr. Yelverton B. Egan
Killed at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam)
September 17,1863. Aged 24 years
Louisiana Division of the Army of Tennessee
Louisiana Division- Army of Tennessee
This 30 foot high tumulus (burial mound) is topped by a bronze statue of General Albert Sidney Story as described to the artist from the moments before he died storming the Northern troops in the first hours of the Battle of Shiloh.
Story himself was buried here only briefly before his body was moved to the Texas State Cemetery.
Outside stands a lifesize Confederate soldier reading a roll of the dead. The soldier's face is taken from a death mask of a sergeant in the Division, now buried inside the monument.
This tomb used to have pride of place, being at the front gate, but when the interstate was cut through, the entryway was moved, though now the General is visible from the highway.
The most famous occupant is General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, a native New Orleanian who ordered the first shots of the war on Fort Sumter and was active the entire duration of the war, dying at the ripe old age of 75.
An active force in the Civil War
The above tablet bears the famous inscription
Before man made us citizens, great nature made us men.
It also lists the battles the Louisiana Division fought in:
- Fort Sumpter
- Santa Rosa Island
- Fishing Creek
- Oak Hill
- Elk Horn
- Island No. 10
- Fort Jackson
- Fort St. Philip
- Sabine Pass
- Baton Rouge
- Camp Bisland
- Chickasaw Bayou
- Baker's Creek
- Richmond KY
- Mill Springs
- Pea Ridge
- Prairie Grove
- Thompson Station
- Fort Hindman
- Ezra Chapel
Joseph "Neversmile" Harrington
Joseph Harrington was a professional gambler who'd earned a name for himself for his habit of seeming to know what cards he held without ever actually looking at them.
When not gambling, he was said to be a kind and gentle man, but while "working," he was all business, hence his nickname.
After a particularly good day at "the office," he shot while returning home, smashing into a pole. He'd known something was wrong; witnesses said he'd reversed the car and sped 50 feet backward to get away from his presumed attacker.
He was already dead by the time the police arrived, and Neversmile hadn't been robbed- he had $1,000 pinned to his underclothes and $305 in his pants pocket- although that could've been only because the shooter hadn't counted on a witness at 2:30 in the morning on the quiet street.
Theories differed about who might've done it, whether it was someone who knew he'd left the racetrack and card table flush with cash, or a random attack, but no one was ever arrested in the crime.
His widow commissioned this very large tomb with a bronze statue of a woman mourning at the tomb, but the judge overseeing the estate disallowed it on the basis that it would cost too much, based on the assets Neversmile left behind.
Bertha Harrington persisted, though- surely not because she knew of some money her husband hadn't claimed? Nah...
Incidentally, Bertha died many years later after herself slamming into a telephone pole.
Where is it?
Note that even today the cemetery retains its racetrack shape.