Cemetery holds century's worth of Carnival kings and queens

Cemetary of Carnival Kings and Queens

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A wealth of New Orleans Carnival history lives on in a quiet city of the dead.

No floats or marching bands will ever make their way down the serene, tree-lined streets of the Metairie Cemetery. But, a parade there would hail a century and a half of Carnival royalty and Rex history. More than five kings and captains of the old-line krewe make their final resting place there.

Francis W. Baker was the very first captain of Rex in 1872. A year after his death in 1886, the krewe erected a monument in his honor featuring a crown in the center.

Five other captains of Rex are buried in Metairie Cemetery. Before it became a cemetery, the land was the site of the lively and prominent Metairie Race Course. The cemetery's layout follows the former track's oval.

"After the Civil War when New Orleans was damaged, they decided not to come back with recreational sport the same way, and the Metairie Race Course sold to the Metairie Cemetery Association," said Gerard Schoen, Director of Community Relations for Lakelawn Metairie Funeral Home and Cemeteries.

Some of the Carnival royalty buried there were instrumental in the property's transformation. Charles Howard was Rex in 1877. Legend has it when he was denied admittance to the Metairie Jockey Club, he vowed to buy the place and turn it into a cemetery.

Another king of Carnival entombed in the cemetery reflects his association in life with both the racetrack and the new cemetery. William S. Pike was the third king of Carnival in 1874. Two years earlier as a member of the Metairie Jockey Club's board, he signed the manifesto to sell the racetrack and became president of the board of the new Metairie Cemetery Association.

"They wanted to offer a different alternative. People then took to the idea of coming out to this beautiful park-like type of cemetery," Schoen said.

Joseph Shakspeare was the only New Orleans mayor to also reign as Rex. He, too, is buried in Metairie Cemetery.

"There's over a dozen New Orleans mayors, there's six Louisiana Supreme Court justices, Confederate generals. There's all kind of in and outlaw, as far as New Orleans families are concerned. So, we do have a lot of history," Schoen said.

Metairie Cemetery is a place where a parade of just one can soak in the history of the city and Carnival, at rest but not forgotten in quiet tombs.

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