MANDEVILLE, La. (WVUE) - Cemeteries, like history books, tell the stories of our communities and our lives.
At the historic Mandeville Cemetery there are graves that date back two centuries.
They are the graves of some of St. Tammany Parish's oldest families.
“These are the people who helped found Mandeville, who made Mandeville what it is today,” says Nick Black, who spends most of his days in cemeteries.
There’s intricate wrought-iron work, marble decor, but there’s also decay and for years, there was a pressing need for repairs. The city of Mandeville finally stepped up.
"It's kind of unprecedented that Mandeville took it upon themselves to restore the tombs," says Black.
The city hired Black with NOLA Cemetery Renewal to repair some of the most dilapidated tombs. He says they were some of the worst he's ever seen, fit for demolition.
Black says, “One had collapsed about 70 years ago or more and had completely filled in with two to three feet of dirt.”
His love of cemeteries and art history took over.
"I've always enjoyed cemeteries," says Black. "They're quiet, full of history and it's something that's worth doing. If we can't take care of our dead, how can we take care of our living?"
As he works, he yearns to know more.
“When you spend this amount of time working on a project and in some cases, have to take out all of the people in there before you restore the tomb, you’re getting to know them quite well. And I prefer to know who I’m dealing with,” Black says. “You form somewhat of a connection with the people inside the tombs and the tombs themselves.”
Through faded inscriptions and chipped stone, his makeover involves chiseling, rebuilding, sanding, painting, making graves that might have been forever forgotten, like new again.
For most jobs he gets paid, but he says money is never a deciding factor when considering the work.
"Probably a little more than a quarter of the work I do is just me working on something for someone because they don't have money or the family is no longer around," Black says. "If you see something that needs to be done, if you know how to do it, you can't walk away and not lay hands on it. I wish I could restore all tombs. With geneology nowadays, more people are getting interested in knowing where their family is and that's how it should be. One day at least the tombs will be here so they can go up to it and put hands on it."
He’s a FOX 8 Gr8 Neighbor with a sense of duty to honor those who’ve gone before us with a renewed place of eternal rest.
“If I can help a family, I absolutely will,” says Black. “I’m not going to walk away if they don’t have money. This isn’t the line of work to do that in.”
Cemeteries throughout Southeast Louisiana are in need of repair due to subsidence and flooding over the years.
Typically, surviving family members are responsible for the upkeep and repairs.