When I think of cast iron I tend to think of two things; cornbread and cemeteries. Cornbread cooked in a cast iron skillet is far better than any other, and cemeteries usually have iron gates…and apparently in New Orleans, they also have iron mausoleums.
I’d never seen one before, so I literally shot out of the car when we spied the first one in Cypress Grove Cemetery. I could not believe it- it was rusted to a bright orange-ish brown but still sturdy and straight, looking impenetrable. I was smitten. I sent a photo to Gus and he wrote back that he was packing his things and would be ready to move in in a couple of hours. I felt the same way, morbid as it may seem. I did knock gently on one just to hear the ring of the iron, and thankfully, no one answered.
My main experience with cast iron in a cemetery has been the occasional grave marker and of course, ornate iron fence work. A lot of it around here seemed to come from Cincinnati according to the small name plates that I occasionally find on gates and fences, and it looks like you can still get ironwork from that area. Additionally, I’ve always been fascinated with the cast iron caskets, especially the Fisk model patented in 1848. Plus, the thing had a viewing window, which is always a draw for me.
The cast iron mausoleums that we saw appeared to be kits, since we kept seeing the same type over and over. One model was in the same cemetery in both the original rusted iron, painted white, and painted silver, which had the exact same sheen as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. The silver one had a makers mark on the bottom of the door that said ‘Robert Wood & Co Makers Phila’. His foundry was at 1136 Ridge Avenue in Philly. Online you can view his original catalogs, and they’re fascinating! I scrolled through a book published in 1867 and saw porch railings, spiral staircases, lampposts, and a few cemetery ornaments such as angels and lions. All ornate. All magical. I could never choose if I were building a house in the late 1800’s.
Robert Wood was a blacksmith who operated under his own name until taking a partner in 1857 and becoming Wood and Perot. Robert Wood and Co. became the name after Perot’s death in 1865.
The family name was sometimes custom made for the front of the mausoleum and on others it simply said ‘Family Tomb’. The motif on many was the upside down torch, though there were also angels, and one even had an ocean theme with mysterious fish on the sides and waterspouts that looked like seashells. The iron was placed over a brick and mortar base that you can see in one of the photos. Everything, down to the doorknobs and locks was perfectly and ornately detailed. It really is an incredible process and I’m sure these things will last for many more years.
It’s hard to say how many of these came from the same maker since I didn’t see the mark on all of them, but New Orleans has 16 of them in various cemeteries in the city. The ones we saw were in Cypress Grove, St. Patrick’s, and Odd Fellow’s Rest. (You have to look though the fence at St. Patrick’s to see those since Odd Fellow’s Rest is closed for repair.) There is also one in Lafayette Cemetery that I somehow missed, but it’s been in the news because it inspired the resting place for Lestat, Anne Rice’s vampire in Interview With a Vampire (the novel- please skip the movie). The tomb requires restoration and the quote is between 50-70,000 dollars, so they clearly cannot last forever. The tomb is for the Karstendiek family. According to the article, that one was imported from Germany.
Whatever their background it was such a novelty to see so many examples in New Orleans, and I know the next time I visit the city I’ll be trying to see the rest of them. Happy February to everyone! Today is Imbolc so I’m off to burn some sage and light a candle.