History of city and cuisine alive at Metairie Cemetery

Photo provided by Denise Westerfield -- The Race Through History, the longest cemetery run in the country, is Sunday morning in Metairie Cemetery. Show caption
Photo provided by Denise Westerfield -- The Race Through History, the longest cemetery run in the country, is Sunday morning in Metairie Cemetery.

PAST AND REPAST

What do Ruth Fertel, Al Copeland, Count Arnaud Cazenave, Angelo Brocato, Diamond Jim Moran, and members of the Brennan and Guste families have in common?

Besides their connections to New Orleans’ culinary history, they are all buried in historic Metairie Cemetery.

And so are other food-related people, such as Denis Rufin of the original Ye Olde College Inn, the Porpora family of the Gumbo Shop, grocers John Schwegmann and the Zuppardo family, and Anthony LaFranca of Delmonico’s.

Their resting places will be highlighted during culinary history tours beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday. For a donation of $20 to Save Our Cemeteries, participants in groups of no more than 20 will enjoy a leisurely guided stroll through the cemetery, which boasts the largest number of elaborate marble tombs and funerary statues in the city.

Not only are many of our city’s popular foodies buried there, so are numerous Confederate generals, Louisiana governors, New Orleans mayors, kings of Carnival, musicians and inventors.

The tours, which will last about 90 minutes, will focus on the tombs of people connected to cuisine, but because they will pass many others, guides will talk about them too and answer any general questions.

“Our primary purpose is fundraising, of course,’’ said Lora Williams, tour director for Save Our Cemeteries, “but it’s also important to educate the community about these cemeteries — what treasures they are and how they are intertwined with the city’s history.’’

She said the nonprofit partners with owner Stewart Enterprises, ranked as one of the top 10 in the country for management and appearance, to preserve and protect Metairie Cemetery and 13 other cemeteries.

Over the years, SOC has worked with the Historic New Orleans Collection, Xavier University and others to secure historic designation for Odd Fellows Rest and St. Louis Cemeteries One and Two; raise funds for capital improvements to cemeteries; survey, collect and record historic tombstones; host lectures and workshops on various aspects of historic cemetery preservation; and introduce the public to the importance and delight of these special places through programs and events such as today’s.

Recently, SOC presented a program on Odd Fellows Rest and organized Cemeteryscape, a photo contest. Every day of the week, volunteers lead tours of one or more of the city’s historic cemeteries.

Because of its name, many people assume the cemetery is located in Metairie, but it is completely within New Orleans’ city limits.

Years ago, there was a streetcar line labeled “Cemeteries,’’ but now, because of merged routes, the name survives only in the “Canal/Cemeteries’’ line.

To make a prepaid reservation for the culinary tour, visit www.saveourcemeteries.org or call (504) 525-3377. Or guests may stop by Lake Lawn Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Expressway (I-10 Service Road), the day of the event to pay for the tour.

The Race Through History, which was postponed from April 5 because of bad weather, will be held the same day as the culinary tour. It’s the longest cemetery run in the country.

Registration and packet pickup will begin at 7:30 a.m. The 1-mile walk/run race will start at 8:30 a.m., and the 5K race will start at 9 a.m.

A bird’s eye view, map or these days a satellite image each clearly shows the oval shape of the layout, which comes as no surprise, for the cemetery was built on the site of the Metairie Jockey Club’s race course.

When the club blackballed wealthy Charles T. Howard for membership, he threatened he’d turn the space into a cemetery. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the track went bankrupt, and Howard was able to buy the property and carry out his plan.

The races will begin in front of the parking lot next to the funeral home and the Fireman’s and Police Memorial Monument.

To register for the races, visit www.NOLArunning.com or call (504) 468-1488. Fees begin at $20 for youths over age 15 and seniors over 65, and $25 for these groups the day of the races. The fee for all others is $35, whether pre-registered or day of the races.

Pre-registered participants will receive commemorative T-shirts, and finishers in various categories will be given awards. After the races, participants will enjoy free food and beverages from local providers.

Parking for all tours will be available on the cemetery’s grounds. There are three entrances, one next to the other, on the I-10 Service Road. Visitors can enter any one and arrive at the parking lot.