BATON ROUGE CEMETERIES,
IMAGES OF AMERICA SERIES
By Faye Phillips
Arcadia Publishing, $21.99 softcover
LEGENDARY LOCALS OF EUNICE,
LEGENDARY LOCALS SERIES
By Alma Brunson Reed and Van Reed
Arcadia Publishing, $21.99 softcover
It’s just a coincidence that the publisher of these books is named Arcadia. The company is not located in Louisiana, Nova Scotia or even Greece. It’s in South Carolina. But wherever it is, it has a formula for its series: vintage photos complemented by text from distinguished historians and local experts are used to illustrate the history of a particular geographic are or facet of culture in an area.
In the Cemeteries book, Phillips, a former associate dean of LSU Libraries, compiles a collection of black and white photos from various photographers, all showing scenes from cemeteries, often just tombstones. Modern readers are accustomed to color photos, and color could have been used here too, but black and white is cheaper and maybe more appropriate in this instance. Black and white images force the photographer to pay close attention to composition, clarity and depth of field. The resulting photographs are often more artistic and expressive that big, splashy color prints.
But not always. Some of these photos are just cemetery snapshots. Others bend a knee to their subject and because of that, offer up a sombre and moody image in keeping with the inherent sadness of the subject, death.
For Phillips, who it was that died is important. Canvassing names on headstones, she uses the biographical information to show how Baton Rouge was settled, from the Native Americans buried in mounds around the city to the early French, German, Spanish, English and Irish settlers buried at Highland Cemetery and Magnolia Cemetery. The Jewish Cemetery and Sweet Olive Cemetery served other communities as did the St. Joseph Cemetery and the National Cemetery. Often these cemeteries didn’t discriminate on race but did on religious affiliation.
In the end, and a cemetery is just that, we are all the same. Phillips makes that point subtly and also that those who are left behind grieve their lost ones with the same intensity. No photo in the collection illustrates that better than the grave of 3-year-old Mary Louise Barcelona, who died in 1926 and was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery.
“She had asked for a dollhouse for Christmas, so the family built her tomb to resemble a dollhouse. Originally it had a painted red roof,” Phillips writes. Who could imagine a more eloquent expression of loss?
There are directions to the cemeteries in the back of the book, so visitors can find the graves if they want to see them in color.
The Reeds’ book would seem to tackle a small subject at first glance. How many legendary people could come from a small place like Eunice? Well, a better question might be who in Eunice isn’t legendary?
In this delightful little local history, the Reeds record brief biographies of prominent Eunice residents (Eunicians? Eunites?) all the way from founder C.C. Duson (who really should have been named McNaughton) who dubbed the city “Eunice” after his second wife, Mary Eunice Pharr Duson, to modern day Navy Admirals and Vietnam War heroes killed in action. They include priests, school teachers, Civil War jayhawkers, Confederate veterans, the first female school board member (Catherine Leona Bonvillain Jenkins), conservationists, rice millers, farmers, doctors and many, many more. Each portrayed in a black and white photo, and each a legend. The Reeds got that right.
The chatty and casual style of the text is well-suited to a book about a small town, a kind of Spoon River Anthology in prose that has a front porch storytelling tone.
Arcadia claims that these books are entirely Made In The USA. “Printed in South Carolina on American-made paper and manufactured entirely in the United States.” That’s just another reason to like them.