Merrick Cemetery- E. Saint Bernard Highway

The stats of our work:
  • 206 tombs scraped, cleaned, and power washed
  • 140 tombs painted with fresh white paint
  • 41 gallons of white exterior paint used
  • ¾ of the cemetery cleared of trash and debris
  • 1 large hole filled- a bucket of sand at a time

Look at the photo above and you will see the worn and rusted sign of the Merrick Cemetery. When we arrived on site, the CREW group was led on a tour by Ms. Gilda Jones, a member of the cemetery community. She provided the history of the cemetery, the resting place for her relatives and many relatives of residents in the local Violet community.

The cemetery was founded in 1961 and is named for the former Merrick Slave Plantation that once stood on this ground. The first land for the cemetery was donated as a place for people of the community, specifically blacks, to bury their loved ones.

The cemetery as it stands today is in need of much repair. Due to the high water table,
A tomb inverted by Katrina
people are placed in caskets and then inside above-ground concrete tombs. The floodwaters of nearly eight feet were so powerful many of the tombs and their contents were displaced. Tombs were uplifted and inverted. Some crashed into others breaking them. The light poles in a neighboring softball field were tipped in the direction of the water’s flow.

Through the efforts of family and community the exposed remains were moved to temporary storage. Most all the remains have been identified by family members using DNA evidence. Still some remain unidentified. In the future the unidentified remains will be laid to rest in a special monument commemorating their loss during Katrina.

Last night another long term volunteer said that change happens when “one person does what one person can do”. Bring a group of people together and the power of change is enormous. The effects of our group and the work we did today can best be summarized by the response of residents.

People in cars continuously honked and waved as they passed.

The cemetery is next to a freight line. As the engineer piloted his train of tank cars down the line, he waved joyfully and blew the engine’s horn furiously for the entire length of the cemetery.

A woman came to the cemetery today. While speaking with Julie Hulten, Sheehan’s media specialist, she said, “Thank you for doing what you’re doing, for caring for us- gonna get my daddy’s tomb turned right side up… Will you take a hug honey?” She hugged Julie and then her friend came forward and hugged Julie too.

No matter what these people did today or what kind of day they had, the power of people helping people warmed their hearts. “What you’re doing is very powerful and encouraging because we don’t know how we could have got it done,” Jones said. “It soothes the soul.” It’s now a more peaceful place. Families of these people can rest knowing their loved ones are now resting a little more easily.
The repainted Merrick Cemetery sign

An interesting note about the painting of the sign- Black paint for metal was provided to paint the sign. After painting the sign a small amount of black paint remained. Rather than discard wet unused paint in the dumpster, chaperone and environmentalist (she drives a hybrid), Donna Laich decided to use the remaining paint to cover the section of rusted chain link fence below the sign until all the paint was used.

Freshly painted tombs