Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Helenbirg Subdivision

Halfway between Mandeville and Abita Springs was the Helenbirg subdivision. According to newspaper accounts of the early 1900's, Helenbirg was named for the beloved sister of the founder of the St. Tammany New Orleans Railway and Ferry Co., Joseph Birg, who was a banker and planter (Katy Plantation) in Franklin, La. and who had a lot of New Orleans connections. She died at a young age.

The subdivision was accessed by the trolley line that ran between Mandeville and Covington. Click on the images to make them larger.

The trolley motor car line was built by Joseph Birg

(From N. 0. Daily States)

Joseph Birg, 69 years of age, leading sugar and rice planter, director of a number of banks and builder of the electric railroad from Mandeville to Covington, died at 9 a. m., Monday. November 25, 1918, at his residence, 826 St. Charles avenue, New Orleans, after a few day's illness.

Mr. Birg was a native of Franklin, St. Mary parish, where he lived practically all of his life. He was one of the organizers of the First National Bank at Franklin, which was St. Mary's first bank and later it was merged with the Commercial Bank & Trust Company and Mr. Birg was president from 1906 until the time of his death.

He was the owner of Katie Sugar Plantation, and a director of the Louisiana State Rice Milling Company, Inc. He served on the police jury of St. Mary parish for many years.

Mr. Birg's private philanthropies were numerous. He was modest, of a retiring disposition and enjoyed a
large acquaintance in New Orleans and throughout the state.

He was a son of Felix Birg and Mary Ann Birg. The death of his sister, Helen, five years ago, affected him deeply and later he named the township between Covington and Mandeville "Helenbirg."

He is survived by three nieces, Grace Richard Landry. Katheryn Richard, wife of Harry L. Lazarus, Jr., and Florida Richard, and one nephew, Birg Richard.

Farmer 11-30-1918
The trolley car would roll out onto a specially built pier off the Mandeville lakefront, and passengers getting off the arriving steamboats could hop right on the trolley and be taken to the shore, past Mandeville, past Helenbirg, and past Abita Springs on to Covington. This was in operation between 1909 and 1918.

Going to Helenbirg


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Ancient Rite of Candlelight

In October of 1976, Polly Morris wrote an article about the "Ancient Rite of Candlelight" that took place annually in the old cemeteries of her hometown of Lacombe. Here is the text of that article, as it appeared in the St. Tammany News-Banner on October 27,1976.

The Ancient Rite of Candlelight in Lacombe Cemeteries
By Polly Morris

The night of November the first, it will happen all over again... just as it has happened for so many years that no living person can say when it truly started.

The people who care about an old custom will leave their homes when the last rays of the sun kiss the tops of the tallest pines. At twilight time they will be in the cemeteries, and when the Evening Star begins to twinkle in the dusky sky, they will move like shadows among the shadows, lighting hundreds of candles. One by one the flames dispel the deepening darkness, and soon the area is ablaze with light.

Each cross, each coping, each crypt is dazzling white, creating an unforgettable scene of haunting, heartbreaking beauty.

The people who have kept alive the lovely candlelight custom do not know why or when it originated. It has always been so,they say, so they continue an observance that was old when their grandfathers were yet unborn.

Ancient Beyond Recall

And they are quite right in their uncertainty, for no one can accurately pinpoint when it began. No doubt the All Saints celebration was brought to Louisiana by the European settlers in the 1700's, and was believed to be a Catholic custom dating back to the 9th Century. However the Celts were having a celebration to their Sun God on or about that date several centuries previous. They in turn could have inherited it from the primitive people who feared evil spirits and burned fires to protect them and their dead from unknown forces.

It is quite probable that the Church followed the usual practice of having Christian celebrations fall on a pagan celebration deliberately. In time the old customs were overshadowed by the new ones which closely followed the pagan rites, but with Christian overtones. Recent Legends The very ancient stories of evil spirits and the dead coming back for a visit home on one night a year is superstition, but the true stories of recent times are equally interesting, and rapidly becoming legends of their own.

Papa George

At the Williams Cemetery there is a grave of Papa George, but as no one knows where it is now, his spot changes occasionally. No one knew Papa George's last name, says Henry Cousin, but he came in on a schooner to Lacombe, and fell into Bayou Lacombe and drowned. He was buried in the Williams Cemetery, and the children started clearing off a place for his grave somewhere and lighting him a candle. In keeping with the cusom that every grave, even those who are usually neglected, must have at least one candle... just because.

The Osey Ordogne Cemetery has its little story too. Raymond Cousin, part owner and manager, says his great-great grandfather owned the property and lived a short distance from the cemetery in a house that is no longer standing. There was no cemetery there until Osey Ordogne found a dead man in the nearby Bayou Lacombe.

The man was a stranger to Ordogne, but he buried him on the property and thus started the little graveyard. Now Osey Ordogne lies in the cemetery he once started with a dead stranger, and his grave is cared for by his great-great grandson, Raymond Cousin.

Cousin says that the stranger's grave is unknown now, and that, like almost every old cemetery, there may be two or more occupants in one sight. But no one knows, for in five or six generations, some old graves would be forgotten.

Unique in 20th Century

The custom of putting candles on the graves was once a popular celebration. The cities frowned on it, and finally declared it illegal because it created a fire hazard in the dry month of November. Which is quite understandable for New Orleans, which suffered greatly from fires. All Saints Day was kept in the country communities for some time, and there are a few places that observe it now. But the custom seems to be dying out more and more, except in Lacombe.

It seems to be getting better, in fact, for there is a gentle rivalry between cemeteries and people. Henry Cousin says, "It's like everyone wanting to have their house and their yard looking better than a neighbors. Well, we take a pride in having our graves and tombs look good on All Saints Day, because if they don't, there is always someone who notices."

The candlelight custom is not only a beautiful tradition. There is something special about it that is completely unlike the usual morbidity associated with death. There seems to exist a sort of communication between the living and the dead. The whole family goes to the graveyard to whitewash the tombs and crosses, and children play among the gravesites quite complacently.

There are large graves and little ones, and a sister indicated a small site and said, "That is my little brother." And the word "is" was quite noticeable.
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow seem to blend in the little cemeteries. None of them are too far from a stream, for in the days before roads, a funeral procession was a parade of pirogues on the bayous. It is also easy to imagine the people coming in pirogues with wax myrtle candles and coxcomb and torches to light the way.

Time seems to stand still on All Saints Day, when the people come again with candles and light a glow that reaches even to the tops of ancient trees. Motorists slow down, and some go into the cemeteries, for a candlelit graveyard is an impressive sight. Few leave without a lump in their throat and perhaps a little prayer. Like ... "As it has happened tonight, and in ancient times, please God . . . keep it happening forever and ever. . . "

See also:

History Theories About Cemetery Candlelight Ceremonies

Covington Junior High Faculty - 1962

This is a group portrait of the faculty of Covington Junior High School in 1962. Click on the image to make it larger. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Russell Blackwell

Russell Blackwell did the landscaping maintenance at the old St. Tammany Parish Courthouse in downtown Covington. Here are some pictures from the early 1980's.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bogue Chitto River

Here is a link to a YouTube video showing an aerial photography overview of the Bogue Chitto River from the Mississippi state line, across Washington Parish, and then into St. Tammany Parish to the Village of Sun and the Pearl River Canal.

One thing about the Bogue Chitto River stands out: it seems to have more sandy beaches and nearby gravel pits per linear mile than perhaps any other river in the area. 

Check them out by clicking on the video play triangle below. To make it go full screen, click on the "Full Screen" symbol  [ ] in the lower right corner.

Aerial photography source: Google Earth


Click on the enlarge video symbol [ ] in the lower right corner to go to full screen.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mary Terrebonne and Hank Ferrer Interviewed

Mary Terrebonne and Hank Ferrer were interviewed several years ago for the St. Tammany Parish School System television program "Reflections." Speaking to host Marian Arrowsmith, they recalled their years with Covington area schools.

To watch the first five minutes of the video interview, click below.

 To listen to the entire interview in an audio file,

Hank Ferrer, Laurie Caserta and Elton Willie

Mary Terrebonne

Friday, October 26, 2018

Final Friday Car Show - Halloween Edition

Friday night was the Halloween Edition of the Final Friday Block Party and Car Show in downtown Covington. Hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people, many of them in costume, turned out for the event. Show car exhibitors gave out candy and a few "scares" as kids and parents enjoyed walking up and down the street. Here are some photos.

Click on the images to make them larger.