One of the things Lorraine and I enjoy doing when staying in an area is visiting the local cemetery. We enjoy reading the poignant inscriptions, piecing together the relationships and looking at interesting gravestones. Not only does it help keep a healthy perspective on one's life, we've found it also provides a fascinating glimpse into the lesser-known history of the community. A way to peak behind the curtain, so to speak. ..And of course, we never stay after dark!
While in Natchez, we found the Natchez City Cemetery.
It has been the town's final resting place for almost 200 years and it has many interesting stories to tell.
This particular grave marker has to be one of the most interesting (and sad) memorials we've come across:
LOUISE. The Unfortunate
It makes one wonder what her life must have been like. Her grave marker gives us no insights into the panoply of her existence, other than its succinct, one-word summation. It stirs the imagination. While other grave markers list the accomplishments of the occupant, the most notable aspect of Louise's life seems to be the sorry state of her earthly existence. No birth or death date, no mention of lineage, no mention of loved ones (with nothing written below the grass line --don't ask me how I know).
One other interesting fact about this grave marker is its location: she is buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery but with none of the usual Hebrew symbols or inscriptions. Which leads one to surmise that she probably was not Jewish. But why would someone spend the money to buy this down-on-her-luck woman a head stone and her own plot of land? Why not relegate her to the pauper's section of the city cemetery where grave markers were constructed of wood and have long fallen victim to the elements and trampled under foot? Sadly, we will never truly know given that her records have been lost to history.
(In contrast, here is one of the other grave marker from the same section from about that time period):
As we dug further into Louise's story (forgive the pun), we found there is much lore surrounding her life. Here is what the Historic Natchez website relates:
"As it is told, Louise came to Natchez to be married. It's not real clear where she came from, but New Orleans is mentioned as well as some cities in the distant north. She came here by steamboat, landing at Under-the-Hill, a very busy but rowdy section of Natchez. It is said that Louise asked around for her fiancée, both Under-the-Hill and in the more refined part of town on top of the hill.
One story relates that she never found her fiancée and due to some reason remained in Natchez. Some stories say she would be too embarrassed to return home because she had built up her fiancée's reputation and creditability and to return home would destroy everything she had been saying about him. Other stories say she learned that her fiancée had died she didn't have enough money to pay for passage home.
Other stories say Louise found her fiancée, but if so the story again spins into two areas. One is that they had a severe falling out and the other is that Louise discovered that he was married.
Whatever Louise's situation was it is pretty well accepted that after she found herself stranded in Natchez she held various respectable jobs. She worked as a housekeeper, seamstress and other jobs a respectable woman could perform. However, as the stories go, she gradually drifted to the notorious Under-the-Hill area working as a waitress in cafes and bars. As time passed she became a "Woman of the Night" at one of the many brothels Under-the-Hill.
It isn't clear, but some say Louise became friends with a doctor who treated her during her hard life Under-the-Hill, and upon her death he paid for her funeral. Some say a wealthy plantation owner who frequented her room on lonely nights paid her funeral expenses. Others say a preacher paid for her funeral from his pauper funds, but she wasn’t buried in a pauper’s grave. Whatever Louise's story is she must have gained someone's attention because she is buried in the Natchez City Cemetery with a tombstone, even though there is no date on the stone. "
Her life has become highly romanticized. Personally, I don't believe she was a "Woman of the Night". I would think other families would have objected to having a woman of her profession buried near their loved ones.
As I thought about this tombstone, I would think her life story would read something like this: She was a young immigrant, arriving in Natchez penniless, alone, scared and speaking a foreign tongue. Perhaps while searching for her loved ones an unfortunate accident (perhaps run over by a horse or wagon) or an assault befell her. Bleeding and with possible internal hemorrhaging, the town's folk carried her to a nearby doctor's house where he and his family tended to her wounds. Maybe the doctor had a daughter close to Louise's age, or maybe not, but they kept a constant vigil as she desperately clung to dear life. Perhaps from time to time she would let out a weak cry, a calling out to a faraway loved one. Those around her were unsure if she was calling to her father, a brother or possibly her fiance. Finally, after a courageous struggle, death got the upper hand and she quietly slipped into history. The doctor and his family, feeling an overwhelming sense of sympathy for her plight but knowing nothing of her past, paid to have her buried unceremoniously at the Natchez City Cemetery. Her legacy is a simple tombstone with a brutally honest moniker.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
...Next up, the tragic fire of 1908 as told by the Natchez Cemetery.