Saturday, September 17, 2016

Holt Cemetery - New Orleans, LA (The Robert Charles Race Riot of 1900)

635 City Park Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70119

            Of the many historical locations I have investigated over the years, there is still something special about investigating a cemetery. I’m not quite sure if it’s because of the unique creepy factor or the fact that it takes me back to my roots of when I just started investigating the previously mentioned Ft. Derussy Cemetery. Even to this day, I will find myself stepping away from the hustle of running our group to conduct a partial investigation of a nearby cemetery. It may sound strange for those who haven’t done it, but there is something quite serene and relaxing about being alone in a quiet cemetery at night. Granted, I don’t recommend you visit just any old cemetery alone at night; especially in New Orleans!
            Holt Cemetery is a well-known Potter’s field cemetery near City Park in New Orleans. The site contains the graves of many less fortunate and indigent individuals who did not have the luxury, or family, to place them in large tombs. The cemetery was initially established in 1879 and is made up primarily of in-ground burials, which for the area, is an extremely odd site. With New Orleans being below sea level, the thought of underground tombs can lead to disaster, for all it takes is one good flood and the morbid scene of coffins popping out of the ground may be witnessed. I have personally seen this grizzly phenomenon take place in Central Louisiana following a hurricane and it is quite interesting.

            Visitors to this cemetery are not greeted with the grand tombs and ornate structures one may
Yes, this is one of the graves!
find in many of the city’s other cemeteries. Grave markers and tombstones are handmade, personal items are strewn around the graves and the grounds are more unkempt than most. One look at some of these burial plots and it may be hard to tell what is a grave and what is a makeshift homeless shelter. There is definitely a special creepiness that is felt when visiting Holt Cemetery. Many visitors say that you can feel an immense sadness when wandering the grounds. Possibly the energy found here may be a little darker than most cemeteries as those laid to rest here may not have been from the most optimum of upbringings. Due to a lack of room and finances by family members, many of the burial plots here are even reused for future generations of deceased individuals. As a body quickly decomposes in a low quality coffin, the remains are replaced with the newly dead. The thought is sad and one can only wonder how the deceased souls must feel. Still, despite the lack of fund by family members, this does not prevent them from making very elaborate shrines to their deceased loved ones. Trust me, pictures do not do this cemetery justice and you really have to see it for yourself.

Uniqueness is an understatement!
            There are several notable burials that have existed at one time or another at Holt Cemetery. One of these individuals is not noted for the good he did, but for the havoc that he wreaked across the city. Robert Charles would go down in history for lighting the fuse to the great 1900 New Orleans Race Riot that left many people dead. The riot began with an incident on July 23, 1900 on Dryades Street when Robert Charles and his roommate were stopped by a policeman. An argument ensued which led to a brief firefight between the two men and the police. No one suffered any fatal injuries. Charles then quickly fled to his residence on the 2000 block of Fourth Street where he barricaded himself in. By 3:00am, police had the house surrounded, yet Charles would not go peacefully. Another firefight took place, only this time, Charles would kill two police officers, including the Chief of Police. Charles was able to flee the scene once again as a massive manhunt was now underway.
            The city was on lockdown, as hundreds of police and bystanders were on the look-out for the cop killer. Crowds of angry whites began marching down the streets, demanding the capturing and lynching of Charles. In the meantime, the growing mobs began rioting, causing the deaths of three blacks and the injuring of nearly fifty others.
            Word got out that Charles was hiding out in a residence located at 1208 Saratoga Street. Police and the mob quickly converged to this area, surrounding the home. Once again, a firefight broke out with more policemen being fired upon. Charles must have been one hell of a shot with a
The Daily Picayune article from the
Robert Charles incident.
bulletproof body! Determined to not see another fleeing attempt, bystanders set the house on fire. As the flames and smoke engulfed the home, Charles attempted to escape. His luck officially ran out, as he was shot by Charles A. Noiret, a medical student and a member of the police’s reserve force. In an act of rage, the angry mob continued to shoot and beat the corpse of Charles, who was eventually buried in Holt Cemetery. Apparently, many felt he did not deserve a standard burial and be allowed to rest in peace, as his body was soon exhumed and incinerated. When the smoke had cleared, literally, twenty seven people had been shot by Charles with three civilians and four policemen being killed.

             Additional people of notable deaths that are said to be buried here are several of the victims from the infamous UpStairs Lounge arson attack that killed twenty-eight people. Currently known as the Jimani Lounge, the bar was a gay hangout in the 1970’s when the tragic event took place. I will wait to go into further detail on the lounge as you can guess that it is reportedly haunted as well. That location will be mentioned shortly.
            Holt Cemetery is definitely not your run of the mill burial spot. I recommend checking it out sometime and you will see what I mean. Bring a voice recorder and who knows what you may capture. With a place containing burials on top of burials, many of which were from tragic deaths, residual energy left here is almost definite as the land is nearly a home of lost souls who may never truly rest in peace. As one walks these grounds and you see all the personal touches added to the plots such as trinkets, stuffed animals and clothing, you can almost hear the voices coming from the graves; echoing their grief and sadness for eternity.

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