Martin Gautier’s Louisiana cemeteries made The Advocates headlines.
Finding graves for a hobby
La. man tracks down cemeteries
* By STEVEN WARD
* Advocate staff writer
* Published: Feb 1, 2009 – UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
POINT PLEASANT — Martin Gauthier loves the dead.
One day last week, the 63-year-old climbed to the top step of a tomb, 5 feet above the ground.
The tomb is more imposing than a simple tombstone, but nothing ornate. The black iron railing encircling the top is twisted and rusted in one spot.
Under the concrete block forming the tomb are the remains of former Louisiana Gov. Paul Octave Hebert.
Born in Iberville Parish, Hebert was the state’s leader from 1856 to 1860. He died in New Orleans in 1880 but was buried in his home parish.
If someone just walked into St. Raphael Cemetery near River Road, they would never know a former Louisiana governor was buried there unless they climbed the steps of Hebert’s tomb and peeked over to read the inscription on top: “Ex Gov P.O. Hebert died Aug 29 1880.”
Climbing the tomb steps is exactly the kind of thing White Castle resident Gauthier does all the time.
Gauthier has been studying Louisiana cemeteries since 1992, when he and his now-deceased father began investigating their own genealogy.
Part of that investigation involved researching cemetery records and, eventually, visiting graveyards.
In 2005, Gauthier started a Web site dedicated to his historical cemetery research over the years: http://www.la-cemeteries.com.
Visitors can click on one of the state’s 64 parishes and look at Gauthier’s list of cemeteries he has found in that parish.
Gauthier posts pictures he’s taken as well as interesting historical facts about the cemeteries and some of the people buried there.
The project is nothing more than a hobby for Gauthier, a semi-retired electrical engineer.
“I’ve found about 6,000 cemeteries in Louisiana. There are probably 1,000 more I haven’t found yet,” Gauthier said recently while visiting St. Raphael Cemetery in Iberville Parish.
Gauthier said some people think his hobby is weird.
“I don’t really talk about it, unless someone asks about my hobby. I say, ‘I collect cemeteries.’ That’s when most people just sort of look at you and don’t say anything else,” he said with a laugh.
Gauthier said some of his closest friends don’t know about his interest in cemeteries.
While visiting and researching state cemeteries for his Internet data index, Gauthier began to track down the burial sites of all the deceased Louisiana governors.
Gauthier said he has tracked down gravesites of 33 of Louisiana’s 48 deceased governors.
His travels have taken him as far as Portland, Maine, where he found the tomb of George Foster Shepley, a Union Army general installed as military governor of Louisiana in 1862. Shepley was buried in the Maine city where he died.
Gauthier said he was surprised to learn that there was no mention of Shepley as a former Louisiana governor on his northern tomb.
“Actually, about a third of the governors I’ve found have no mention of their service to Louisiana mentioned on their tombs,” Gauthier said.
Alecia P. Long, an assistant professor of Louisiana history at LSU, said Gauthier’s Web site is “useful, interesting and a great resource.”
“Sites like this, even by an amateur historian, can enrich research. That’s what’s exciting about history on the Web,” Long said.
Long said Gauthier’s hobby can provide raw historical information that can “take on a life of it’s own.”
“It’s an amazing project,” Long said.
Although it’s the history that draws Gauthier, the White Castle engineer said he is also attracted by the beauty of cemeteries.
“I wish I knew more about marble, architecture and the actual stones, but I don’t,” Gauthier said. “But a cemetery can just be so pretty. It’s beautiful. Look around.”