- Oct 28, 2010
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The last time I posted at any length, I told you guys that I was heading for New Orleans, for the Upper 9th Ward and The Bywater-- specifically, to the St. Claude neighborhood of that storied town-- in order to take another stab at locating the tomb of a Gypsy woman named Marie. This was the only tomb I have ever sought in the cemeteries of New Orleans that I was unable to find, as it happened-- and this, despite several attempts over the years.
So I've been meaning to tell you guys what-all I found-- if anything-- since I got back. And as a matter of fact, I actually did write up the results so as to present them to you-- and wrote 'em up twice. Unfortunately, the first effort turned into a sixty page post-a-thon, too long and ridiculously detailed to be appropriate for this site. And then the next post, which was much shorter, text-wise, still had to be broken into three chunks because I meant to include close to sixty images, and the default limit on this site is 20 per post.
But a three-part post is much too much-- even for me. Figuring that I should save that sort of work for a more suitable venue, I finally sat down and created *this* post, which, though it does not contain the abundance of information I originally meant to inflict upon y'all, does at least get directly to the point, to wit:
I FOUND IT!
Yes indeed! The above image is the tomb of a woman named Marie Boscho, feted in the mostly-forgotten folklore and legend of New Orleans as a "gypsy queen"... and whose tomb is to be found in section number one of an old cemetery on Louisa Street that is known as the St. Vincent de Paul cemetery.
One of my MLP brothers, lespaulguy, sent a PM to me to advise me that he had gone digging around in the Internet to look for some mention of this tomb, and found nada. For him-- and for those of you who might also be curious about this matter-- I will reveal the only two written references to this tomb and its occupant that I have ever found...
Okay, so the first reference came by way of a book that was begun during the Great Depression by the WPA Writer's Project in New Orleans. The book itself is an anthology of folklore entitled Gumbo Ya-Ya, and what it represents is a collection of chapters that deal with the folklore of Louisiana, and especially that of New Orleans from its inception as a city in 1718 to the time of the creation of the book itself.
As it happens, this book may be found in its entirety online, and may be read or downloaded for free. For those interested, here's the link:
Full Text Gumbo Ya-Ya
The information concerning the tomb of Marie is to be found in Chapter 18, which is subtitled as The Cemeteries, and it is a very brief, six-paragraph description that concerned itself more with the funeral of the Roma woman, Marie, than it did with the actual tomb or its whereabouts.
Because this book is a volume of folklore and should not be misconstrued as being a reliable account of history, it occurred to me that it might be the case that no such event as described ever took place, and that the whole thing might just be a tale of some sort. However, since the date given for the event was 1916-- and since the book itself was compiled a relatively short time after that year-- it was also equally possible that the story was true, and that the tomb might exist. However, since the assistant editor was one Robert Tallant-- and because Mr. Tallant has been repeatedly excoriated by truly responsible and professional historians for his tendency to make things up and then deliberately present them as matters of historical fact-- it was still possible that the whole legend of the Gypsy Queen and her tomb might have been bunk.
However, the second reference to the tomb that I was able to find came by way of a purveyor of genuine history named Leonard V. Huber, who is as reliable as Charles Gayarre, John Smith Kendall, or Carolyn Morrow Long. And because Huber wrote two books on the history of the cemeteries that were both absolutely reliable, I exulted to find Huber speaking very, very briefly of the tomb of Marie.
In other words, because Huber said the tomb existed, I had full confidence that indeed, it did. I was just about to hang up the pursuit of that particular tomb after two years of searching, when I managed to discover the writings of Mr. Huber. Needless to say, Huber's statement that the tomb does exist energized my search. And even though it took another four years to actually find the sucker, I never again doubted its existence and instead figured my inability to locate it might have something to do with the fact that all identifying marks on the tomb itself might have succumbed to the ravages of time. Thus obscured, it might have been the case that nobody could find it.
But I kept looking anyway...
For those interested, Huber's book is also online. Here's the link:
[url=http://books.google.com/books?id=7FlJubkDKxUC&pg=PA32&dq=gypsy+tinka+huber&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Guy5T6-fM4Gi8gThoqC_Cg&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false]New Orleans Architecture: The Cemeteries - Leonard Victor Huber, Peggy McDowell, Mary Louise Christovich - Google Books[/URL]
And as it happens, I set the link so that it would open to the very page that the mention of the tomb is to be found on.
But it wasn't much information. Actually, all Huber said was:
The photograph that is referenced directly after this mention of the tomb is given as Figure 48, but the photo itself does not show the tomb in question. Also not mentioned by anybody was which section of the cemetery the tomb might be located in. And as each of the sections of that cemetery are nearly as big as one square block in the French Quarter-- and because the tombs are really packed in there tightly-- I had literally hundreds of tombs to examine in order to find the right one....and a large marble tomb of the Tinka-Gypsies holds the remains of their queen, Marie, who died in 1916.
And that's why it took several years to find it. You see, I had to travel from Florida to New Orleans, and though I had been spending several weeks per year in the city-- and have made numerous trips to the St. Vincent de Paul cemetery-- the process of elimination was very, very slow. But in the end, all the work paid off: I finally found it.
Now, it has been pointed out that Roma society tends to be strongly patriarchal and that there are no gypsy "queens" per se, only very influential senior matrons. I dedicated quite a bit of verbiage towards attempting to reconcile this fact with the fact that Marie is designated as a queen of some sort by the furnishings that are part of her tomb, but this was all just speculation on my part and will not be included here.
Likewise, there was a bit of consternation produced by the fact that nobody has heard of a tribe of Roma who called themselves as "Tinka" except in New Orleans, it would seem. Thermionik and LPSGME were kind enough to point these things out to me, and once again I was able to come up with some strong theories as to what this "Tinka" designation was all about-- but again: this is just speculation on my part and is not really germane to this particular post.
However, I will say this: on the stelle of the tomb does appear the term "Tinka-Gypsy" and the three urn holders that I found on the stoop of the tomb carried the words, "QUEEN", "MARIE", and "MOTHER". Here are the photos I took of those aspects of the tomb:
Which was all very interesting to behold. What was also interesting was that of the four bits of information from Gumbo Ya-Ya that I was using as I attempted to track down that tomb, three were incorrect. That is, the stelle on the tomb refers to a tribe called "Tinka", not Tinker; in addition, her date of death was March 19, 1916 and not November 9, 1916. Finally, her last name-- given as Bosche in the book-- turned out to actually be spelled as "Boscho".
Eh, whatever-- everybody makes mistakes. And at least Huber got the group's name straight. But I am elated that I finally located that elusive tomb, got my photos, and thus successfully ended my quest. Thus, I am now pretty much DONE with all the field research part of my project. I still have a little bit of research to do into certain archival records-- and by the greatest stroke of good fortune, I managed to gain access to those very archives by coming to the personal attention of a professional historian who is actually in custody of the physical records themselves. But in the main, I am done with the hardest part of the task and soon enough, will begin to prepare a very formal record of my findings.
I have to laugh. When I began this project eight or nine years ago, I was still a semi-sleek middle-aged dawg, and though I was no longer the young ruffian I had been before that, at least I wasn't the overweight, chain-smoking old fart I am today. This is me in 2004:
But it's been a long eight years, and time has had its way with me. This is what I looked like a couple of weeks ago, on the day that I actually found the tomb:
And so there you have it, my friends. Purposefully left out of this account is a summary of certain folkways that accompany various funerary traditions of New Orleans, and other information that might have been interesting to those who are curious about such things... but enough is enough.
I will say this: I was electrified unto paralysis when I found that tomb, and startled enough that I had a hard time telling my bro Phil-- who came along to serve as a sort of bodyguard, aide-de-camp, and touristy companion for me as he did last November-- and he was greatly amused to find that my ordinarily glib, ever-talking self had been silenced as if by a shot of Novocaine directly into my tongue.
It was an overwhelming sort of experience, bordering on one of spiritual evocation. I was very grateful to have found the tomb, but found that the experience was more humbling than triumphant; I was at one point overcome by a very strong and poignant sense of melancholy, awash in the mists of time and history, and contemplating all the curious phases that the search itself put me through. To say that this was, for me, the discovery of a lifetime is not an exercise in vanity or hyperbole. The chances are now excellent that I will die as a happy man.
In order to reward Phil for his most excellent services, I took him to Bourbon Street for yet another night of drinking and wenching. However, my heart wasn't in it at all; and believe it or not, I didn't even drink enough to catch a buzz. I think the whole time I was there, I drank about three Sazaracs, two Hurricanes, and one Boilermaker. And mind you: in the years when I drank heavily, that would have been what I put down in about an hour for starters. So for me to say that this is all I drank over a four day period is almost the same as saying I didn't drink any liquor at all. Somehow, I think my days of heavy boozing are just as over as all the rest of the really stupid crap I used to do for fun as a younger man.
Likewise, the fleshpots full of pros and abundance of easy-meat tourist girls didn't serve as much of an allure to me, even though ol' Phil managed to get next to an attractive, blue-eyed Latina at one point in the game and I ended up hitting the bricks alone to give them a bit of privacy. While that was going on, I just headed over to Woldenberg Park, to puff on a cigar and stare at the Big Muddy while thinking my private thoughts, only returning to the hotel after Phil bugled me up on the cellie to tell me the coast was clear for my return. I slept like a dead man that night.
After giving Phil a tour of the Metairie Cemetery the next day, he wanted to go out carousing once again. He had purchased something like eighty bucks worth of plastic beads, and wanted to find a gallery from which to beg for boobies, with the beads themselves being the big payoff for the women who were willing to air their bozos. I went up there with him, mainly to keep his back safe, but was otherwise pretty bored by the whole business and just sort of leaned against the railing, puffing a cigar and daydreaming all the while.
But then I saw a couple of horse cops coming towards us at a near-canter. Anybody who has been to Bourbon Street knows that the equestrian officers do not tend to trot their horses unless they're in a hurry, and I suspected that somebody was about to go to Tulane and Broad for a little fun in Orleans Parish Prison; turns out that I was right about that, too. Leaning over the balustrade to see what was going on down there, I ended up taking this photograph:
Meanwhile, Phil got plastered and expended his enormous sack of beads during his survey of mammary glands. I was able to persuade him to return to the hotel, so that he could get some sleep before we split for Florida the next day, warning him that he was probably going to be really hung over for the flight.
And he was!