Oakland Cemetery is my first Louisiana cemetery hop, which excited me. I’d never traveled through the Pelican State before.
Located in what is called the original city of Shreveport, Oakland Cemetery is made up of about 10 acres with a sandstone fence around it. Find a Grave.com has about 2,530 memorials recorded for Oakland. According to the city’s web site, it was founded in 1847. The original name was City Cemetery, then it became Oakland around 1905.
The cemetery contains Jewish, Masonic, and Odd Fellows sections. Also, a mound containing approximately 800 victims of a yellow fever epidemic in 1873 is there. That’s not uncommon in large Southern cemeteries. About 85 percent of burials pre-date 1900 and very few burials have taken place in the last 70 years.
Oakland has had its fair share of vandalism in recent years, with several monuments knocked over. Some of the plot fences were in rough shape and the landscaping was rather scruffy. But that’s a common thing I see in big, older burial grounds. There is an Oakland Cemetery Preservation Society but I’m not sure how active they are. The last posted newsletter is from spring 2019, which was about the time we were there. I do know they’ve been doing what they can with that funds they have.
I do sympathize with this kind of thing. Cemetery restoration is very expensive, and most people are not prone to spend their own money to pay for the repair of markers for people not related to them. Still, it made me sad to see it.
Between Two Husbands
One reason I had to visit Oakland was because they had at least two Abrams cast iron grave covers and as you know, I’m fairly obsessed with them. I didn’t know when I photographed them that there was a bit of a saga concerning this family plot. The events that transpired would sound a little scandalous now, but back in the day, it wasn’t that unusual.
One of three brothers, Carl Wilhelm Soleder (or Solleder, I have seen it spelled both ways) was a native of Germany. His father died when he was a baby. Carl arrived in America around 1848. He married fellow German immigrant Anna Marie Kurrus in around 1854, not long after she had arrived. The couple were both in their early 30s. They did not have any children that I am aware of.
Carl entered into business with Italian immigrant John B. Mereto, opening a grocery stand in Shreveport. In 1856, they moved into a two-story brick building on Texas Street. They advertised in the local newspaper frequently.
Carl died on Oct. 17, 1857 at age 32. On May 5, 1858, Anna married Carl’s business partner, John Mereto. It was around the same time that they sold the grocery business to W. M. Gurney. A daughter, Rose, was born on Dec. 11, 1858. Son Andrew arrived in 1865 and daughter Carrie in 1867.
It might seem rather shocking now for a wife to marry her dead husband’s business partner so quickly. But I’ve seen it happen before. When I wrote about the Jacobs family back in 2016, wife Lillian was married to an Omaha undertaker. She married one of his business partners not too long after he died. While it may seem suspicious, it was more likely a practical solution to a tricky problem. The widowed wife is left without anyone to take care of the business and the partner is already likely legally tied to the family. In this case, it also appears that Anna was pregnant with Rose when she married John.
The 1860 U.S. Census lists John as a farmer, so I’m not sure if he got out of the grocery business altogether. Daughter Carrie’s census records indicate she was born in Italy, so the family may have gone there in the 1860s to escape the Civil War and live with John’s relatives.
John Mereto died on June 10, 1873 at age 55. I don’t know what his cause of death was. It is my belief that Anna purchased the two cast iron grave covers at the same time. Abrams’ patent, which you can see in the corner, was established in both November 1873 and May 1874.
Most Abrams cast iron grave covers are placed on top of some kind of solid rectangular foundation, be in granite or some other stone. The deceased is buried several feet beneath it. In the case of John Mereto’s, it looks like his cover follows this pattern, with the foundation a rough poured concrete. In the case of Carl Soleder, by contrast, his foundation is a rectangular stone border with an empty center. It’s possible he had no marker until these two were bought after John Mereto died.
Carl’s grave cover is missing the finial on top, but John’s shell finial is still intact. Amazingly, both still have their metal identifying information plates still intact. It’s fairly rare to find these attached. There’s another Abrams cast iron grave cover at Oakland that has suffered that fate.
Rose, the eldest daughter, married Frenchman Henry Martin Rougagnac in 1881. They moved to Houston, Texas where Henry opened a saloon. They had a son, John. Rose died at age 38 in 1897. She is buried with Henry in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.
Anna died on Oct. 30, 1888 at age 65. She was buried between her husbands. By this time, the short era in the 1870s in which one could purchase an Abrams cast iron grave cover had closed, so the family purchased this upright stone for her.
Andrew Mereto, the middle child, never married. He was close to his sister Carrie, and either lived next door to her or with her, often. Carrie’s first husband, Bernard Duffau, died in 1902. He is buried elsewhere in Oakland. Her second husband, John Matovich, died in 1941. Carrie died in 1911 and is buried to the right of her father, John. Andrew died in 1929 and is buried to the right of Carl Soleder.
“Called Suddenly From Earth”
The death of a child is always painful. But when the cause of death is something that is today easily treatable, it is doubly hard to take.
Born in 1879, James Franklin Elliott was the son of Robert Sidney Elliott and Mattie Gardner Elliott. His obituary explains how he “stuck a piece of glass in his foot”. A few days later on Sept. 13, 1885, he died due to lockjaw, what we now call tetanus. Today, the tetanus vaccine and boosters can prevent such a tragedy.
Robert and Mattie Elliott must have been in agony. Their daughter, Pearl, born in 1885 a few months after James died, passed away in 1908 at the age of 22. She is buried in Oakwood but her grave is unmarked.
James Elliott’s marker is made of white bronze, a zinc blend. It looks like whatever ornament topped it has broken off.
“I Have Finished”
To end this post, let’s take a look at the lovely monument for a young lady who died young. Born in Texas in 1882, Marie Epps Ross was the daughter of John Ross and Celestia “Lessie” Ross. We don’t know Marie’s exact day of birth. Since Lessie died the same year that Marie was born, it’s possible she died giving birth to her.
Marie died on March 24, 1898 after a “lingering illness” at the age of 16. Her marker says that her last words were “I Have Finished”. She is buried beside her aunt, Keziah Epps Wharton, who died in 1910.
Marie’s father, John Ross, never remarried. He served in the Spanish American War. He died in 1931 at age 80 and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Shreveport.
Join me next time for Part II of my visit to Oakland Cemetery.