With a nod to history, Biloxi to re-dedicate cemetery

Biloxi next week will re-dedicate one of the oldest landmarks in the city, the Biloxi City Cemetery, with a ceremony that will feature actors portraying legendary figures interred in the cemetery, guided tours, refreshments and a blessing of the site.

The ceremony will be Thursday, Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at the cemetery’s beachfront section, a 40,000 square-foot area that represents the oldest and most storm-ravaged part of the burial grounds. A $300,000 FEMA-funded project, which was completed several weeks ago, included repairs to more than 200 headstones and 10 tombs, and installation of a new beachfront fence. Some of the cemetery’s gravesites date back to the early 1800s.

During the ceremony, the city and Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce also will be unveiling a tomb that contains unidentified remains unearthed during the storm. Bishop Thomas J. Rodi of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi and Rev. David Skinner of First Presbyterian Church of Biloxi will bless the tomb and cemetery. Mayor A.J. Holloway and Biloxi Bay Chamber President Darnell Iachino also will speak briefly. Beau Rivage will provide free refreshments.

Volunteers will offer guided tours of the cemetery, where more than a half-dozen re-enactors will give graveside portrayals of notable Biloxians interred in the restored beachfront section.

Among the re-enactors from St. Patrick High School will be Allie Underwood, who will represent “Amelia,” a stereotypical young seafood factory worker from the 1890s; Roman Bartholomew, who will portray Lazaro Lopez, a seafood pioneer who became a city leader and philanthropist; Jasmine Roberts, who will portray Constant Lewis, the Lopez family caretaker/nurse.

Other re-enactors include Mary Louise Atkinson, who will portray family ancestor Marie Ladner Couevas; Ray Bellande, who will depict one of his Caillavet ancestors; Walter Freeman, who will portray Brig. General Joseph Robert Davis of the Confederate army; and Cynthia Baker Powell, who will portray Harriet “Grandma” Aken, a woman who lived on Deer Island and raised a number of orphans.

Visitors to the ceremony are encouraged to park in the rear parking lot of the Biloxi Elks Lodge 606, which is directly west of the cemetery.

Funeral fans, featuring an 1896 photograph of the cemetery, will be sold for $1 to raise money for a memorial plaque for the vault housing remains displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Support for the memorial plaque also is being provided by Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes and the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area.

For background on the cemetery restoration work, and to see pre- and post-Katrina photos of the landmark, click here.