The Hook & Ladder Cemetery Tour is this Sat., Nov. 4. Gretna Historical Society will host the event that begins with food at the Red Maple, followed by a guided tour through the old cemetery. Actors portray those that are buried there or relay family histories of same. This is a popular ticket-only event.

Tickets are $25 and there are time slots at 7:45 and 8:00 pm still open. Go to the GHS Complex office, 209 Lafayette St. in Gretna through Fri., Nov. 3 from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. for tickets. Call 504-362-3854 for details. 

The following characters will be portrayed by the following actors:

            George Kleinpeter portrayed by Bill Giardina

            Antonia “Lena” Centanni Peperone by Lisa LaFrance

            Conoway Saux by Rene Poche

            Captain Joseph Fisher by Peter DeBroeck

            Luther Maness by Irvin Schwarz

            Virgie Ott by Maryam Bahman

            Anthony Randazzo by Ray Markase

            Emma Whiteside by M. Helen Williams

Of course, the Peperone/ Centanni family is being featured in the tour as written up on blog of Sept. 27, 2023. And, Emma Whiteside will be hyped as she waits on her tomb with her trusty shotgun.

The official beginning of the Hook and Ladder Cemetery was on Feb.15, 1858 when three lots of ground, #1, #2 and #3 on the corner of 10th and Lafayette Streets were bought by Gretna Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 for the purpose of a firemen’s public burial ground. In January of 1882, 3 more lots, #4, #5 and #6 were purchased. As the decades passed, lots were sold to individuals beyond the firemen.

The cemetery today takes up most of the block, bounded by Lafayette, Newton, 10th and 11th Streets. Back then the cemetery block was considered the end of town since only farms, dairies and hunting grounds were past there.

Tombs in the cemetery range from very modest to much more ornate sites finished with granite or marble. Many of the tombs, especially in the “Old-Old” section of the cemetery are in very bad shape, some decrepit and falling down. The City of Gretna has taken over operations of the cemetery, but there is still legal work to be completed.   

“We are looking forward to finalizing all legal work necessary to give the city authority over Hook and Ladder. It is a remarkable thread of history woven into the fabric of our community. Although the people have long been gone, we must insure that their history lives on,” Mayor Belinda Constant said.

We visited with Marcel Henry Lepine who serves as caretaker at the cemetery. His job is to cut grass, cleanup and prepare for funerals. He is the opener and closer of the crypts.                                                 GG264.JPG

“I just love being in here,” he said as we met in the cemetery a while back. “It’s my place,” Marcel said.

At 8 years-old, young Marcel was following his grandfather, sexton Marcel Peter Lepine Sr. around the cemetery to “help him.”

“My working career at Hook and Ladder goes back 25 years to when I was 15 years-old and was of legal age to be there. At 16 or 17, I could dig a grave in about an hour,” he said. 

The earliest ancestor that could be traced back to cemeteries in the Schmitt-Lepine family was an “unknown first name” Schmitt who it is said was “sexton” during the yellow fever epidemic.

The earliest known-name sexton was John Henry Schmitt, Marcel’s great great grandfather. He was followed by Henry John “Buck” Schmitt, Marcel’s maternal great grandfather who served until Marcel’s paternal grandfather, Marcel Peter Lepine Sr became sexton in 1966.

The whole family was in the funeral business. Marcel’s mother, Dolores Schmitt Lepine had been the “maitre d’ at Mothe’s Funeral Home” in Harvey and in 1983 was offered the opportunity to manage the Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home on Amelia Street. She accepted and the family moved into the living quarters of the funeral home.  

Due to the illness of her husband, Marcel Sr., Dolores Lepine became the first female sexton at Hook and Ladder Cemetery, circa 2000. When he recovered, Lepine Sr. went back to being sexton until his death in 2012 when his grandson, Marcel Henry Lepine took over.