Graveyard Guru: MSUM staffer publishes cemetery reference
By Aaron Simmons
A taphophile with a passion for cemeteries and gravestones is here at MSUM. While she works among the living at Livingston Lord Library, Karen Kohoutek has an unmistakable and unique love for graveyards, tombstones and the stories of those laid to rest there.
Translating that passion to the written word, library circulation technician and MSUM grad Kohoutek has recently published a 392-page visual guide to the tombs within Square 3 of New Orleans’ Saint Louis Cemetery No. 2. The book, “Ici Repose: A Guide to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, Square 3,” won’t be released to Amazon or Barnes and Noble for a few weeks, but is currently available on Lulu.com.
“I’ve always been really interested in cemeteries, and it’s been an area of interest I’ve
always had. I actually describe that in the (guide),” Kohoutek said. “I forget that people think that’s morbid. I think there’s certain people that like them, and there’s other people who just think that’s odd.”
Kohoutek focused her attention on Saint Louis Cemetery No. 2 because it sits in the shadows of the iconic and highly visited Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1. Due to the lower foot traffic at No. 2, she felt there was a need to tell the stories of the individuals there who have nearly been lost to history. She focused on Square 3 because of its ties to the African-American community.
“The (section) that was immediately my favorite was this one called Square 3, and that was the section that had the tombs for those that they called, at the time, ‘The Free People of Color,’” Kohoutek said. “(They) were the French-speaking African-American people, most of whom were not slaves.”
The famous above-ground tombs were one of the main reasons Kohoutek took an interest in the cemeteries of New Orleans to begin with. That interest, along with her ambition to compile a complete collection of stories, has made her reference book both informative and visual.
“It’s got a photo of every tomb and plot. It’s got a map of each row, and it shows all of the people you can find through the various surveys that’s been done in the 20th century,” Kohoutek explained. “I found a lot of this information existed and was publicly available, but it wasn’t easy to find. There was microfilm at this historical society that I cross-referenced all this information (with). It was a big project (and) a lot of fun.”
Away from writing, Kohoutek is spoken very highly of at MSUM.
“She’s never really in her own world; she’s kind of in everyone else’s, making sure everything gets done,” said Olivia Carlson, an MSUM student and one of Kohoutek’s supervisees at the library. “That’s always very comforting to know that there’s somebody there who actually cares and isn’t just there to work and go home and get their paycheck at the end of the day.”