Thanks to the efforts of 60 Honors College students, Louisiana history is being preserved both in the classroom and in practice.
The students recently teamed up to clean up the historic cemetery in Old South Baton Rouge as part of the seventh annual Honors College Spring Service Project.
They worked on several different projects throughout the 4000-grave cemetery: painting and pressure-washing graves, clearing out branches and undergrowth, raking leaves, and using smartphone technology to create a database of the deceased and map the precise location of each grave.
Stewart Humble, an Honors biological sciences senior who helped to plan this year’s service project, came up with the idea to incorporate modern technology after working on the Sweet Olive Cemetery cleanup his freshman year and wanting to take the project a step further.
“We didn't have any way to take down people’s information other than writing it down. Inefficient, right? Especially in our day and age,” he said. “But almost everybody has a smartphone.”
With the help of Gatorworks Web Design, Humble developed a brand-new mobile platform website that allows users to enter the name, date of birth, date of death, and epitaph on each grave into an online database. The innovative website also uses smartphone location services technology to record the global positioning point for each grave — accurate up to fourteen decimal points.
Humble hopes to use his site to build a searchable database so that family members will be able to find their loved ones’ graves.
“I wanted this to happen because I saw the future aspects of having something like this,” he said. “My trip to Africa really made more grounded and made me realize how much we need to connect with our community … And that’s why I came up with the mobile website. That’s giving your community something to use.”
Lutheran Cemetery has no funding, relying on volunteers to maintain the area. Devin Conway, an Honors biology junior, worked on the Lutheran Cemetery cleanup last year and said that there is still much work to be done.
“You think about what you want your cemetery to look like when you’re buried, and this is not what you picture,” he said. “Right there is an open grave that you could fall into. It’s not an ideal situation … But it is really interesting to come through and see these hand-carved headstones that are just pieces of history.”
Kenny Kleinpeter, a self-proclaimed “cemeterian,” stopped by to thank the Honors College students and talk about his ongoing archeological research taking place in the oldest section, which he believes was originally a slave cemetery.
“This is part of Louisiana history and an important part of Baton Rouge’s history,” he said. “Y’all are a godsend to be taking that brush out of there so I can finally go in and look for more evidence than just depressions … Your work will not be for naught.”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831