Take a drive down DeSiard Street towards old downtown Monroe. Just a half mile past 18th Street, to your left you will find one of Monroe’s most picturesque cemeteries. Many people pass by it daily without a thought. Some are familiar with the legend of Sidney Saunders, whose statue stares out from its perch next to the road. That is about the extent of people’s knowledge. However, this little plot of land contains almost two hundred years of Monroe’s history. You will find a senator, a state Supreme Court Justice, eleven mayors, numerous Civil War soldiers, a few scoundrels and some of the best and brightest founding mothers and fathers of the city of Monroe.
The oldest section of the city cemetery is known as the McGuire plot. Robert Forbes McGuire came to Monroe in 1816. Robert was a Doctor, a lawyer and a planter, which ingrained him into the upper echelon of Monroe society. He did well for himself and marries the daughter of one of the early French settlers, Louisa Lamy in 1825. He is most remembered for the diary he kept of life in early Monroe, which now can be found at the ULM Special Collections Department. A few years after his marriage, in 1825, he was appointed Monroe’s first known mayor, called “President of the Town Trustees”. It was under his administration that land for the city cemetery was bought from the Filhiol family. After a long and prosperous career, he passed away in 1862 and was laid to rest in the plot he had selected for his family. Nearby were family members whose graves date back all the way to 1815. It is surmised that once the plot was selected, the earlier graves were moved from the family cemetery to the plot. All of Robert and Louisa’s children died young so there are no family members to take care of their graves. They were the founders of the local Masonic and Order of the Eastern Star chapters which now bear their names and so, the responsibility for their care and upkeep has been taken on by the Masons. Robert’s wife Louisa is considered the mother of the public library system in Ouachita Parish. When she died in the 1880’s, she left behind her husband’s law office and books for use as Monroe’s first public library.
The latest, and quite arguably the greatest, of Monroe’s mayors to lie sleeping in the cemetery is Dr. Andrew Alexander Forsythe. His massive stone can be seen right at the west entrance to the cemetery. His father and uncle gave Jena, LA its name. He graduated from Tulane University in 1887 Valedictorian of his class with a degree in medicine. In 1898, the citizens of Monroe asked him to run for mayor and he won. Forsythe ended up serving as mayor for sixteen years. When he came into office, Monroe only had thirty dollars in its coffers. When he died in office, Monroe owned 1.5 million dollars in property. Under his administration, the Saltwater Natatorium, a Public High School, the first public transportation (a trolley system) and a sewage system for the city were built, a footbridge connecting Monroe and West Monroe was built (now called Endom Bridge), and the idea of Municipal Ownership had been brought to the city. The day of his funeral, all of Monroe’s businesses and schools shut down to honor him.
Memorials and markers for soldiers abound in the Old City Cemetery. One of the plainest, and yet most interesting, is that for John H. Day. John was born in Indiana. He enlisted in Custer’s famed Seventh Cavalry and was assigned to Company H, commanded by Frederick Benteen the day of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The horrors Day must have seen would be unimaginable. After the battle, John came to Ouachita parish and married the widow Eliza Edward Parks. They had no children. In 1894, arson fires broke out in Monroe. Citizens were clamoring for someone to blame. Circumstantial evidence was found linking John to the fires. The night he was arrested, he was taken from jail and hanged from a tree by a lynch mob. It is not known what happened to his body, but a military marker has been placed by the grave of his wife Eliza.
Even the smallest graves of children have interesting stories. Little Mary McCranie died at the age of ten months old December 28, 1866. Her father, editor of the local newspaper, wrote a touching article about her a few days after her death. Just a paragraph from it will move you to tears:
Was born; died; and was buried, might possibly tell all that a selfish andunfeeling world would care to know of little MARY. Ten months and two dayscomprise the duration of her brief existence, and, truly it might be said,she went “from the cradle to the grave.” And yet a life-time would beexhausted in the effort to realize the hopes and aspirations which centeredupon our fair little daughter, and which now lie buried with her! Spare,then, bustling world, your cold criticism, and say not, as you have been, ormay be bereaved, that ours is a foolish sorrow! A prattling boy, whoerstwhile hung about our knees, or followed us with tottering steps, hisrosy lips making sweet music for our ears, is now followed to rest by his babysister.– Heaven has been unkind in calling them away? Nay, nay; it is well!
There are lots more interesting stories out there. Just stop and listen!