Many people in the area are familiar with the story of the “Girl in the Iron Coffin” that was dug up in Lakeshore in 1955. She was so perfectly preserved that the magnolia blossom in her hair was still fresh looking. She was later [mis]identified as Mary Catherine St. Clair Morrison Wade and was quickly reburied in an unmarked grave at Mulhearn cemetery. Probably there are a few who know of the iron coffins dug up in East Carroll parish in 1950 and 1972. These, however, were not the first to be dug up in Northeast Louisiana.
The oldest known cemetery in Ouachita parish is the old Bartholomew cemetery in Sterlington. The oldest marked burial dates to 1802. It is a very historic cemetery, known to hold some of our earliest founders. At the height of it’s use, it was called the Island Cemetery. In 1888, workers digging a grave in the Island cemetery, found an unusual casket, buried in an unmarked grave:
The Times-Picayune, Thursday, July 5, 1888
A Relic of Mortality.
While digging a grave at the Island cemetery, in Ouachita parish, last week, an iron casket was unearthed which had probably been there for 75 or 100 years. Upon examining the coffin, it was found to be peculiarly constructed so as to partake of the form of the human body – showing the symmetry of bust, limbs and head. A curious desire, prompted those present to unscrew a plate on top of the coffin; when done they were wonderfully surprised to find revealed to their view, a handsome young man, in a perfect state of preservation – indeed looking as natural as if he were still living. He was clothed in a winding sheet, made of white silk; his cravat was also white and made of satin; his hair was light and still remained neatly parted. Dr. Helmick, from whom we get this information, says that the ground where this body was found was level and compact down to the coffin; and that the oldest citizen in that locality has no remembrance or knowledge (sic) of the grave. It is thought by some who saw the body – judging from appearance – that he was a Spanish nobleman and was buried there early in the settlement of Louisiana. – Bastrop (La.) Clarion, June 2.
Now just who was this young man? My mind boggles at the possibilities. I highly doubt he dates to the Spanish Colonial period. Could he have been one of the Morehouse boys, sons of Morehouse parish founder Abraham Morhouse? Two were known to have been killed very young. Could he have been a Sterling, who founded the town of Sterlington? So many other well-known founders in that area fit the bill. The man obviously came from a very wealthy family. Unfortunately, we will never know!