Effort to clean up St. John Cemetery on Main Street began with one local woman


It all began with one local woman who wanted to clean up the grave of one of her husband’s family members buried at the St. John Cemetery.

Forgotten by many, neglected for decades – except for lawn mowing – the old cemetery had seen much better days when Hope Kinberger decided something needed to be done.

Her efforts led to the community organization We Are The Difference and its Hidden Treasures committee and the planning of what its members are calling St. John Cemetery Clean Up Day.

Through the event, Kinberger and company are hoping to get all of Plaquemine involved in the massive effort to finish what she started by herself. It is set for Saturday, Oct. 27, beginning at 10 a.m.

This newest chapter in the history of the cemetery started when Kinberger began researching her husband Ed’s genealogy.

“I found that one of his ralative’s graves was here so I came out to clean it up and it just grew from there,” she explained while strolling the grounds of the large cemetery on Main Street.

After that, Kinberger developed an interest and affinity for the old burial grounds and began researching its history with the help of longtime genealogist Judy Riffle.

She found through a book the prolific genealogist that Judge John Dutton donated the land for the Catholic cemetery in 1840. His death halted his plans for a Protestant cemetery on the same plot.

“Then Dr. Joseph Hornsby purchased the property in 1851 and early the next year he donated the property to the City of Plaquemine to be used as a Protestant cemetery,” Kinberger said.

Today, the cemetery is divided into three distinct sections – the largest for Catholics, a smaller one for Protestants and the smallest for members of the Jewish faith.

Returning to Kinberger’s efforts, she said limbs had piled up around and between graves and mausoleums, the ground thick with leaves and most of those leaves had been there so long as to have decomposed, creating a new level of dirt that actually covered some tombstones over the years.

“I’ve filled at least 375 bags of trash and hauled them to the street,” she said, then said the upkeep of the cemetery has been an issue since early in the 20thcentury based on a newspaper article she found during her research. 

The article, published in 1907, outlined some of the problems facing the cemetery at the time and a plea for donations to help restore the hallowed ground to its original glory.

Kinberger discovered the beauty and serenity of the old cemetery almost as soon as she began her cleanup efforts and while working on the grounds has noticed a number of people appreciating it as well.

“They stroll through the Protestant section – it’s a beautiful place – on their way to visit family members’ graves in the Catholic section,” she continued. On their way out of the cemetery, most of those people’s pace slows as they enjoy the serenity.

Many people don’t know they have family buried in the cemetery and many others who do seem to believe it’s a perpetual care cemetery, but it isn’t, Kinberger said.

“The individual gravesites are the responsibility of the family to maintain and repair,” she said.

We Are the Difference will host another event involving the cemetery on Sept. 29 at 1. P.m., “Grave Errors,” with a presentation by Heather Veneziano of an historic preservation consulting firm explaining how to clean and preserve graves and what not to do.

“People have asked me why I’m doing this and I tell them it’s because it needs to be done,” Kinberger said. “There’s always something that needs to be done.”

“The cemetery just needs a little love.”