‘Gatemouth’ body never in question

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 Of the caskets displaced in Hollywood Cemetery after Hurricane Ike, seven have been re-interred.

About 18 bodies were given new caskets by the military, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Joe Parkhurst says. Some caskets are still in refrigerated trucks provided by the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, or D-MORT, at the cemetery. Not all remains have been identified.

The trucks are under 24-hour guard. D-MORT is funded by FEMA.

The Hollywood burial site is thought to be Orange’s oldest black cemetery.

Although the cemetery is not in Parkhurst’s precinct, the judge has taken an interest in the situation because of so many calls to his office. He’s become frustrated trying to find help from historical commissions, government agencies and charitable organizations.

“Many of the families that have loved ones there don’t have a lot of money,” he says. “There’s got to be some help for them.” Parkhurst estimates it could take $30,000 to restore the crypts and grounds to pre-storm status.

The Hollywood board has received some sizable donations over the years, but can only use the interest accrued for various projects.

After the storm, area funeral home director Wayne Sparrow volunteered to advise board members. He says D-MORT helped identify some bodies in a Lake Charles facility.

“They used X-rays and dental records and fingerprinted who they could,” he says. “There was an anthropologist there and in some cases bones could be measured to determine sex or age.

”That work is being called Stage 1, and there will probably be a Stage 2, Sparrow says. However, what that might be is unknown.

“There is a feeling that a pathologist could be consulted,” he says. “But who and where that office is still in the future … I do know that if someone had say, a knee replaced, there is a serial number on the replacement joint and there will be a record of that somewhere. Hopefully we can determine at some point if there is a clearing house for those numbers.

”The casket of Gulf Coast Hall-of-Famer and Grammy-winner “Gatemouth” Brown was unearthed, but never left the cemetery grounds, Sparrow says. He adds that Brown’s family has been notified and given contact information for re-burial efforts. Brown was raised in Orange.

He evacuated from his home in Slidell, La., after Hurricane Katrina, to a brother’s house in Orange. He died of terminal lung cancer in Southeast Texas on Sept. 10, 2005, having played a farewell concert in Beaumont about a year earlier.

County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said at this week’s commissioners’ meeting he would try to secure funding for reburial efforts.

“The county can’t pay for that with tax dollars because its private cemetery,” he said. “But those caskets can’t sit on those trucks forever. Some years ago we got permission from a historical commission to clean the cemetery because the graves have historic significance, and we might be able to work with a historical group along those lines.”