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Louisiana official finds colorful graves gauche, asks for ban

December 24, 2011 |  7:03 am

Houma
An elected official in Houma, La., is letting it be known that the dead should not be immune from the dreaded charge that attaches to starlets in weird Oscars dresses, fanciers of plastic pink flamingos, and fans of the rock band Nickelback: possession of bad taste.

In fact, Councilman Alvin Tillman is hoping to make it a misdemeanor.

Tillman, of Terrebonne Parish, is worried that the local public cemeteries are being overrun with colorfully painted tombs, which he has apparently deemed to be cheesy.

"He does not like the red one, the yellow one, the soft dove gray or any of the shades of blue that about a dozen of the tombs have been painted," Mary Foster of the Associated Press reports. "And he says other people have complained about it, too."

The councilman, Foster reports, has proposed a law that would force all future tombs to be painted white, and force already colorful tombs to be painted over.

The misdemeanor charge, one presumes, would be directed at the survivors of the deceased scofflaws.

The local planning board has agreed to send the proposal to the full parish council, which will take up the issue at a Jan. 11 hearing.

"We don't want to see it get out of hand," Patrick Gordon, the parish planning director, told Foster. "I mean, what if someone wanted to paint their tomb LSU colors? I don't think purple and gold would be appropriate there."

In Terrebonne Parish's public cemeteries, the dead are buried in vaults that go 3 feet underground, and rise 1 foot above. With headstones attached, they look a little like uncomfortable concrete motel beds.

Louisiana, of course, is home to a doctorate dissertation's worth of unique burial practices, including the famous above-ground crypts that define the grand old cemeteries of New Orleans.

Graveyards done up in vibrant, varied hues -- like a cemeteryin Quetzaltenango, Guatemala -- are not uncommon as one moves south from New Orleans into the heart of Latin America.

Angie Green, executive director of a New Orleans group called Save Our Cemeteries, has urged the council not to pass the law, arguing that the tomb painting in south Louisiana is not without historical precedent.

Councilman Tillman, however, is dead set on a whitewash.

"Before you know it, you'll go out there and the cemetery will look like Mardi Gras," he's quoted as saying.

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-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Photo: A brightly colored tomb and grave marker are shown at the Southdown Cemetery in Houma, La. Credit: Michael Conti / The Houma Courier

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