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Jardin de las almas

Photo caption: Aerial photo of Comal, Sts. Peter and Paul, Hidalgo and Our Lady of Perpetual Help cemeteries, 1983.

Aerial photo of Comal, Sts. Peter and Paul, Hidalgo and Our Lady of Perpetual Help cemeteries, 1983.

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

How we honor our dead says a lot about who we are. It embodies what we believe and how we live and die. For Hispanic Heritage Month, the Sophienburg Museum and West Side Community Center and Library have partnered to focus on where local Hispanic families have laid to rest their loved ones. We have discovered many stories to share with New Braunfels at our second Fiesta Patria event, “Jardin de las Almas” or Garden of Souls. This free event will be held Saturday, September 10, 2022, on the Sophienburg grounds from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will include food, entertainment, exhibits and activities for the kids.

The graves of men, women and children of Hispanic descent can be found in each of the five main city cemeteries: New Braunfels Cemetery, Comal Cemetery, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery, Panteon Hidalgo and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Cemetery. We started with the information recorded in Sexton records. With the incorporation of birth and death certificates, city land deeds, newspaper accounts, photographs, church records and Morales Funeral Home records, we began to build a story of early New Braunfels and how we lived — and died — together.

Concentrating on finding the oldest references and markers, many hours were spent this lovely warm Texas summer visiting, over and over, these places of history and culture. Each cemetery has its own unique identity.

New Braunfels Cemetery, located on West Nacogdoches between Peach and Grape streets, began in 1845 and received many of those early pioneers who founded NB. It also is the resting place for the almost 400 people buried in mass graves who died from hardship and illness like cholera. The oldest existing marker is of Johann Justus Kellner (1821-1851). The first recorded Hispanic burial was of the two-year-old son of Antonio Urdiales in 1885; four other Hispanics are recorded prior to 1900. Like so many of the souls in New Braunfels Cemetery, these are now unmarked. Many of the burial markers in this sacred ground have deteriorated over time and worse, been heavily vandalized. The identity of this relatively forgotten cemetery is one of perseverance through hardship.

Comal Cemetery is across town on Common Street and Peace Avenue. Located on land donated in 1868 by John Torrey, the first recorded burial was Fredrich (Fritz) Hartwig in 1873. However, people were using the nearby hillside covered with cedar trees (Die Peines) prior to that. A search in the sexton records revealed 33 people with Hispanic surnames were buried here between 1874 and 1900. Dionicio Lira (1879-1903) is the oldest existing marker and is located very near to Daniel Murchison’s (1809-1867) elaborate pink granite obelisk. Lira shares the immediate area with Martina Azares (1862-1906), Petro Hinojosa (1885-1919) and Pedro Dominguez (1899-1921). From its inception, Comal Cemetery’s layout made space for African Americans and Hispanics. Its identity is gracious and formal, rooted in its respect for each soul and their contributions to NB history.

Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church first had a cemetery in the late 1840s near New Braunfels Cemetery on the city’s west side. A lawsuit over polluted water resulted in a land trade that gave the church a new burial ground near Comal Cemetery. Located next to the NB Public Library on Common Street, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery was opened in 1889 with the internment of ten souls from the old cemetery. It is laid out on a strict grid with a center monument. The earliest part of the cemetery is the northern half which fronts Common Street. This half is divided equally between Hispanic and German/Anglo. This equality sparks joy!

More joy is found in the ways each half is culturally represented. The German/Anglo side is formal, dignified and focused on solemn remembrance. Their markers manifest the hard-won success of the citizens and honor them. The Hispanic half is less traditional. Honor is given but with a greater sense of creativity. Personality, color, and unique-shaped concrete markers with added decorative materials express the cultural inclination to celebrate life as well as honor death. The identity of this cemetery is one of freedom as the two cultures exist side-by-side through shared beliefs.

It wasn’t until after World War I, that the Hispanic community created their own cemetery. Panteon Hidalgo was begun through the efforts of a group of influential Hispanic men who saw the need to accommodate the growing population. Opened officially in 1920, Panteon Hidalgo is located across Dittlinger Street from the Catholic Cemetery and across Peace Street from Comal Cemetery. Hidalgo is a world of colorful tiles and artificial flowers with Its traditional concrete crosses crowded together. Unlike the German population, family plots here are rare, but it is rather fun to crisscross the cemetery finding family members and also seeing the graves of other old friends. Its identity is friendly and warm with remembrance.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church was begun in 1926 and by 1930 had grown to the point it decided to have its own cemetery. Perpetuo Socorro or Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cemetery was officially opened in 1931. This cemetery shares the block on Peace Street with Panteon Hidalgo and in many ways is similar in look and style to its neighbor. I think there are more flowers, more colored tiles, more family mementos and childrens’ toys which makes this cemetery feel very alive and cared for. It’s personal. Dignified but fun. Its identity is rooted in love of family.

We have gotten to know each of the cemeteries — each delightfully different. We have gained an understanding of how New Braunfels has grown from that early influx of pioneering Germans in the 1840s-1850s to include the African-Americans who became free in the 1860s and the Mexican citizens migrating up through Texas in the 1890s-1900s. The intensive look into our cemeteries has shown us that New Braunfels was built through the hard work and sweat of all its ethnicities. Together we have built New Braunfels and together we have died and been buried here.

Sources: Comal County Historical Commission, Sophienburg Museum & Archives