I had a dream a few nights ago, one that was, for me, a very lucid one, and it was quite simple: I found Wesley Barrow’s grave in my dream.
I waffle back and forth when it comes to the interpretation of dreams as possible omens of the future, but what happened in the last couple days, culminating Friday afternoon, inched me closer to being a believer in such Freudian hokum.
Yesterday, with the help of city of Gretna Councilman Milton Crosby, I did indeed find Barrow’s grave, this time in real life. After months of futile searching through New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery, I located where the local hardball legend — player, manager, mentor to countless young black men over the span of 30-plus years — is interred.
And it is what I had feared: Barrow’s grave is unmarked. Here it is:
Quite simply, I want that to change. It must change.
True, Barrow, whose blackball career spanned just about the entire country, Baltimore to the Pacific Northwest to Hawaii and back to New Orleans, does have a beautifully rehabilitated stadium named after him here in the historic African-American neighborhood of Pontchartrain Park — below is a photo of the stadium.
But being buried in an unmarked, anonymous grave — and with another man, Jim Skillet, whose name is also absent from the burial site — robs such an influential man of a certain amount of much-deserved dignity in death.
While we were standing at the grave, Councilman Crosby told me a little bit about Wesley Barrow’s life, death and influence on the councilman himself, who, it turns out, played for Barrow on a team sponsored by the Blue Room restaurant.
“Wesley Barrow taught me a lot,” Crosby told me. “I learned a lot from him. He was a great coach and a great man.”
Unfortunately, the councilman said, because the skipper traveled so much in pursuit of his storied managerial career, Barrow never really had a chance to truly lay down roots here in NOLA, meaning he didn’t have much of a family left when he died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve, 1965.
Because of that, there was no one to pay for anything in the way of a dignified grave, including a name marker. New Hope Baptist Church in Gretna appears to have taken his body into its cemetery as an act of charity; Councilman Crosby said the career baseball man wasn’t even a congregant of the church.
The councilman theorizes that Jim Skillet was some sort of distant relative of Barrow’s who died with equally paltry means and was interred with the skipper.
Crosby, who is a New Hope parishioner, recently took control of the cemetery and immediately set about launching an ambitious — and, so far, quite successful — beautification and rehabilitation effort at the historic burial grounds.
Councilman Crosby said he would love to see the placement of a grave marker at Barrow’s burial spot, as well as a formal dedication ceremony, which he said would attract dozens of people, especially local men who played under and were tutored by Barrow.
“I could round up all of them guys,” he said with an enthusiastic grin.
Crosby estimated, from what I recall, that buying a stone for the grave would cost between $100 and $150, which I feel could easily be raised from community groups and local businesses.
So what say you, New Orleans and anyone else who reads this? Can we do it? If you think we can, leave comments on this blog or, even better, e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.