Writing

The Cemetery and the Swordsman

I’m going to digress from the writing talk to brag about a cool bit of my family trivia. My family, after all, has influenced me and provided plenty of inspiration for me as a writer.

It all starts with a cemetery. Okay, not really — it started in Spain with a boy and a ship in the early 1800s, but the cemetery is an important plot device.

Once upon a time, my great-great-great grandfather Jose “Pepe” Llulla owned this cemetery — St. Vincent de Paul. In the 1800s, Pepe Llulla was considered quite a famous duelist in New Orleans. The local joke was that he was such a deadly swordsman he needed a cemetery for all his victims. In reality, he rarely killed his opponent  — the cemetery was a business venture. Besides being a sailor, a swordsman and even briefly a farmer, he was also a businessman.

After his death, the cemetery was owned by his daughters and their husbands, two brothers — Manuel and Vincent Suarez. Eventually it was sold, but when I was a kid we would visit the Suarez-Llulla plots and my grandfather would tell us the story. A fantastic tale of a larger than life Spaniard who defended people’s honor with the sword and provided them an honorable resting place where flood waters couldn’t resurrect their coffins. Our family didn’t own the land anymore, we owned the history. But we weren’t the only ones.


More recently, the Llullas, who remained in Spain when Pepe left to conquer under the Dueling Oaks of New Orleans, tracked me down through the internet. This was in 2008. They let me know they had compiled a family tree and all sorts of research on Pepe Llulla. I got busy with school and lost touch, but today, 9 years later and 129 years after Pepe’s death, we all got together and headed out to the old cemetery.


When Pepe was alive Suarez and Llulla joined in this city through marriage. In 2017, we reunited in a cemetery.

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