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Grave marker for last of the Chevrolet brothers moved closer to his actual gravesite

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Photo courtesy Indiana Racing Memorial Association.

While Indy 500 and local historians have a good idea in which grave Arthur Chevrolet likely now lies — and know for sure in which grave he doesn’t — his final resting place officially remains unknown, in part due to his own instructions. However, they’ve given him the next best thing, a cenotaph in the Louisiana cemetery in which he was buried.

Arthur Chevrolet outlived his older brother Louis, who lent his name to the carmaker, and his younger brother Gaston, who won the 1920 Indianapolis 500, but never enjoyed the fame or accomplishments of either. He also survived a son, Arthur Chevrolet Jr., and a grandson, and suffered a number of insults throughout his life. Though Billy Durant hired him alongside Louis in 1907 to drive for the Buick Racing Team, Louis proved the better driver and Durant relegated Arthur to chauffeur duty. His racing career at Indianapolis consisted of two starts, both marred by mechanical failures.

It was perhaps in the years following Gaston’s death in a racing accident, when Arthur and Louis retired from racing and formed Frontenac to build and sell race cars and performance parts, that Arthur saw his greatest success. He already had one patent to his name — for a type of piston ring — and took out another couple — one for the overhead-valve conversion for Ford Model T engines that made popular the Frontenac name, the other for an aircraft engine he intended to sell under the name Chevolair.

The Chevolair, however, never took off, and even before the demise of the company, Arthur and Louis split after a fight over who would get to use the family name in their business ventures. Louis went on to work for Stutz then later returned to Detroit to take a low-level job at Chevrolet Motor Company before his death in 1941. Meanwhile, Arthur worked for Cummins Engine Company throughout the Thirties before he wound up in Slidell, Louisiana, where he went to work for the Higgins Engine Company as a production engineer during World War II.

According to Slidell-based historian John Case, toward the end of his life Arthur and a partner started to develop a high-performance engine they intended to market on their own while on company time; when found out, they were forced to abandon the project and see their prototype destroyed.

In the aftermath of that incident — and while facing his wife’s deepening dementia — Arthur hung himself in April 1946. In a letter to his daughter, he asked that he be buried without a grave marker and that his family not bury him alongside his brothers in Indianapolis’ Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery. Instead, they chose Slidell’s Our Lady of Lourdes Cemetery; any record of where they had his body buried was destroyed by flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The matter of his burial site didn’t resurface until 2011 when, as part of that year’s celebrations of the Chevrolet Motor Company’s centennial, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway paid for a grave marker for Arthur Chevrolet to accompany the marker that the Speedway commissioned for Louis in 1975. Speedway officials, however, had it placed in Holy Cross in Indianapolis, not in Slidell.

It took a story by David Freese, reporting for the St. Tammany News in 2012, to highlight that mistake. Freese’s proof: a death certificate confirming Arthur Chevrolet’s burial in Slidell. A followup story in the Indianapolis Star in 2014 brought the mistake to wider attention and revealed that the body of Arthur Chevrolet Jr. actually lay in the Indianapolis grave that speedway officials believed contained Arthur Chevrolet Sr.

Armed with that knowledge, officials with the Indiana Racing Memorial Association decided — after unveiling plans for an Indianapolis gravesite memorial for the Chevrolet family — to get permission to move the 2011 Arthur Chevrolet grave marker to the cemetery in Slidell. They did so last July and this past weekend added to it a cenotaph clarifying the reason for and placement of the grave marker.

Though they suspect one gravesite in particular to be Arthur Chevrolet’s, Case and IRMA officials decided not to mark it with the 2011 stone or the cenotaph to honor Arthur Chevrolet’s letter.