Cemeteries, New Orleans
New Orleans has many "above ground" cemeteries in town due to the fact that much of the city is at or below sea level. this one is just North of the French Quarter. Do not go here alone at night it is not in a good neighborhood.
It's not a case of being morbid, but the cemetaries in New Orleans give an insight into the practical difficulties of laying people to rest in an area that is at or below sea level. We visited St.Louis and Lafayette #3 cemetaries and learned about the practice of burying multiple bodies in one above ground tomb - and how they managed to get multiple bodies into such relatively small spaces. Won't spoil the surprise, but take a quick trip - its fascinating.
We visited one cemetery as part of the 2hr city VIP bus tour.
A walk in the Garden District wouldn't be complete without a visit to Lafayette Cemetery #1. Like St. Louis #1 in the French Quarter, it is a walled enclosure of Latin-style, above-ground tombs. It differs in that it's not as old, not nearly as maze-like, and reflects its own unique chapter of New Orleans history.
The Garden District was mainly settled in the 1830's by Americans and immigrants looking for opportunity in the prospering city of New Orleans. Unwelcome by the Creole society in the Quarter - largely Catholic and fiercely proud of their status as "originals" - the newcomers built their homes in the new City of Lafeyette, southwest of the Quarter. The cemetery's monuments and tomb markings illustrate the addition of families from the Northern states, Ireland, Germany, Holland and other countries. It also marks the many lives lost during the yellow fever epidemic (see pix) and locals who fell during the Civil War.
A peaceful and pleasant place to explore, you can see this cemetery with a tour (see my tour tip) or on your own. The helpful assistant at the Garden District Visitor's Center said that it was very safe and although I did glimpse one fellow sleeping soundly behind a row of tombs, there were plenty of other visitors and groundskeepers around for company.
Cemetery hours are 7:00 - 2:30 M-F, 7:00 - 12:00 Sat., closed Sundays and holidays. Free.
I never saw anything like the coffins encrypted above the ground. We visited the cemeteries in the Garden District and another Lafayette #3 near the Art Museum on Esplanade. I was surprised at how busy the cemeteries were and how friendly everyone was.
I wanted to see at least one of the cemeteries but as I was on a budget I didn't really want to take a tour. By accident I was coming out of the quarter along the same street as a horse and carriage tour (they were moving along at walking pace) - I took the opportunity to shadow the small group across to the cemetery to see where the guide took them. They didn't venture very far inside the gates so I stuck to the same parts, and left when they did (being a lone female). I got a few pictures as I wanted, and as the tours where coming in every few minutes it's pretty easy to do this and maybe safer than being in there alone with your camera.
the cemeteries of new orleans are the most unique cemeteries in the united states. all of the tombs are built above ground because of the high water table of the area. many of these tombs are beautiful works of funerary art. there are a number of cemeteries around the city and the st. louis and lafayette are the most visited. sadly these cemeteries are unsafe for the tourist because of criminals that inhabit these places. the only safe way to visit these cemeteries is by guided tour. attached are a couple of tour web sites.
If you love history, there's a ton of it to be learned by taking one of the cemetery tours. I stumbled upon one across from Commanders that was free but it's nice to make a donation because they can use the support. It sounds kind of creepy but the feeling goes away quickly.
On our Garden District Tour they took us to Lafayette Cemetery. (if anyone had seen the movie Double Jepordy with Ashley Judd - that is the cemetery and they showed us where she was).
It was intresting to hear how they do things here. For example they put the person who passed away in a coffin and put you in the vault for one year and one day. The New Orleans sun makes the body turn into ash. After that year and day they take out the casket and put the ashes in the bottom of the vault. So if you ever buy someones burial vault you can not move the ashes. So there is many familys combined in there we were told.
Also one weekend out of the year they have a cookout in the cemetery while they clean up the family vaults. Strange I know!! There were many of them that were run down.
Some of the graves are buried under ground as that is how they wanted or believe it should be. How they did that was they had dirt in cement that was raised from the ground, then they buried the loved ones in that dirt.
In the hot, humid climate of southern Louisiana, where the water table lies just a few feet below the surface, people cannot be buried. Some other method had to be devised.
The body of the deceased is set inside the stone monument, where it decomposes in the heat. In accordance with rules stipulated by the Catholic Church, they lie there for a year and a day. Then, the monument is opened, and the remains are tossed into the pit below. This way, room is available for the next one. If the next member of that family dies before the place is available, then the body is placed into one of the temporary spots on the side.
Families purchase these, and use them for generation after generation. The remains of dozens may be inside one of these.
In a city below sea level, with a very high water table, cemeteries are unique. As buried wooden coffins will frequently float to the surface, cemeteries were designed with above ground stone and marble tombs. Some of the grave sites in the old cemeteries are spectacular.
Even modern cemeteries are built above ground in the city. In the Lower 9th Ward, I drove by an above ground cemetery where it looked like at least 25% of the tombs had broken open and the coffins had floated away. I guess you can't plan for everything.
An organization dedicated to "preserving, protecting, and and promoting the historic cemeteries of New Orleans," is Save Our Cemeteries, Inc. They operate some great tours but on a limited basis. No reservations are accepted and space is limited, so it's first come, first served !! Get there early !!
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Founded in 1789, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the final resting place of some of the most notable citizens of New Orleans. You will see the famed "oven wall vaults" where the notorious "Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau" is enterred. Etienne de Bore, pioneer in sugar development; Daniel Clark, financial supporter of the American Revolution; Paul Morphy, former world Chess Champion are but a few of the local giants buried here. New Orleans' French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese immigrants are buried in lavish crypts here and there are many stories to be told.
Meet your guide on SUNDAYS ONLY at the Royal Blend Coffee Shop at 621 Royal Street. Tours are 1.5 hours. "Suggested " donations are $12 adult; $10 Senior Citizens; $6 students 12 -18; FREE children under 12.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
The younger Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 founded in 1833, has been in continuous use ever since. Located in the beautiful "Garden District" and was once part & parcel of Livaudais Plantation, this cemetery was layed out so as to accommodate funeral processions by intersecting avenues, and was the city's first "planned" cemetery. Its history, location and architectural significance led to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours leave from the cemetery's main gate on the 1400 block of Washingon Avenue (15 minute street car ride from Canal Street ~ St. Charles Avnue Line) on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, & Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. sharp! Also no reservations; space limited. Tours are 1 hr. Suggested donation is $6 adults; $5 Senior Citizens & students; children 12 and under FREE.
"ToMb iT mAY cONceRn"
New Orleans inhabitants often refer to their cemeteries as Cities of the Dead. They are quite unique but not totally uncommon. They are definitely an important part of New Orleans' heritage and are architecturally and historically significant as indicated by the fact that at least 2 of the oldest, and most notable have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This cemeteries consists of crypts above ground because New Orleans lies below sea level...digging graves in this area would mean striking water and floating caskets and hence, crypts are naturally above ground structures. These crypts, dating to the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, are the resting places of some of quite famous people.
See more details in Part II.
Above ground 'burials' are done in many places where there is a high water table and below sea level New Orleans is one of those places. How intrigued my dad was with the cemeteries in 1950!!
While most people seem to visit the older St. Louis #1 or one of the Metarie cemeteries, our city tour took us to St. Louis #3 - conveniently located next to the racetrack and Bayou St. John. City Park, one of the country’s largest urban parks is also nearby. In 1854 was built on a former graveyard for lepers because of a desperate need for burial space after the most ravaging outbreak of yellow fever in New Orleans history.
Since the cemetery’s opening, it has been used steadily. Today, it has over four hundred interments a year and a waiting list to purchase burial space. Even though burial plots are crowded together, broad main aisles give the cemetery a wide-open appearance. The main aisles are named after saints; the cross aisles are named for bishops and archbishops.
The cemetery contains several tombs for members of fraternal societies, vaults for priests and nuns, and tombs for many historic and prominent personages in New Orleans history including
* Estopinal, Albert b. January 30, 1845 d. April 28, 1919 US Congressman, elected to represent Louisiana's 1st District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1908 until his death in 1919. Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana from 1900 to 1904. He served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
* Millet, Clarence b. March 25, 1897 d. August 23, 1959 a noted Artist. A self-taught painter, his works have been displayed at the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and the Art Institute of Chicago.
* Nash, Charles Edmund b. May 23, 1844 d. June 21, 1913 A US Congressman elected to represent Louisiana's 6th District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1875 to 1877. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 8:00 A.M.; Sun. & Holidays, 8:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M.
This famiy tomb is now empty. Apparently the family had all died out and no one is left to be entombed here. The process where the bodies are entombed was facinating. Instead of being cremated or buried, the body is entombed in a casket, placed on the top shelf and the tomb is sealed. After one year and a day the seal is opened, the casket removed, the body removed (practically cremated because the inside temperatures of this tomb are around 250 degrees) and broken up then scattered on the bottom of this crypt. Interesting!
Walk past any cemetery in New Orleans and you'll notice a fascinating feature of this city. In New Orleans, the dead are buried in above-ground tombs. Plots were made this way because New Orleans is below sea level, and if bodies were put into graves, they would wash away because of the very high water table. There are many elaborate graves and ones into which many bodies were thrown when new family members took the space. These tombs are beautiful monuments, some dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Not all of the cemeteries are open to tourists. There are two worth visiting. One of these is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significant history, location, and architectural importance. The other is St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery, which is the burial ground of some of the most famous figures from the city's past. Here you will find the supposed tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Go with a tour to get the history of the cemeteries and because some of the surrounding areas around the sites can be unsavory.