Cemeteries, New Orleans
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.
The above-ground tombs in the cemeteries of New Orleans are often referred to as "cities of the dead."
Votive candles line tombs on holidays to remind you the Dead have living relatives that still care.
Early settlers in the area struggled with different methods to bury the dead. Burial plots are shallow in New Orleans because the water table is high. Dig a few feet down, and the grave becomes soggy, filling with water. The casket will literally float. You just can't keep a good person down!
The early settlers tried by placing stones in and on top of coffins to weigh them down and keep them underground. Unfortunately, after a rainstorm, the rising water table would literally pop the airtight coffins out of the ground. To this day, unpredictable flooding still lifts an occasional coffin out of the ground in those areas generally considered safe from flooding and above the water table.
Another method tried was to bore holes in the coffins. This method also proved to be unsuitable. Eventually, New Orleans' graves were kept above ground following the Spanish custom of using vaults.
The walls of these cemeteries are made up of economical vaults that are stacked on top of one another. The rich and wealthier families could afford the larger ornate tombs with crypts. Many family tombs look like miniature houses complete with iron fences. The rows of tombs resemble streets. New Orleans burial plots quickly became known as "Cites of the Dead."
On your way into New Orleans from the airport, you can glimpse the newer Metairie Cemeteries.
Caution: The "Cities of the Dead" are alluring, but dangerous. Don't go there alone-- travel with a group or arrange to attend a tour. The narrow paths and tombs offer concealment for muggers.
Tours of the cemeteries are conducted by several tour companies; these tours are definitely unique, and are worth the memories!
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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.
"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.
They call the cemeteries in New Orleans "cities of the Dead". Surrounded by eight foot walls are tombs upon tombs upon tombs. The ones in the pictures, they call "ovens" (for obvious reasons). Some graves are crumpling away so bad, you swear you see bones. Some are untouched. All types of people are buried in these cemeteries surrounding the French Quarter....aristocrats, pirates, voodoo queens!!
Muggers have been known to take advantage of the many hiding places, so travel with a group is best. Walking tours are offered....information is everywhere! If tours aren't your thing, go in the morning and eavesdrop on one of the MANY tours that pass through.
New Orleans is loaded with above ground cemetaries, necessary due the city being below sea level. This is the one time I would recommend taking a guided walking tour because they can be somewhat dangerous places if you are alone. They are unique, however, and worth seeing.
When you walk around these old cemetaries you notice the beauty and elaborate-ness ..You feel the history. Most graves are above ground plots because of our sea level. Its nice to go on a misty rainy day ...just don't forget the gates close @ 5pm or you'll be locked in!!!!OVERNIGHT
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.
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.
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. These tombs are elegant monuments, some dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The main reason for the above ground tombs is because of the very high water table, which precludes burying underground.
Not all of the cemeteries are open to tourists. However, there are two worth visiting:
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District. You can find a number of prominent New Orleanians buried there. Designated a city burial site in 1833, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is placed on the National Register of Historic Places by virtue of its significant history, location, and architectural importance.
St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery, founded in 1789, 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: Etienne Bore, pioneer in sugar development; and, Paul Morphy, world famous chess champion and many more.
It is recommended to take a guided tour as it is said that wandering around alone on the cemetaries is not so safe, especially in St. Louis'.
If you know anything about New Orleans then you probably know it's essential that you visit their cemeteries or "cities of the dead" when you're there. You will be in awe of these "cities" and their beautiful statues, architectural and wrought iron detail.
Why not bury the dead underground like most everywhere else you ask?...
Because burial plots are shallow in New Orleans & the water table is high. If you were to dig a few feet down, the grave would become soggy, eventually filling with water. The casket would probably float!
Early settlers of the area tried actually placed stones in and on top of coffins back in the day to weigh them down and keep them underground. Unfortunately, after a rainstorm, the rising water table would literally pop the airtight coffins out of the ground. YIKES!
To this day most of the vaults within each tomb are stacked on top of one another. It is my understanding that the most recent vault (or coffin) is placed at the top within in the tomb and each vault beneath it is then moved down. The vault at the bottom is then taken out? It seems the people of New Orleans regularly handle their deceased, shifting and stacking bodies in the family crypt.
When visiting, be aware, muggings have been known to take place amidst the tombs. We did not, however, have a problem with this. But strange characters were lingering around.
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.
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.
As morbid as this may sound, you must take a walking tour of either St. Louis or Lafayette cemetaries. The tombs are all above ground due to the water table being so high in the area, the coffins would not stay under ground! 'Historic New Orleans Walking Tours' offers entertaining & historically accurate tours daily.
Call 504-947-2120 or visit their website http://www.tourneworleans.com