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.
I had heard about the above ground burials that were flooded and so wanted to see what happened. Most cemetaries appeared to have survived the flooding due to the heavy materials of which they are made. A few tombs need some expensive repair though. I didn't have time to survey the entire graveyard, but it appeared to be intact after Katrina
New Orleans is plagued with soggy soil in low lying areas, so time has shown it futile to bury one's beloved underground in these places. Just as the Europeans discovered the advantages of above ground vaults, New Orleans has adopted that style of burial, as well.
Crypts provide a beautiful resting place and put an end to coffins rising up from the ground each time flooding is experienced. St. Louis cemetery #3 somewhat reminded us of Argentina, where we visited a very famous cemetery, Recoleta, where only the upper crust or the famous were permitted to lie within these elegant crypts.
Cautioned not to explore any of the cemeteries alone, we were able to do so through Tours by Isabelle. We skirted the edges of the cemetery, paying mind to the various styles of crypts but not venturing into the center of this city of the dead.
"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.
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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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.
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 know for its cemetaries. We had read warnings about the cemetary tours and were even warned personally by people in New Orleans not to visit the cemetaries alone. Some of them are known for being unsafe to visit alone. We were advised to take escorted tours. I agree with this advise and pass it along to anyone visiting New Orleans for the first time. We saw several cemetaries in some unsafe areas and it was obvious you could get into trouble. The cemetary we visited was St. Louis #3. It was just a couple of blocks from The New Orleans City Park and directly on a bus stop. The area was very open and seemed safe. So we got off of the bus after visiting the City Park and took a personal tour of this cemetary.
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.
Metairie Lakelawn Cemetery offers a FREE self-guided CD audio tour and map. Just go to the sales office and ask - you leave your drivers licence as collateral, but there is no charge. This is a wonderful way to visit the cemetery and see the beautiful funereal architecture for which New Orleans is famous.
Notables buried in Metairie Cemetery include:
P.G.T. Beauregard, Confederate military officer
John Bell Hood, Confederate military officer
William C. C. Claiborne, the first U.S. Governor of Louisiana
Marguerite Clark, stage & film actress
Dorothy Dix, advice columnist
Jim Garrison, New Orleans District Attorney
Andrew Higgins, inventor of the "Higgins Boat"
Al Hirt, jazz trumpeter
Mel Ott, Hall of Fame Major League Baseball Player
P. B. S. Pinchback, African American Governor of Louisiana for 35 days, 1872-1873
Louis Prima, bandleader
Stan Rice, poet
Norman Treigle, opera star
Alton Ochsner, Surgeon, Co-founder of Ochsner Clinic(now Ochsner Health System)
Al Copeland, Founder of Popeyes and serveral other restaurants.
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