Cemeteries, New Orleans
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'.
You don't need a guide to visit some of the cemeteries in New Olreans---we went to Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District--there is plenty of street parking around it, and walked around marvelling at the statues and vaults with old New Orleans names..Established in 1833, it is the only cemetery in NO dedicated to anyone---Theodore Von La Hache was a musician around the early 1800's who founded the New Olreans Philharmonic Society and the cemetery was dedicated to him. Take your time and enjoy the sunshine and the unusual sculptures. Maybe you can surreptitiously follow a group tour......:>
I took a taxi one day while in New Orleans. The cab driver was the tops! He told me that for a extra $20.00 he could do a tour for me. So I hired him to take me to the graveyard. As I walked around he followed behind to make sure no one bothered me. It was great, I had the graveyard to myself!
A little side note: the best head stone I saw said:”Closed Forever.” HA!
Anyhow Roy’s Taxi service now has 2 full time guys. It costs about the same as to take a tour, but you have a private van (up to 6 people).
Roy’s Taxi: Car Phone 514-323-3112/ Home phone 504-828-8605/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I went to the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 tour. It was the cemetery that the movie Double Jeopardy was filmed at and was also the inspiration behind Ann Rice's Interview with a Vampire... or so I was told. I thought it was a very interesting tour and had a few stories of the Yellow Fever outbreak in the 1870's.
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.
Taking a tour of one of the many unique and historical cemeteries is a must while you are in New Orleans. Again, there are many tour companies available that offer this service, some flashier than others, but we did some research and chose to go with a company called Save Our Cemeteries. It is a non-profit organization that helps fund the restoration (NOT renovation!) of the aging gravestones and tombs in the cemeteries. The tours are lead by passionate people with a genuine interest in the conservation of these landmarks and the rich histories that they offer. The tours for this cemetery leave from the lobby of the Basin Street Station and was easy to get to by taking the red trolley car.
We chose St. Louis #1 because it is the rumoured burial ground of the iconic Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the cemetery and those who are buried there. It was a great tour with the only down point being the eyesore of a tomb that Nicolas Cage has built on one of the few remaining plots that he purchased. The worst part about this monstrosity is the damage that was done to the surrounding tombs during the construction process by his crews.
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
The water table is high in New Orleans and therefore the Spanish custom of above ground tombs are used instead of burying the dead which makes the cemetery's quite unique and quite a visitor attraction. A lot that have deteriorated over time but many have been preserved or are in the state of being restored. There is quite a mix of elaborately and even architecturally designed tombs.
In earlier times, settlers used the underground method to bury their people and used to place stones inside and on top of the coffins to weigh them down in an endeavour to keep them underground when flooding occurred. They even tried to bore holes in the coffins which wasn't the greatest of ideas either. Even today occasional flooding will cause coffins to rise out of the ground in areas not usually affected by water and therefore not buried above ground.
The cemetaries are very unique, above ground and some are fairly ornate. Because we're below sea level most are buried above ground so the won't wash away (or worse!). There are quite a few to checkout - do it during the day only and not alone.
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.
Believe it or not the cemetaries in New Orleans are very famous and often a frequent travel spot. They are very old and hold tons of history. Many famous figures are buried in these above groud cemetaries.