Cemeteries, New Orleans
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.
New Orleans Cemetery #1 - This is a picture of Marie Louveau's tomb. See the travelogue for more info!
This is the cemetery where Marie Louveau is buried, as well as part of the Locoul family (see the travelogue about Laura Plantation to learn more about the Locoul's).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most unique thing in New Orleans is that all their graves are build above the ground and this is because the whole of New Orleans is below sea level.
From what I gathered from the cemetery tour that I took (there are a lots of tours for you to pick from in New Orleans, theres tourist booths all over just haggle a bit on the price to get the best rate), back to what I gathered at the cemetery tour, each of this grave houses the remains of each member of a family. The coffin is put into the grave and after a year when the body disintegrates into particles, it is put into a sack/bag which is then pushed to the end of the grave until the next family member passes on.
Quite interesting actually, when in New Orleans, don't give it a miss.
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.
There's something eerie about a visit to the cemetery - and the fact that the cemeteries are tourist attractions is a bit more eerie. But once you walk through the rows and rows of above ground tombs, there's something peaceful about the visit.
Because much of New Orleans is marshland, the dead have to be buried above ground. Locals learned of this the hard way when bodies started coming up from six feet under after heavy rains a long, long time ago. Now, the dead are buried in above ground tombs.
Touring the cemetaries are interesting because of the history of the family generations. The beautifully decorated architecture of the tombs are a delight to the ambience. During the day you can walk in without a guide or ask one of the tour hosts in the quarter area for ticket info.