Bella Vida by Letty

Cities of the Dead ~ New Orleans Cemeteries

St. Louis Cemetery Number One

It takes one year for human remains to decompose in the above ground tombs of New Orleans cemeteries.  These vaults are an example of Spanish influence on the city.  Before then citizens tried various methods of interring the deceased but nothing worked because the city built on a swamp is prone to flash floods.  Flooding would cause buried coffins to pop out of the ground and float into the streets of the city.  Not good.  New Orleans cemeteries adapted to this method creating a unique series of tombs and vaults which look like miniature cities, cities of the dead.

St. Louis Cemetery Number One in New Orleans

St. Louis Cemetery Number One in New Orleans

New Orleans is a great example of a city which celebrates its cultural heritage by preserving its past.  Gone but certainly not forgotten.  There are no less than 42 cemeteries in the metropolitan New Orleans area.  Many remain highly visited tourist attractions.  The largest cemetery is Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery but the most famous is St. Louis Cemetery Number One, the burial place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.  During her life she was revered for her legendary voodoo powers and remains so to this day.

Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau Tomb

Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau Tomb

Her grave is encircled with gift offerings from believers and non believers making the pilgrimage to visit her tomb in exchange for blessings.  A cluttered pile of odd offerings at the foot of the grave the day I visited consisted of feathers, gum, dolls, beads, flowers and even booze.  I’m imagining some arrived ill prepared and just left whatever they had on them.  The markings you see on the tomb are little x’s but our tour guide discouraged it seeing it as vandalism.  He suggested to knock three times on the tomb instead.  Somehow I just knew I would receive a response if I did.  I didn’t want to bring anything back home with me other than these wonderful photos so I did not knock.

Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau Tomb

Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau Tomb

The St. Louis Number One is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in New Orleans.  The tombs and vaults range in both size, condition and decor from concrete to brick or wrapped in wrought iron.  The largest belong to the wealthiest or are community vaults designed to share the cost of maintenance.  On its outer walls the cemetery has vaults available for rent to help out those who can’t afford a tomb.  A few world famous buried there are chess champion Paul Morphy, activist Homer Plessy, the family of impressionist artist Edgar Degas.  Actor Nicolas Cage’s pyramid shaped tomb also draws big crowds.

 St. Louis Cemetery Number One

St. Louis Cemetery Number One in New Orleans

Visiting NOLA Cemetery Tips

– Take a tour.  You will learn so much about the city’s rich history rather than looking at a bunch of names on graves you’ve never heard of.  I did the New Orleans Voodoo Cemetery tour which contributes a portion of its proceeds to maintain the site.

– Go in a group.  Some of the cemeteries are in worse shape than others and you may run into a dead end and get lost.  It was also recommended to me because there have been instances of muggings in the more solitary locations.

– Take an umbrella.  It gets really really really hot especially during the summertime months.  An umbrella will help shield you from the bright sun.

– Bring water.  When I was exiting the cemetery I bumped into someone selling water bottles in front of the cemetery but he was not there when I arrived.  There are no fountains and it gets extremely hot when the sunlight reflects off the vaults.

– Plan accordingly.  Not everyone can handle walking in the sun during hot weather.  There were a few people who left our tour early because they were not prepared nor used to extreme heat.

Have you visited a NOLA cemetery?

St. Louis Cemetery Number One in New Orleans

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  • ItsJoelen

    Wow amazing pictures! Thanks for sharing!

  • Ashley

    Great pics! Must be spooky to visit at night.

    • I think they do have spooky tours at night for those who like to be scared.

  • Allyson Bossie

    Great pics, but I don’t think I’d want to go there. I get all freaked out by cemetery’s much less graves above the ground

    • Yes, it can be spooky but we were there in the bright sun so it wasn’t at all.

  • Mitchelle

    Wow this reminds me so much of the Philippines. Some rich Filipino even build a mausoleum complete with electricity, water, and sleeping quarters.
    BTW, the pictures are ok.

    • Wow, with electricity and everything! lol Talk about exaggerated.

      • Mitchelle

        Extravagance, they don’t know what to do with their money,lol. … But that’s just 10% while the rest of the 90% are on hand to mouth existence.

  • this is so cool one of my favorite post.

  • I love this. It’s morbidly beautiful. I have not yet made it to New Orleans, but I would definitely want to take a tour like this.

    • Thanks Tonya. I hope you get to go. It’s a great town.

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  • Robin Rue

    I have seen this on so many tv shows over the years. I would love to visit there IRL!

  • Sandy D.

    Wow, I’ve never heard of this place!

  • Very interesting. I’ve been to NOLA but I didn’t know about these cemeteries.

  • I’ve been to two NOLA cemeteries and I’m going back next month. I find it incredibly fascinating!

  • wow that is nice I would like to visit one of the NOLA cemeteries I think the history of them is interesting.

  • Saving Common Cents

    New Orleans has such a distinguished history and I love that they remember the dead with such ornate memorials. I would definitely be interested in touring these cemeteries WHEN I get to visit!

  • I love these types of cemeteries! I saw some like this in Costa Rica as well. Some of those offerings may be random as you said, while others, even though odd, may have to do with what their wish or desire was perhaps. I did see a vial of essential oil left for her, what a nice gift! 🙂

  • I love NoLa! Great post. There is so much history around every corner in that city and so many unique customs. What a great idea for a tour.

  • Love all the p hotos and you’re right, the cemeteries are so interesting!

  • Abundant Journeys

    Love NOLA! Everytime I see images of the cemetaries I think of Nicholas Cages movie.

  • Kristin Strange

    So awesome, I have not seen anything like this ever before in the world. I will put this tour on my bucket list next time we make it to New Orleans.

  • I haven’t visited those in over 30 years. I need to go visit family I have New Orleans.

  • TweenselMom

    I never thought we can also be interested with cemeteries 🙂

  • Ourfamilyworld

    This is an interesting visit. I have never considered visiting a cemetery before

  • Interesting place to visit but I am unsure it will be the right place for me

  • Denise D.

    I found this very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • I did not know that it took that long for a body to decompose. Your photos remind me of the movie ‘Double Jeopardy’ with Ashley Judd. Love seeing lots of photos on a topic that interests me!

  • wow some great pictures! I don’t see these usually unless I’m visiting the Philippines and spending time at the cemetery!

  • Jhoveleen David

    I am not a fan of going to cemeteries actually, it freaks me out.