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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I posted more photos than usual in this post. Do you prefer having more or less photos?
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