Bella Vida by Letty

cemeteries

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

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

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Road Trip: Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia
Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia

A recent road trip led me to Georgia’s oldest city, Savannah. Established in 1733 this seaport city is rich with history, culture and things to see. The local government makes it apparent it is committed to protecting and preserving important landmarks by doing a consummate job of maintaining its many parks and squares.

One interesting place I visited was the Bonaventure Cemetery. This particular cemetery was incorporated into the city’s park system in 1907 but the land has been in use as burial grounds since 1847. Like a few other places in Savannah it’s famous for being featured in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia
Tree lined dirt paths at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia

At the entrance of the cemetery a red brick building built in 1918 serves as the Bonaventure Administrative Building and headquarters for the City of Savannah Department of Cemeteries. Inside I was greeted by a small white haired lady balancing the largest thick black rimmed glasses on her tiny nose intent on having me sign the guest book. I politely conceded.

The navigator in me immediately gravitated to the giant map on the wall at the visitors center next to the podium where the guest book rested.  The cemetery’s location was at the very  edge of the Wilmington River making it the first thing I wanted to see, the view of the water.

To get there we drove past rows and rows of gigantic live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. Trees that were already well established long before the cemetery. You could feel their strength by noticing their growth. Wide, tall and twisting to survive everything man and nature has done to them for over 250 years. The cemetery takes advantage of tree lined roadways to provide access and separate the major cemetery sections.

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia
Wilmington River Savannah Georgia

The scenic shore at the Wilmington River turned out to be as lovely and picturesque as I imagined it. Once I saw the watercourse and the movement of the city beyond bright green banks I felt a peaceful calm wash over me. Colossal trees held city noises back leaving us with nothing but the loud buzzing of cicadas which at times can be deafening when they decided to hum together. While the trees could protect us from the suns direct light there is nothing in the world that can beat back the humid sweltering midday heat of the south.  One in the afternoon at the height of summer was incandescent.

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia

I wasn’t sure how it would feel to be in an old cemetery where the final remains of writers, poets and confederate soldiers had been laid to rest. Not because of the many ghost stories of howling dogs seen roaming in packs after midnight or statues of little girls that cried tears of blood if you didn’t leave a trinket because I love ghost stories, especially making them up.

I just knew I did not want to disturb the energy that has been accumulating there for hundreds of years.  Before the cemetery there was a plantation which the owners lost during the American Revolutionary war.  Then during wartime it became a hospital before becoming a plantation again. This land has seen many come and go.  Today it continues to receive and entertain a steady flow of visitors.

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia

Kicking up dust we drove slowly down the dirt paths trying to avoid the few other visitors there on that day.  I didn’t want any distractions.  I didn’t want to have to wait.  I just wanted to snap away with my camera quietly and spontaneously.  Combing the graveyard with a curious eye and listening intently, always listening.  Walking a little making sure to take care where I stepped I discovered many interesting tombstones, headstones, vaults, statues and dedications.  Some were simple while others wildly elaborate or obscenely huge.

I know I don’t care for elaborate tributes when I’m gone. I’d rather enjoy a shared laugh spending quality time together while I’m here.

In the meantime enjoy these images I captured and were the ONLY things I brought back with me from the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia.

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia
Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah Georgia

 

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