Visiting a cemetery isn’t something I typically seek out for fun, not even on Halloween. Which explains why I had yet to visit a New Orleans cemetery until our recent trek back to the Big Easy. It wasn’t so much “fun” or a Halloween scare I was seeking out but rather a history lesson on one of my favorite cities in the Union. Ever since I first visited New Orleans – more than a decade ago – I’ve been mesmerized by the cemeteries. The art they hold. The history. The process of burying above ground. The one goal I had to achieve on this trip was going on a New Orleans cemetery tour. Luckily, The Husband agreed to go with his scaredy-cat wife.
New Orleans Cemetery Tour
There are countless New Orleans cemetery tour companies advertising online. I found it somewhat difficult to narrow it down to plain old cemetery tours since many group them together into city tours and/or plantation tours. While a city tour of New Orleans is great, I’ve done it and really had no interest in doing it again, thus I just wanted what I wanted – a New Orleans cemetery tour.
A good one we found was through Haunted History Tours. Their New Orleans cemetery tour runs at 10am and 1:15pm. (Tip: If it’s a warm day, go to the morning tour.) Tours meet outside the Reverend Zombies House of Vodoo about 15 minutes before the scheduled time. It’s located across the street from Pat O’Briens on Saint Peters St. The price is $25 per person and the tour runs two hours. Plan to bring cash. Depending on where you’re staying you may be able to get a discounted rate; check with the concierge.
Our tour included the St. Louis Cemetery Number One, but that’s not where we started. To fully understand and appreciate the cemetery one needs to understand a bit of its origin and how it came to be. In other words, one must have a BRIEF understanding of New Orleans history. Thus, the tour begins on Saint Peters St. with a short walk through the French Quarter to St. Louis Cemetery Number One, stopping along the way to see where buildings stood that were home to people such as the man who is said to have caused the 1788 fire in New Orleans. It was this fire that resulted in the St. Louis Cemetery Number One being built.
The cemetery spans just one square block but is the resting place of many thousands. In fact, there are more people in New Orleans dead – buried here – than there are alive. How can that be? Think “natural cremation” as our guide educated us. Essentially, a body is placed in the family tomb 1-3 days after the person has passed. The HOT New Orleans summers and tomb cause the body to decompose into ash, aka “natural cremation”.
Care of all tombs are the responsibility of the family who owns them, even if the family is no longer “around”. They are deemed as private property by the Catholic Church, who owns the cemetery. Many of the tombs were crumbling and falling into disrepair. It’s a pretty sad sight, actually. Our guide did tell us there are some conservation groups that will occasionally step in and help if family members cannot be reached to tend to their property. Tombs can still be purchased today for around $15k. However, they must include perpetual care to ensure they do not fall into disrepair. It was my understanding that families could also purchase perpetual care for existing tombs.
To be buried at the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. you have to be Catholic. I thought it was interesting though that there is a Protestant section of the cemetery that lies in the north-west section; the majority are not vaulted. It’s covered in beautiful, little yellow flowers.
Renowned Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau was buried in the Glapion family crypt. Her grave is the second most visited grave site in the United States. The first is Elvis (I visited both during the month of September, not on purpose but kinda strange all the same). Wondering how a Voodoo priestess was allowed to be buried here? Apparently she was also a devote Catholic who went to Mass every day. This is according to our tour guide, Charles, who also practices Voodoo. He enlightened us on how Voodoo and Catholicism are similar and “really compliment and support each other”. I don’t know enough about Voodoo but regardless of his pitch, Voodoo still kinda makes me uneasy (as I say a few Hail Mary’s).
Marie Laveau is known to help those whose path are crossed. Those who are tangled into things they can’t get out of. People come from all over the world to pray to her for help and guidance. When the guide told our group this, many said little prayers and touched the tomb…
From Old to New at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Looks like a small entrance? Well, it is. Many of the walls have sunk at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 due to the ground water. The bottom rows are a bit lower than they once were. I’m not sure if they can still be used but would assume so.
Family tombs are the responsibility of the family to care for. And so, Mr. Smith has chosen to decorate his family’s tomb with bright, ornate and welcoming colors. He’s quite the welcoming committee at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. His family’s site is near the entrance and he’s there everyday to tend to it and welcome visitors. You can find him there walking through the maze of rows at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 checking on all the tombs and providing a few history lessons for visitors.
And this completes New Orleans cemetery tour at St. Louis Cemetery Number One.
Have you ever visited St. Louis Cemetery Number One or done a New Orleans Cemetery Tour?
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