The Brighter Writer

MONDAY, JUNE 4, 2012

New Orleans Cemeteries

I got into this discussion last night with a friend of mine about cemeteries and how, for whatever reason, I'm oddly drawn to them. I'm not sure why, other than they seem to be a perfect combination of spooky/peaceful for me. It got me to thinking about all the neat-o cemeteries I've ever visited and the ones in New Orleans are, hands down, the most interesting I've ever seen. Because the water table is so incredibly high in New Orleans, it's impossible to keep coffins underground. High rain falls and floods repeatedly kept caskets literally popping up all over the place and floating down the streets during strong storms. So, in the late 1700's after numerous failed attempts to keep the dead buried, they opted for above ground cement tombs and crypts.

Because of last night's discussion, I've decided to make my Monday's Memory post about my 2001 visit to this "Crescent City". For my 21st birthday, the ladies of my family took a vacation to go party on Burbon Street and the French Quarter, check out the cemeteries, float down the bayou, salivate over beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and devour bowls full of spicy gumbo. I haven't seen these pictures in many many years. Holy mother of Moly do I look like a doink. Don't judge, people. This was 12 years ago.

Our first stop was St. Louis Cemetery #1. You notice immediately when walking into the towering gates, that the people of New Orleans have a great respect for their passed ancestors. Although the tombs themselves are pretty decrypted and worn, there are flowers and votive candles set out as a reminder that these souls still have people that are alive and that care about them. Another other thing you notice is that there are multiple family members buried in one tomb. So how is this possible? Well, the city ordinance states that as long as a person has been deceased for at least 2 years, their remains can be taken out of their coffins, placed in a special burial bag, and laid at the back (or wherever there is room) of the family vault. The vault is then sealed up and is ready for the next family member. I obviously started wondering what happens if someone dies before the 2 year waiting period is up which, in that case, New Orleans places them in a temporary holding vault until the remainder of the 2 years is over. Interesting.

This is the supposed tomb of Louisiana Creole practitioner of voodoo, Priestess Marie Laveau. She and her daughter are beloved fixtures of the city and their memories/ghosts/souls/whatever are frequently called forth by locals and visitors for voodoo spells of love. Tradition has it, when the faithful and/or curious asks Ms. Laveau a favor, her spirits and blessings are evoked by knocking 3 times on her mausoleum door. Once your favor is granted, you must return to her grave, scratch 3 X's with rock or coin, and leave some sort of gift such as flowers or a hand made monkey or rooster statue.

marie laveau tomb cemeteries new orleans

We made our way over to Lafayette Cemetery #1, the city's first "planned" cemetery. Its space is only as big as one city block, but there are over 10,000 people "buried" in it. This is the place where the majority of cemetery scenes are filmed in Hollywood movies. There are also a bizzllion (rough estimate) jazz musicians and civil war soldiers laid to rest on these grounds.

St. Louis Cemetery #2 is known for its resting place of politicians. Talk about haunted...

The cemeteries along the bayou were devoted to people who had died of some sort of disease such as leprosy. They're little islands of crosses and water-logged tombs surrounded by weeping willow trees and marsh. You can only see them from boat and obviously they suffer the worst damage from flooding.

Off the cemetery subject, there are alligators everywhere! When we took a boat tour, they would swim right up to us and we'd feed them marshmallows, an unlikely favorite of these scaly creepy crawlies.

Apparently, there really is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun and it really has been the ruin of many a poor boy (because it was once a brothel)

The House Of The Rising Sun New Orleans cemeteries

Here is yours truly doing some day drinking on Bourbon Street. (There were a ton of rainbow flags everywhere in this city. New Orleans is here, they're queer, get used to it.)

When in New Orleans, do as the Cajun's do...(Clearly, I had to get some beads and a mardi gras mask. How I acquired them, now that's another story.)

The moon over Bourbon Street (Yes, my love for the moon goes back a long, long ways.)

My mom and her favorite coffee / beignet shop

Here is a freshly drunken, 21-year-old me, trying to clip a hang nail. The tongue must have been for balance.