Cemeteries are creepy but at least we can take some comfort in the fact that the dead are at least below a few feet of earth. But for the people of New Orleans the dead are little closer. Unlike our typical grave yard filled with tombstones there they are filled with tons of beautifully made small stone buildings each with a family name or the names of the famous carved in them or on bronze plaques. While a little strange to us these places have become a thing of pride for the people who live in there.
Originally the people of New Orleans simply buried their dead just like anyone else. The problem was that if anyone tried to dig to a reasonable depth the soil would become soft and the grave would fill with water. This lead to the disturbing sight of soggy coffins working their way up through the soil after a flood. The solution was to drill holes in the coffins but this meant exposing the body to the water that would inevitably find its way into the streams and ground water. The people needed some other more respectful and sanitary way of treating their love ones remains.
At this time it was popular in France and Spain for the rich to place bodies in elaborate mausoleums. The people of New Orleans eager to copy their French roots in 1789 built the first of 3 Saint Louis Cemeteries. They put several semi affordable mausoleums with in its grounds and the idea caught on, soon everyone wanted an above ground home for their family. If you’re wondering how a 10 foot by 10 foot building can fit entire family it’s because the dead only stay in their coffins for a minimum of 2 years after that their remains are removed then placed in “ bone bags” and put in ornate jars lining the walls of the crypt. Many famous people lay in these cities of the dead from artists like Edgar Degras. Civil war generals, and even a voodoo queen.
Probably the most famous grave in all of New Orleans is that of Marie Laveau. Laveau was a famous voodoo priestess and psychic living in New Orleans French Quarter. It was said she could cure the sick and tell a person about their future particularly in matters of love. Her skills made her very popular with both the poor working class and the rich merchants and plantation owners of Louisiana. She eventually became known as the voodoo queen of New Orleans’s. When she passed away in June 16th 1881 the streets were filled with mourners and she is now a saint for many who practice voodoo. She was laid to rest in a tomb in Saint Louis Cemetery #1. Her grave has become a place of pilgrimage for many voodoo believers who leave money and draw X’s on it for luck.
The city it seems has always had an eeriness about it. Some say that sits between the worlds of living and the dead. Many it’s the fog or the number of historical events that have taken place there. I can’t help thinking that having the dead so visible might have something to with it. The above ground cemeteries while beautiful are always a reminder that death exists waiting for all. While these cemeteries have become sort of tourist destination they are in fact still in use still today and no joke one contains the future grave of Nicolas Cage.