St. Louis Cemetery #1 Tour
Call me weird, but I truly enjoy walking through old cemeteries. I am continuously amazed at the architecture and the creativity of the stones and monuments. I love seeing the names of those who passed and the words their loved ones thought best described them or that they wanted to share with the world.
Some I scratch my head and wonder why? “If only I hadn’t eaten that last piece of pie.”
Others I think I would be honored for people to see on mine. “Loving father, giving husband, one hell of a guy.” (but for a girl, of course…)
When I decided to attend the BookLoversCon in New Orleans this year, I knew I had to fit a cemetery tour in there someplace. New Orleans cemeteries are infamous!
I felt kind of sneaky leaving the conference that Saturday morning at 8:30 am. There were lots of wonderful workshops and activities taking place, but I had this secret mission. A mission to see two specific monuments.
First I have to say, New Orleans in May is still flippin hot! Yes, it was in the 80’s. And, yes, I am a Georgia girl. So I should be used to the southern “hot”. But when you are walking around town with a group of people, under the brilliant sun and thick humidity; it is “FLIPPIN HOT”.
Second, the only way to see the cemetery I wanted to tour was to take an official tour. Due to vandalism and looters, they closed many of the cemeteries off to the public. Thankfully I accidentally stopped in a tourist bureau while waiting for a friend who was shopping in a nearby store. I grabbed a brochure and asked which one they recommended. The lady explained the rule and saved me a ton of time and potential frustration. (It pays to do better research…)
So, I booked my tour the day before, left the hotel on foot to walk the mile and a half distance to the meeting location, and stopped in one of the restaurants nearby (the Curio - featured in my Places to Eat blog post) for a beignets and (unfortunately for me) a hurricane drink (yes, I know it was 9 am…). This was the second to the last day in New Orleans and I had not yet had one of these drinks. So I HAD to try it. Ummmm… A little sweet. I hate to say that I did not finish it. But I did finish the beignet. :)
Okay, back to the tour. Our guide insisted we grab a bottle or two of water. Then we were off.
Our guide was amazing. He walked us through several different areas of town and pointed out why certain buildings were built the way they were. It really was fascinating. For instance, this one had once been a brothel. And the women were not allowed to stand in the front door. But they could stand on the balconies and in the windows to attract suitors.
Our next stop was at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Shrine of St. Jude. This was a lovely church and the guide explained that back in the day, many families did not have formal church ceremonies. This was due to the close proximity of people, making them susceptible to catching diseases. This had bred a superstition for people that if they attended a formal church funeral, it would make them sick and they could be the next to die. It was definitely a nice, refreshing stop before we headed on to the cemetery located directly behind it.
Next, we headed to the cemetery, located directly behind the church. I will be honest, this place was busy (even though the guide said it was not as busy as normal). There were several other tour groups inside and we had to wait our turn at several locations, including to get inside.
I had always heard the reason New Orleans buried their dead above ground in these tombs was due to the elevation and the groundwater. But our tour guide had other things to say about that. He said it was due to the growth of the city. There were just too many people. So the crypts had been built to hold multiple family members. Some held 50 or more. Others held 80 or more. The bodies were laid out on a ledge on the inside of the crypt, then when the next person was to be placed inside, the last body was rolled into the pit in the middle on top of the others, and the new family member laid out on the ledge. I’m not certain if this was for everyone, but the guide said this was pretty usual.
We waited a while to see the first place on my secret mission, the tomb of Marie Laveau. I had read a lot of information on this fascinating woman. I knew the title of her as a Voodoo Queen. I’ve seen movies where they have featured her and some of the myths surrounding her.
What fascinated me on this tour was our guides POV. He spoke of her as a woman of saving grace during the plague and sickness that passed through New Orleans. Where medical doctors of that time were bleeding people and using leeches, many of those who lived would seek out Marie Laveau and her herbal remedies. She ultimately gained a reputation and those who were threatened by her healing endeavors set out to sully her reputation. This was one of the ways these tales grew. Our guide did not discount that she did practice Voodoo. But he did open my eyes to another side of how this practice may have come in to play. I will definitely be doing a lot more research on the subject. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Laveau
My second mission was to see the Pyramid.
Nicolas Cage’s future resting place - It’s called the Pyramid. Although some tourists would think this is a pretty cool feature (I certainly do), our guide said most of the locals are NOT happy with this.
First, to put it in a cemetery with all the other historic monuments takes away from the authenticity.
Second, they feel that rich celebrities could come in and buy up some of the older ‘unclaimed’ crypts, move the remains elsewhere, remodel to more modern digs, and then take over the historic place. He wasn’t bitter about these specific instances. What he was frustrated with was that the large amounts of money paid for the crypts were not going back into the preservation of this historic site.
I totally get what he is saying, but I have to admit the idea of this still fascinates me.
The cemetery was incredible!!!
I was very thankful we were cooled down a bit with a little rain. I had not brought an umbrella and THANKFULLY I had also not brought my big camera. It would have been ruined. But I loved that it did give us a little break from the humidity and heat, and that everyone there continued the tour without a break in stride.
There were remodeled tombs alongside majestic ones.
There were crumbling areas that you couldn’t even read who they belonged to.
Notice how close things are in between. They really made use of every little space.
When we left there, our guide took us down another street that had us all looking at this fun little house first. He said they decorate for each event throughout the year.
Then he said that the house directly across the street was where Marie Laveau had once lived as a child.
The tour was quick, hot, interesting, and one of the best I have ever taken. If you are in town, I highly recommend you look up Historic Tours New Orleans, and in particular, the Cemetery/Voodoo History Tour. It was fantastic! https://www.tourneworleans.com/main.html