If you think cemeteries are unbearably creepy or sad, you might want to skip this post. After returning from a trip to New Orleans, I am still seeing her “Cities of the Dead”– as the graveyards are called–in my mind. New Orleans has dozens of cemeteries, but why are they so memorable?
Because so much of the land is at or below sea level, burials are mainly above ground. When caskets are buried underground, as the water table rises, they come right up out of the ground and float away. Above ground burials are in stone vaults or monuments, and when you see a cemetery full of these little “houses” they give the appearance of a ghoulish neighborhood or town. You can see decorative iron trim, stone crosses and sculptures, and some vaults even have stained glass.
A lot of movies have been filmed in these cemeteries. The one that has stayed with me is Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd gets locked in a casket in Lafayette Cemetery #1. The Easy Rider scene was filmed at St. Louis Cemetery #1. The latter one is the oldest cemetery in the city and located in a swamp. It’s claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen, who was buried there in 1881. Many of the cemeteries are Roman Catholic or divided into sections by religion and also by race. The oldest cemeteries, like St. Louis 1, 2, and 3 are very dilapitated. The stone is crumbling, there is moss over many of the vaults, and therefore they are the most creepy.
Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans, not the city of Metairie) is newer and was set up by a Creole (usually “mixed race” person, and that is important to the following) who did not want sections by religion and race and did not want a segregated cemetery. It has the most extravagant marble monuments in the city, though, and Anne Rice’s husband the poet Stan Rice is buried there. He died at age 60 of brain cancer. At the same cemetery, the owners of Whitney Bank made their monument look like a little bank.
You can take tours of the cemeteries, but I think the best way is to plan a couple of days to visit several cemeteries on your own. That way you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the ones you prefer.
It might seem odd to take photos of places where people just like me were buried, but I belong to FindaGrave, which accesses cemetery records across the country. The point of that site is to take photos of all the headstones/graves in the U.S.–and connect each one to the person buried there–birth and death info, relationships with others buried, and photos of the individual. I “tend” a few graves on there by paying a one-time fee of $5 to remove advertising from the grave’s page.
New Orleans even has a Masonic cemetery. I was actually surprised to see the old, abandoned Masonic Temple because my understanding is that the doctrines of the Catholic Church and Freemasonry are incompatible. Since New Orleans has a Catholic historical base and population, I mentioned to the gardener that I probably wouldn’t find a Masonic Temple here, and right at that moment, it stood in front of our car.
I wanted to visit the Masonic cemetery, but it was not to be (for which I blame the gardener).
He doesn’t really understand my fascination with the Masons. He even said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a place for a bunch of guys to hang out.” He doesn’t think they are mysterious or intriguing at all.
But I do ;).
And the same is true for those cemeteries. But then I can’t go past an old cemetery without stopping.