Cities of the Dead

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.



Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Art and Music, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel

56 responses to “Cities of the Dead

  1. I don’t think cemeteries are creepy, Luanne. In fact, when I first moved to Charlotte, I worked at one. I sold plots, markers,etc. Great photos!
    I hope your aunt is doing better. xo

  2. I’d love to explore these cemeteries, they’re so atmospheric and intriguing.

  3. Thanks for this one. I’ve spent a lot of time here. My late husband’s family is here. Plus I love the history in cemeteries.

  4. The history of cemeteries is fascinating. There were many beautiful old cemeteries in GA, often beside old estates. There is a huge one in Key West, FL where the oldest member buried is 37 years old. Most were women and children. Malaria and other diseases took them.

    • Susan, that’s a horrifying story. Do you have any guesses on why malaria hit the women and children harder? Was it that the women were taking care of the children? Or was it because it was mostly children?
      Somebody needs to travel the country or world writing about cemeteries because before too long a lot of them will be gone. That’s my ominous prediction for the day.

      • No, Malaria hit everybody. Women and children often died perinatal. Their death dates being the same or close. But here were so many diseases, especially that fulminated in the hot, humid conditions of south Florida, that noone live beyond age 37.

    • By the way, when is book #2 coming out? I’m having a hard time waiting.

      • Yikes…it won’t be until after April of 2017. Wish I had them already lined up and ready to publish, but it’s not gonna work like that. I thought about waiting until I had several ready, but didn’t want the first one to get dated before the fourth one was prepared.

  5. I did the cemetery tour in NO. I was fascinated. Because of the weather conditions, bodies decompose faster. People were buried in those little houses and a year later, their dusty remains were scooped up and mixed with others and a new person was buried. (Don’t know if that’s current practice though.) I found it fascinating.

    • Thank you for bringing that up. I forgot to mention it! Yes, they scoop them and mix them and bring in a new family member! So each little “house” has the remains of many family members in them. They still do that!
      Kana and Sloopy Anne were at the vet today. I sedated Kana so they were able to get blood. Keep your fingers crossed that it’s ok. SA is fine :).

  6. I don’t think I’d like a tour. I think like you, I’d rather roam. I remember touring our Crown Hill Cemetery and wanting to linger here and there. Gorgeous photos 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • I seriously could have roamed all week, if I hadn’t been with the gardener who would never have the patience for that! I was mentioning above that it would be cool if somebody would roam the country, taking pictures and writing about each cemetery. Sort of a documentary or better yet blogumentary about our nation’s cemeteries.

  7. I think cemeteries are fascinating, too, Luanne. One time when we visited older daughter in Boston, we went to Mount Auburn Cemetery–one of her favorite places to visit. It’s beautiful.
    FYI, from my World of the American Revolution (p.584): “Not only were men admitted from many Protestant denominations–Catholics were forbidden by the church to join Masonic organizations, although some ignored the prohibition–but some lodges, such as the one in Newport, Rhode Island, even had Jewish members.” I didn’t write this entry, and I’m not an expert on this at all. I also don’t know how this might have changed in the 19th century.

    • Oh, I love it! I just looked it up online. I want to visit it! Woohoo!!
      Re the Masons, I was surprised to read on that at least one, if not more, of Amy’s Jewish ancestors were Masons. Most of the people she writes about were 19th or early 20th century. The other day I looked up the notion of women Masons. Hmm.
      Hmm. haha

      • It’s really beautiful. And I want to go to Laurel Hill in Philadelphia. I haven’t been there in years. It’s the same idea as Mount Auburn.
        Yeah–I”m not an expert on Masons, but I thought that might help.

  8. Been watching movies about these cemeteries.. Atleast I’ve got sth for once…not just someone being buried alive

  9. Luanne, thanks for your sensitivity and nice way of writing about cemeteries. They fascinate me, too in that they remind us of lives that were crucial in forming the world we have today.

  10. Its interesting and I do agree with you on that .It is kind of creepy but fascinating at the same time.

  11. Great photo collection, Luanne.

  12. A fascinating post, Luanne. Cemeteries hold much valuable and intriguing history.

  13. I enjoy visiting old cemeteries, especially those of “ghost” towns like Bodie, CA. You can definitely get a feel for the hardness of life when you see many graves for infants and mothers. I’ve often thought it would be kind of cool to live near a cemetery (quiet, anyway). Ironically (or not), I don’t intend to be buried or even have a grave. I’ll leave it to my husband, if he’s around, as to whether there’ll be a marker. I guess I think it’s ironic because I make a point of visiting certain graves whenever I go to my childhood home, but I don’t intend to leave any way for anyone to “visit” me.

    • Oh, that is interesting that you like to visit cemeteries, but don’t want to be buried in one! I was not happy when my dad decided to give up his family plot in the local cemetery and instead be buried at the veteran’s cemetery. There is not a plot this way for my mom, and it loses the sense of family unity. The reason I care is because I like to visit cemeteries and know that it will be harder for future generations to search for him. It’s not a big deal for me, but I was still disappointed. But I have given no thought to my own remains. Maybe I should haha. Yes, about the “hardness of life”–I so agree. That stuff is very sad to see.

  14. I’m with you Luanne, finding both cemetries and the Mason building fascinating. What a fascinating tour of New Orleans! I’ll be signing off from blogging until after the New Year so I’ll take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Christmas and healthy, peaceful and joy-filled New Year and look forward to catching up with you in 2017… always love our chats 🙂 xoxo

  15. Good posts, beautiful blog.
    Welcome to see my creations:

  16. These are beautiful photographs, Luanne. They really capture the essence of the cemeteries. My daughter-in-law getting her masters in art history at Tulane chose for her statuary class a focus on cemetery art. We walked through a couple of them together, visiting as she researched. We stopped in front of one of the non-mausoleum plots, and she pointed out the bones sticking up through the dirt, so—yep, it’s not apocryphal. I hope you had a wonderful visit to New Orleans!

    • What a marvelous subject for that class, especially in New Orleans!!! And so interesting about the bones. Yikes! Do you know the idea behind the plots that don’t have mausoleums OR headstones? I learned it and can’t remember :(. I think they are family plots, but don’t remember the details of how they are handled. Hope all is well, Ellen!

      • I don’t know about the plots. I assumed it had to do with money, but that could be very wrong. So many stories in New Orleans about happenings in cemeteries, both by the living and the dead. I am well, and hope y’all are too.

  17. I take photographs of cemeteries. I liked the movie, “Double Jeopardy.” Ashley Judd with I believe, Morgan Freeman. 🙂
    I had a grandfather who was a stone mason and I believe he was in the Masons. We have a lovely building (Delaware, OH) where I sometimes sit in the back of this building on a bench and read. I also wonder about their traditions and if they are open minded now to women and all people with crafts and skills(?)
    Your photographs are lovely and the mausoleum ones are particularly beautiful. I just learned of your Aunt Jean being placed in Hospice today. I will include extra prayers for her comfort and care. So sorry about the sudden and serious diagnosis, Luanne.

    • Double Jeopardy is such a good movie!
      Oh, I love hearing that about your grandfather. I was reading online that some masons do accept women, but it sounds like they aren’t really “fully” accepted by all. My great-grandfather was a Mason and my great-grandmother was Eastern Star. I was given her Eastern Star ring, but it kind of fell apart and some of it is now missing :(. My grandfather who I never knew was apparently a mason as he was buried by them. Thank you SO much for your prayers for Aunt Jean. It’s so shocking to all of us.

  18. I love cemeteries – they are such interesting places with so many stories buried there. The cemeteries of New Orleans have long been on my must-see list.
    I too have a fascination with the Masons. If there is secrecy involved, my curiosity is going to be tweaked!!

  19. I often take my dog for a walk in the cemetery not far from where I live. He loves being able to run around while I always enjoy reading the gravestones. It’s also a great place to roam around while looking for a name for a character or just to let my imagination wander.
    The cemetery of New Orleans looks really interesting. Your photos are great, Luanne. 🙂

    • Carol, that Jane Smiley book you blogged about sounds great. I’ve heard of her, but not sure I’ve read anything by her before. I agree that cemeteries free or stimulate the imagination! Thanks for stopping by!

  20. This gives Me chills a little.

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