For those of you keen to soak up the company of a decaying body or pile of bones from the other side of a cement wall, Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is for you. It is the oldest cemetery in New Orléans, founded in 1789, and is located at the corners of St. Louis and Basin streets. (Just outside the French Quarter) If the dead bodies didn’t grab you attention, the cemetery was also featured in the 1969 film, Easy Rider.
The reason New Orléans bury their dead above ground is the predominantly below sea level city’s (French quarter is the highest point) climate. Bodies buried underground in New Orléans have a tendency to float to the surface when the city floods, releasing bacteria and causing disease to spread. Needless to say, the original French Settlers decided to bury their dead in an above-ground crypts to save little Johnny from stepping on something ambiguous on the way to school or from the dog dragging in something in slightly bigger than a bird.
Above ground crypts protect the body and coffin but also allows the vaults to be reused. Many of the crypts were and still are, large family tombs where coffins are stacked several levels high. When a family ran out of space, the oldest burial was moved under the vault – thus the joke, “the use of dead space” surrounding the vaults.
St Louis Cemetery #1 is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Marie Laveau, a famous Voodoo priestess, who was buried here in 1881. The legend continues that Marie rises from the dead on St. John’s Eve (June 23) and leads voodoo practitioners in a wild ceremony and orgy. (This weekend I’m going on a ritual voodoo ceremony presided over by a ghost of a black magic queen that will end in a supernatural occult orgy. What are you doing? Um, playing X Box)
The tallest monument in the cemetery is the The Italian Mutual Benevolent Society tomb.The tomb has space for more than a thousand remains.
Save Our Cemeteries – Only non-profit, most ticket price goes into restoring the cemetery. 1 hour $20
You can go to the cemetery and visit for free but the knowledge of the guide is indispensible in explaining the vaults and history.
Cajun Encounters City/Cemetery Tour – all city tours with a “Cemetery option” are usually15 minutes guided tours only
Have you been on a tour here? What did you think?