I have an obsession with graveyards. I must have been a groundskeeper in a past life, although my paralyzing fear of insects contradicts that possibility. Maybe I was an archaeologist? I also like to look at bones. In fact I have an uncanny ability to find bones in cemeteries. And NO, I’m not digging them up! I just wander where others don’t I guess and maybe move a rock here or there, but that’s a blog for another day…
The photos in this blog were all taken inside Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans, LA. The Lafayette Cemetery is located in the Garden District of NOLA, which took me a half hour bike ride, a 10 minute walk through the French Quarter, across Canal Street, one streetcar (the green line), plus walking 15 more blocks to get to. Might I suggest a driver? Or at least a bigger map?
In my previous post about the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, I explained about the four kinds of tombs located in the graveyards and showed photos. You can check out the history about that graveyard here.
Most of the tombs in Lafayette are family and society tombs. I think the wall tombs here are some of the longest as well. The markers for the tombs can be really interesting to read. Some are sad, you’ll see tombs where a family’s children have all passed at young ages. However there’s also a tomb in the corner where one man’s first and second wife are buried with him! Crowded much?
In the St. Louis Cemetery post I also talked about the difference between restoration and renovation when it comes to preserving these crypts. Just like the Save Our Cemeteries organization, Lafayette is part of a research project that involves mapping, tomb and name listings, and historical exploration. For more information about the Lafayette Cemetery Research Project, check out their site!
I think one of the most fascinating things about this cemetery is the diversity within its walls. It was built on property owned by a French plantation woman in the 1800’s, Madame Livaudais. Since its French beginnings, it has come to be the final resting place for Civil War soldiers, Creole Americans, German immigrants who became merchants and entrepreneurs in the New World, and the Irish immigrants who did all the dangerous labor of the day. It even houses a few families of African descent. Because of this, the cemetery remains non-denominational. A side note of which allows Lafayette to be filmed for movies, television, and documentaries. The Catholic Church has forbidden further filming in the St. Louis Cemetery after Peter Fonda’s LSD trip in the film, Easy Rider took place on one of its society tombs.
Looks cozy, no? If you’ve ever heard that New Orleans crypts are “Nature’s Crematorium,” that’s not exactly how it works. I did learn that New Orleans uses wooden coffins to this day to place the bodies in the crypts, but they don’t really cremate inside them. It would have to get MUCH more hot inside them. These tombs are more like a crockpot, hot enough to decompose over time, but if you only want your ashes left around, you really ought to opt for the fire. Tombs still in use remove the markers, break the plaster wall, and bag any remaining bones for DNA purposes, and then sweep the bag into the back of the tomb where it drops into the pit. This practice allows generations of families to be buried together. It’s not uncommon for some of these tombs to hold more than 40 people. Imagine the family feuds possible over that timeline!
There’s something beautiful about the variety of graveyards we have. The architecture, the historical significance, the climates and locations they’re built upon, the people inside all hold such interest. I haven’t met too many people that aren’t interested in cemeteries; it’s anthropology when you think about it. To think the crypts of New Orleans began as a solution to burial problems of the sandy, swampy, below sea level city have now become a major tourist attraction and warranted preservation societies like the Lafayette Research Project and Save Our Cemeteries.
What do you think? Do the variety of burials in our country interest you? What about them?
I have alway loved cemeteries, much to the chagrin of my family members. But my mom felt the same way, so maybe it’s genetic. Very interesting post. One of my favorite movies (the name escapes me, of course) had a scene in this exact cemetery. The actress was supposed to meet her son there and instead her husband (who supposedly was dead – long story) bashed her on the head and put her inside one of the caskets and she had to shoot her way out. Do you know it?
Yes, they told us about it. It’s Double Jeopardy starring Ashley Judd. Creepy movie!
You know I’m a big fan of cemeteries, thanks to my grandmother taking us on exploration missions and picnics. Yes, picnics. So glad to hear you weren’t digging up bones. 😉
I’m sure some will think this is odd, but my cousins and I all purchased our cemetery plots already so we can “live” in the same neighborhood after life as we did during. If I go before you, you’ll have to come and visit. We’ll be the row with the festive, party atmosphere. Just don’t touch my bones. 🙂
So when I see kites flying, I know I’ve arrived? Good to know. I’ll bring the party dip. 😉
I really love cemeteries too. Especially the really old ones. They’re just so beautiful and peaceful and fascinating. It’s amazing to see the different ways people try to keep their loved ones with them.
That’s what I was thinking too. It’s so unique, and beautiful, and to think it all happened that way because the ground couldn’t support normal in-ground burials. Without realizing, a new tradition was born.
You said you haven’t met too many people who are interested in cemeteries. Please allow me to introduce myself… 😀 When my husband and I go on vacation alone, we always visit a few historic cemeteries. And it’s not at the hubby’s suggestion.
This was a great, informative blog post. You taught me some things I didn’t know about New Orleans cemeteries. I had the heard the “nature’s crematorium” story, too. We visited Lafayette No. 1 back in the 1990s, and I was fascinated. Unfortunately, those little swarming ants got all over my husband and we had to leave before I had my fill.
Can’t wait to see you do more cemetery posts. 😉
I’ll have another one coming on a local graveyard soon. I’m trying to find out how many people are buried there and I’m not finding that information anywhere. Just a lot of maps.
Beware the bugs in New Orleans! We didn’t have bugs the day I went, but we had EXTREME heat! Almost everyone put umbrellas up, just to block the sun!
I love to see stories about the crypts of New Orleans. Great post. Thanks!
Thanks for stopping by! The cemetery is really full of interesting history.
I love graveyards… it is nice to know I am not alone! I am especially drawn to very old ones.. circa 1700- 1800’s… I live near Washington’s Crossing, PA.. there are so many old graveyards.. people tell me I’m weird, but oh well. I like what I like. Thank you for sharing this post!
My mom called me the other day and asked what I was up to on my day off. “I’m going to the cemetery to take photos.” Ok, she said. And at the end of our conversation, “Have fun taking pictures of tombstones.” There was something a little wary sounding in her voice, I’m not sure she meant it.
Or, come back in a week or two and you’ll be able to ladle yourself out a nice, steaming bowl of Aunt Marge stew.
OK, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little…
This from the man who was giddy over going to the SPAM museum?!
I’ve always loved the historic cemeteries and I love history in general, but I never researched anything about cemeteries. So, thanks for doing the research for me! Great info and you’ve inspired me to go see the cemeteries in my town…from the gate they look very old.
I’m always surprised how far back most of them go. I like doing the research, but the local one I’m hunting now is being rather finicky!
As long as you aren’t collecting the bones Jess, its okay 🙂
I love graveyards, nothing more peaceful than the quiet of the dead. My wife has a love of tombstones, mainly for ancestry reasons, so it is not uncommon to find us roaming in some obscure, off-the-country-road cemetery snapping pictures of interesting tombstones or ones with intriguing messages.
Love reading about your travels Jess, never stop exploring.
I’ve never collected any HUMAN bones! I just happen to find them now and again. I do have one friend who claims I’m cursed now, but there’s CLEARLY no evidence in my recent posts to suggest that’s true!
Cemeteries are really interesting places. They can be very beautiful and seeing what’s written on tombs stone can be enlightening. I went to Tombstone once- the things they use to write on the gravestones in the old west is hilarious.
Wow that had to be really interesting. I wonder why we don’t hear more about tombstone sculptors. Some of the markers are incredibly intricate. A local cemetery here has several gravestones that have been carved to look exactly like a tree trunk. Remarkable.
Hi Jess — We visited this cemetery on June 17 (in the extreme heat) and found it absolutely fascinating. Being a northern girl, I never knew about the way the bones are moved to the bottom layer when a new burial takes place in these types of crypts.
Our ghost tour of the French Quarter was pretty darn cool, too!
– Valerie Johnson
Yah, the ghost tour was the best. I thought about blogging about it, but some of the stories are so creepy (and true), I don’t know if I could do it.
Maybe you’re a tomb carver/coffin carver in your past life. You seem to like them a lot.
Oooh I like that thought.