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by Amber Autumn
June 23, 2005
One of the architectural wonders of the city is the Cities of the Dead. When the city was first built, the St. Louis Cemetery was positioned on the outskirts of town. New Orleanians quickly found they couldn't bury their dead because, being below sea level, water would fill in their holes and push coffins and dearly departed loved ones out of the cemetery, and into the city streets. Not the best sight to see in the morning, the Catholic Church advised that a nine foot wall be built along with French and Spanish-style tombs. If you look above the cemetery, it almost looks like an intricate little city with its buildings, walls, and statues. Thus, being nicknamed the Cities of the Dead.
St. Louis Number One is located on Basin Street, a block above Rampart Street. There are three must-see tombs here. The first is the marble and largest in the cemetery, "Hex Tomb", or the Italian Mutual Benevolent Society Tomb. The story behind the Hex Tomb is the man who designed it, architect Pietro Gualdi, was the first to "test out" the mausoleum, and the Italian Society president's son was the second buried here. The second must-see is Marie Laveau's tomb. Although her tomb says her name, she's not resting here, but most people seem to think she is. Her tomb is easily recognizable with a bunch of "X's" on it. The third sight is chest champion, Paul Morphy's, tomb who was born at the Beauregard-Keyes house in the French Quarter.
St. Louis Number Two is located on Esplanade Avenue. This cemetery is much bigger, and has paved roads in between than the dirt trails of the St. Louis Number One.
From journal The Big Easy
August 5, 2004
This is one of the oldest cemeteries located in New Orleans, and you can certainly tell by the condition some of the tombs are in.
This is still a place you don't want to miss. It's in a rather shady part of town, so I don't recommend going here alone, but it's very easy to find a walking tour that stops here.
Here you'll find New Orleans' first African-American mayor, Ernst Morial, entombed next to the Glapion family tomb where Marie Laveau and her daughter are both reputedly buried.
Story goes that when they went to entomb the mayor, the path to the family crypt was not large enough, so they had to turn the coffin sideways. Apparently, mourners were able to hear the body thwump against the side of the coffin as the poor mayor's coffin was turned to fit through the narrow walkway. In recent years, the family crypt was rebuilt to face the opposite direction so that an instance like this would never occur again.
An interesting fact about Marie Laveau, a healer and prominent figure in her time: tombs in New Orleans are almost never filled to capacity, and Marie Laveau's tomb is no exception. In her benevolence, she would offer up space in her family crypt to those who could not afford burial space so that they could be buried on Christian ground.
For more pictures that capture the beauty of these old tombs, see my travelogue.
For more info on Marie Laveau and the rituals surrounding her tomb, see my general tips.
From journal Criminals and Pirates and Prostitutes, Oh My!
March 27, 2001
Walking through a century-and-a-half-old cemetery can be a fascinating experience in any city. It’s especially so in New Orleans. People can’t be buried underground here; the old families vied with each other to build the most elaborate and ornate above-ground vaults for their recently-departed ancestors. Even the simpler vaults of the lesser families often have intriguing carvings and inscriptions.
Two old and especially historic cemeteries are Saint Louis #1 and #2, on Claiborne Ave. a short distance east of Canal St. Many of New Orleans’ most illustrious jazz musicians and other late dignitaries are entombed here. Tourist buses call regularly.
Other historic New Orleans cemeteries, somewhat more open and less tourist-intensive, are clustered at the end of Canal St. An hour spent strolling through them --- studying the ancient inscriptions with camera in hand --- is a pleasant way to spend part of an afternoon and burn off a few calories.
These cemeteries are even easier to get to with the "new" Canal St. Trolley line opening early in 2004. Trolleys will run from the Mississippi River ferry terminal to the far end of Canal St., directly in front of the cemeteries, with an eventual connection along Carrollton Ave. to the end of the existing St. Charles Trolley route. This restores service on a line that lasted half-a-century before being torn up or paved over for buses.
For variety, you can go outbound from downtown via Canal St. trolley and return by bus by way of Esplanade Ave. and the French Quarter.
From journal New Orleans Memories