NEW ORLEANS --
Mention New Orleans and most people think of jazz, Fat Tuesday and
great food and drink. But lately, more and more visitors are
visiting the dead.
The Big Easys
aboveground cemeteries for more than two centuries have served as
spooky monuments that enliven the history of the city. There are at
least 42 of these cemeteries in New Orleans.
aboveground burial started here depends on whom you ask.
believe that New Orleans took its cue from Paris famous
Others insist it
was a smart solution to the citys high water table and frequent
flooding. And still others trace it back to Spain, where the wall
vault system was considered the height of 19th-century cemetery
But wherever the
truth may lie, New Orleans took a big liking to the idea, and many
residents today still bury their dead above-ground.
Because many of
the cemeteries have fallen into disrepair, Save Our Cemeteries, a
local, nonprofit organization, is leading a drive to preserve and
restore New Orleans two most historically significant
Cemetery No. 1, founded in 1789, is the oldest existing cemetery in
the city and the burial site of many famous, and infamous, figures
from the citys past, including, they say, voodoo queen Marie
Cemetery No. 1 is located in the Garden District and has been
placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the
cemetery most often used in films about New Orleans.
cemeteries of New Orleans are gems in terms of architecture,
culture and history, said Louise Fergusson Saenz, executive
director of Save Our Cemeteries.
preservation is important, not only because many of the tombs are
still in use by New Orleans families but also because the
cemeteries can serve as outdoor museums for learning about the
history of our city.
Cemeteries offers educational -- and fun -- tours of St. Louis
Cemetery No. 1 and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (the guides are
With money from
the tours and funding from grants, the organization has restored
many tombs to their original splendor.
The group is
participating in two pilot studies that monitor conservation
techniques for aboveground monuments. These studies will result in
better-preserved tombs and a training program for local
Cemeteries runs tours of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 on Mondays,
Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. The suggested
donation is $6 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and students.
Children under age 12 are admitted free.
The tour of St.
Louis Cemetery No.1 is on Sundays at 10 a.m. The suggested donation
is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $6 for students. Children
under 12 are admitted free. For group rates (20 or more) or for
more information on either cemetery, call (504) 525-3377. Visitors
do not need reservations, but both tours fill up fast.
To locate meeting
places, check the Save Our Cemeteries Web site at www.saveourcemeteries.org.
You can visit
these and other New Orleans cemeteries on your own, but tourists
are advised to visit only during the day and with other people.
Going by yourself or at night may not be safe.
Cemeteries also holds lectures throughout the year. Topics include
Jazz Funerals, Yellow Fever and, my favorite, Being Dead Is No
Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].