Find History and Beauty in NOLA’s Above-ground Cemeteries

If you drive in or around NOLA, you may come across what looks like small, fenced-in cities here and there throughout the area.  But wait, most of the buildings are white, and none are taller than a small building.  Chances are that you haven’t found the latest architectural fad; instead you’ve found one of our fascinating cemeteries!  Avenue Inn invites you to be our guests for your cemetery tour vacation here in the Crescent City.  Let us show you exactly why a bed and breakfast stay is preferable to any area hotel, and let us recommend some great cemetery tours during your visit!

We’ve spoken about some of the potential tours you could take through these odd tourist destinations, however we’d like to offer some general information regarding these amazing locations.

If the recent hurricanes haven’t made it clear:  our beautiful city is built at, and sometimes below, sea-level.  When early settlers first came, they followed standard protocol for burying their dearly departed friends.  But they soon found that, after particularly heavy rains, that these friends had a way of coming back for a visit when their coffins floated up through the soft ground and found their way into the streets of the city!  After several attempts to deal with the situation, it was finally decided that the best way to assure that those who have passed stay in their final resting spots was to build above-ground places of rest.  The practice took hold and is still used today.

Most of the edifices are made of either marble or concrete.  These structures might be simple, rectangular tombs that sit fairly low to the ground, but in the true spirit of NOLA grandeur, many are actually buildings ranging in size from a single-room tomb, all the way up to large mausoleums.  Because of this practice, cemeteries began to take the shape of the populated areas of the living:  a variety of structures populating one area.  Small “shanties” might be built alongside large “apartment buildings,” surrounded by “houses” of all shapes, sizes, and ornamentation.  Throughout these areas, walkways, driveways, or “streets” intersect groups of buildings.  Because of this look, our cemeteries are commonly known as “Cities of the Dead.”  Even cemetery walls themselves can become final resting spots.  If the walls are thick rock or concrete structures, tomb places are usually built right into the edifice, itself becoming a popular option for a final resting place.

42 cemeteries reside in and around the city, some are more “common” burial sites for our residents, however others have lore and residents all their own!  Most of these more-notorious locations are frequently visited by tour companies who can provide a safe and informative visit for a nominal fee.

  • St. Louis Cemetery #1:  The oldest cemetery in town is, unfortunately, located in a less-desirable part of town.  This site is home to names such as the first US Postmaster, the family of Edgar Degas who immigrated to the country, and so many more.  Most notably, this is the location of famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau, whose tomb is constantly littered with “gifts” and markings by those seeking good fortune!  Despite the age of the cemetery itself, there area still a few open plots that are being filled by new residents, evident by the pristine structures (and of course the dates engraved on the tombs themselves).  Notable resident tombs are often marked with informational plaques.
  • Lafayette Cemetery #1:  This worldly cemetery holds residents from more than twenty different countries, and is located in the Garden District – about a mile from our Uptown bed and breakfast.  This site has been recorded in both film and literature, being used as a setting for many of Anne Rice’s books (and was used as a location for the movie Interview With a Vampire).  The cemetery is truly beautiful and is worth a visit.

Unfortunately, just like every other city, our Cities of the Dead can also be home to those whose intentions are less-than-honorable, whether they be permanent residents who have passed, or those alive and breathing who hide out in the shadows… both inside and outside the cemeteries.  Please know that danger does exist in these areas – and the danger can be very human in form.

If you visit, feel free to bring tokens to leave at the gravesites.  However please do not participate in damaging the vaults with markings or tools.  Despite the “voodoo practice” of scrawling x’s on tombs for luck or for warding, this practice only contributes to destruction and is more likely to earn you fines than fortune.  Please leave the tombs as they are for future generations to view.

For offbeat and unforgettable NOLA activities, a tour through one of our historical cemeteries is a must!  You’ll learn a little history, see some gorgeous and varied tomb architecture and decoration, beautiful iron-work, and even detailed and thought-provoking statuary.  During your stay, we’ll treat you to the comfort and safety of a lavish Garden District inn getaway, and recommend the best cemetery sites to see.  Innkeepers Joe and Bebe can offer recommendations on great tour companies and specific tours – just ask!

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Note:  Avenue Inn loves the historic and tourist lure of our amazing cemeteries, but we by no means recommend you tour them alone.  Because of the above-ground edifices, and their proximity to each other, our cemeteries are, unfortunately, sometimes used as opportunities for those with not-so-noble intentions.  We therefore highly recommend that you take a GUIDED TOUR if you choose to visit these sights.

 

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