New Orleans is a city famous for many things, its music, the drinking, the overall vibe of the city that is unique to NOLA its self. But another thing it is known for is it’s Cemeteries the most famous of those being the Saint Louis No.1 Cemetery. When I was visiting New Orleans for the French Quarter Fest with my Kiwi friends one of my friends and I managed to take an early morning tour of the Saint Louis No.1 Cemetery on our last day as a full group.
Visiting the Cemetery
Due to ongoing vandalism the cemetery is now only available to visit with a guide unless you have family buried there. You can take an organized tour through many different groups or show up at the cemetery for a tour with an authorized docent. My friend and I chose to show up as the cemetery opened as we wanted to see it early in the day for light in the photographs and due to our schedule.
Saint Louis No.1 Cemetery is very small and located within walking distance of the French Quarter though you can also take a trolly to it depending on where you are staying. As I mentioned we showed up when it opened at 9am and took the first tour with the authorized docent, I believe these tours are held every 30 minutes but you will want to check when you get to town that it hasn’t changed. We were the only group present at 9am but as we were finishing our tour around 9:30am other authorized tours were starting to filter in. If you want to have the cemetery as empty as possible definitely go for the 9am docent tour. The tour cost is $20 but we felt it was well worth it as our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and fun. (A special shout out to our awesome guide Ernest Sylvester of Ernies Tours. He was super knowledgeable and fun which is obviously ideal in a guide! He leads longer tours which you can read about on his website if you want to learn even more.)
A Brief History
The Saint Louis No.1 Cemetery was constructed in 1789 to replace an older cemetery that is no longer existing. The Cemetery has always been a primarily catholic one with the only really division being between Protestant and Catholics rather than Black and White like a lot of southern cemeteries from the era. The cemetery is a haphazard maze of above ground tombs has changed over the years. Due to flooding the level of the ground was raised covering those buried lower down and the cemetery also changed shape due to the growth of New Orleans its self with the marker that is now at the entrance of the cemetery once marking the center. Many famous New Orleanians are buried at this cemetery as well. Save Our Cemeteries has a much more detailed history available if you are interested. The tour also is full of more info about this historic cemetery and the burial practices.
Marie Laveau and Voodoo
The famous Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, is buried at Saint Louis No.1 Cemetery in New Orleans. There is many myths and folk lore around her as a person. She was born to a Creole mother and a free man of color as theirr illegitimate child. She was married young and had two children before her young husband died of unknown causes. From that point forward she became a popular hairdresser and Voodoo priestess around town. The facts about her are truly as interesting as the stories, for a more in depth look into Marie Laveau this article is a great start. As the story goes, though, if you leave an offering at her supposed tomb if she grants your wish you are to return and mark the tomb with 3 X’s to signify it. This practice is obviously looked down upon at the Cemetery as it is grave and has been mostly curbed due to the fact you now can only visit the Cemetery with the guide. While there is one tomb that has been refurbished that is supposed to be the tomb she is actually in, there is another tomb that people were led to believe was hers for quite a number of years this one is in much worse shape and still covered with the XXX’s.
Easy Rider and Nicolas Cage
What does the classic 1969 movie, Easy Rider, and the eccentric movie star Nicolas Cage have in common? Well probably a lot of things but in this case this particular cemetery. Easy Rider features a trippy LSD fueled sequence (like for reals everyone was on drugs when the movie was being filmed) that ends up at the Saint Louis No.1 Cemetery. Which after the movie was released the Catholic Archdiocese banned all filming at any cemetery with out permits. Now how is Nicolas Cage tied in to this cemetery, well continuing in his eccentric ways he bought a plot at the Saint Louis No.1 Cemetery and had the pyramid tomb in the photo on the right erected for him to be buried in when he passes. I personally think its super weird but whatever floats one’s boat right?