Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo

A Walk Through New Orleans Cemeteries

12:08 October 06, 2016
By: Mickey Delucia

For fresh eyes on the city of New Orleans, it's extremely hard to miss the cities of the dead and their strange, spooky appeal. For some, this is a main attraction when heading to the Big Easy, and for locals, they're a great way to exit the bustle of the city for a moment of solitude. But this is a large city with a large history of talented and famous people that all can be found in different cemeteries around town. From the more famous St. Louis Cemeteries to the more obscure Masonic Cemetery, there is plenty to look at and admire when walking through a raised graveyard.

While digging through this list, you may discover a grave or two of a famous musician you have passed, or one or two cemeteries you may not have known about at all.

St. Louis No. 1

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest and most famous cemetery in the city. It was opened in 1789, replacing the city's older St. Peter Cemetery (no longer in existence) as the main burial ground when the city was redesigned after the fire of 1788.

This cemetery is chock-full of New Orleans legends, including Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau; Bernard de Marigny, the French-Creole aristocrat and politician who founded both the Faubourg Marigny and Mandeville, Louisiana; Barthelemy Lafon, the architect and surveyor who allegedly became one of Jean Lafitte's pirates; and Paul Morphy, one of the earliest world champions of chess.

In 2010, actor Nicolas Cage purchased a pyramid-shaped tomb to be his future final resting place.

Effective March 1, 2015, the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans, which owns and manages this cemetery, has closed it to the general public, ostensibly because of the rise in vandalism there. However, in a controversial move, the diocese is now charging tour companies for access ($4,500 per year, or lesser amounts for short periods). Families who own tombs can apply for a pass to visit.

Tours begin at 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and Sundays at 10 a.m. You can book tickets for $20 a pop (steep, I know) at saveourcemeteries.org.

Location: 425 Basin St, New Orleans, LA 70112

If you require any more information on any of the St. Louis cemeteries, contact:

Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1000 Howard Ave., Ste. 500, New Orleans, LA 70113-1903

504-596-3050 (main office)

St. Louis No. 2

St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 is one of the finest collections of antebellum mortuary art arranged in an orthogonal grid. Tomb design, carved sculpture, and the ironwork surrounding the tombs and cemetery offer a glimpse into the artistic and cultural hybrids of the Creole community. Notable architects such as James Gallier and J. N. B. de Pouilly designed some of the grave sites, and those interred include significant jazz musicians and local war heroes.

St. Louis No. 2 is located some three blocks back from St. Louis No. 1, bordering Claiborne Avenue. It was consecrated in 1823. A number of notable jazz and rhythm & blues musicians are buried here, including Danny Barker and Ernie K. Doe. Also entombed here is Andre Cailloux (1825-1863), African-American Union hero and martyr of the American Civil War.

The cemetery received minor flooding during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and its tombs seemed virtually untouched by the storm when the water went down, aside from the brownish waterline visible on all structures that were flooded.

There are many notable citizens of 19th and 20th century New Orleans laid to rest here. For example the tomb of Venerable Mother Henriette DeLille, who is a candidate for sainthood by the Catholic Church, Jean Baptiste Dupeire (1795-1874) prominent citizen of New Orleans, among others.

It was listed in National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Hours: Monday - Saturday : 9:00am- 3:00pm, Sunday - 9:00am - 12:00pm.

Location: 300 N Claiborne Ave New Orleans, LA 70112 (Claiborne Avenue between St. Louis and Iberville Streets)

Mt. Olivet Cemetery and Mausoleum in New Orleans

Cemetery Round up
[Courtesy of Edward Branley]

Mount Olivet has a combination of above-ground tombs as well as "copings," where the deceased is buried in-ground, but the plot is raised from ground-level. One of the distinctive features of Mount Olivet is that a number of the tombs and copings use the blue "street tile" lettering found at numerous intersections across New Orleans.

The most famous musician that rests here is Henry Roeland Byrd, better known as "Fess" or "Professor Longhair," whose legacy forms much the Crescent City's musical and cultural foundation. Other musicians among Fess include pianist and arranger Moses George Hogan, rapper Soulja Slim, and Shirley Mae Goodman-Pixley and Leonard Lee, who formed the teenage singing duo of Shirley and Lee.

The Cemetery is open 24 hours a day so pay tribute to these local legends when you have a chance.

Location: 4000 Norman Mayer Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70122

Metairie Cemetery

Cemetery Round up
[Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Metairie Cemetery has the largest collection of elaborate marble tombs and funeral statuary in the city. One of the most famous is the Army of Tennessee, Louisiana Division monument, a monumental tomb of Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War.

The Cemetery is open 24 hours a day, so if you think you can handle the spookiness at night feel free to traverse the grounds.

Notable Monuments:

  • The pseudo-Egyptian pyramid
  • The former tomb of Storyville madam Josie Arlington
  • Moriarty tomb, with a marble monument with a height of 60 feet (18 m) tall. A temporary special spur railroad line was built to bring the materials for this monument.
  • Memorial of 19th-century police chief David Hennessy, whose murder sparked a riot.

Famous Graves:

  • T. L. Bayne: first Tulane University football coach and organizer of first football game in New Orleans
  • Benjamin Morgan Harrod: civil engineer who designed New Orleans water/sewerage system, who perhaps could've done a better job…
  • Andrew Higgins: The creator of the famous Higgins boat that was a major component in the Allied forces success in the siege on Europe.
  • Ruth U. Fertel: Creator of Ruth Chris restaurant (Thank you!).

Location: 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70124

Other Interesting Cemeteries:

Hebrew Rest

4100 Elysian Fields Avenue, in Gentilly, open 24 hours.

Jewish burial traditions require that the deceased be buried in-ground. Because of the common belief that New Orleans' water table is too high, the Jewish community purchased land out on one of the highest parts of town, the Gentilly Ridge, to build a cemetery. Construction of Hebrew Rest began in 1860, and a second section was acquired by Temple Sinai in 1894.

Masonic Cemetery

Cemetery Round up
[Courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith]

400 City Park Avenue in Mid City

Buying a cemetery plot and building a grand tomb on it was something outside the financial means of many New Orleanians. To make sure their departed loved ones went out in style, families would form "benevolent societies." Members of the society would pay dues/fees, then the organization would purchase a plot in a cemetery and construct a nice tomb or mausoleum. Oo and aww at these tremendous stone structures from 10am-4pm, seven days a week.

Charity Hospital Cemetery

5056 Canal Street, in Mid City

This cemetery is a tad scarier than the rest. Prior to 2007, Charity Hospital Cemetery was arguably the least visually interesting cemetery in New Orleans. It was constructed in 1847 as a potter's field. Charity's deceased were buried in completely unmarked, mass graves. Initially, those buried here were victims of yellow fever or malaria. The city's medical schools also used the cemetery to bury those who donated their bodies to science. The cemetery has long been closed to new burials. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the bodies of a number of the victims of the storm were not claimed by relatives. The city constructed a memorial to all victims of the storm in the front of Charity Hospital Cemetery. The memorial grounds are designed in the style of the counter-clockwise weather map symbol for a hurricane. The unknowns of the storm are buried in above-ground mausoleums. The entire area is peaceful, and a fitting memorial to the friends and loved ones we lost on August 29, 2005.

The hours vary so call the State department of Health and Hospitals at 504-568-3201 for more information.

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