Blogging from A to Z: C is for Cemeteries/Cities of the Dead

cOne of the most interesting things you’ll see in New Orleans are the cemeteries.  Some people call them Cities of the Dead.  There are street signs helping people find the resting place of their loved ones, or a historical person … and the burials are all above-ground in vaults.

The reason is simple:  much of New Orleans is below sea level, which means that the water table is very high.  Burials underground tend to float during floods which, to say the least, can be somewhat gruesome.

St. Louis Cemetery #1 Historical Marker
Final resting place of Homer Plessy, of Plessy v. Ferguson

The above-ground burials consist of two-level vaults, which can only be re-opened after being sealed for a year and a day.  There are wall vaults that can be used if a family member passes away before the vault can be unsealed, at which time their remains can be moved.  What happens is this:  the temperature inside the vaults can be as high as 500 degrees F. during the summer months, which dessicates the corpse on the top part of the vault.  When a new loved one is added to the vault, the previous remains are pushed toward the back and drop to the second, lower level of the vault.  The ossuaries in the bottom may contain remains that are hundreds of years old right along with those from the modern day.

IMG_1365There were some amazing vaults to be seen — one of which was the pyramidal future resting place of actor Nicolas Cage, who decided he wanted a permanent home in new Orleans.

Due to vandalism, the majority of New Orleans cemeteries no longer permit visitors without a licensed guide.  I had a wonderful experience touring the oldest cemetery, St. Louis #1, with Historic New Orleans Tours.  Our guide was a knowledgeable historian, and a great storyteller.  St. Louis #1 is the final resting place of chess savant Paul Morphy, Delphine LaLaurie (of whom you will learn more in this blog series), voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and Bernard Marigny, among many others.  A good cemetery tour will immerse you in NOLA history.

(Photos of St. Louis Cemetery #1 were taken by the author.)


14 thoughts on “Blogging from A to Z: C is for Cemeteries/Cities of the Dead

  1. I love cemeteries when I am not there for personal reasons. There is just so much history even besides any famous people that might have been buried there. I have never been to New Orleans but I do want to go someday. It is a town that appreciates its history. I think Nicolas Cage probably actually sleeps in that vault when he’s in town. Weirdo. (Stopping by from the #atozchallenge. Love your stuff!)


    1. Thanks for stopping by! Nicolas Cage owned two mansions in New Orleans, but had to sell them during his bankruptcy case. I will share photos of one of those houses later on in this series, because its history features in Bayou Fire.

      I highly recommend a visit to New Orleans. It’s an amazing place that knows how to look to the past and the future at the same time.


  2. I’ve been learning so much from your A-Z posts. In some cases, like this, it’s been things I didn’t even know I was interested in learning! I can only imagine how gruesome it would be to see burials floating in floods. 😦 Anyway, thanks for sharing! When I eventually visit New Orleans, I’ll have to make sure I get a guide for exploring a cemetery while there!


    1. It really was an enlightening walk through New Orleans history. I highly recommend a cemetery tour; you will learn a ton of interesting things.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s