Upon landing in New Orleans J-Mo and I took a taxi to our downtown hotel and passed one of the Big Easy’s many old cemeteries. Cemeteries in Louisiana are nothing like the ones here. Many of the graves are built up off the ground in fascinating sepulchre-tomb buildings–some larger than others–with crosses and molding and carvings and wrought iron fences surrounding the family plot. Multiple people are buried in the same plot (not sure if they are all cremated or what the deal is there). It was both creepy and fascinating. We both knew we wanted to walk through one of these spaces. In our wanderings, J-Mo found a small cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, just outside of the French Quarter that was open to the public and we stepped inside. I was glad I had my camera, I took dozens of photos and cannot get over how interesting and chilling the whole thing was. We overheard a tour guide say that during Katrina the flooding came right to the walls of this cemetery and stopped, however many other cemeteries were flooded during that storm.
More wrought iron fencing. It was all just so beautiful, some a little weathered and rusted, but the shapes and curls and designs were beautiful.
The cemetery is organized in rows with gravel pathways through the whole block. Some tombs were really small and flat, others were several levels high with places for an extended family to be buried together.
Most of the old bricks had small plants growing out of them, it was striking and, frankly, a little creepy. Because of COURSE my brain thinks “Hmmm, those ferns are being fertilized by a decomposing body…” I’m a terrible, terrible person. And also, a bit illogical. The bodies are either in sealed coffins (I hope, I suppose it depends on the century said body was buried), or cremated into ashes.
This creeped me right out. Also? There is new-ish looking camping equipment on top of that crumbling grave. Eeeek!
Some of the tombstones were dated in the last couple of years. Many were clearly newer slabs of engraved rock or marble with dates from the 1800′s. Most were so weathered and crumbled it was difficult to make out a name or date, but we did see several that dated back to the 1700′s. So fascinating! I’m sure there is a database somewhere that will tell you all the famous people who are buried in St. Louis No. 1, the only grave of note we passed was Homer A. Plessy, of Plessy v. Ferguson.
After wandering through the cemetery, J-Mo and I stopped at the small Historic Voodoo Museum in the Quarter. Um, voodoo is creepy, ya’ll. That being said, it wasn’t always creepy and it’s beginnings are full of good charms and white magic. Voodoo came from Africa with the slaves sold to the Caribbean plantation owners, it was a tribal religion with charms and spells and recitations to bring good luck, good fortune, health, and babies. Yes, there was a little bit of the black magic stuff, but voodoo was primarily used to help people, not harm them. Interesting fact: zombies are original to voodoo. Yep, I’m serious. There are zombies in old Haitian tribal ways, brought from the Congo, and a zombie was a dead human who had a new spirit enter them, sort of an un-dead scenario, yes? Creepy? Yes. Interesting? Yes. When voodoo came to New Orleans it mixed with Catholicism and began to spread and distort itself a bit to the version we think of now with the evil voodoo dolls, exorcisms, and evil spirits. (Creepy? YES!) The museum was very small, a tiny bookstore/gift shop followed by two rooms with artifacts and plaques and statues and shrines that were littered with coins, bobby pins, cigarettes and tubes of lipgloss that voodoo believers had left for one reason or another. It was a lot creepier than I would have preferred, the dim blue and red lighting, uneven walls and floors, creepy music and piles of animal (and a few human) bones made me VERY happy to step back into the sunlight of Dumaine Street.
For a few more photos, check out my Flickr set.
8 Comments so far
Leave a comment