Before planning this trip, I had no idea that visiting cemeteries in New Orleans would be at the top of my list of things to do. In doing my research, I quickly learned that cemeteries are a popular tourist attraction when visiting NOLA (short for New Orleans if I haven’t made that obvious by now in other posts). Having seen several unique and historical cemeteries in other countries, I was anxious to see what NOLA, an American city had to offer.
Cemetery Tour with Haunted History Tours of New Orleans
Before our arrival I had read many warnings of tourist muggings in popular cemeteries. People were known to hide amongst the high walled tombs and attack unsuspecting visitors that were alone. Knowing what I look like in a pretty place, camera gear slung all over myself, I figured I was a prime target for any mugger in waiting and didn’t want to take the risk. Though I’m not normally paranoid about things like this happening, I decided to play it safe and arrange a tour for us. Haunted History Tours of New Orleans was generous in offering us complimentary tickets for this cemetery tour which took us through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and some of the French Quarter. This one was focused on history rather than telling ghost stories, which I knew Dave would appreciate.
Our tour started out at at Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo, a shop worthy of a self-guided tour in itself. We were led away by our fun and sassy tour guide through quieter streets, stopping to note the unique architecture of certain buildings and the history behind them. We continued on, winding our way past other historical points of interest. We learned about the difference between Creole and Cajun. Creole being of the NOLA born descendants of the first colonists, more concentrated in the city. Cajun comes from the term “les Acadians”, describing the French Canadian settlers to the area who lived off the land in the swampy parts of Louisiana.
Eventually, we made our way into St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Feeling totally safe surrounded by our group, not to mention many other people not in the group, I let my guard down and let my camera hang freely out. Supposedly built above ground to keep any floods from carrying off the bodies, this city of the dead was a morbidly beautiful sight comparable to others that I’ve seen in Europe and South America. Building-like structures lined up in rows, each tomb decorated to honor it’s occupant… or occupants in most cases. Many of the crypts are shared by family members or groups who have divvied up the cost of one to share. When bodies are entombed they quickly begin to break down, essentially going through a slow cremation. After a year and a day, the remains are crushed up further and pushed back or placed in bags, making room for the next resident.
We squeezed into small spots among the tombs, careful not to lean or sit on them out of respect for the deceased and any loved ones who might be visiting. Our guide pointed out markings of Xs here and there on some tombs. People believe that if you leave XXX on a tomb, and do a series of motions while making a wish, your wish will come true. If the wish does come true, you are supposed to come back and circle the three Xs to indicate a granted wish. We saw plenty of Xs but no circles. Our guide scoffed at the people who have vandalized the tombs in this way, suggesting that the people who started this ritual were misinformed and on good drugs back in the day.
More Xs were of course seen on the tomb of the famous Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. A “free woman of color”, Marie indeed made a name for herself, working as a hairdresser and concocting potions to sell to the rich white people of her day. Our guide told us that she did understand herbal medicine, yet little evidence could be found of her reputation in practicing the Voodoo arts. However, people continue to mark her tomb, yell out wishes, and leave her offerings.
A brief visit to Greenwood Cemetery
Our tour concluded leaving me wanting for more cemetery action. This one was great, especially given all of the history and insight that our guide had provided, but it was a little too crowded for taking the kind of photos that I wanted. So, I made a loose plan to go to another one further away that seemed to be safe enough to explore without a group. On our last day we passed by several gorgeous cemeteries that called my name. We had just enough time to stop and check one out before heading to the airport.
Greenwood Cemetery was huge with grand monuments displayed at the front entrance. A beautiful elk sits atop an earth covered mausoleum for the Benevolent Order of the Elks, and the Fireman’s monument featuring a sculpted firefighter towers above everything in the cemetery. The other tombs were similar to what we saw on our tour, but the cemetery appeared to be preserved and cared for a little better. This one was very pretty, and the tombs went back in rows as far as we could see.
We explored parts of the perimeter of the cemetery for a bit and I finally felt satisfied, having seen my fill of New Orleans cemeteries during that trip. There aren’t a lot of these above ground cemeteries in North America, so I highly recommend having a look when you are visiting NOLA. You might be surprised to find they are worth a visit.
Do you make a habit of visiting cemeteries? What is the most unique one that you have seen?
*All opinions and photos are my own and based on my experiences. Haunted History Tours provided us with complimentary tickets, but I was not financially compensated for this post.
Rachel Heller - Gorgeous photos! Will you write another post about Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo? That piqued my curiosity right away!
I don’t generally visit cemeteries (though I may in future, thanks to you!), but if you’re ever in Prague, visit the old Jewish cemetery there. I’d love to see what your photographer’s eye would make of that one!
traciehowe - Thanks Rachel! That Prague cemetery sounds intriguing. I loved old European cemeteries! Unfortunately, many businesses in NOLA, including Rev. Zombie’s, don’t allow photography inside. Since I try to center my posts around my photos, I figured I would skip that post. From what I could gather during my short visit, it is mostly just a store, but it has a ton of mysterious merchandise like herbal “potions”, voodoo reading material, and of course voodoo dolls.
Doreen Pendgracs - Love the photos! Especially the one with the angel.
We, too, have visited the cemeteries in NOLA and other destinations. they really help tell the history of a place!
traciehowe - Thanks Doreen! I really enjoy hearing that other people visit cemeteries too. Some people think it’s creepy to do so. ;)
Annie Martin - It’s an odd thing, but I do love visiting cemeteries. I’ve only written about one so far, but there are quite a few beautiful ones here in Charleston that I’ve been meaning to write about. I loved your photos. I took a class about Southern religions and we spent a lot of time talking about NOLA, jazz funerals, voodoo, and burial traditions–I’ve been wanting to visit ever since. Thanks for sharing!
Chris - As I’m sure you’re aware, Sarah and I LOVE visiting cemeteries!
Such history, and often eerily peaceful places…
Some beautiful pictures here captures the place wonderfully!
traciehowe - I’m glad I’m not the only one who can truly appreciate a good cemetery! Thanks for your comment, Chris!
Yok - I have read many stories about voodoo culture in NO, so visiting cemeteries would be frightening…especially because in Buddhist Thai culture we cremate those who pass away. Did you encounter anything spooky?
traciehowe - It may have been spookier at night if you let your imagination go wild. This was a history tour, no ghost stories, so it wasn’t spooky for me. I always enjoy interesting cemeteries though, so you might have a different experience.