Suddenly, it was our last day in New Orleans. I had a few hours in the afternoon before our flight home to get in one last thing: a cemetery tour. As readers of this blog know, I can’t resist a good cemetery or a walking tour.
I decided to go with the tour group French Quarter Phantoms since the timing was right. The cemetery was the St. Louis Number 1 cemetery, which was nearby. We met at a little bar at the border of the French Quarter and I think Treme. While I waited for the tour to begin, I realized that Congo Square was across the street. I wandered over there to make homage to the birthplace of jazz. I tipped my hat and played “Tall Cotton” in honor of the place.
Our tour guide was great. I think his name was Robert. He started us off explaining the history of burials in New Orleans. I learned that the yellow fever was to New Orleans almost as bad as the plague was to Europe. About 5-20% of the entire population was killed from yellow fever each year when the area was first settled. They learned pretty quickly that underground burial was a bad idea. They experimented with a variety of burial practices until they decided on these above ground tombs where bodies were left to cook into just bones (great image, no?). With the combination of the hot and humid weather and bugs, a body would be stripped to bone in a year. Then it could be left with the other bones in the tomb basement and other bodies put in.
So the tombs were built as ovens. Little did I realize that this tour would take place on the hottest day on record all summer in New Orleans. It was 97 degrees with 108 heat index. Our tour guide did a tremendous job of trying to keep us safe. He had us cool off before the cemetery in an air conditioned visitor’s center next to the cemetery. He asked us to make sure we had water in the cemetery and even turned out a random tap in the cemetery to have us put water on our arms and faces. He also encouraged us to go back to the visitor’s center after the tour to cool down, which I actually did. While I’m happy I did the tour, I think I might have gotten a touch of heat exhaustion. Oh well.
The cemetery reminded me a bit of Buenos Aires’ famous Recoleta Cemetery, which is basically a city of mausoleums. This cemetery was not nearly as big (a city block only) nor as extravagant. Nor was it as well kept up. The tombs were much plainer over all though there were a few pyramids and larger structures. Nicholas Cage has his future tomb there and yes, it’s a giant pyramid with a Masonic saying in Latin on it. I’m not sure if our tour guide was kidding when he said people leave items to fend off against baldness, IRS, and other unfortunate things…
The probable resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is there. It’s a very popular site for devotees. The family won’t say for certain if she’s there since I think they fear that people might disturb the tomb. But it was okay to leave offerings in front, like hair ties, since she had been a hairdresser.
I’m glad I did it. It was well worth it.
I can’t wait to go back to New Orleans. I think the city is fascinating with its history and lore. I wish I had time for Cajun music and exploration outside of the French Quarter. I feel that this is what Las Vegas strives to be but it doesn’t have the history.
Until next time, that’s all!