Before we delve into cemetery-chat, some random photos I took.
You can walk around with an open container so alcohol can be procured just about anywhere. I went into PJ’s (a local coffee chain) and they had a beer tap situation next to the blenders. Because they can.
I really liked these alligator lights on the side of this building.
The day before the day before the wedding the Warriors were playing. They are some sort of basketball team and Candy, Nessa’s aunt, is OBSESSED with them. She has a tattoo of their logo on her butt. She brought down all her Warrior gear and we all met up at a sports bar to watch the game. (I went to eat appetizers but let’s pretend it was for sports.) Nessa knows of my complete disinterest in all things athletic so she insisted on decking me out in some of the accessories and taking my picture. I hope you can appreciate how excited I am from this photo. Hooooooray sports. Cricket is equally excited.
Cemeteries! Cemeteries are a big part of New Orleans. I cannot name the last time I was in New York City and said, “Hey everyone, let’s go spend an afternoon hanging with really quiet people and their identifying rocks!” But in New Orleans it’s a major tourist destination, so much so that only tour groups are allowed in the primary cemetery (lone people were desecrating the graves and generally being a nuisance). We visited two cemeteries but the important one, St Louis No. 1, is the one I’m going to focus on.
Because the earth is so saturated with water (New Orleans gets between 70 to 100 inches of rain a year) you cannot bury bodies, therefore the graves are above ground and usually contain the remains of an entire family. Every time someone new is added they carve new info on the door plaque.
The body must lay untouched for a year and a day. The reason for that is very smart: the tomb are built of brick, stone or stucco and therefore get very hot, especially in the summer when it can be 90 degrees or above. The bodies dry out and bake until they crumble. After a year and a day all that’s left is bone and dust. The door is pulled off, the remains collected into a satin bag and then placed under the tomb in a substantially smaller area with the other powdery relatives and the tomb is then freed up for new deceased people. It’s a good way to save space.
There are a bunch of famous people buried in St. Louis. First one we encountered is Paul Morphy. Paul Morphy was a brilliant chess player.
Supposedly he was blindfolded and had twelve chessboards set up in front of him with master players on the other side. So phenomenal was his ability to visualize the board, Morphy would walk past each board blindfolded, have someone describe the layout of the pieces and then make the next move. He won all twelve games. Like a BAWSS.
The most famous person entombed there is Marie Laveau. She is considered the Queen of Voodoo, a religion or belief-system brought from West Africa by both slaves and free people of color. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about her:
Among the fifteen “voodoo queens” in neighborhoods scattered around 19th-century New Orleans, Marie Laveau was known as “the” Voodoo Queen, the most eminent and powerful of them all. Her religious rite on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain on St. John’s Eve in 1874 attracted some 12,000 black and white New Orleanians.It was said that politicians, lawyers, businessman, wealthy planters – all came to her to consult before making an important financial or business-related decision. She also saw the poor and enslaved. Although her help seemed non-discriminatory, she may have favored the enslaved servants of her “influential, affluent customers”, as many “runaway slaves…credited their successful escapes to Laveaux’s powerful charms.”Once the news of her powers spread, she dominated the other Voodoo leaders of New Orleans. Also a Catholic, Laveau encouraged her followers to attend Catholic Mass as a strategic way to protect their true beliefs. Her influence contributed to the adoption of Catholic practices into the Voodoo belief system.Marie Laveau is remembered for her skill and compassion for the less fortunate.
Laveau also gained influence over her clientele by her work as a hairdresser, which gave her intimate knowledge of the gossip in town. Her customers also came to her to buy voodoo dolls, potions, gris-gris bags, and the like.Her influence continues in the city. In the 21st century, her gravesite in the oldest cemetery is a major tourist attraction; believers of Voodoo offer gifts here and pray to her spirit. Across the street from the cemetery where Laveau is buried, offerings of pound cake are left to the statue of Saint Expedite; these offerings are believed to expedite the favors asked of the Voodoo queen. Saint Expedite represents the spirit standing between life and death. The chapel where the statue stands was once used only for holding funerals.Marie Laveau continues to be a central figure of Louisiana Voodoo and of New Orleans culture. Gamblers shout her name when throwing dice, and multiple tales of sightings of the Voodoo queen have been told.
Here is the outside of her family tomb.
You will notice it is clean and white and that is because there is a not-for-proft group in New Orleans called Save Our Cemeteries that takes care of as many tombs as they can. When this cemetery was open to whomever wanted to wander in people would write XXX all over Marie Laveau’s tomb and chip bits off as souvenirs, it was a mess. That’s one of the reasons only tours are allowed in. This one of the nearby tombs still covered with graffiti and chipped to all hell.
I asked what the significance of the XXX was, and the thing is to draw the Xs. knock three times on the tomb and then ask Marie Laveau to grant you a wish, often pertaining to love.
Right behind Miss Laveau’s tomb is a pyramid. No one is in it. Yet. Because it is Nicholas Cage’s forever home. It’s sitting there uninhabited until Cage bites it. Good idea, always plan ahead. Nicholas Cage is a character, I wouldn’t be surprised if he insisted on being embalmed and having his cats join him in the afterlife. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
There are also group tombs (called “condominios” in Spain, that never stops being funny to me) for various groups. For example there was a massive nunnery and the nuns are laid to rest in one of those. In this picture the one on the left is for Portuguese people and the one on the right is for the Italians.
The round mass tomb on the right is famous because of the movie Easy Rider. There’s a scene where Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and two lovely young ladies come to this cemetery, take LSD and go on a mental journey. Fun Fact: the actors really did take LSD. It’s (not surprisingly) a very trippy scene in the film. They’re climbing all over the sculptures, the lovely young ladies are naked and frolicking, copious amounts of alcohol are being consumed. Apparently after the mayor of New Orleans saw the movie he decided no one could film movies any more in the cemetery, booooo. But the damage was already done. The main sculpture (I think it’s Athena) nestled in an alcove on the tomb has no head and no hands because bikers came for years to sit in her lap and have their picture taken a là Peter Fonda’s character. So her head fell off. Here’s the shot from the film:
Here’s some jackhole doing the pose:
This condominio is for war heroes. Note the bombs as corner pieces for the decorative chain. That’s baller, having explosive devices flanking your tomb.
Another famous person who is laid to rest there is Bernard deMarigny. He’s got a hell of a tale. He was born with not a silver spoon in his mouth, but a gold one. Legend has it that when the King of France and his two brothers came to visit, the deMarignys served them on specially-made gold plates. After the meal all the plates were thrown in the river because no one would be worthy of using them again. Yeah. Gold plates. Here’s what Wikipedia says about him:
The visit of the French royals apparently had a big impact on Marigny, as it is reported as an example of the spoiled life in which he was reared. When he was 15 years old, his father died and Bernard inherited his father’s plantation just outside the city gates, east of New Orleans’ Vieux Carré. According to historians, “His every whim [was] indulged while his father was alive, he became as wild and headstrong after his death as an unbacked [wild] mustang, and his guardian, abandoning all idea of control, finally shipped him to England, hoping that life abroad might mend his manners; but in London Bernard’s dissipations became only more pyrotechnic, and he spent most of his time at Almack’s and other famous gambling places.” One of the things Marigny brought back to New Orleans from England was the dice game Hazardwhich became popular in a simplified form, known in local dialect as “Crapaud”.
This guy and his family owned so much land that when it was developed and turned into city streets, he got to name them. There was Love Street, Poets Street, Music Street, Abundance Street, Treasure Street and even Craps Street until the three churches that sprouted up on that street petitioned to have the name changed. Marigny eventually gambled his fortune away and died relatively penniless but he left an impression on the city.
The entire cemetery is Catholic but there’s a small section off in the back where Protestants can be buried. Note I used the word “buried.” Big mistake, Protestants. In this photo you’ll see several level-with-the-ground graves. They have recently been surrounded with cement. What you can’t see under all that grass are all the other graves that sunk into the earth because no cement. This area was wall-to-wall graves. You can really stub your toe on a corner of tombstone pokin’ out of the loam.
That’s it for cemeteries. Coming up: alligators.