One of my favorite things I did in New Orleans was visit cemeteries! After my mom and I toured the Warehouse District and National WWII Museum, we had two New Orleans cemetery tours at the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in the French Quarter and the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. I loved them because they’re a different way to learn more about the fascinating history of New Orleans! (If you know me, you know I’m all about history). And don’t worry, they’re not creepy tours during the day, but they do have night ghost tours if you’re interested in that.
The first tour my mom and I went on was at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Unfortunately, this tour is not free because there has been so much vandalism so they need funds to maintain the cemetery now, and you can only go in the cemetery with a tour guide. You can sign up for tours with a variety of tour groups in New Orleans, or you can beat the crowds and have the whole place to yourself like we did!
I read on a helpful blog post that all the tour groups start their tours at 9:30 a.m. BUT the cemetery actually opens at 9:00 a.m., so you can go on a private tour with one of the cemetery guides and not have to worry about being with a huge group of people! I highly recommend doing this because by the time our private tour was finishing, I could see the groups of tours lining up outside. It was also really nice to have the place to ourselves because the cemetery is really cramped, so it would be harder to get around and hear your tour guide in a larger group. So if you want to visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, I highly recommend getting there right at 9:00 a.m. for a tour with one of their guides! You’ll also want to go as early in the day as possible since in a cramped cemetery with cement ground and no shade, it gets hot quickly.
Built in the 1700s, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest existent cemetery in New Orleans, and it’s actually still being used today. One of the most interesting things I learned on the tour is that while you may have heard during Hurricane Katrina that bodies are buried above ground because of the flooding, that actually isn’t true (this part is a little icky if you don’t have a strong stomach!). These burial vaults are family vaults made to hold generations of bodies, but underground graves can only hold one body. If you’re wondering how these vaults can hold dozens of bodies, it does work and it’s a little weird. After the body had been in the vault for a year, they would go in and push all the bones to the back of the vault to make room. So the back of the vault is just a pile of bones apparently!
If people couldn’t afford large graves, they were actually put in the cemetery walls!
This is one of the vaults still in use today
Many of the burial vaults are still being used today, and they’re actually still adding vaults. Nicholas Cage has built his own vault and apparently visited a local voodoo priestess who told him to built his vault in the shape of a pyramid. If you’re confused, yes he is still alive, I suppose he just wanted to buy a plot and build the vault before the cemetery filled up.
This is a Catholic vault (New Orleans was a Catholic city back in the day)
Plessy (from the famous court case Plessy vs Ferguson) is buried here
The second most visited grave site in the U.S. is in New Orleans. Any guesses whose it is? I had no idea before going, but it’s actually a voodoo priestess! She was very famous in her time, and people would visit her grave and mark it with x’s in hopes that her voodoo would help them. The vandalism got bad, so that’s one of the reasons why you’re only allowed to enter the cemetery with a guide now.
After our tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, we had a tour of the French Quarter (I’ll post those photos soon!) before going to Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. Lafayette Cemetery was much more open with more greenery, and it was pretty empty when we were there in the afternoon. And there are a few spots with shade if it’s a hot day. It is free to enter this cemetery, and we went as part of a tour with Free Tours By Foot, which I highly recommend! I love going on tours by locals to learn more about the area’s history.
This cat is a cemetery regular and all the tour guides know him
There are many other cemeteries around New Orleans if you would like to see more, but these are two of the most famous. There are also ghost cemetery tours if that’s up your alley. If you’re visiting, I highly recommend going on some New Orleans cemetery tours! It’s a great way to see a different part of the city and learn about local history!