Visiting a New Orleans Cemetery is something I suggest every local or tourist do while visiting New Orleans La. The City of New Orleans cemeteries are unique in their own right and is one of the best ways to visit the cities of the dead.
Cemeteries in New Orleans attract thousands of visitors each month with their above-ground tombs and walking tours of the cemeteries. A historic and unique tour that I recommend taking is a walking tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. This famous cemetery is not free and requires a hired tour guide to visit. But no trip to NOLA is complete without a New Orleans cemetery tour.
Visiting the city’s cemeteries is a unique and fun thing to do anytime throughout the year, but due to hot temperatures in the city, I suggest to do take this tour in the Fall while visiting New Orleans.
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Two Chicks Walking Tours is a local, New Orleans company that prides itself on unique storytelling and small, intimate tours. Their philosophy is that people work hard for their vacation time and going on a walking tour is a well-deserved treat. Two Chicks Walking tour prides itself on small walking tours. All of the Two Chicks tours are a two-hour walking tour and they can go anywhere in the New Orleans area if you are interested in additional Cemeteries of New Orleans.
St LouisCemetery No One Tour
To visit the historic St Louis Cemetery No 1, you will need to meet up with your tour guide at the edge of the French Quarter. I met my local guide by Arrow Cafe, which is a great place to meet and is within walking distance from St Louis Cemetery No 1.
On the walk over, my tour guide gave me a brief history of the French Quarter and informed me why the tombs are above ground. We were on our way to the oldest cemetery in New Orleans located on Basin Street.
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Did you know that the reason the tomb is above ground is not that New Orleans is five feet below sea level, but because the city is profoundly influenced by Spanish Culture? New Orleans mimicked the unique burial rituals of having above-ground tombs.
Why do you have to pay to go to St Louis #1 Cemetery
Unfortunately, due to many of the notable graves in St Louis cemetery no 1 those who want to tour the grounds need to be escorted by a licensed tour guide. The tour company tour price will include the price of admission.
In 2013, a vandal crept into St Louis #1 and painted the famed voodoo priestess Marie Laveau’s tomb pink with latex paint. Since then, the only way to visit the cemetery is by touring with an authorized tour guide.
If you have a family member buried in Historic St Louis cemetery no 1 you do not need a guide to visit your family resting place.
Notable Gravesites in the Cemetery
No two tours are exactly alike and there are many notable graves you will see on tour. If there is a particular tour that you want to see on a tour make sure your tour guide knows while you are exploring historic New Orleans cemeteries.
While in St Louis #1 Cemetery, you can pay homage to the fallen yellow fever victims or check out notable movie star graves that are not yet filled.
I was very interested in learning more about Marie Laveau and her history, so my tour guide concentrated on those two topics. Just not that no two cemetery tours are alike just like no two cemeteries are alike!
Marie Laveau’s Gravesite
Voodoo Queen of New Orleans – Marie Laveau is the most visited tomb in St Louis #1. Visitors from all over come here to give praise to the voodoo queen.
While touring the tomb, you will notice that there are a lot of Xs on the tomb. Rumor has it that if you scribble an X on the tomb and make a wish, The Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau will grant your wish.
If you look closer, you will see some of the Xs have circles around them. If your desire comes true, then you should make a return trip and circle your Xs.
Interestingly enough, some people even draw three Xs on the tomb to make their wishes come true. Because of course – three Xs would make the wish become true faster. Right?
Do not mark the Graves
However, do not mark any of the graves! This practice of marking Xs on the tombs is discouraged by preservationists. In 2014, after the great pink latex paint debacle, there was a significant effort to restore her tomb to its whitewashed exterior.
If a visitor is caught marking any grave in St Louis #1 a hefty fine is associated with the crime.
Some visitors leave behind bobby pins, hair ties, and other hair accessories by Laveau’s grave. It is known that Laveau studied to be a hairdresser and it is believed that leaving her trinkets will also bring luck to the well-wisher.
On the tour, I saw at least three tombs that are associated with Marie Laveau. My tour guide pointed out the real official grave in the cemetery and two other tombs that some claim are Marie Laveau’s final resting place.
Each tomb has Xs marked on the outside and hair trinkets offered up to the voodoo queen.
Within St Louis #1 you will find a sizeable unmarked pyramid which is the future tomb of Nicolas Cage.
In 2010, Cage decided to build the tomb for his final resting place – one of the most famous cemeteries in the United States with a plethora of cemetery tours to visit him after he passes. Lucky for Cage, when he suffered from bad financial decisions and foreclosures his final resting place was not taken away from him.
The pyramid has a Latin motto inscribed on the tomb – Omnia Ab Uno which means Everything From One of the films National Treasure.
When visiting the grave, you will see red lipstick kisses all over the tomb.
Since Cage paid for Perpetual Care, the caretakers make sure the tomb is in tip-top shape and they cleaned off all of the red lipstick. When Cage found out that his fans were coming to kiss his tomb, he instructed that everything except for the kisses was cleaned off of the tomb.
The future resting place of Nicolas Cage. Look closely to see kisses on the tomb.
Homer Plessy Grave
The famous Homer Plessy is also buried in St. Louis No. One Cemetery. Plessy was born into a mixed-race family in 1862 and since his great-grandmother was Black he identified as black even though he was considered white. Plessy was an integral part in working with racial inequality in Louisiana. In his case, even though he lost, Plessy v. Ferguson made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Cemetery Walking Tours
These are just two of the graves you will see in St Louis #1. You will also discover that Cincinnati Kid (1965) and Easy Rider (1969) were filmed in the St Louis Cemeteries.
After Easy Rider was released, the Archdiocese formed a policy to disallow filming in its cemeteries, except for preapproved documentaries and educational films.
Tips for Visiting Cemeteries
- Be respectful – even though the cemeteries are a popular tourist destination, they are still active. If there is a funeral procession or workers preparing a tomb, be respectful of the deceased and their family.
- An Umbrella – there is not much shade in the cemetery so if you tend to be sensitive to the sun bring an umbrella!
- Bottled Water – the tour in total will last about an hour to an hour and a half. Once in the cemetery, there is nowhere to purchase water so make sure to bring one with you. There are usually street vendors selling water before and after the tour.
- A good pair of walking shoes – Like most places in New Orleans, the walkway has some uneven paths. Make sure to wear your favorite walking shoe while on this tour. If you have trouble walking, make sure you bring your rollator or walking cane.
- Cemeteries can be dangerous – all the cemeteries listed in this guide and tried and true cemeteries. There are some neighborhoods with cemeteries that are less safe. While visiting a cemetery, especially at night, please use common sense.
Additional historic Cemeteries in New Orleans la
Even though you have to have a paid tour guide to visit St Louis Cemetery No 1 it is not the only cemetery tour in New Orleans, some are free to tour on your own.. There are other cemetery tours that you can visit on your own or check out some of these best cemetery tours in The Crescent City.
St Louis Cemetery No 3 – St Louis cemetery #3 is located at the end of Esplanade Avenue. It was built on the site of a former leper colony. There is a three-story mausoleum that you can visit to get a great photo of the Bayou St John Neighborhood.
Metairie Cemetery – The Old Metairie Cemetery, which is technically located in New Orleans, was built on a former horse-racing track. This cemetery has notable historical figures and burial spots of New Orleans Mayors, Louisiana Governors, as well as Al Copeland, the founder of Popeyes Fried Chicken. Louis Prima, is famous for the song Just a Gigolo. Another notable tomb is the Morales tomb which was built for famed Storyville made Jose Arlington.
Lafayette Cemetery #1 – Lafayette Cemetery is located in the Garden District. This cemetery is famed for being showcased in Interview With a Vampire, Double Jeopardy, NCIS: New Orleans, American Horror Story, Dracula 2000, and The Originals.
Canal Street Cemeteries – Not too far from City Park is a cluster of cemeteries at the foot of Canal Street. This cluster of Cemeteries includes Cypress Grove, Greenwood, Odd Fellows Rest, and Old Charity Hospital Cemetery, Hurricane Katrina Memorial Cemetery. Greenwood cemetery is one of the city’s largest cemeteries and has an impressive Elks tomb and Firemen’s Monument.
Other interesting Facts about Cemeteries in New Orleans
Family Tombs are some of the most common tombs in a New Orleans cemetery. These tombs feature 2-3 chambers that can hold up to 50 deceased family members.
Society tombs are large, ornate tombs that hold the remains of hundreds. These people belonged to religious groups and paid dues to society for the honor of being buried in these tombs. hundreds of the deceased have their final rest here.
Wall Vaults usually line the walls of the cemeteries and include the burial chambers of those who have passed. These are sometimes called oven vaults because they resemble vintage ovens. Wall vaults are a less expensive way to bury someone than a family tomb.
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