I know I’m not the only traveler who’s fascinated by cemeteries – and lucky for those of us with an affection for old graves, there are some truly beautiful (if not a little haunting) cemeteries around the world that are worth visiting. New Orleans is one of the places where a cemetery tour is de rigeur, but these cemeteries aren’t what you might expect.
Because New Orleans is built below sea level, burying people has never really been an option. So the cemeteries in New Orleans are all made up of above-ground tombs, and they’re often called “cities of the dead.” As soon as you walk into one, you understand why. Many of the tombs look almost like small townhouses, with sidewalks and trees out front, just waiting for the occupants to come out and pick up the morning paper.
Some of the New Orleans cemeteries are more famous than others, but that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of gorgeous cemeteries in this city. Here’s a sample of what you can see in the New Orleans cities of the dead.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 3
Located not far from the other St. Louis cemeteries, St. Louis No. 3 is actually on the site of a former leper colony. But it’s not a cemetery of lepers – the city exiled the leper colony further outside the borders when it needed mroe burial space following a yellow fever outbreak in 1853. Of the three St. Louis cemeteries, this one is probably kept in the best condition and there’s an extensive waiting list for burial space.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
One of the most photographed and filmed cemeteries in New Orleans, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is in the city’s Garden District and is home to the graves of a confederate general and a Louisiana governor who held office during the Civil War. The cemetery was opened in 1833. Some of the scenes from “Interview With the Vampire” were filmed here.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Of all the photographed New Orleans cemeteries, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is perhaps the most photographed and best known. It’s the oldest cemetery in the city that’s still in use, established in 1789, and boasts such famous tombs as Homer Plessy (of the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case in the 1890s), Ernest Morial (New Orleans’ first black mayor), and the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. The cemetery is a block from the French Quarter, and served as the backdrop for a part of the filming of “Easy Rider.”
Although the Metairie Cemetery shares the same name as a town not far from New Orleans, the cemetery is within the New Orleans city limits. The cemetery was built on a former horse racing track in the 1870s, and it’s home to many famous graves – including three Confederate generals, 7 New Orleans mayors, 9 Louisiana governors, and Louis Prima. Jefferson Davis was entombed at Metairie Cemetery briefly after his death.
Greenwood Cemetery was opened in 1852 by the Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association, but despite the firemen’s memorial monument at the center the cemetery was originally home to graves of victims of the yellow fever outbreak of the early 1850s. There’s also a burial mound at Greenwood which is a mass grave for the remains of roughly 600 Confederate soldiers, and John Kennedy Toole (who wrote “A Confederacy of Dunces”) is also buried here.
St. Patrick Cemetery No. 2
There are three St. Patrick cemeteries in New Orleans – all of which were built by the city’s Irish community. St. Patrick No. 2 was opened in 1841, shortly after a yellow fever outbreak hit the Irish immigrants hard. The St. Patrick parish is New Orleans’ second-oldest, with only the St. Louis parish being older.
Read more about:
- 12 of the World’s Most Fascinating Cemeteries
- 9 of the Strangest Bone Churches of Europe
- The Haunting Cemeteries of Paris
About the Author
BootsnAll writer Jessica Spiegel (who writes the Italy Travel Guide) has more cemetery photographs in her archives than she can count, and is eager to collect more. Luckily, her passion for cool old cemeteries mixes well with her passion for Italy.