Can you imagine walking through the French Quarter and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 when it’s cold and rainy? I can more than imagine it since that’s exactly what I did on a Thursday morning. I decided I wasn’t going to let the weather affect my decision to take this tour when I was in New Orleans. I left my friend’s house early in the morning for the walk down to the French Quarter and walked further down the Quarter until I found Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop where Haunted History Tours met. I was fortunate that the tour departed whether the sun was out or it was raining. Don’t let the weather deter you from taking this tour or enjoying any part of New Orleans because you can’t control the weather when you are on vacation!
My tour guide for the Cemetery History Tour was Daphne who is knowledgeable of the history surrounding St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 as well as the history leading up to our walk through the cemetery.
She talked about the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 and how the fire started at the home of Vicente Jose Nunez. He had lit a few candles which had caught the curtains on fire and in turn, the fire spread and caught other houses on fire. He tried to warn people of the fire but since this happened on Good Friday; the priests would not ring the bells in the bell tower that would warn the people of the fire that spread throughout the surrounding blocks. The fire caused damage to at least 65%, if not more, of the buildings in the city.
Then we headed towards Louis Armstrong Park which would lead us into the cemetery. Did you know Voodoo was once practiced there when it was known as Congo Square until 1857? As Daphne was telling me about this, she delved more into religion, Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and one of the places where segregation happened. Did you know that Catholics and Protestants were segregated in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1? Catholics were buried towards the front and Protestants were buried towards the back of the cemetery.
There are many interesting facts about St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 that I didn’t know. Did you know ancestry was important in voodoo or that people who practiced voodoo would never condone marking someone’s grave? How about seeing a couple of graves marked with three x’s and wondering what the x’s meant? People would mark the graves they thought to be Marie Laveau’s with these x’s if they wanted her to grant them a wish. As I stood in front of these graves, I saw these x’s as well as offerings that people left. These offerings could be coins, candy, bread and cake. The grave belonging to Marie Laveau was renovated but that hasn’t stopped people from starting to mark the side of her grave with these x’s. While we were at her grave, glass that had been left for her as a way to pay one’s respect had fallen off the edge of where it was sitting and fell at our feet. Pretty spooky that this happened when we were there.
Now if you feel inclined to leave your own mark on Marie Laveau’s grave, please do not do it. This is considered vandalism! No one should desecrate anyone’s grave when visiting these places. That is why you have people who come into the cemeteries and help renovate or restore some of these tombs.
Now you may be asking yourself what is the difference between renovating and restoring. Don’t they mean the same thing? I thought they may have the same meaning behind them but they don’t. Renovation means that you can make the tomb look like new but it doesn’t last as long as if you were to restore it back to its former glory. Restoration means restoring it to the way it once was, taking time and much effort in working to restore it.
As I walked around the cemetery, Daphne pointed out that some of the graves have bronze placards at the foot of them that says perpetual care on them. It means that the graves will be cared for and not fall into disrepair. Another thing that was brought to my attention was the wall tombs. Each of these tombs could hold entire families in them. Some of them looked like brick ovens because when you place the body in the tomb and when the temperature changes then it affects the body and turns it from bones to ash. Another word for this would be cremation.
As we walked through the cemetery, we walked over to the Italian Mutual Benevolent Society Tomb. Daphne explained this is where a scene from ‘Easy Rider’ was filmed. After the movie was filmed there, studios can no longer film in the cemetery since Peter Fonda was shown climbing up to the top and sitting on the statue.
Another interesting fact is that Nicholas Cage acquired a space within the cemetery and has his tomb there. Come to find out he purchased one of the last plots in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. The words engraved on the tomb, Omnia Ab Uno is the Latin words for ‘all in one.’
As the tour was ending, Daphne walked me back towards the French Quarter instead of leaving me at the cemetery. I found out you do not want to walk through the cemetery alone but with a group since it is safer to walk through the narrow paths with someone and not on your own. You never know who may be lurking around the corner as you make your way through each section.
Have you thought about taking the Cemetery Tour through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1? What did you think of it if you’ve ever taken the tour? I am glad I took this particular tour since it gave me insight into the cemetery and history of New Orleans that I didn’t know before I arrived in the city. I would recommend Haunted History Tours to anyone who makes it to the Big Easy.
This article was written in collaboration with Haunted History Tours .