Monday, May 19, 2014

Cities of the Dead: St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

The other day, Ted visited Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in his hometown neighborhood of the Garden District. Today, he took Clover to a cemetery in the French Quarter. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest and most famous Roman Catholic cemetery in New Orleans, and it is the final resting place for Catholics, non-Catholics, and the Creole population. Many residents of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 were once notable and prominent figures in New Orleans.


Clover wanted to visit the grave of Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, who is believed to share the Glapion family crypt. Many believe that they can be granted a wish from Laveau if they mark an X on her tomb, run around it three times (but which direction?), knock on the tomb (how many times?) and shout their wish aloud. If the wish is granted, they must return and circle the X (hope you remembered which one!) and then leave an offering.

Clover chose not to mark the crypt, but she did leave an offering to Marie Laveau, of gold coins, hot sauce and a pretty gold hair accessory. Gifts of money, food and beauty products are most often made to the voodoo priestess.



Many of the graves at St. Louis cemetery are orphaned - that is, either the family died off long ago, or the family has moved elsewhere, and there is no longer anyone to care for the family plot. About a quarter of the plots in St. Louis Cemetery are cared for by current family members and are still in use today. As a result, the tombs in the cemetery range from pristine marble and stone to crumbling brick and plaster.


For the most part, there are no trees in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, unlike the shady treed paths of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Like Lafayette though, St. Louis cemetery has high walls, and those high walls create a hot-as-an-oven feel to the cemetery. There was one lone palm tree to provide shade. If you visit St. Louis cemetery, be sure to bring an umbrella and lots of water.

One of the more modern constructs in St. Louis No. 1 is this 9 ft tall pyramid tomb, owned by Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage. There are two plaques on the front of the tomb. In Latin, the top plaque reads, "Omnia ab uno" (everything from one). The bottom plaque is blank, no doubt it will be inscribed with Cage's name upon his demise.

Visitors to Cage's future grave have decided to leave lipstick stained kisses on the bottom plaque for reasons unknown to Clover. Since she had a lovely red shade on today...

And since we're on the topic of Hollywood, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was a filming location for the infamous scene in Dennis Hopper's 1969 counter-culture film Easy Rider. The cast and crew did not have permission to film in the cemetery, and upon the film's screening, Catholic audience members were shocked that a scene portraying a bad psychedelic trip had been filmed in a Catholic cemetery. Since the film's release, the archdiocese has forbidden any filming in a Catholic cemetery without permission of the church, and those films must be documentary or educational in nature.

The tallest tomb in St. Louis No. 1 is the Italian Mutual Benevolent Society tomb, the tomb where Peter Fonda climbed into the lap of Mother Italia and confronted his feelings about his mother and her suicide when Fonda was only 10.

If you visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, it's worth it to book a tour, especially through Save Our Cemeteries, a local organization that works to preserve and protect New Orleans' Cities of the Dead. You will learn a lot about the architecture, history, and residents of these cemeteries, and your donations will help preserve these sites.


1 comment:

  1. So beautiful! I'm glad Ted and Clover had a good time. :)

    ReplyDelete