Save Our Cemeteries is the only non-profit that offers cemetery tours in New Orleans. For different reasons I usually try to avoid tours, but supporting SOC — which was founded when the Archdiocese wanted to tear down the wall vaults of St. Louis #2 and replace them with chain link — and being with a group for some of these cemeteries for safety reasons are good ideas. Unlike some of the other tours going around that we bumped into while walking around, it was nice that our guide was very low-key and did not sensationalize certain aspects, as it is a cemetery after all.
There have been some really disturbing happenings lately, with unscrupulous non-licensed, non-SOC ‘tour guides’ actually removing bricks and taking pictures of, or even handling bones. From the Times-Pic:
However, breaking into a tomb and either removing someone’s remains or taking pictures of them is far more serious, Stevenson said.
“It’s not King Tut in that tomb; it’s somebody’s dead grandmother and they deserve more respect than being treated like a sideshow freak,” he said.
In most of the tombs, the remains have long since turned to dust. Green said there are up to eight burials each year at St. Louis No. 1.
Traditionally, a body was inserted in a wooden coffin into the tomb, where it was left until the next burial, at least a year and one day from the previous to allow the body to decompose. When the tomb was reopened, whatever was left inside after sitting in 300-degree heat for a year–typically bones and the coffin padding and handles–was swept into the pit at the bottom of the tomb, called a caveau.
“All the bones mingle together. We call it the ultimate in family togetherness,” Green said.
Since contemporary people are taller and wider than their Creole ancestors, many of their coffins can’t fit into the tombs, Green said. Some people choose to be cremated. For those who can fit, once the body has decomposed their bones are sealed in plastic bags to preserve DNA, and they are placed in the caveau with their family.
And there was the craziness late last year when someone painted pink the tomb believed to be Marie Laveau’s. Here, before, when I made this image:
BTW, one of the previous White House Social Secretaries was Desiree Glapion Rogers, a descendant of Marie Laveau.
The Italian Society Tomb:
New Orleans Musicians Tomb:
Tomb built for Nicholas Cage: