Thursday, November 10, 2011

St. Louis Cemetery #1

 St. Louis Cemetery #1 got it's name because of it's location at the end of St. Louis Street just outside the city limits of New Orleans. Since it's conception, the city has grown and the cemetery has shrunk. Yes, shrunk. This would leave one wondering, what did they do with the bodies.

Well, I'm going to tell you a little about how the cemetery system works in New Orleans.
 They have a different way of doing things in the Crescent City. We'll start with the fact that the name of the cemetery has got #1 at the end. It gets this from the fact that when they widened the road that it is located on, they moved half of the cemetery to a new location a few blocks away, thus creating St. Louis Cemetery #2.

Moved the bodies?! you say. Yes. In fact they move the bodies all the time.

At first glance, most people think that these little buildings are mausoleums. This is not the case at all. They are graves. New Orleans has perfected the Green Funeral long before their popularity started to catch on. They are so green that they actually recycle the grave.

 Most all of the graves are above ground. This is done for a couple of reasons. The most obvious of those reasons is the fact that the city is actually below the level of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. It is protected by a series of levies that we all heard about after Hurricane Katrina. To dig down, you will no doubt hit water and therefore can not bury your loved ones.

The other reason is that they need to be able to access the graves for reasons that you are about to learn.

So they have above ground graves.

There are what are essentially apartments, condos and houses. And it works very much like that.

These are NOT mausoleums.

 These are apartments. Rentals. A temporary home.
You see, they don't even put you in an expensive casket. That would be a waste of good money. Use that money to hire a band or put on a nice meal for family and friends. You are laid to rest in a simple box.
There is no air conditioning in the here after. And this is New Orleans. It gets HOT. We are talking well over 100 degrees f. or 40 c. And it stays that way for a good long time. No, it's not cremation. It's more like slow cooking. Imagine putting a pot roast in to cook at 100 degrees for a year or so.

After One year and One day, they come back, open up your grave and take you back out. At this point, there's not much left of what used to be your body. They place what is left into a bag, crush it up, open up the larger bag that is in the grave and put you inside it with your grave-mates.

At this point you may also be moved to your permanent home if you have one, and mixed in with your family.These are Houses. Owned by a family. A family is responsible for taking care of there own house. Some can accomodate up to 3 or 4 bodies at once. Others may have room for just one.

Let's say there is an auto accident and several die at once. You want everyone to be together. So you rent an apartment for a year. Then at that point, everyone can be mixed together and put into their permanent spot. 

 The Condos are similar to Houses. Only they are maintained by the church and have many spaces to accomodate the large population.

If you look closely at this plaque, it starts in 1837 and goes through 2004. And yes, all those people are in this grave. If the plaque gets full, you can simply flip it over and keep going or place the plaque on the side of your house and put a new one on the door. Either way, there is plenty of room for more.

This grave is the 3rd most visited grave in America. It is believed to be the resting place of the one and only  Marie Laveau, 
the famous Voodoo Queen.
Marie was perceived to renew herself, effectively never aging and seemed to know everything about everyone. She could predict the future and make wishes and desires come true. The XXX's that you see all over the grave are visitors requesting that the Voodoo Queen grant their wishes still to this day. It's believed that if you make an offering and place 3 X's or knock 3 times on her grave, she will grant your wish.

A more likely story is that this woman was a hairdresser. And as a black woman of the South, the whites would talk freely in front of her about all their affairs, much as women still do today and this is where she got her information from. She had connections all over town and was able to make it appear that things were mysteriously happening. When people believed that she had these powers, they would give her money and other means of payment. Thus it was quite a good living. It has also been discovered that she had a daughter as well as a granddaughter that were also named Marie. This is how it may have been possible for her to maintain her youthfulness and seem to never age.

 This pyramid shaped grave in the middle of the cemetery will be the final resting place of the actor Nicholas Cage. It seems that money will buy you space in a cemetery that has no space. I can't imagine how many graves were taken out for him to buy this spot on earth.

 Finally, I thought this one was cute. This is a wall decor item that you might buy to put in the doorway of your home. The french word written across the top is Bienvenue. Which translates to Welcome.
Quite a nice way to welcome guest into your home.
This is a family name inscribed across the top of one of the grave houses in the cemetery. Quite a nice way to welcome your family home after a long life.

I hope that you've enjoyed this first part of our epic adventure. Stay tuned. There's a lot more.


betty said...

I did enjoy this Stew! Wow, I like the way they do this. It seemed a bit weird until you really start to think about it. But its just a body after we die; I think the way they came up with this idea is brillant!


Admin said...

Sardines come to mind :-) I wonder if cremation is popular today down there?

Unknown said...

As time passes, we each take up less space, so it really isn't cramped at all.
Cremation is picking up in popularity everywhere. But the fact remains that the catholic church does not approve of it.
Myself, I don't see much difference between the two methods.

Jim said...

Now how efficient is this!? Stew, you have the BEST stories!! This was utterly amazing and kept me 'glued' to the end!! More please!

laurak/ForestWalkArt :) said...

hey stew, thanks for all the interesting info!! really!

i like the pictures...and well...whatever happens in the end...when we're gone...we're gone...our bodies become a part of the earth again...whether buried or cremated...ashes to ashes...dust to dust. this really makes more sense than all the wasted space in big cemeteries.

all that magic...and alive & well in new orleans...

cool post!!