Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Lafayette Odyssey 2012

It is the history and the architecture that brought me to Lafayette Cemetery#1 in the Garden District of New Orleans. 
I am strangely drawn to this unique form of burial. My parents taught me from a young age to recycle and this is the ultimate way of doing that. To read more about the way these operate, you can CLICK HERE and be magically transported to last year when we visited the St.Louis Cemetery#1.

 Lafayette Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the city.  The cemetery is bounded by Washington Avenue, Prytania Street, Sixth Street and Coliseum Street. The history of the cemetery goes back to the beginning of the 19th century, before it was part of New Orleans.
History and the Yellow Fever:
Built in what was once the City of Lafayette, the cemetery was officially established in 1833. The area was formerly part of the Livaudais plantation, and that square had been used for burials since 1824. The cemetery was laid out by Benjamin Buisson, and consisted of two intersecting roads that divide the property into four quadrants. In 1852, New Orleans annexed the City of Lafayette, and the graveyard became the city cemetery, the first planned cemetery in New Orleans.
Yes, these ones are below ground!
The first available burial records are dated from August 3, 1843, although the cemetery had been in use prior to that date. In 1841, there were 241 burials in Lafayette of victims of yellow fever. In 1847, approximately 3000 people died of yellow fever, and Lafayette holds about 613 of those. By 1853, the worst outbreak ever caused more than 8000 deaths, and bodies were often left at the gates of Lafayette. Many of these victims were immigrants and flatboatman, who worked in the area on the Mississippi.
The cemetery fell on hard times, and many of the tombs were vandalized, or fell into ruin. Thanks to the hard work of the organization "Save Our Cemeteries," there have been extensive restoration and preservation efforts, and Lafayette is open for tours.

Wall vaults, or "ovens" line the perimeter of the cemetery here, as in St. Roch and the St. Louis properties. Notable tombs here are the Smith & Dumestre family tomb, in Section 2, with 37 names carved on it, with dates ranging from 1861 to 1997. Many tombs list such various causes of death as yellow fever, apoplexy, and being struck by lightning. Also depicted are veterans of various wars, including the Civil War and a member of the French Foreign Legion. Eight tombs list ladies as "consorts."
Several distinctive monuments are for the deceased of "Woodman of the World," an insurance company still in existence which offered a "monument benefit." Brigadier General Harry T. Hays of the Confederate Army is buried here, in an area featuring a broken column. The Brunies family, of jazz fame, has a tomb here. The Lafayette Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1, the Chalmette Fire Co. No. 32, and the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22, all have group tombs here. The "Secret Garden" is a square of four tombs built by friends, "the Quarto," who wished to be buried together. According to Save Our Cemeteries, the Quarto held secret meetings, but the last member destroyed their book of notes. The only evidence of their existence are two keys from their minutes, which have been made into broaches and belong to their descendants.

 I am drawn to the symbolism on each of the graves and could spend hours wandering around, lost in the history.

 If you are a movie buff, parts may seem familiar to you, as this is a favorite scene in many movies made in New Orleans. Movies such as "Double Jeopardy" and "Interview with a Vampire" are just two of the most popular.

 This cemetery is the only one that is run by the city of New Orleans and not the Catholic Church.
A while ago there was some trouble with a little movie called Easy Rider. With my strict up-bringing, I have never seen the movie. But I guess there were some pretty unholy things happening at the St.Louis Cemetery in that movie. The church had a fit and proclaimed that no more filming would take place in church owned cemeteries.

 The city is not as strict. But does keep an eye on the film companies when they are around people's graves.

And just to be clear, the scene in the cemetery in Double Jeopardy was filmed here. But the interior of the crypt was a set. No one's loved one was desecrated in the making of the movie.

I could have filled up a memory card with this stuff.
 And what a beautiful day for pictures.
 The patina of this fence is unbeatable. I found so much beauty in the smooth iron spires.
Signs of life at the City of the Dead

 Many think that these cemeteries exist because of the water table here. Yes, it is high and you can't dig very far. But the real reason is that after a devastating tragedy, the city went to the government for funding of the cemetery and they were told by the ruling Spanish Government that they would have to do it the way they did it if they want any money. And the New Orleans Cemeteries were born. It's quite a system. A system that works, for them.
I hope that some day, we can all get together and tour a cemetery like this.


MorningAJ said...

It's amazing! I love cemeteries. Odd when you think I don't actually want to be buried (I'm down to be cremated when I go and I want my ashes scattered at sea) I just love reading all the names and the relationships and the messages.

Ms Sparrow said...

Wow, that place must be huge! Thanks for sharing all your photos and impressions.

Stew said...

I'm with you on that one Ann.I feel like being cremated completes the cycle a little faster. Why stick around and rot? But I can't get enough of cemeteries.

Stew said...

It's not as big as you might think. It is only one city block. Remember, they reuse the graves. Over and over and over again. It has it's beauty though, doesn't it.

laura.forestdreams:) said...

yes!!! thanks for all the reminders Stew!! all the old & 'haunted' and magical places of New Orleans. love it!!!