The city of New Orleans has its fair share of cemeteries. Like any other city, of course. But here, the cemeteries tend to attract a lot more outside visitors than your average local plot would.
Although it’s renowned for its food, music and nightlife, New Orleans also has an intriguing history in terms of all things spooky. Voodoo culture plays a big role in the city’s heritage. And with that, over the years, the intricate tombs of the local cemeteries have become places of interest in themselves.
One of those cemeteries, open for the public to visit, is Lafayette Cemetery No1, located in the city’s Garden District.
I’m quite the fan of anything a bit macabre. Blame the little goth that lives in my heart, or something like that. You’ll find me on the tube listening to scary tales through my headphones, and on the sofa watching horror flicks from behind my hands (because, okay, I might love the creepy, but I’m still a bit of a scaredy-cat). I like chilling books, YouTube channels reading Reddit ‘true stories’ and find abandoned buildings fascinating.
So you’d imagine that a cemetery visit (or two) would be high up my list when visiting New Orleans, right? Right. But unfortunately, on my first visit, I didn’t actually have the time to check one out. Thankfully, on my second visit in May this year, we stopped off at Lafayette Cemetery No1, and I got my chance to explore the rows of tombs and lose myself amongst the history of the dead.
I managed to accidentally lose the rest of the group pretty quickly, taking too much time looking at everything, and reading the words inscribed on all the memorials. The cemetery was quiet at this point, so I spent quite a bit of my time making my way around without actually seeing anyone else. Which was pretty eerie, despite it being a sunny day. It almost felt like all other visitors had left and I was alone in the graveyard. As if the sun might suddenly disappear and I’d be lost amongst the ghosts…
The site on which Lafayette Cemetery No1 was built had been used for burials since 1824, as part of the Livaudais Plantation – but it was formally established as a cemetery in 1833. The 1840s-50s saw deaths from yellow fever overtake the city, and in turn, its graveyards. By 1853, bodies of those who contracted and died from the disease were left at the cemetery gates.
Towards the end of the century, the cemetery fell into disrepair, but restoration efforts mean that the cemetery is now accessible to the public. I found the varying states of disrepair of the tombs added to the eerie experience – almost like a place that had been forgotten for the longest time, that I’d stumbled across. The grandeur of some of the tombs still shone through though – family vaults, commemorating multiple generations.
In the cemetery, as well as family tombs, you’ll also find large crypts for fraternal organisations, such as the Jefferson Fire Company No 22, who provided large, shared tombs for their members.
Another famous ‘group site’ is the “Secret Garden”, four tombs built together by the members of a group called ‘the Quarto’. It’s said that the Quarto held secret meetings, but the last living member destroyed their notes before dying.
As well as being the final resting place for some important New Orleans residents, the cemetery is also well-represented in pop culture. Perhaps most famously, The Karstendiek family tomb inspired Lestat’s tomb in Anne Rice’s novel Interview With A Vampire, and it can also be seen in the movie Double Jeopardy and Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals.
The tombs are beautiful in their disrepair, and the atmosphere of the graveyard has a weird sense of eerie peace. Perhaps that’s my overactive imagination working, but it’s pretty easy to understand just why this cemetery receives visitors, and has proved popular in the movie and arts worlds.
A visit to Lafayette Cemetery No1 is definitely worth your time in the Garden District – and if you’re not visiting with a guide, check out this self-guided tour to learn a bit more about its history and notable tombs.
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