Saturday 29 December 2018

New Orleans - Day 2

Guess what we did on our second day on New Orleans?  It's pretty obvious...we visited the St. Louis Cemetery #1.  K had booked our tickets in advance through "Save our Cemeteries" and we met the tour guide Tony at a nearby coffee shop about 9:30 in the morning.  This turned out to be a great choice as we had arrived far too early and wandered over to the information centre a couple of blocks away.  They were also offering tours...we observed that the woman doing the tour completed three tours in the time we did ours.  

This photo above it the plaque on the tomb of what is believed to be the last resting place of Marie Laveau.  

"Marie Laveau was a famous and powerful voodoo priestess who lived in New Orleans in the 19th century. Renowned in life and revered in death, some say she continues to work her magic from beyond the grave. Laveau, a hairdresser by trade, was the most famous and purportedly the most powerful of the city’s voodoo practitioners. She sold charms and pouches of gris gris (some combination of herbs, oils, stones, bones, hair, nails, and grave dirt), told fortunes and gave advice to New Orleans residents of every social strata."

This is the most famous tomb in the cemetery and Tony ensured we went there first.  He gave us an explanation of voodoo and hoodoo.  Voodoo is actually a religion while hoodoo is a form of folk magic originating in West Africa and mostly practiced today in the Southern United States.

He indicated that there are other tombs that are believed to hold her remains, which he called faux Laveau's.  Later in our tour we visited one of these.

The tombs were in various states of disrepair.  Tony explained that if the family purchased perpetual care, the cemetery caretakers cared for the grave site, if not it was the families responsibility.

This particular one was in decent shape, and was partially fenced in.  Tony indicated this was to keep the spirits in.

We also learned that the graves are built above ground not because of the potential of flooding as most of us thought, but due to the theory that illness would make its way into ground water and thus spread to others.  

Under each of the tombs was a cave (he used a different word), about 12 feet deep.  After a year, the coffin was removed from the tomb and destroyed (again due to potential disease) and the remains dropped into the hole.  As a result many people would be buried in these family tombs over the years.

Here Tony is explaining to us the process of repairing one of the tombs.  As he noted, most are made of brick, and then stuccoed over.  The heat and humidity in New Orleans damages both.  

The Save our Cemeteries group fund raise, partially through tours, in order to repair some of the tombs that have no apparent family to do so.
The group doesn't do the work themselves, but contract it out to specific companies who specialize in this work.  It was cool, with a bit of rain, so no work was being performed that day.

Are you a fan of Nicolas Cage?  If you are, some day in the future you may want to visit the cemetery.

"The empty grave is a stark, nine-foot-tall stone pyramid that stands in obvious contrast to the blockier, above-ground burial sites that have been crumbling away in the cemetery for over two centuries. There is no name on the pyramid yet, but it is emblazoned with the Latin maxim, “Omnia Ab Uno,” which translates to “Everything From One."" -

It was definitely the most unusual tomb we saw in the graveyard!  

I did wonder why a tomb would have a door knocker?

Amidst all the death there were a few wild flowers growing.

The photo below is one of the faux Laveau's.  

Tony explained that the XXX represent a wish made by a follower. The belief is that one must break off a piece of brick from another tomb, spin around three times, scrape three X’s onto the tomb, and do some sort of knocking on the tomb. Then an offering should be left at the tomb and the wish will be granted. X’s that are circled are said to mean that the wish had come true.

The offerings are generally items for hairdressing, including barrettes and elastic bands.  It is, of course, illegal to mark up the grave, and the cemetery now has security cameras in place 24/7.  Those who are caught defacing one of the burial sites is subject to a significant fine.

This was one of the best kept sites in the cemetery.  I have to assume there is still family who tend to it.

We were told this is the oldest site, and has been entirely encapsulated so that one one can get in or out. :)

I don't recall seeing any markings on the grave, but assume like so many others, it was built of brick and contains the remains of several family members.

I don't recall the earliest date on any of the tombs we saw, but the latest date was sometime in 2017.  So obviously these tombs are still available to the families.

While the marker is broken, it has not been replaced, Tony explained, likely due to the significant cost of doing so.

However, it was apparent that someone had visited fairly recently as the small Bible that was left was still in decent shape.

The entire tour was very interesting, we visited more tombs than I've shared photos, and Tony shared the stories that went with them.  In total, we were with him for nearly 90 minutes and he did an excellent job of sharing his knowledge and interest with us.

Once we left the cemetery we wandered back over to the information centre to use the facilities, before heading back towards the river and the French market.  These well maintained homes were a sharp contrast to the tombs in the cemetery!

 Another contrast, buggy pulled by the mule juxtaposed with the modern car.  There were lots of both, most of the carriages were found near Jackson Square, with drivers encouraging the tourists to take a ride while they provided some of the history of the French Quarter.  We chose to walk, but perhaps another time.

I must say, too, the vehicular traffic in the French quarter were incredibly patient with pedestrians and the carriages.  I don't recall once hearing a honking horn.  I guess most drivers are used to sharing the road.

Our next stop was Cafe du Monde, the iconic cafe that offers coffee (with or without chicory) and beignets along with other beverages.

The beignets are hot and fresh and heaped with mounds of powdered sugar.  I chose the coffee with chicory, just to try it, and after the first few sips found it was pretty good.  

After this stop, we also found another cafe, Cafe Beignet near to our hotel.  I won't tell how many beignets we ate during the four days we were in New Orleans....suffice to say we had our fair share!

After our lunch of beignets, we wandered down to the river to check out the Natchez Queen paddle wheeler.  It had just arrived back at the dock and we watched as the passengers disembarked.

There was some talk of taking the river cruise but we decided against and headed back to the hotel to warm up.

Along the way, more music!  The photo doesn't show it, but there was a large crowd gathered listening to the group play.  In the box on the little table were CD's available for sale.

Back at the hotel it was J's turn to nap, and for K and I to catch up with e-mail, some blog reading, and for me, Facebook.  We also spent a good amount of time checking out restaurants in the area for dinner. We settled on Channing Tatum's Saints and Sinners restaurant on Bourbon Street, just a few blocks from the hotel.  (To be honest, everything in the French Quarter was very close to our hotel.)  There is some construction underway on Bourbon Street, that I assume they are attempting to complete by Mardi Gras.  The restaurant wasn't very busy because it was only accessible from the sidewalk.  A young man came running out to us with the menu and we laughed said, we were planning to come here!

I chose the fish tacos that evening, and have no photo evidence as I forgot to take a photo until they were finished.  I can assure you, they were very good.
After our dinner was finished we took a short walk on Bourbon Street before heading back to the hotel.  We knew we'd be up early the next day, as K had rented a car for the day.  More on that tomorrow!


  1. What an interesting and memorable day! The cemetery tour would have been fascinating, in a somewhat unsettling (to me) way. I do love to wander through old cemeteries, but it's very different here, no Voodoo Priestesses that I'm aware of, and presumably no lingering energies (to possibly offend).

  2. Love the tour of the cemetery, that would be right up my alley. I didn't realize Channing Tatum had a restaurant/bar in New Orleans. When I make it there I will be sure to visit, am a fan of his. Loads of talent - not bad in the looks department either lol

  3. Very interesting about the cemetery. The digging of a hole under the tomb and destruction of the coffins was particularly intriguing. I wonder if this was influenced by customs practised anywhere else, or if it is unique to New Orleans. Interesting, regardless.


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