St. Louis No. 1 - New Orleans Oldest Graveyard
Hours and Info
Location: 425 Basin Street (Intersection of St. Louis)
Hours: **Due to vandalism, this is the only cemetery in New Orleans where you MUST be accompanied by a licenced tour guide on one of the many available daily tours**
M-F 8:00am - 3:30pm
Saturday & Sunday: 8:00am - noon
Maintained by: Archdiocese
Established: 1789, moved to its current location in 1792
*Except for Marie Laveau, all photos were taken by and are the property of the author*
The one not to miss!
St. Louis No. 1 is the oldest existing cemetery in New Orleans and is still in sporadic use today, although you're much more likely to see tour groups than a funeral these days.
The graveyard has had an amazing history- at one square block it's currently about half of its original size but has held between 100-150,000 remains. It's the first above-ground cemetery in the city, and shows some growing pains- the aisles are at crazy angles, tombs are sunken down into the moist soil- but her charms are undeniable.
Many of the city's early elite are buried here, and there are some more notorious members as well. For a fuller history of the cemetery's history, you can visit my page here, while on this page we'll focus on some of the individual tombs.
The Mysterious Legend of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau
Born in 1794 as a free black Creole, Marie's parents were wealthy enough to make a good match for her and see her married in St. Louis Cathedral to Jacques Paris in 1819.
Barely a year later, her husband died, though records don't say how. Some have speculated that he was an unkind man and the Voodoo practitioner "saw to" him, though he was also active in Haitian politics after their revolution, which could have easily led to his death either for political reasons or through a wreck at sea.
Soon after her husband's death she moved in with her lover, Christophe Glapion. She'd taken work as a hairdresser for the affluent whites in the city, and her influence began to spread thanks to her unique position. Slaves in the household would tell her the secrets of their masters, and Marie could spin that information back to her clients who soon believed in her clairvoyance, slowly gaining their trust (and money, of course).
Marie in her prime
Marie's Fame Spreads
Marie eventually became a legend, with tourists coming to see her and her massive python Zombi perform their rituals along the banks of Bayou St. John. Her biggest event was during the midsummer solstice, an event that thousands would attend. Smaller ceremonies were done privately, for only a dozen or so customers and these would often devolve into orgies when the attendees (some of whom were prostitutes acting out their role) were overcome by the Loa, or Voodoo gods.
But her renown was not the only thing growing- her belly was waxing and waning like the cycles of the moon- Marie had 15 children with Christophe, dying at age 98 (a particularly remarkable age then) and was buried in Christophe's family tomb in St. Louis No. 1.
Now comes the most controversial part- many believed her power was so great that she'd grown young again some forty years earlier. One day she was an older middle-aged woman, starting to show the burden of her years, and the next she was a girl in her early 20s, walking the streets and seeing to her business, greeting people by name, behaving just as her customers expected her to.
As it turns out, she'd named one of her daughters Marie, and the speculation is that this little girl was kept largely inside, and away from the public, being groomed by her mother to step into her shoes one day.
If so, it is very likely that it is the daughter, Marie II, who is buried in St. Louis No. 1, and researchers believe her actual tomb is in the Leaning Tomb in St. Louis No. 2, largely forgotten and ignored..
Marie Laveau's Tomb in St. Louis No 1
The tomb of Marie Laveau
Today, Marie's (whether the original or her daughter) tomb is the main draw in the cemetery, marked with many sets of "XXX" left by visitors.
The legend says that if you make the markings, knock three times, ask for a wish and leave an offering of something you have in your pockets, your wish will be granted. For many reasons I find this ludicrous, but primarily because it is a very destructive practice.
Nicholas Cage comes to town
Recently there was a lot of work going on in a central portion of the cemetery, but none of the workers spoke English, so it was hard to say exactly what they were doing.
And then there were whispers. A friend's sister came to town and someone mentioned to her that a star was having a tomb built. Someone else sent me an email to ask if it was true. Dimensions were discussed...measurements that sounded all out of whack.
But when someone sent me a link to a TMZ story I knew it was time to go out and take a look, and... oh...my.
Nicholas Cage has built himself a temple.
The new Pyramid in St. Louis No. 1
Yep. Huge one - maybe 10, 12 feet high. In the middle of crowded, jumbled, old old St. Louis No. 1.
It needed lot of bracing and shoring up, so now there's a huge concrete bib all around it. I'm going to have to dig through my old photos to see if/how many long standing tombs were lost to build both tomb and support, and though I'm really hoping for the best,it's a very crowded cemetery and that pyramid takes up a lot of real estate.
I guess I'm not understanding the point here. If the goal was to be buried in St. Louis No. 1, he could have bought one of the tombs that are in need of renovation, fixed it, and still had an intact authentic piece of history. If he was after something impressively massive he could have bought a new plot in any of the cemeteries- if he wanted something more elaborate, Lakelawn would've been happy to accommodate him.
I may not be a fan of this particular tomb, but Nic Cage definitely rocks the city. He's always around at local restaurants, not making a big deal of himself, just having fun, and he's in the right place for that for sure. Plus we all hope he's going to stay in New Orleans, given his spate of repossessions/foreclosures and a nasty bunch of litigation with his financial advisors.
Italian Mutual Benevolent Tomb
Italian Mutual Benevolent Society
This is the highest tomb in St. Louis No. 1, and is constructed entirely of imported Italian Marble and designed by Italian architect Pietro Gualdi, who was brought from Europe and commissioned especially for this tomb.
It cost $47,000 in 1857 - $1.25 million in today's currency.
In a strange and sad twist of fate, Gualdi died just after the tomb was finished and became the first Italian ex-pat to be buried in his creation.
The tomb was prominently featured in the 1969 movie "Easy Rider" with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. The characters were on acid and hanging on the statues in the alcoves, which so scandalized the Archdiocese that they've banned commercial filming in the cemetery ever since.