An excerpt from my book, “Louisiana’s Sacred Places: Churches, Cemeteries and Voodoo.” Postage-free, signed copies available via the author website, click on title of the book to order and view the book’s photo gallery. All text and photographs copyrighted.
Sitting under the shadows of the downtown high-rises, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is testament to the title, City of the Dead. Narrow pathways of broken cement form busy intersections with blind spots at every turn. The tall crypts dwarf your sense of direction, and soon you’re lost inside a supernatural world of history and intrigue.
Cemeteries are often extensions of the church community, and St. Louis No. 1 was the burial ground for the Mortuary Chapel, now called Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.Its borders reach an entire square block from the corner of Basin Street and St. Louis Street, not far from the Basin Street Tourism Center.
There was a time when the cemetery held company with the red light district of Storyville. From 1897 to 1917 the city of New Orleans wrote specific guidelines and legislation to control prostitution and thus designated this 16-block district for that purpose. It served many men streaming from the port as well high-brow officials. The residents of this cemetery have seen many changes and continue their haunting ways drawing more and more to its spiritual abode.
From pioneering heroes to political icons, the spirits still beckon the living in sold-out cemetery tours; it is here you will meet the people who built New Orleans. Just a block away from the French Quarter, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 has witnessed both social and architectural wonder.
French Creole bon vivant, Bernard de Marigny, born of a noble French family, inherited his father’s vast plantation just outside the New Orleans Vieux Carre, known as Faubourg Marigny. Marigny subdivided the plantation in small parcels to support his flamboyant lifestyle. He is also known for bringing the game of craps to America.
Evidence of his ever-growing abode can be found in the neighborhood of the same name, Faubourg Marigny, and his naming of main thoroughfares such as Frenchman and Elysian Fields.
His body lies in a white-plastered, raised-vault tomb. The Pediment design is tall but narrow with a triangular pediment, much like the roof of a house. It is there you will find Bernard de Marigny’s fading epithet, and on the facade is a marble stone stamped with a list of the soul’s interred.
A striking, and recent addition, is a rose bush crawling its way on each side of the tomb. Reaching a good three to four feet, it seems to caress his home, a fitting testament, perhaps, the red blooms are born from a glowing afterlife.
There are many cemetery tour groups that can be found on the New Orleans tourism website.
For a complete list of tours, visit the New Orleans tourism site: www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/tours/cemeterytours.html
St Louis Cemetery No. 1: Entry only via a tour group, 425 Basin Street, Gates open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday 9 am to 2 pm. Archdiocese of New Orleans, 504-482-5065
Save Our Cemeteries offers tours led by volunteer guides with 90% of ticket prices dedicated to cemetery restoration, education and advocacy. 504-525-3377, www.saveourcemeteries.org