Saint Louis Cemetery 1 is New Orleans’ oldest and most famous cemetery. // © 2014 Creative Commons: MIm
Rural and urban cemeteries were the talk of the town in 19th century America. While rural cemeteries were seen as a place of safe haven and tranquility away from urbanization, urban cemeteries were often crowded and dirty. However, burial grounds New Orleans were unlike anywhere else in the U.S., because the city’s swamp grounds necessitated uncommon burial practices. Often described as “cities of the dead,” New Orleans’ cemeteries developed elaborate, carefully gridded burial systems.
Unsurprisingly, cemeteries are still as popular in New Orleans as they were 200 years ago. Tourists can join the long lineage of travelers who have visited the cemeteries of the Crescent City on one of many guided tours. Along the way, visitors will find mainly above-the-ground tombs — created specifically for New Orleans’ swampy topography — decorated with European architectural influences. Notorious for evoking spook, the centuries-old eerie graveyards provide visitors a chance to learn a bit of local history.
Saint Louis Cemetery 1 is the most popular cemetery stop for tour operators because it is the oldest and most iconic cemetery in New Orleans — established 1789 — and is the burial ground of the infamous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Learning about voodoo practices and history is one of the tour’s highlights.
Another point of curiosity for tourists are the grisly burial chambers known as “fours,” which housed tomb spaces that were rented out for 20-25 years and then reused. In the past, this was a cost-cutting solution for New Orleans’ poorer citizens as well as a practical use of space for the city.
While the cemetery itself is the focus of most tours, some operators incorporate a visit to one of the cemeteries as part of a larger package. Machu Picchu Travel Services offers such a package, with stops in the Garden District and visits to popular Mardi Gras locations around town.