As we are now down to less than two weeks til Halloween (Samhain), I’ve decided to do a series of posts about cemeteries with help from jadewik. We’re not going to post about just any ol’ cemetery, but unique ones that stand out.
Since I live in New Orleans, I thought it only appropriate that we begin with the unique cemeteries scattered about Sin City.
Every time a hurricane has passed over New Orleans, or within affecting distance, and brought flooding rains to the city, I stop and wonder (if briefly) what possessed Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville to settle here and lay the foundations of what would become the City of New Orleans. Oh yes. He felt that the position of this new city – in the crescent bend of the Mississippi River – would be safe from tidal surges and hurricanes. I guess he missed the part about the land being below sea level.
It is this dandy little accommodation by Mother Nature that makes our cemeteries so distinct. So much so that they are quite often referred to as Cities of the Dead because that’s what they look like. The tombs we use look like small houses and most cemeteries have at least one wall of crypts that resemble brick ovens. Creepy, no?
The problem with where New Orleans is situated is that when the requisite 6 feet of earth is dug up for internment, water begins seeping into the bottom of the hole. There’s even a well-known story that at the time of one of the earliest Yellow Fever outbreaks in the city, hundreds were buried in the traditional manner and when the first major flood came along, coffins could be seen floating along in the flood waters. Shortly after, our COD began popping up.
These elaborate tombs are most often built for one individual at a time – two if you’re lucky and three or more if you come from an extraordinarily wealthy family. If your family is only of modest means and the tomb big enough for only one occupant at a time, the tradition is that the body is left for one year and a day then the tomb is ready for a new occupant. If time passes between occupants, whenever the tomb is eventually opened again, whatever remains of whoever was “buried” there before, are simply pushed to the back of the tomb to drop down into a pit at the back.
Since New Orleans is a predominantly Catholic city, both All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) are celebrated with masses said at most cemeteries in addition to all churches.
If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, don’t pass up the chance to visit our Cities of the Dead. You will be glad you did.