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After the awful time I had on the Haunted History Tour, I hadn’t much hope for the Save Our Cemeteries tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. However, to my surprise I had a fantastic time! Our guide Jamie was a well-informed and thoughtful guide. Before even starting the tour she offered all the guests parasols to help keep cool under the beating sun. Which would up being my saving grace as I burn easily and had forgotten my water bottle.
Jamie brought us to all the notable sites in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and conveyed intriguing stories about those that now lie there. First of all, I have to confess, I actually took this tour because of the CW TV series The Originals. Since Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is an important part of the series I wanted to see what it looked like in real life. They don’t actually film the series there to my knowledge, but they have shot other films and TV series there.
Lafayette Cemetery Background
Lafayette Cemetery No.1 was Established in 1833 in the Garden District of New Orleans. “The cemetery has been active since 1833 and still has burials occurring. There are about 1,000 tombs and an estimated 7,000 people buried in Lafayette #1. It is a city block in size. The cemetery is also not racially or religiously segregated and contains over 26 nationalities.” (http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com) It is unique in that it is one of the few cemeteries that date from that time with cultural diversity.
A problem the cemetery, and I’m sure other cemeteries in the area have, is that there is theft. Jamie pointed out a section of wrought iron that was missing from a fence around a tomb that had been stolen. The rise of theft is due to there being a black market for these sorts of things.
Especially relevant, while I was there we actually got to see some of the restoring the Save Our Cemeteries folks are doing. Emily, a former member of the team (she now has her own business doing this), had restored the tomb on the right of the photo below. In order to restore a tomb they first have to reach out to the family to get permission since owning a tomb is like owning a home. They can’t just work on it without consent. Consequently, a lot of these restorations take time. Once permission is acquired, they set about researching the tomb for things like its original color and other details. The current family members don’t always go with the original look. And when I say it’s like owning a home, I mean it. There was one for sale!
Jamie pointed out a cast iron tomb in Lafayette Cemetery as it is the only one. It’s not doing well these days since cast iron doesn’t do well in Louisiana heat. You would recognize it as it was the model for the tomb in Interview with the Vampire.
There was one open tomb we got to look inside of to see how it was built. It’s commonly believed that the Koenig family moved away before ever using the tomb since no one is in there. How it works is when someone dies, they open the tomb and the remains of the previous occupant are removed, bagged, and placed in a chamber underneath. The new person then moves into the tomb until it is needed again. Another fun fact is that they typically leave them in there for a year and a day. This is known as natural cremation since the heat would eventually decompose the body naturally. If someone were to die before a year and a day, the family would rent a tomb till the time was up.
A Happy Ending
Finally, my favorite story was of Julien de Lallande Poydras. He was originally from France and had wanted to marry his sweetheart. However, she didn’t have a dowry making it impossible for them to marry. He went to America to make his fortune and by the time he returned home to marry her she was already married to another man. Heartbroken, he returned back to Louisiana and with his fortune did many philanthropic deeds.
He created the Female Orphan Asylum, to which he devoted £100,000. By his will he left for a college at Pointe Coupee, 20,000 dollars. He left dowry money to poor girls so that they could marry whom they chose (30,000 dollars). This money is now given for educational purposes to women. To the Charity Hospital of New Orleans, his house on the Levee, between St. Louis and Conti streets, and his house on Bourbon street. To the Poydras Female Asylum, all his houses in Poydras street, and on the Batture.
Save Our Cemeteries is the only non-profit in New Orleans that offers cemetery tours. A portion of the tour ticket price will benefit Save Our Cemeteries’ education and restoration efforts. So you can feel good about the hard-earned money you’ve spent on the Lafayette Cemetery tour. I’m glad mine went to preserving the cemetery for future generations to enjoy as I did. Getting to the cemetery is an easy walk from the streetcar or the #11 Magazine St bus on Washington Ave.