Save Our Cemeteries is the only non-profit cemetery restoration and tour organization in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is specifically dedicated to promoting and protecting historic sites of the dead in New Orleans. While on my trip to NOLA, I decided to take their Lafayette Cemetery Tour because of their commitment to preservation. I’m happy to report that I had a fantastic time with Save Our Cemeteries on Lafayette Cemetery No.1 tour!
Why Visit Lafayette Cemetary No.1?
I have to confess. I actually took this Lafayette cemetery tour because of the CW tv series The Originals. Since Lafayette Cemetery No.1 is a central location in the series, I wanted to see what it looked like in real life. They don’t film the show here (as far as I know it’s shot outside Atlanta), but they have shot other films and TV series here. So if you’re a bit of a travel nerd like myself, this is an excellent NOLA cemetery tour to take. It is also one of the most famous cemeteries in New Orleans, making it a prime tourist spot to visit.
Films shot in the cemetery:
- Interview with the Vampire (1994)
- Double Jeopardy (1999)
- Dracula 2000 (2000)
- Deja Vu (2006)
- Jonah Hex (2010)
Starting the Save Our Cemeteries Tour
Getting to the cemetery is an easy walk from the streetcar or the #11 Magazine St bus on Washington Ave. Though the Save Our Cemeteries website says not to rely on the streetcars (or trolleys) as they don’t always run on time.
We met our guide, Jamie, just outside of the cemetery to start the tour. She is a well-informed and thoughtful guide, which I really appreciated! Save Our Cemeteries makes sure that their guides provide both historically accurate and entertaining information. Before even beginning the tour, she offered all the guests parasols to help keep cool under the beating sun. Warning, It gets scorching in NOLA! That parasol would up being my saving grace as I burn easily and had forgotten my water bottle. Oops!
I should have read the Save Our Cemeteries website better as it notes suggested items to bring: bottled water, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, hats, umbrellas (to protect from rain and provide shade).
History of this New Orleans Graveyard
Jamie brought us to all the notable sites in Lafayette Cemetery No.1. On this NOLA cemetery tour, she conveyed intriguing stories about those that now lie there. Lafayette Cemetery No.1 was established in 1833 in the Garden District of New Orleans.
This cemetery has been active since 1833 and is still in use (edit: it’s now been closed until further notice for repairs, so not sure if it’s still in use). With about 1,000 tombs and around 7,000 people buried in Lafayette Cemetery No.1. The size of a city block, it’s not racially or religiously segregated and contains over 26 nationalities. Making it unique in that it is one of the few cemeteries that date from that time with cultural diversity.
The cemetery takes its name from its location as it was once the City of Lafayette, a suburb of New Orleans. It was also the city’s first planned cemetery.
Restoration Work By Save Our Cemeteries
A problem that was pointed on this tour is that the Lafayette cemetery, and I’m sure other cemeteries in the area have, is theft. Jamie pointed out a missing section of wrought iron from a fence around a tomb that had been stolen. The rise in theft is due to a black market for these sorts of things.
While I was there, we got to see some of the restoring the Save Our Cemeteries team is doing. 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 No.1; it was pretty easy to spot as it is the only one. It’s not looking great these days since cast iron doesn’t do well in Louisiana heat. You would recognize it right away as it was the model for the tomb in Interview with the Vampire.
Side note, while promoting her 1995 novel Memnoch the Devil, its author Anne Rice (and author of Interview with the Vampire) emerged from a coffin after riding through this very cemetery!
What is Natural Cremation?
Something else we learned about on this tour is natural cremation. How natural cremation works is that when someone dies, the coffin is placed in a vault of the tomb. The body is then left to decay naturally. As New Orleans is a hot and humid climate, the temperature inside the vault can reach 200 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, the body is naturally cremated.
When they open the tomb, 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. They typically leave them in there for a year and a day before removal. If someone were to die before a year and a day, the family would rent a tomb until the time was up. You can see an empty tomb below that is thought to have never been used.
Ending this NOLA Cemetery Tour
To end on a happy note, my favorite story I was told during this New Orleans graveyard tour was of Julien de Lallande Poydras. Originally from France, he had wanted to marry his sweetheart. However, she didn’t have a dowry making it impossible for them to marry. He headed to America to make his fortune, but unfortunately, by the time he returned home to marry her, she was already married to another man. Heartbroken, he returned to Louisiana and became a philanthropist.
He created the Female Orphan Asylum, to which he gave £100,000. In his will, he left $20,000 for a college at Pointe Coupee and dowry money to less fortunate girls so that they could marry whom they chose ($30,000). This money is now given for educational purposes to women.
To the Charity Hospital of New Orleans, his house on the Levee and Bourbon street. To the Poydras Female Asylum, all his houses in Poydras street, and on the Batture. He is now buried at Layafette No. 1, and his tomb is a stop on this New Orleans cemetery tour.
My Review on Save Our Cemeteries
Save Our Cemeteries is the only non-profit in New Orleans that offers cemetery tours. A portion of the tour ticket price benefits Save Our Cemeteries’ education and restoration efforts. So you can feel good about your hard-earned money being spent on one of their New Orleans cemetery tours. I’m glad mine went to preserving the cemetery for future generations to enjoy as I did!
Edit 4/24/20: The Layfayette Cemetery No.1 is closed until further notice for repairs. However, I encourage you to check out the other tours provided by Save Our Cemeteries.
Want to remember this? Post this Save Our Cemeteries: Lafayette Cemetery Tour Review article to your favorite Pinterest board!