Cities of the Dead
New Orleans’ cemeteries give visitors an unparalleled historical and architectural experience.
Kicked off by All Saints Day, November is one of the best months of the year to visit New Orleans’ famous cemeteries. Shown here are just a few of the unique tombs at Metairie Cemetery.
Few cities have New Orleans’ range of tourist attractions, and even fewer draw a crowd to their cemeteries. Here in NOLA, we have a certain comfort with death. Our cemeteries are home to beautiful sculptures and cultural practices that honor our deceased.
All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 is a stark contrast to the revelry of Halloween night. During this Christian holy day, the glitter and fake blood are cleaned off and replaced with church hats and “Sunday best” clothing. In New Orleans, All Saints’ Day is a time to honor the dead and pay respects by visiting tombs and sprucing up the place.
The timing happens to make November one of the best months of the year to visit our famous cemeteries.
Because of our water table, our “Cities of the Dead” consist of stone crypts and mausoleums, so the dead are “buried” above ground. Some are centuries old and still maintained by the same families. In time for All Saints’ Day, family and friends clean up the tombs, bring fresh flowers and often picnic at the cemetery, sharing stories of their dearly departed.
As for the graves that are no longer maintained by living relatives, nonprofit organizations like Save Our Cemeteries work year-round to “preserve, protect and promote the historic cemeteries of New Orleans through restoration, education and advocacy.”
Save Our Cemeteries recently partnered with another historic attraction, the Pitot House museum, along with the Louisiana Landmarks Society, to offer a special tour on 19th-century mourning and interment customs called “Mourning In Louisiana.” The tour features both Pitot House and St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, including a tour of burial customs and historic figures in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, along with a display of 19th-century mourning attire and other period necro-artifacts and textiles from a private collection on loan to Pitot House.
“We are excited to once again work with the Louisiana Landmarks Society on this special dual tour of the Pitot House and St. Louis Cemetery No. 3,” says Amanda Walker, executive director of Save Our Cemeteries. “It will provide the public with an intriguing look at life during the 19th century with respect to death and funeral practices.”
“Mourning in Louisiana” tours will be conducted from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Friday in November through Nov. 20. Save Our Cemeteries also offers various cemetery tours throughout the week.
With more than 15 cemeteries in town, visitors may choose from nearly 40 tour companies when they want to explore our cities of the dead. Walking tours, bike tours, haunted tours, group tours, private tours, daylight tours, nighttime tours… it’s clear the demand for cemetery visits is high. Of course it’s better to visit a cemetery now, while you are still alive to tell the tale.
Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. Prior to New Orleans, she wrote for publications in the Midwest and New York City. She advises travelers to ask their cab/pedicab/gondola driver for their favorite restaurant and taking a chance.