The Lore of Lafayette Cemetery

by M-Gillies
A row of stone tombs at Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery is one of the most unique cemeteries in the United States.

Necropolis, the city of the dead, throughout the world, there are thousands of cemeteries. In every parish, village, town and city, these plots of lands act as monuments, housing the dearly departed as their final resting place. While each city has their own rich history behind their cemeteries, none have as much lore and mystery as New Orleans’ Lafayette Cemetery.

With its history that goes beyond gothic romanticism, New Orleans is probably best known for its food that warms the heart, and music that soothes the soul. The culture that embodies New Orleans is an entity of its own, every corner of the city boasts a personality of historical and architectural elegance, with one-of-a-kind festivals and unique traditions; from high-class society to colourful Bohemia; from the charming French Quarter to its eerily romantic cemeteries.

However, it is the Lafayette Cemetery #1 which generates the most popularity and is considered to be one of the most unique cemeteries in the United States to date.

Beyond the rusted fences that encompass the cemetery, rows of bleached and crumbling tombs rest, overgrown with ivy and adorning unique carvings and Gothic decorations.

Officially established in 1833, the cemetery was built in what was once the City of Lafayette. However, after annexing the city, the graveyard became New Orleans’ first planned cemetery.

Following a serious epidemic of yellow fever in 1847, 613 people were interred in the cemetery and by 1853, the death toll had reached to 8000 deaths, with bodies often being left at the gates of the cemetery.

While the sudden outbreak of yellow fever devastated New Orleans, the Lafayette Cemetery maintained a unique way in burying its dead. Since below ground burials were impossible due to the floating of coffins, above ground tombs made of marble were used. However, because of the intense summer heat and high humidity New Orleans experiences, these tombs became known as ovens, as temperatures inside often reach an excess of three hundred degrees. With the sweltering of heat being enough to evaporate the skin and muscle tissue, grave keepers began practicing superstitious traditions of checking the body a year after interment to check on the condition of decomposition.

Adding to the peculiarities of the Lafayette Cemetery, the city of New Orleans passed an ordinance which allowed the sharing of tombs and because the tombs were not cheap, an alternative means of interring family members in shared vaults arose.

Upon the second year of interment of a deceased family member – two years was considered the point of slight mummification – the body would be moved into a smaller burial sack placed in the back of or at the side of the vault in order to make room for the next member requiring burial.

While many people are attracted to the mysterious lore of the Lafayette Cemetery #1, it has a reputation of housing both earthly criminals and unearthly spirits. New Orleans is known for having the highest vanishing rate amongst travellers in the U.S., makes you wonder about that connection.

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