The Old Girod Street Cemetery and the Curse of the Superdome

by M-Gillies

A row of vaults at the Girod Street Cemetery as it looked in 1885.

New Orleans has a long history of folklore. From the legacy of the Voodoo Queen to the infamous above-ground tombs. The legends of the French Quarter and the tales of phantasmal phenomenon has been well established in America’s most haunted city, but perhaps one of the most curious, is that of the Old Girod Street Cemetery.

For years, the New Orleans Saints – despite their holy name – appeared to be cursed. No amount of grirgi (voodoo amulet protecting wearer from evil and further bringing luck), voodoo ceremony or prayer could change the losing streak the Saints endured year after year. But in a city which has a rich history of folkloric hauntings, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this losing streak has been deemed a curse – particularly since the Superdome’s southeast parking lot was formerly the resting grounds of the dearly departed.

It was back in 1971, when workers were sent to excavate the grounds of what once was the former Girod Street Cemetery. The goal was to convince the NFL to award a franchise to New Orleans, but without a domed stadium, it appeared hopes to expand the NFL to New Orleans were desolate. That was until sports visionary, David Dixon pushed to have one built in the city.

With a location chosen, construction crews were sent out to excavate the grounds and while the cemetery had been deconsecrated since 1957, it wasn’t known to the workers at the time that the location was a former cemetery. In fact, as the lore goes, Jim McClain, the project manager in charge of construction stated almost immediately the backhoe began uncovering the skeletal remains of unclaimed kin and victims of 1850′s Yellow Fever epidemic and 1930′s cholera epidemic during the excavation.

Unaware of their location and fearing they had stumbled upon a grisly murder scene, the coroner and police were contacted. It was only then that the workers learned they were digging up what was once part of the Old Girod Street Cemetery. Even after construction began, the deeper the crew dug, the more caskets and coffins surfaced.

While the tale can be seen as a typical lore associated to the phantasmal curiosities of New Orleans colorful history, it nevertheless has left an impression on some of the cities more superstitious that have long attributed the Saints’ losing streak to the bad omens of having the Southeast parking garage of the Superdome built upon the grounds of a cemetery.

Much like the famous Curse of the Bambino, which was a curse bestowed upon the Boston Red Sox by Babe Ruth, which some believed had prevented them from winning a World Series for 86 years; or the Curse of Billy Penn, which was said to have cursed Philadelphia’s sports teams from winning championships because the city built a skyscraper higher than William Penn’s Statue atop of city hall (and believed to have been reversed after a small figurine of Penn was attached to the Comcast Center) – the New Orleans Saints attempted to garner some spiritual support in 2000, when they contracted a Voodoo and Yoruba priestess to bless the team and the stadium.

However, five years later, the rumors of a curse returned after Hurricane Katrina, which forced many of the city’s residents to seek sanctuary in the Superdome. But drug use, filth and death soon dominated the news of the stadium’s attempt to offer shelter, fuelling the lore of the Superdome’s continuous curse.

But if a curse had in fact been placed upon the stadium, what of the Old Girod Street Cemetery could have caused it?

Known to the Creoles as the Cimetiere des Heretiques, or the Protestant Cemetery, the Girod Street Cemetery was built in an attempt to extend Treme Street through part of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, in 1822, for Protestant residents. However, by 1957, the cemetery grounds soon fell upon neglect which was attributed to the lack of a sexton to maintain the cemetery grounds.

Soon, wild growth engulfed the grounds as tombs and brick walls began to crumble. Wrought-iron fences rusted and corroded, and the cemetery quickly fell into disrepair. It wasn’t long before the Girod Street Cemetery, the home of more than 3,000 above-ground vaults and roughly 1,000 privately-owned tombs, became recognized as an eyesore in comparison to the older St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, or the gothic Lafayette Cemetery.

However, it was the construction of the railway to the Union Terminal Station which saw the deconsecration and removal of the Girod Street Cemetery. Much like Cimetiere des Saints-Innocents (The Saints Innocents Cemetery) of Paris, France, the Girod Street Cemetery saw the removal and relocation of bodies formerly interred within the grounds.

While families were contacted by the city to allow individual relocations, unclaimed bodies were re-interred in a crawl space beneath the floor of the Hope Mausoleum on Canal Street.

Whether or not this act can be attributed to the Superdome curse has remained to be seen, but some viewers of XLVII Superbowl who witnessed the 34-minute blackout have considered it a sign that the curse is far from lifted.

 

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