What’s So Special About New Orleans’ St. Louis Cemetery No. 1?

posted: 11/07/16
by: Kelly McClure

Photo: Smerdis of Tion via Wikimedia Commons

If someone were to point at a New Orleans local and say "quick, name the most haunted location in New Orleans," it would be hard for them to do. Not because it would take time to think of one, but because there are so many to choose from. A safe bet, if demanded on the spot, would be to offer up St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is located at 425 Basin St just north of the French Quarter, and has been since 1789.

A favorite destination for tourists, this cemetery is one of three Roman Catholic cemeteries in the area, but the most notable due to a few specific bodies that were laid to rest there, the most widely known of them being the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. She was born in the French Quarter in 1794 and a large part of her actual life's history is muddied with fanciful folklore. Some say she worked as a hairdresser for wealthy white people, some say she ran a brothel, and some say she was a liquor importer, but the dominating belief is that she practiced powerful voodoo, with the help of her black snake Zombi, and did a lot of good for people who were good to her, while also reserving the power to do a lot of bad to people who were bad to her, or people who asked for her help.

Photo: Kelly McClure

Laveau died at the age of 86 in 1881 and her daughter, Marie Laveau II died in 1895. Both were laid to rest in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 but there's some mystery as to exactly where. Due to a discrepancy in public records as to the exact date Marie Laveau was born, and when she died, some believe that the dates on the tomb thought to house her body are closer to that of her daughter, while others say that they're both in the same tomb. A commonly shared opinion on the matter is that the tomb marked with the Laveau name, which tourists mark with three X's and leave offerings at, in hopes of being granted wishes, is offered as a distraction from her real tomb, which is around the corner from it. This video, shot by someone during a tour of the cemetery, shows the two different tombs. Which one do you think is the real one?

Many well documented ghost sightings have taken place at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 on a fairly regular basis. The ghost of Marie Laveau herself is the most prominent and there have been reports of people seeing her wandering the grounds, sometimes as herself, and sometimes in the form of her black snake, Zombi. Here's another video taken at the cemetery that claims to have caught an unknown ghost walking through the rows of tombs:

It's sometimes said that the ghost of Delphine LaLaurie, who fled New Orleans after having been discovered to have tortured and killed dozens of slaves, leaving them to rot in the attic of her home (another notable haunted location in New Orleans), haunts the cemetery but that's most likely not the case as she's documented to have died in Paris. Although many believe that her body was brought back to New Orleans and dumped in an unmarked grave in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

The actor Nicolas Cage at one time owned the LaLaurie mansion, but lost it to the bank during financial troubles. He has a long running fascination with New Orleans and actually plans to be buried there. He owns a rather odd looking pyramid shaped tomb in the cemetery that is not marked with his name but reads "Omni Ab Uno" which is Latin for "Everything From One." It's rumored that he feels as though his experience owning the LaLaurie mansion put a curse upon him and that being buried near Marie Laveau will protect his spirit.

As to the general look of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and other cemeteries in the city, the reason why they are populated with above ground tombs instead of traditional graves is due to the fact that New Orleans is below sea level, which, over time, would damage any grave put in the muddy, moveable earth. In some of the larger family tombs, multiple family members are jammed in together. This process is not for the weak stomached. After one family member's body has been in the tomb for a certain number of years, it's taken out of it's casket and placed in the tomb by itself, then the most recent family member to die is placed in a casket which shoves back the body of the previous tenant. This process is repeated over time and sometimes the use of a big stick is needed to push back all the remains to make room for new ones.

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