Intrigued as many are with our above ground sarcophagi style of burial, it was function, fashion and mortality high that forced the ingenuity to create our cities of the dead. We are but a swamp, still no matter how hard we try; there is a precarious balance in order for us to stay dry—a never-ending battle if you will; Never as a nation has this been so widely understood as now, the days of Post-Katrina. We are below sea level and the water table high so rarely do we bury below the ground-but we certainly can now if we choose. New Orleans has her own style. We have family tombs, wall ovens, copings and below ground burial too! We share the space with others and have for quite some time. We do have a few “normal” burial grounds in our midst as well as some scattered
“ 6-foot unders ” in many of the more typical New Orleans cemeteries.
Funereal customs last longer in a culture than anything else. What is true in our New Orleans today never rang more true to what a wise and witty humorist said long ago :
"Our cities of the Dead look just like our cities of the living- long narrow houses, housing multi-generations of the same family with above ground basements ." Mark Twain
The first burials in colonial New Orleans were along the river and as time went by this system proved problematic in many ways. By 1725 the first Catholic cemetery was planned—St. Peter Street Cemetery, then located on the outskirts of town. These first 2 burial areas were below ground. 1788 gave us much death and an extremely overcrowded St Peter below ground cemetery. The graveyard became obsolete, the below ground method futile so the property was sold off by the city council, leaving many behind in the process A few private colonial cemeteries have also been mentioned but these and previously discussed graveyards are now built over and rather forgotten.
The New St. Louis cemetery—the first above ground burial cemetery had begun, officially established in 1789. More and more death was at hand and the city expanded in numbers with her cemeteries. Presently there are 38+ cemeteries in New Orleans — 39 if you assimilate the tens of thousands of markers left in the Ghost Town neighborhoods left from Katrina where X marks the spot of who and what was found within. These areas span for miles and miles surrounding what visitors think of the heart of the city, surrounding and reminding us of what was. The above ground burial is our custom, we reuse tombs to this day. Just as the abandoned houses in our newest Ghost Town Graveyard may be rebuilt, reused or built over and swept away, tis the same for the history of our more accepted graveyards — only time will tell, all in the name of progress ??
Funereal customs last longer in a culture than anything else. What is true in our New Orleans today never rang more true to what Mark Twain had to say so long ago, " Our cities of the Dead look just like our cities of the living- long narrow houses, housing multi-generations of the same family with above ground basements ."
How do you share a grave?
With death toll high and land scarce living in a swampy environment we figured out how to make a family tomb style with a chamber below the crypt for the bones to mingle in known as the Caveau. We simply dispose of the coffins and recycle.
Isn’t that morbid?
The outlook toward death has changed much throughout the world’s time–span. The method of current acceptance, having the exact spot of a loved one recorded and visited is rather new. The concept of catacombs, sharing with family or clan members in mass graves is an ancient one and in New Orleans very practical.
Why not just dig under like everyone else?
We still do below gorund burial always have and laways will!
It was not uncommon for bodies, with and without coffins, to pop back up and float away but not really beacuse of our water table Plus We pumped our water table down to 15 feet below around the year of 1900 but still in some areas I have seen many bones float up and away-especially after a good rain! It is the process more to blame but you will Learn and see with your own eyes much more on the tours.
Plus There is no bedrock in the delta! However just for the record katrina seemed to leave the " New Orleans proper " cemeteires' bones in tact though some water damage and wind damge caused minor problems the outlying Parish cemeteries