Silent Sunday: New Orleans, St. James’s Cemetery

It doesn’t get much more silent that this!

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

It was featured in the classic 1969 film, Easy Rider, and one of the over 700 tombs there has been reserved by actor Nicholas Cage as his final resting place. Founded in 1789 the cemetery houses over 100,000 deceased, including the grave of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

It was the first cemetery in New Orleans designed for above ground burial and it is claimed that it was modelled after Paris’s famous Père-Lachaise cemetery but as Père-Lachaise wasn’t used as a cemetery until 1804, that seems a bit fanciful. Also there is a significant difference in that in the Paris cemetery the bodies are usually placed in vaults in the floors of the tombs but in New Orleans the bodies are placed inside the walls of the tombs. Because of the subtropical climate, the tomb then effectively becomes an oven, the intensity of the heat causes the body to decompose in a process similar to a slow cremation and within a year only the bones are left.

This allows the tombs in New Orleans cemeteries to be used again and again. Depending on the family’s needs, after about a year the bones of the departed are swept into an opening in the floor of the tomb, now ready for its next occupant or occupants, as it is common practice to bury all the members of a family in the same tomb.

6 thoughts on “Silent Sunday: New Orleans, St. James’s Cemetery

  1. Fascinating, isn’t it. I understand that they have now closed the cemetery to individual visitors and you have to sign up with a tour company to tour the place. When we went there, about 14 years ago, we could wander at will. It may also be party to do with the fact that it’s in a very dangerous neighbourhood and attacks on visitors were not unknown!

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  2. I imagine that the pandemic will have upset this simple scheme by hugely increasing the demand for tombs. It remains to be seen how well the cemetery can cope.

    Some might feel that there is something undignified about one’s mortal remains being hurried away to make room for new tenants. “Rest in peace”, eh?

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  3. Have you been back recently? My last visit was too long ago, I really must make a greater effort to get over there again.

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