"I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole." Ever wonder where that phrase originated? Many believe it stems from one normal practice that occurs in places like New Orlean's Saint Louis Cemetery Number One. I'll get to that soon...
Opened in 1789, this is the city's oldest cemetery. And it is still in operation today. Only one square city block in size, it is the final resting place of thousands, all lying amongst 600 tombs.
Stepping onto the grounds is both eerie and exciting. Confusing and intriguing. Solemn and educational.
The layout is without rhyme or reason, leaving you both wandering in circles and backing down dead-end paths. The design of the tombs is a mix of shiny marble and crumbling brick. Some of those buried there have backgrounds deserving of dignified resting places where others leave you scratching your head.
There are different styles of tombs here, thanks to the early French and Spanish colonists. In their homelands, rocky soil made building up instead of digging down necessary. Also, New Orleans has always been prone to flooding! By far the most common tomb in Cemetery #1 is the 'family tomb'.
|Family tomb - holding generations of family members|
Creepily cool, these narrow, layered brick tombs contain generations of family members. When a loved one dies, they are placed in a coffins - cypress, I presume, because they last an eternity - for one year and one day. Then the coffins are opened, the remains are wrapped in a sheet and pushed WITH A TEN-FOOT POLE, to the rear of the tomb where it drops into an open pit and joins generations of previous relatives. If someone from the family dies while the family coffin is occupied, then they must rent a space in the wall vault tombs until a vacancy in their own become available. There are also families who use these vaults instead of the larger tombs, because they simply couldn't afford the larger tombs. See. Creepily cool!
|Wall Vault tombs|
Another style of tomb is the Society Tomb. They housed the dead of those belonging to various organizations, such as religious groups, benevolent societies, clubs, or law enforcement like: the French Mutual Benevolent Society, the New Orleans Musicians Tomb, and the Orleans Battalion of Artillery Tomb.
|Italian Benevolent Society tomb - made famous by 'Easy Rider'|
- MORE INTERESTING FACTS FROM THE CEMETERY:
- The cemetery was a backdrop for the movies "The Cincinnati Kid" (1965) and "Easy Rider" (1969). The latter film features a sequence in which Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and their entourage roam the cemetery while apparently on an LSD trip; a babbling Fonda winds up in the arms of the statue atop the Italian Benevolent Society tomb.
- The "Easy Rider" crew worked in the cemetery without a permit. After its release, the archdiocese banned any filming in its cemeteries except for pre-approved documentaries and educational movies.
One last interesting thing from our cemetery tour. Nicholas Cage was born in New Orleans and the people there seem to have a soft spot for the actor. He had built a tomb for his future resting place. It's in the shape of a pyramid. I'll let the attached article try to explain it. I won't try!