new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Lafayette Cemetery: Happier Then You'd Think

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lafayette Cemetery: Happier Then You'd Think

It's finals time here at Tulane, and due to a rift in the space time continum...I don't have any. This has faced me with the terrifying prospect of a few days with nothing much to do at all. This might be considered a good thing to most normal, sane people, but you see, I happen to be a bona-fide nut job, the sort of person who gets all squirrely when I can't be off Achieving Crap. No, this week, I'm being forced to wander the streets of New Orleans, take naps, and visit places in town I've never had the time to experience before. You should really be weeping for me right now. Hey, I don't see tears -what is this?


I was walking up Washington Avenue recently and realized as I passed that the gate to Lafayette Cemetary was open. The gate to Lafayette Cemetery is never open, and I made a right-turn and walked right in. It may have been a hot mid-afternoon, but I wanted to commune with the spirit of dead New Orleanians, or at least take some pictures.

Lafayette Cemetery is one old graveyard - it was started in 1833, before the Garden District was even incorporated into the city proper. Once the city of Lafayette was incorporated into New Orleans proper, the little block of land become the city's first incorporated cemetery. It gained its biggest influx of residents in 1841, when New Orleans found itself in the grip of a terrible yellow fever epidemic. 241 burials were performed in Lafayette in 1841, and more then 613 by a second 1847 outbreak. The cemetery didn't get much love in the ensuing years and almost fell into disrepair, ignomy, and hard drugs - but as so often happens in this city, a dedicated bunch of local history buffs got together to fix it up and save it. Lafayette Cemetery is now a super-popular tourist destination, prowled by groups of sunburnt n' sweaty tourists at all times of day (which is their right, god bless em', et all). It is also smack dab across the street from Commanders Palace if viewing all of those crypts gets you a little bit hungry. (Secret: I'm going this Saturday! Secret: Yeehaw!)

So here's what I saw.

open crypt!

What's this?


My god, the zombified corpse of Pere Jacques the Fifteenth is out and about and stalking the city, riding the streetcar, drinking beer out of brown paper bags and god knows what else. Swear I've seen this guy on Bourbon Street. He tried to buy me a Jager and I tittered and said I like em' living and he looked real sad. I feel like I was a little ugly to him.

Rows in the cemetery

The cemetery is laid out rather like the French cemeteries of yore: above ground crypts create the feeling of a "city of the dead." This cemetery is reputed to be Extremely Haunted like pretty much everything else in New Orleans. (There are probably Haunted Public Restrooms in New Orleans). Certainly it's probably more then a little bit spooky here at night.

Good view of white crypts

But during the day, it's a pleasant place to walk around, read the inscriptions, and get out of the heat: plenty of tall trees and sheltering palms and cool granite slabs to rest on. When I was a young and stupid freshman (uh two years ago,) we would on occasion go and drink soda pop in the Great Barrington cemetery. That was fun and all, but the Lafeyette cemetery would be infinitely better. Unfortunately they lock it all up after noon every day, so no opportunities for late-nite naughtiness exist. This also saves the general public from having ghosts eat their souls so I applaud the decision.

Gun carriage

Many of the people in Lafayette died during the Civil War. I believe this is a gun carriage. I wasn't there so I wouldn't know for sure.

Rows from Dupuy crypt

Dupuy crypt

My grandfather's family is French Creole from New Orleans, going way way back. I was walking through the cemetery and thought to myself, "I wonder if any Dupuy's are buried here?" And I rounded a corner and wouldn't you kno w it, there was the Dupuy crypt in living color. I don't know who these people are and I don't know if we're even related, but it did make me sit and contemplate a bit. Someone's keeping those flowers up. I considered hanging around, waiting for the family to come back, and asking them if we were related but then realized that would be eccentric. So I sat underneath the palm next door and contemplated temporality for a bit. Gave me a headache.

Times were hard back in New Orleans early history, and this grave illustrates why: way too many people passing way too close to one another.

Like the way this grave looked.

Overgrown with plants and whatnot. I think it's atmospheric. Other think so too: apparently the grass was being grown out for a movie being shot on the premises.

Connected forever, et all, by symbols of only-in-New-Orleans DECADENCE AND SIN.

This crypt is elderly and is cracking a bit. It's probably due to the vengeful and angry voodoo queen spirit encased within. Or a natural byproduct of erosion, whatever floats your boat.

This girl died when she was 21 years old, probably of the yellow fever. I am not fond of looking at the graves of people roughly my age. Makes me bilious. And/or filled with existential fear.

This obelisk immortalizes a young man who died in the Civil War, and, according to the plaque, "without fear." I liked this.

One of the many angels and evocative statues the cemetery contains. It's a shame how bland and boring most modern cemeteries are - I think unique sculptures and the ornate detailing on many of these graves is very life affirming and pleasant. It strikes me as a better way to while away the hours in eternity.

Finally, there was this cool little grotto - a nice place to duck under and get out of the heat.

Hopefully I'll make it out to some of the city's other historical cemeteries soon, but this was a really pleasant little distraction from a sticky Uptown day. Come and visit.


Anonymous said...

Re other cemetaries. Not without an armed escort...

K. Bella said...

St. Louis Cemeteries are pretty notorious for muggings and such. Unless you're in a large group, I wouldn't recommend it.

But Lafayette Cemetery is great. I just visited again today for my third time. The whole overgrown look is rather nice.

foodhoe said...

certainly looks spooky even during the day, i'd be brandishing a big bunch of garlic if I were there after dark...

Faine said...

Good point. Will bring my submachine gun and my hired spook from Baku with me next time. Should have provided notice that I travel everywhere with my personal Azerbaijani security detail in this post. Will not omit in the future.