Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Orleans - Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Today is the first day of lent, or Ash Wednesday. While the ashes Christian worshippers place on their foreheads are from the palms of Palm Sunday, it made me think of the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

When I was in New Orleans with my book club, another member of my husband’s expansive family, Dr. William Perret, gave us a tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.

Dr. Perret is a retired dermatologist who is now a passionate New Orleans historian. His tour was so good that he made the “City of the Dead” come alive.

He explained why the dead in New Orleans are buried above ground. Since the water table is so high, burial plots must remain shallow. Unfortunately, floods or even strong rainstorms lifted coffins up out of the ground. No wonder there are so many stories about zombies in this town.

Early in the tour Dr. Perret pointed out that one grave is often shared by multiple generations. We all looked puzzled and he quickly said, “I will explain how later.”

In the mean time, he taught us about the different funerary symbols that depict our mortality. A handshake symbolizes continuing links after death.
An upside down torch with no flame conveys a life extinguished.
An hourglass with wings of time depicts our fleeting time on earth.
A vessel with a flame, sometimes draped with a funeral pall, represents the eternal spirit of man.
Hurricane Katrina damaged many of the graves.
Many of the plantings were destroyed, but an occasional cemetery fern persists.

Each grave has its own personality. Many are adorned with cast iron or wrought iron fences so characteristic of New Orleans architecture.

Some graves are adorned in a grand fashion.

Others adornments are heartbreaking.

This cast iron grave is still available via mail order.

Members of the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 bury theirs here.

The angel with the clipped wing is the iconic image from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Her wing was broken long before Hurricane Katrina.
Many of the dead have their stories carved in stone. Mabel L. Shaw "never did a mean act nor said an unkind word".

Charles Beck loved to bowl.

R. Sekinger had a different passion.

A charitable society wrote the ironic message “For the Relief of Destitute Orphan Boys”
Dr. Perret did explain how all those generations can fit into one grave. After at least one year and one day, after the bodies have decomposed, a grave may be opened up and the remaining bones may then be scraped to the back of the grave, making room for the next family member.
On that cheery note, I nevertheless highly recommend taking the tour with Dr. Perret or one of his colleagues. You may make reservations at Save our Cemeteries, the group that trained him. He is a volunteer and does not charge for his services but he would greatly appreciate a contribution to the organization that is pledged to preserving and restoring New Orleans’ Cities of the Dead.

Flickr set here.


Gabby said...

I LOVE Charles Beck's the most. It looks quite against type, based on my own preconceptions of a bowler, and makes me wish I had met him. (I probably will....)

Great series!!!

Emily said...

What a beautiful cemetary. I think I'd like to visit New Orleans some day :) I, too, had trouble with your blog this morning. I've had trouble with others as well.

Red Shoes said...

You know what the city is to me. Thanks for this!

Rebekah said...

Fantastic pictures; I think I am catching a whiff of the city and hearing a funeral parade in my head. In all the times I have been there, I have never taken this tour. I'm glad you did and that you are sharing!

My Castle in Spain said...

i admit i have a passion for cemeteries
the Père Lachaise in Paris and the churchyards in the Irish countryside...
Great pics !

Yoli said...

I have visited that cemetery, it is impressive.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Gabby,
You responded so quickly, it was actually right after I accidentally clicked published while uploading photos. I'm glad you got to see Charles Beck's, I got a real kick out his tombstone.

Dear Jemm,
You won't be disappointed if you visit. E-mail me first, so I can give you some hints.

Dear Red Shoes,
I'm so happy you are pleased, I know how much you love this fantastic city.

Dear Rebekah,
Oh, I wish I remembered to mention the jazz funerals. I'll just have to do another post :)

Dear Castle,
Cemeteries are a true mirror to their culture, aren't they?

Dear Yoli,
It sustained considerable damage in Hurricane Katrina but the Save Our Cemeteries group is doing their best to restore them.

Relyn Lawson said...

Oh, I loved this post. I am just certain I would love this city. Maybe some day we can explore it together. ?

I have long had a fascination for cemeteries. When I was in college I spent many hours in a civil war era cemetery that was across the street from the back side of our university. I had a particular tree - an enormous old oak - that I sat under for hours. This summer we are heading back to Chattanooga for the first time in a decade. I plan to sit under that tree. I'll visit the oldest grave and take picture for you.

Maia said...

Cemetaries are fascinating, aren't they? The one in Buenos Aires Argentina (where Eva Peron is buried, among others) is amazing - vast and full of astoundingly beautiful statues and mysterious corners.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Relyn,
I would love to visit New Orleans with you. You will fall crazy in love with the city and with all of my husband's relatives!

Dear Wanderers' Daughter,
I've never been to Buenos Aires; it's on my bucket list. I'll be sure to visit the cemetery there.

Welcome to my blog!

christina said...

I loved this tour. I adore the head stone, "she never did a mean act..." Many tears, happy tears, for New Orleans. : )

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Christina,
I'm so glad you enjoyed the tour. New Orleans is slowly, slowly recovering, but they still have so far to go.

B. Rose said...

These photos are just beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear B. Rose,
Thanks for your visit; I'm glad you enjoyed the tour. Welcome to dutchbaby!

rochambeau said...

I have passed by this cemetery many times, but your insight and photographs brought it to life. Thank you! Will have Pete read your post too!

Crossing fingers for your Giants!!


Dutchbaby said...

Dear Constance,
The insights were Dr. Perret's. The next time you are in NOLA, I highly recommend that you call "Save the Cemeteries" and arrange to have Dr. Perret give you a tour. You and Pete will not be disappointed.

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