A few months ago, we went away on a six-week trip around America for our honeymoon! Now that we’re back, I’m doing a pretty thorough job of documenting it on my blog. I wrote one BIG post about the trip already, but as I’m the sort of person who likes surprises, and because it was already pretty long, I decided to take one thing from each place we went to – except for Chicago and Canada because we weren’t there for long – and talk about it in detail for those that want to know bits about it before they go or are just interested in our experience.
If you’re like me in the sense that you like to be surprised and don’t want “spoilers” about something before you visit a place, you can read about everything we did in less detail in the original blog, here! I will be going into a bit of detail – not too much – here, so just keep that in mind!
So far on the trip, we had traveled down from San Francisco to Los Angeles via Greyhound bus. We then left L.A on a big Amtrak train which took us to San Antonio, and from there it was short bus ride to Dallas! We Then flew from Love Field Airport to New Orleans!
I can’t express my love for New Orleans enough. Since coming home, the question we get asked the most, is which was our favorite place to visit. It’s so hard to answer, but if I really had to pick, I think this wonderful, vibrant, friendly place would be it!
We were there for five days, but we managed to fit a lot in – so much so that I thought we had been there longer! We had a stroll around the beautiful Louis Armstrong Park; We went on a wonderful Natchez steam boat cruise down the Mississippi River, complete with buffet, cocktails and Jazz; We went to the St Bernard Indoor Shooting Range and learnt how to shoot handguns (not really something I’m into, it was my husbands birthday present, but I must say it was interesting!) and we spent a lot of our time eating (especially Beignets at Cafe Du Monde!) and drinking, and that’s just to name a few of the things we did!
There is SO much to do in New Orleans, but as with everywhere we went, it is hard to pin-point what we enjoyed the most – I managed though! On our last full day, we booked ourselves onto one of the many tours of the City. The one we chose was a Voodoo & St. Louis Cemetery tour through a company called New Orleans Ghost Adventures.
We met our tour guide and group outside of the Jackson Brewery and Bistro Bar (what we called Jaxx Bar) and off we went!
We started with a little walk through the French Quarter. Here we found out the French Style Colonial Architecture that the French is famous for is actually Spanish! The majority of the original French buildings were burnt down – twice – and eventually rebuilt when the Spanish took over the city. The difference between the two is that the French buildings have balconies on them, and the Spanish style have galleries. I never would have known there was a difference between the two, but it turns out that the balconies are self-supporting, attached the side of a building, whilst galleries have support from the ground via poles or columns. Very few original buildings remain.
We then passed a bar called Lafittes Blacksmith Shop Bar. This building is supposedly the oldest building in the USA to bed used as a bar – not to be confused as the oldest bar in America! This building dates back to the 1700s, and managed to escape both of the fires that destroyed a great deal of the French Quarter. It was used as part of a smuggling operation by Jean and Pierre Lafitte, and its current business goes back to the 1940s! After the tour, we went back for drink – it’s pricey, but is worth it!
From the bar, we started to head towards Louis #1 Cemetery. Before we got there, we stopped at both the original site St Peter’s Street Cemetery, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, a church built purely for the burial and cremation of the victims of yellow fever, at a time when the city was so troubled with death, that there wasn’t enough space in the already existing churches and graveyards.
In St Peter’s Cemetery, the dead were buried below ground – something that is now unusual in NOLA. St Peter’s had always been a bit of a problem area. It quickly became over crowded due to the many different out breaks of disease (Cholera and yellow fever to name two!) Due to New Orleans being below sea level (now around 7-20 feet below, depending on where you are), even after it was closed down, there was still the problem of body’s and coffins resurfacing when it rained heavily. This became such a problem, that they had to figure out what was to be done with them. Now – and for many years – if a body is found, and is more than 50 years old, it goes to one of the Saint Louis Cemetery’s. A great deal of coffins have also been found during excavations for renovation works at the site, which is all a bit spooky for me! You can read more about this here.
Once we had stopped to look at these sites, it wasn’t long before we were entering St Louis’s #1 Cemetery. Named so because there are 3, the other 2 followed as this one started to become over crowded, however there are still burials here every year. To enter, you need to be with a guide who has permission from Archdiocese, or to have gained a pass to get in (even if you have family there, you need permission) due to many cases of vandalism in previous years. Once upon time, films used to be shot here but after Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) which involved a famous, but rather disrespectful scene was shot – in which the characters are on acid, and supposedly the actors really were, and everything that happened in the scene was really happening – it was stopped.
It’s quite a remarkable area, because rather than being buried below ground, the dead are interred in beautiful tombs above ground. This is due to the previously mentioned problem of the city being below sea level. This has led to the cemeteries being referred to as “cities of the dead” because they do resemble little clusters of houses.
I won’t detail every single tomb we saw, but instead what I found most interesting!
- Wall Oven Vaults – The wall vaults are built into the exterior wall of the cemetery, and acted just as they are named – as over vaults. They have had many uses over time. Originally, they would store a body for a year and a day, until it had broken down and deteriorated, and then placed in the correct family tomb. They were also used for poorer families who couldn’t afford a bigger tomb, or mausoleum, and during times of disease and plague when there wasn’t enough time or space to get the numerous dead interred. In some cases, the remains of the bodies would be bagged up and pushed to the back of the tomb to make room for another. Some of these wall vaults are actually starting to sink into the ground.
- Society Tombs – Just like the above, these are named so for the purpose they hold.They are similar the wall vaults, in that they have been used for multiple families and groups of people, such organizations, religious groups, clubs and much more. Some people however, have been interred here as it has been cheaper than buying a family tomb, and even some bodies that have been found since the closure of the old cemetery are held in these tombs.
- Musicians Tomb – I loved this one because I thought it was a wonderful idea. Burial in NOLA can be very expensive, and this tomb is available for musicians who have died but have no money to be interred or buried. New Orleans is famous for music, particularly Jazz, and most nights you can easily find a band or a singer not only in the local bars and clubs but out on the streets entertaining passers-by.
- Nicolas Cage’s Tomb – That’s right, you did just read that. Nic Cage bought himself a plot and had a pyramid-shaped tomb built. There are many theories as to why it is that shape, but all I know is that is stands out quite a bit from the others, due to its shape. It says “Omni Ab Uno” which means “Everything from One”.
- Marie Laveau’s Supposed Tomb – There is tomb quite near the cemetery wall, that supposedly houses the remains of voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. The story goes that she was moved from her original plot to this one, in an attempt to prevent people from stealing her internal organs to gain her powers. Many people have come to leave offerings and have marked the tomb with “xxx” and so it is quite damaged. It is thought by many to be her final resting place, but according to some sources (http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/self-guided-st-louis-cemetery-1-tour/) is empty and up for sale!
- The Glapion Tomb – This, according to some – and I think is most likely the case – is the actual resting place of Laveau. Laveau, who was also a hairdresser, practiced voodoo, and it is a huge misconception, as I discovered that day that she, and the practice of Voodoo is evil. She in fact, by the sounds of things, was quite a nice woman. People thought she was evil because she always seemed to know other people’s secrets, but in fact her job as a hairdresser meant that she regularly heard gossip. She could also appear in more than one place at the same time, but this was down the fact that her daughters also looked a great deal like her and would often be mistaken for her. Her tomb has sadly been vandalized over the years and was over covered in bright pink paint at one point. It has now been restored, but some damage can still be seen. It is said that if you leave an offering, she will grant you a wish.
Once we left the Cemetery, we went to Louis Armstrong Park, and stopped at Congo Square. This is an open space that was used as a meeting place of slaves on the day off. They would play music, dance, perform voodoo and more. Marie Laveau would also meet here. It is here that we learned a lot about the practice of voodoo. Often thought of as an evil, dark magic – it is probably most well-known in the use of bringing people back from the dead to do your bidding – this is another misconception. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have its dark side, after all doesn’t all magic? What doesn’t appear to be commonly known is that, at least in New Orleans, it is a combination of religious beliefs and in many cases, focuses in healing and good energy.
There is a great focus on the power of three, by which I mean that whatever you put into the universe comes back to times the power of three. So if you really hate someone – or even if you’re just a little annoyed by them – don’t ever wish bad on them, because it will come back round to you, much worse than what you intended for them. If you want someone out of your life, wish a promotion on them that will take them far away, or a new partner from different country, something that is good and kind, no matter how hard it might be!
As for voodoo dolls, we found out the origin of them as well! Say you have sore knee, and you go to a voodoo practitioner for help. They will first of all ask for a personal item – a piece of your shirt, or a lock of you hair – and make a doll out of you. They will bless it and keep it. They will then give you some herbs and oils, mixed together and bless them, give you the instructions and put a pin the knees of your doll so that when you come back next time and select your doll, they can see why you had visited originally.
From here, we had one final walk past Marie Laveau’s original home – or the site of it – which is now available for rent on Air BnB, and then to Marie Laveau’s Voodoo shop and museum. We didn’t go into the museum but did pop into the shop, which is fascinating and worth a stop!
We really enjoyed our tour, and would recommend it to anyone. It’s worth paying for as well, because even though you can get free walking tours online, this cemetery in particular can only be accessed with the correct permission, and even if you find a tour for one that is open to anyone, it can be unsafe to wander around them alone, or in a small group as they are so big, it can be easy to get lost and there have been reported muggings in them too – so stay safe!