Part of New Orleans’ charm and lore is its relationship with the dead. Its cemeteries have become tourist spots themselves, and have been featured in movies, TV shows, and a surprising amount of music videos.
Because of the big volume of tourists and later, the large incidents of vandalism, tourists are only allowed in the cemeteries when on a tour led by an accredited tour guide. Fortunately, there’s always one or two on site from 10 am, when the cemeteries open, to 5pm when they close.
Built in the late 1700s, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, and is still in use. Marie Laveau, also known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, is buried here. Nicholas Cage has a tomb here as well, though he obviously isn’t in it yet.
The burial practices of the area are interesting. A body, placed in a coffin, is placed in the tomb for at least ‘a year and a day’ or until the tomb is next needed. The New Orleans heat, plus the make of the tomb, means that the temperature inside is like that of an oven, drying out the bodies. When the tomb is next opened, the bones are removed from the casket and placed in a different area (sometimes inside the tomb, sometimes somewhere else) and the new body is placed in the tomb. The old casket is destroyed.
The Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was built in 1832 to service Lafayette City, now known as the Garden District. It is the most filmed cemetery in New Orleans, and contains the metal tomb Anne Rice refers to as Lestat’s tomb in Interview with the Vampire.
Our guide, whose name unfortunately escapes me because I would recommend her, said that she had a tour of the Garden district coming up if we could wait, so we hung out outside Commander’s Palace, a very famous, very fancy New Orleans restaurant that we did not get to eat in during this trip, located across the cemetery.
After her tour, we hopped into her car and drove to the Garden District.
Before it became one of the wealthiest neighborhood in New Orleans, the Garden District was a bunch of plantations that were sold to wealthy homeowners who didn’t want to live in the city proper. It gets its name from the initial plan of each house having a garden. Today, it is known for its well-preserved historic mansions.
L and I were the only two people on this tour, so it felt like a private tour. We passed Anne Rice’s old house, Nicholas Cage’s old house, and the house used in American Horror Story: Coven.
With the history came ghost stories, with the guide deftly weaving love, loss, and intrigue into her tale.
As a bonus, she took us to the rooftop of the Pontchartrain Hotel to get wheat she called the best view of the city.
The Pontchartrain Hotel is a historic building that has been open since 1927. Notable guests include The Doors as well as Tenessee Williams, who worked on A Streetcar Named Desire while staying there.
Our guide mentioned on the way up that the hotel’s first owner died in the elevator we were currently in, and that it’s been known to stop on certain floors for no reason. Fortunately, nothing happened while we were there. The rooftop is a nice place to watch the sun go down on the city.
One of the things I wanted to try in New Orleans was pho. There’s a large Vietnamese population in the city, many of them having arrived after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Our guide took us to her favorite restaurant, Pho Noi Viet, located on trendy Magazine Street (she assured us that it didn’t have Magazine street prices). Needless to say, I was quite ecstatic. I had pho bo—beef pho—and it was delicious. Our guide did not let us down!
Afterwards, our guide drove us to our hotel, just because. It was a pretty nice day.