✈ in case you missed Part 1 you can catch up here…
p.s. click on photos to enlarge them!
Tuesday, May 15
Our first morning in New Orleans was pretty uneventful – E attended her work conference from 8am-noon and I…well, to be honest I slept in (and it was lovely!). Seriously, the pillows at this hotel were absolute heaven (I even wrote down details from the tags in hopes of one day purchasing them for the apt!).
At noon we met up and headed out for our first adventure of the day – a cemetery tour.
It was at the top of our must-do list and let me tell you it did not disappoint. We signed up for the tour through our hotel and were shuttled over to a New Orleans welcome site/museum which was right across the street from St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Our tour guide was fantastic – she not only shared the common myths/stories about the cemetery and its inhabitants but she also made sure to put things in perspective by providing us with some much appreciated historical context.
Here’s a brief overview of what we learned on this fascinating tour:
The St.Louis Cemetery #1 opened in 1789 and is one of the most famous cemeteries in the U.S., mostly due to it’s “unusual” architecture. Instead of being buried in the ground, the dead are laid to rest in above-ground mausoleums or tombs. While not unique to New Orleans, this style of burial is more rare through out the rest of the nation.
Our tour guide provided us with an explanation for this: when French and Spanish settlers first arrived they buried their dead in the ground, but every spring when the river would flood all the bodies would be unearthed and as you can imagine the people were not to keen on this. In an attempt to remedy this – they tried to bury the bodies farther inland…sadly, this failed as they hit the same problem because that was swamp country and upon the floods the gators got a nice snack! So, they turned to above-ground burial which seemed to suit their needs much better. Most of the above-ground tombs were designed for multiple and repeated burials. This custom of multiple burial seemed strange to most Americans, particularly from the Northeast, but was familiar to French and Spanish settlers.
Traditionally the dead are placed in wooden coffins in one of the vaults. The vault opening was loosely closed with mortared brick, and a stone closure tablet sealed the tomb. If the space was needed for another burial, the vault could be re-opened after at least 1 year and 1 day, the coffin removed and burned, and the decomposed remains pushed to the back of the tomb.
The 1 year and 1 day rule came about during the 1800s when the city was plagued by yellow fever. This epidemic assaulted New Orleans for almost 70 summers – killing thousands each time. Since they did not know the cause of yellow fever at this time it was very frightening and doctors turned to blood-letting, mercury, and arsenic as “cures”.
Our tour guide “joked” that they are still uncertain if all the deaths were actually from the fever or if some could be attributed to the “cures”. Anyway, a few beliefs back then about yellow fever included that the disease could not go higher than 8ft (thus many high walls were constructed) and that it could live on within a dead body for 1 year. Hence, the 1 year 1 day rule (they wanted to be certain it was out of the deceased’s system before moving the body!).
A few more fun facts about the St.Louis cemetery:
– the street/area behind the cemetery was home to Storyville, the city’s red-light district from 1897 to 1927
-in the above, middle photo you see a 5-story tomb, with the top slot open. Our guide told us that one of the cemetery watchman came early one morning to patrol and found a homeless man sleeping up there
– there is a spot towards the middle known as “Nicolas Cage Plaza” – the actor paid a lot of $$ & bought a section of the cemetery where he erected an pretty ugly 9ft pyramid in which he will eventually be buried. until then it houses 4 deceased Himalayan cats (or so our tour guide said)
-one of the most famous tombs is that which is believed to house the body of Marie Laveau, New Orleans Voodoo queen/priestess. Her tomb is believed to be the third most visited burial site in the US after those of John F. Kennedy & Elvis Presley. People still bring offerings to her burial site and leave “XXX” marks on the tomb in homes that Marie will grant them a wish. Our guide, however, told us in the inside scoop – that although she was originally buried there her family did have her moved eventually. The sad part is, that many tourists know this so they mark up other tombs in the cemetery where they think she might be despite that being disrespectful and outrageous to the families who own these other tombs. A little bit more about Marie Laveau – according to legend she could appear in more than 1 place at a time, being spotted all over the city, she also knew everything about everybody, had the ability to both curse & heal, and could do magic – even making people disappear. Our guide gave us a little bit of insight on this stories – she knew a lot of local information because she was close with all of the slaves/servants who knew the goings on of the households, plus she was a hairdresser (and people like to confide in them), she could make this disappear because she was an amazing magician and talented with sleight of hand, she seemed to be appearing all over the city at the same time because she had a few daughters (or 5 daughters or 1 daughter + a aunt, the stories vary) who looked just like her which explained how she could be on the street, in the market, and the her salon at the same time. In addition, she was in the spotlight because she was able to cure yellow fever. Yep! Her mother had been a healer from Africa, where they had experience with yellow fever, and so Marie knew what herbs to use to treat it. This terrified people, who knew of her “voodoo” practices because as I mentioned before the doctors didn’t know how to cure yellow fever at this time and yet here was this lady, “bring people back from the dead” with no science or medicine. Ah, yes, Marie Laveau was an interesting woman!
– another person buried there is Bernard de Marigny, who is known for bringing the game of craps to the U.S. but, ironically, he ended up losing most of his fortune to gambling
-and, finally, for those who might visit the St. Louis cemetery – it is advised to go as part of a tour for safety reasons as there are some shady characters who sometimes like to hide out there to take advantage of tourists. muggings and pickpocketing have been reported also. However, a more “friendly” cemetery, The Lafayette cemetary, is located in the garden district and said to be a bit safer – if you are looking to explore on your own
After the cemetery tour we were both starving – however, considering it was 85 and humid, we wanted something light for our late lunch. On the carriage ride the night before we spotted a restaurant that advertised hot french bread for take-out, so we headed over to check it out. 10 minutes later we had our little hands on 2 warm, fresh baguettes and a dish full of butter for only $2 (for both!). We took our meal across the street and ate at the foot of the statue pictured below.
Towards the end of our lunch we were chased away from our seats by a bunch of ants biting at our ankles – not pleasant. Taking it as a sign to move on we headed towards the river and enjoyed a walk around the shore. We explored the local “River Walk” which is basically a mall & food court before hopping aboard the (free!) ferry. The Canal Street/Algiers Ferry ferry takes locals and tourists alike across and up the Mississippi River to other parts of New Orleans. We say many business men in suits headed home from work as well as camera-toting tourists like ourselves – oh and for a small fee they also ferry cars across! It was a fun activity for the hot afternoon as the river breeze was welcome. It also gave us a chance to see more of the river and the French Quarter from a distance.
After the ferry ride we wandered back to our hotel to freshen up before meeting up with E’s coworker and other conference attendees. We wandered around the French Quarter for around an hour, hopping from restaurant to restaurant before settling on something for dinner (it’s tough to try and please 10 people/strangers!). At once point we were in line at the Acme Oyster House while also holding onto a beeper from Felix’s Oyster place across the street. In the end both wait-times were still too long so we bailed and ended up at Huck Finn’s, which still had some pretty good food. I had a turkey and swiss po’ boy (sandwich) to take a break from all the spicy and fried foods. E went for some gumbo and hushpuppies with a jalapeño jelly dip.
After dinner we all decided to tackle Bourbon Street and headed off in search of some music – which we eventually found at Fat Catz. The cover band and DJ were good/fun so we stayed and danced awhile. However, the one thing about Bourbon St. is it’s kinda sleazy and the “shot girls” at all the bars were driving us crazy.
Sure, they are doing their job but, whew, the best advice I can give you is to not even acknowledge them. Look away. Pretend you’re deaf. Anything! Because the slightest nod, shake of your head, parting of your lips, will be construed as a “Yes, I would like 2 of those test tube things full of booze please!” And to make it worse, they try to make you drink the shots out of their mouth (ie: they hold the tubes in their mouth not spit the alcohol at you..hehe). They come around constantly, even after you’ve said “No.” a hundred times. But that’s to be expected as Bourbon St. is all about the sex ‘n booze ‘n making money come nightfall. Just be polite but firm + stick with a group of people and you’ll be fine.
And so ends our 2nd night in N’awlins.
Come back on Saturday for Part 3!