Fancy a dance with a demon? Just kidding, of course; but you can get close to the interred figures of the past at many New Orleans cemeteries, featuring the tombs of ghastly confederates, heroic champions of racial quality, and voodoo queens. We highly recommend a visit for yourself, guided by a New Orleans cemetery tour that calls out historic context and narrative detail for a full, spine-chilling experience. Need a primer? Here’s where to start:
Map your New Orleans Cemetery Tours:
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (French Quarter)
Located just off Basin Street, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest in the city, created in 1789 during the awkwardly mixed French and Spanish occupation. Given that the location of the site is below sea level, gravestones and statues extend much higher than in most graveyards; this is to ensure they are visible if the area is flooded. Also interestingly: This is the only cemetery in the city that must be visited via a licensed, guided tour (we recommend Tours by Steven, which charges a modest $20).
While walking through the cemetery, linger at the grave markers of the greats: Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, an early 19th century eccentric who dabbled in hair styling, engaged in public theatrics, and owned a pet snake named Zombi; Étienne de Boré, the originator of granulated sugar and first mayor of New Orleans; and Homer Plessy, a challenger to New Orleans segregation laws. You can even find a pyramidal tomb for Nicholas Cage, who apparently is just planning ahead.
Pro tip: Book a tour early in the day, otherwise the relatively small cemetery gets crowded with other tour-goers.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 (French Quarter)
Built in the 1820s on the (then) outskirts of town as a way to prevent the spread of cholera, St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 has since become the resting place for a wealth of jazz greats, including Danny Barker and Ernie K. Doe. It’s only three blocks from St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and about the same size, but can be toured without a guide. Key gravesites to visit: Oscar Dunn, the first black lieutenant of a U.S. state; Pierre Nord Alexis, president of Haiti from 1902-1908; and, of course, jazz vocalist/guitarist Danny Barker. You’ll notice that much of the cemetery is devoted to larger family tombs where bodies are “stacked” vertically; while not of great renown, these tombs are a great example of how early 19th century locals opted to be buried.
Insider’s tip: Urban development in the 1980s stripped the area around the cemetery of its once majestic oaks, rendering the cemetery and its surroundings something of a run-down afterthought. You’ll notice this in the cemetery itself, where tombs and monuments are crumbling. To avoid further erosion, make sure you do as the local advise: “Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.”
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (Garden District)
Consecrated in 1833, Lafayette Cemetery once served as the burial ground for residents of the old city of Lafayette (later annexed by New Orleans). Most notable here is the architecture — tombs with simple, but impactful arches, towering crosses, and intricate stonework that has lasted for almost two centuries. You’ll find fewer greats among the deceased at Lafayette Cemetery, but there are a few that stand out, including John Howard Ferguson of the famed Plessy v. Ferguson segregation court case. Of interest to many modern-day visitors is the cemetery’s role in big-screen movies, including “Interview with the Vampire” and “Dracula 2000.” Tours are available, but you can also guide yourself through the mausoleums and gravestones.
Greenwood Cemetery (City Park)
Greenwood Cemetery — close to sprawling City Park right off I-10 — was built in 1852 and is one of the bigger cemeteries in the city, fitted with wide streets designed for funeral processions and several towering memorial structures. If you have time to visit (self-guided tours are best), be sure to visit the Fireman’s Statue and the Confederate Tomb — both monolithic tributes to fallen servicemen.
For more information about the cemeteries of Big Easy — and to support the maintenance of these historic properties — visit the website for Save Our Cemeteries. For a list of top-rated New Orleans cemetery tours, visit NewOrleans.com.