Inside New Orleans’ Cemetery No. 1
Opened in New Orleans in 1789, Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is one of the most famous cemeteries in the United States, if not the world. It is a Roman Catholic burial ground that replaced St. Peter Cemetery after a fire devastated the city in 1788. Located off North Claiborne Avenue between Iberville and St. Louis streets a few blocks from the French Quarter, its strange residents and aged, crumbling above ground vaults make this necropolis a popular tourist destination.
Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the final resting place for a veritable who’s who of New Orleans, including Etienne de Boré and Ernest N. Morial, former mayors. Actor Nicolas Cage even purchased a crypt there in 2010. Some of the more infamous-but-unconfirmed burials include voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and murderess Madame Delphine LaLaurie.
Many details of Marie Laveau’s life are up for debate. Officially, she was born on September 10, 1801, but some sources say she was born in 1794. In 1819, she married a freed Haitian immigrant named Jacques or Santiago Paris, who disappeared a few years into their marriage. Laveau then took a longtime lover, a Frenchman named Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion. The two had an unknown number of children, including Marie Heloïse Euchariste Glapion and Marie Philomène Glapion, who became popularly known as Marie LaVeau II.
Both Marie Laveau and her daughter, Marie LaVeau II, had reputations as voodoo priestesses. Louisiana Voodoo is a fusion of French Catholicism and West African traditions. Voodoo kings and queens were sought after for their charms and conjurations, and were believed to have the power to harm others, curse illness, and enhance love and sexual potency. LaVeau was noted for the heavy infusion of Catholicism into her voodoo practice. Today, her crypt in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 has become something of a shrine. Visitors leave token offerings and draw Xs on her crypt, in the hopes that her spirit will fulfill their wishes.
Madame Delphine LaLaurie
Another infamous resident of Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is believed to be Madame Delphine LaLaurie. Reportedly born in 1775, Madame LaLaurie was married three times to prominent New Orleans aristocrats. After her third and final marriage, to physician Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, she built a mansion at 1140 Royal Street, where she housed up to a dozen slaves. For years, rumors circulated about Madame LaLaurie’s cruelty toward her slaves, but it wasn’t until a fire broke out in her mansion in 1834 that people found out the horrible truth. Rescuers broke into the attic, where they found several slaves tortured and starved. Outraged, a mob stormed the mansion and destroyed it. Madame LaLaurie fled to France.
According to French sources, LaLaurie died on December 7, 1849. In the late 1930s, a former cemetery sexton discovered a copper plate in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 that indicated she was interred somewhere in the cemetery.
Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is reportedly haunted, but stories are not very specific. Some claim the ghost of Marie LaVeau materializes on St. John’s Eve, and others say they have encountered her near her tomb. According to ghost hunter Richard Senate, “phantom figures, Civil War ghosts and yellow fever victims” have also been seen. Even without the ghosts, one thing is certain, Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is a must-see destination for cemetery enthusiasts and history buffs alike.