Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Better, Well a Bit

I'm not better, was up coughing most of the night, but I think I'm so tired that I'm not fighting my voice anymore, and things are starting to flow again.  The five words are once again turning into fifty.

So, I've been working on re-write of the Voodoo/New Orleans short story, and I realized that I have pictures from the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

After reading through this post, it seems to have turned into more of a tour guide book than anything on writing, but I love doing research for my stories, and these pictures help put me in the mood.  I thought I'd share them, and one anecdote, with you.

The following is a picture of a new, well kept oven vault.

From Frommers Guide (

In 1789 the city opened St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, right outside the city wall(which no longer exist) on what is now Rampart Street. The "condo crypt" look -- the dead are placed in vaults that look like miniature buildings -- was inspired to a certain extent by the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Crypts were laid out haphazardly in St. Louis No. 1, which quickly filled up. Other cemeteries soon followed and eventually were incorporated into the city proper. Each has designated lanes, making for a more orderly appearance. The rows of tombs look something like a city, where the dead inhabitants peer over the shoulders of the living.

There are two types of these functional crypts: the aforementioned "family vaults" and the "oven crypts" [or oven vaults] -- so called because of their resemblance to bread ovens in a wall. A coffin is slid inside, and the combination of heat and humidity acts like a slow form of cremation. In a year or so, the occupant's bones are pushed to the back, coffin pieces are removed, and another coffin can be inserted. In the larger family vaults (made of whitewashed brick), there are a couple of shelves and the same thing happens. As family members die, the bones are swept into a pit below, and everyone eventually lies jumbled together. The result is sometimes dozens of names, going back generations, on a single spot. It's a very efficient use of cemetery space, far more so than conventional sweeping expanses of graveyard landscaping.

What Frommers doesn't mention is that many of these vaults are "rentals", and not just by other family members.  The poor who can't afford to purchase a family vault can rent an oven vault.  But if the family doesn't keep up the rent, the body can be "evicted".  More likely, since the bodies decay in a short amount of time -- a year and a day -- the remains would be pushed to the back and another body inserted. 

As is evident in the picture above, many of the crypts have fallen into disrepair. A group called Save Our Cemeteries ( has cleaned up the worst of the damage that bruised and often blotted out the beauty of these necropolises.

(All these pictures are from St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, but the cemeteries in/around New Orleans are very much the same.)

I have been infatuated with New Orleans and her cemeteries since my first trip there, way back when, when I was still young enough to enjoy the hype of Bourbon Street.

On one of my trips to New Orleans, the first time I visited the St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 (supposedly where Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen is buried), my friend and I  decided to wait until Sunday to do the tour.  What we didn't know was that it's closed on Sundays. We were leaving the following day.   So, after much hemming and hawing about what to do, because we really wanted to see the cemetery, we hoisted our butts up and over the wrought iron gateway (and yes those arrows are pointy) and, I suppose, we broke in.


The funny thing is that there was an older couple -- well, I probably wouldn't call them older now, they were about my current age even though I don't act it. Anyway, this couple was in the same dilemma we were.  We offered to help them climb over as well, but they slowly backed away from us with that look on their face, the one that people wear when facing a rabid dog.

We didn't harm anything, and realized on the way out (up and over the gate again) that we were breaking-and-entering right across the street from an NOLA police department. 

With that said, I'd highly recommend visiting the New Orleans cities of the dead.  There's so much beauty -- and magic -- there.  It inspired me to write my first (and maybe my first to be published) short story.

Just check the schedule.  You may not be as lucky as we were.

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