Date of Establishment
St. Louis Cemetery is one of the oldest extant cemeteries in the country, it was founded and built-in 1789. This cemetery attracts over 100,000 visitors each year as one of the most haunted travelers’ destinations.
Name & Location
The cemetery is located close behind the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. Before New Orleans was a big city the cemetery sat at the swaps edge of the city. It is now nearly the center of New Orleans, thanks to draining swamp lands letting settlers move past the French Quarter and continuing to build. Author Mark Twain nicknamed St. Louis’s Cemetery “the Cities of the Dead”, and to this day there is not a better fitting nickname.
When you first enter St. Louis Cemetery you are greeted by the bank of “oven vaults” and “wall vaults”. These tombs or vaults are stacked cabinet styles all across the left side of the cemetery. This is because of the swampy nature of this region, which wouldn’t allow for in-ground burials. Across the rest of the grounds, you can see raised or partially visible graves, due to the city sinking.
The tombs themselves do not hold a common description, however. Most are made of stone and carved with decorative designs, while others simply bare a family name and dates. Some of the more famous tombs and graves have offerings and memorial left, some even bare vandalistic marks. Most of the memorial architecture was inherited from France and Spain and matched the city’s overall look.
The character and look of the cemetery show the illusion of days past. Broken shells and cobblestones, crumbling and chipped crypts or tombs, and not to mention the labyrinth of navigating the grounds. These characteristics and more lead to the eerily quiet atmosphere over the St. Louis grounds, and what aids in fueling the “ghost stories” and uneasy feelings.
As the city of New Orleans grew, they needed a proper place to lay their fallen to rest, and not rise from the swampy wet grounds to scare the locals. In 1788 the city suffered a great fire and an epidemic that overloaded the other cemetery’s around the city. In 1789 the St. Cemetery No. 1 was built about 40 yards from the Charity Hospital, a picket fence lined its borders, and burials began immediately. They soon learned that in-ground graves would not due, as the area surrounding the city is low-lying and flooding caused the graves to rise out of the ground. In 1803 the city mandate called for above-ground tombs and vaults to put this problem to rest and unknowingly gave birth to the classic New Orleans cemetery look we now see today.
Mythology and Lore
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 has no shortages of myths and lore’s surrounding its history, as it holds some of the most well know “horror figures” within it. For around 40,000 you can grab a spot next to some of the biggest and most haunted graves within the City of the Dead. Nicolas Cage has a tomb within this cemetery awaiting him. “Omnia Ab Uno” (all from one) is engraved in the 9-foot-tall gleaming white pyramid, which leads the world to question if he’s a closet Voodoo practitioner as well, though no proof has been found.
One of the most well known and most visited tombs is that of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Laveau was a Voodoo practitioner who used herbal remedies and spells to nurse and heal those that suffered from the yellow fever epidemic of the 19th century. Many still believe her magick is working from beyond the grave, leading visitors to leave “XXX”s etched into her grave hoping for their wishes to come true. The caretakes no longer let you etch into the stone but will allow you to leave your offerings at the tomb. Her ghost can be seen wearing a red and white turban in her hair and brilliantly colored clothes. She walks between tombs and will disappear at random, only to pop up again later. For those that disrespect her or her beliefs, she will scratch, pinch, and shove you around the cemetery until you leave. Visitors of her tomb have also reported gentle touches, unexplainable feeling ill, hearing voices from inside the tomb.
Another well-known figure to lay at rest within St. Louis’s Cemetery is Homer Plessy. The main spark in the creation of the Civil Rights moment, when he refused to move from the “whites only” section of the train. The St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 holds a large number of historically and culturally significant African American’s, which earned it a place in the African American Heritage Trail.
Another spirit that roams the grounds of the cemetery is that of Henry Vignes, a poor man who had his family tomb stolen from him. Buried in an unmarked grave in the pauper’s section, Henry’s spirit continues to appear to this day. He is described as tall, with blue eyes, so worldly appearing visitors they even speak to him. He approaches visitors and asks where the Vignes tomb is and that he can’t find it. He can also be seen at funerals grieving asking the grieving family if there is room in the tomb for him. Henry’s spirit is also able to be caught on camera as well as on EMP proclaiming “I need to rest!”
The ghost of Alphonse is also like Henry in haunting in the hopes of finding rest. Alphonse’s spirit is known to take the hand of visitors and stop them to ask if they will take him home. He’s been seen gathering flowers off other graves to place on his tomb. Some believe that he was murdered or betrayed by the Pinead family because he appears to warn anyone near their tomb to stay away.
There is no shortage of “ghost” or “spirit” sightings in this cemetery. There are almost 300 years of ghost stories and sightings reported to have happened on the cemetery grounds. To make a complete list of interacts let alone the ghost that did it would be impossible. There are too many ghostly forms to identify which is which. Reports of experiences range from friendly waving, handhold, poking, and games; all the way to attempting to truly cause harm by biting, scratching, or pushing. Scores of people and paranormal teams have examined the grounds finding various results and “proof of hauntings”, yet we still don’t have a complete list of ghostly presents just yet.
The Cemetery no longer lets visitors free-roam the grounds, due to vandalism you must be accompanied by a tour guide or caregiver. Those with family ties or tombs in on the grounds must have a pass to visit their loved ones; all others must have a licensed tour guide with them, which only cost about 15$ to 20$. The Historic Preservation Project is working with the Abandoned Tomb Imitative to restore as many tombs as possible, wither it’s because of old age or vandals recking havoc.
Modern Pop-Culture References
Books & Literature
- City of the Dead: A Journey Through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (1996)
- New Orleans Cemeteries (Images of America: Louisiana (1999)
- New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead (2005)
- Stories from the St. Louis Cemeteries of New Orleans (2015)
- French Quarter.com
- Louisiana Feed Your Soul
- New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries
- Ghost City Tours
Is there anything we missed about St. Louis Cemetery No. 1? Let us know in the comments section below!