I wish every graveyard had a guide like City of the Dead. It is full of black and white pictures, illustrating every subject raised. Unfortunately, the quality of the photos varies. I know firsthand that the inscriptions on time-softened white marble can be difficult to photograph. Perhaps gravestone rubbings could have been substituted?
Another minor omission is the addresses of the organizations involved in preserving and restoring this beautiful and historical cemetery. A note proclaims that part of the booklet’s $6 cover price goes to the St. Louis Cemetery Preservation Fund. Readers might be inspired to make an additional donation themselves, if the author had made it easy for them.
The addresses of the Park Service, which provides tours, and Save Our Cemeteries, who also performs some of the repair work, might have been inspirational too — if only to encourage people to schedule a guided visit.
But all that is ancillary to the wealth of information provided in 79 pages. The booklet begins with a whirlwind history of burial in New Orleans, then covers the Storyville neighborhood which cozied up to St. Louis #1. The booklet explains the variety of burials practiced in the graveyard and finally highlights some of the personages interred there.
There isn’t much discussion of the potential danger in visiting St. Louis #1, although this is repeatedly stressed in other New Orleans guidebooks. The notorious Storyville red-light district was torn down in the 1940s, only to be replaced by the Iberville Projects. In the maze of tombs, it can be difficult to find the exit, to say nothing of avoiding danger. The sole caution in this booklet is to quote the plaque at the graveyard’s entrance, on which the New Orleans Archdiocesan Cemeteries disclaims responsibility for visitors’ safety: not nearly the same as a strong admonition not to visit the graveyard alone.
Still, for anyone curious about St. Louis #1 — the oldest remaining cemetery in New Orleans — this little booklet is a treasure.
You can order your own copy at City of the Dead: A Journey Through St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans, Louisiana