Daily Archives: September 26, 2012

Cemetery of the Week #77: Lafayette Cemetery #1

The entry gate to Lafayette Cemetery #1

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
1400 Washington Street
New Orleans, Lousiana 70115
Founded: 1833
Size: one city block
Number of interments: 7,000+
Open: Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday 7 a.m. to noon.
Closed: Sunday and holidays (except Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and All Saint’s Day)

The sugar plantation once owned by Francois Livaudais was sold to developers in 1832. Among them was Cornelius Hurst, who sold the new town of Lafayette a city block for a cemetery in 1833. Many of the names in Lafayette Cemetery #1 are German or Irish, as opposed to Creole names in St. Louis #1 across town. Lafayette Cemetery had been established to serve “les Americaines,” the newcomers to town after the Louisiana Purchase 30 years earlier. Many people were buried here after the Yellow Fever epidemics that racked the city every summer, as well as families maimed by the Civil War.

Ironwork and trees in Lafayette Cemetery #1

Lafayette Cemetery also differs from the earlier St. Louis Cemetery #1 by virtue of its lanes. These interior streets were designed to accommodate funeral processions, but it makes the cemetery feel more modern, less a jumble of graves or a maze.

Across the street from the fabled Commander’s Palace in the Garden District of New Orleans, Lafayette Cemetery lay in the suburbs when it was founded in 1833. When the city engulfed the area in 1852, Lafayette #1 became a city cemetery. It’s considered one of the safest cemeteries in New Orleans. Consequently, it’s one of the most visited.

That said, unlicensed tour guides continue to loiter inside the cemetery, offering – sometimes forcefully – to show visitors around. These guides are not overseen by the city or affiliated with the cemetery, so accept their aid and information with caution.

A fire brigade tomb, decorated with an old-fashioned pumper truck

Lafayette contains as many as 1100 family tombs, as well as society tombs dedicated to firemen, orphans, or to the Odd Fellows. Even after 179 years, the cemetery continues to be in use. This is due to the caveaux inside the tombs, where the bones of all the previous occupants are jumbled together.

Among the historic figures buried in Lafayette are Judge Ferguson of the Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate-but-equal” Supreme Court case; Brigadier General Harry T. Hays, who led the 1st Louisiana Brigade in the Civil War, and one of the two Confederate governors of Louisiana.

Of course, many people are better acquainted with the vampire Lestat, who retired to his tomb in Lafayette Cemetery. I found an outtake from Queen of the Damned on youtube, which gives a little tour of the cemetery by moonlight.

In 2010, the Louisiana Landmarks Society rated Lafayette Cemetery #1 as one of the nine most endangered New Orleans landmarks. It reported that two massive oak trees threatened more than 30 historic tombs. Although owned and operated by the City of New Orleans, the cemetery lacked adequate grounds keeping and proper tomb maintenance. Worst of all, though, was the lack of supervision of the film trucks, lights, cameras, crews, and extras that have become regulars in the cemetery. Fees for filming in the cemetery are apparently not dedicated for its maintenance or repair, even if film crews damage something by accident.

The volunteer organization Save Our Cemeteries has been working to maintain the cemetery for several decades. To raise funds, they offer daily cemetery tours in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Monday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets for the hour-long tour are $20 per person, but the money goes to help with conservation of the cemetery. Tours fill up, so you can reserve your spot in advance. Here’s the link.

The Bryant family tomb with bricks exposed

Next month, on October 13-14, Save Our Cemeteries will be offering the first (of many, hopefully!) Tomb Restoration Workshops. They will cover vegetation removal, marble cleaning, and minor crack and stucco repair. The workshop will be held in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and is open to the public, although pre-registration is required. The cost is $100 for one day or $150 for both, limited to 25 participants per day. Please call 504-525-3377 to register.

Useful links:

Lafayette Cemetery Research Project

A Lafayette photo album

Save Our Cemeteries homepage

Anne Rice in New Orleans

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Lafayette:

New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead

Elysium: A Gathering of Souls

New Orleans Architecture vol. 3: the Cemeteries