Tag Archives: cemeteries in New Orleans

Cemetery of the Week #97: New Orleans’ Greenwood Cemetery

Rhoads Greenwood IMG_2266Greenwood Cemetery
5200 Canal Boulevard (but the entrance I used was on Metairie Road)
New Orleans, Louisiana 70124
Telephone: (504) 482-8983
Founded: 1852
Size: 150 acres
Number of tombs: approximately 20,500
Open: Good question. The hours posted on Wikipedia are wrong and the cemetery’s homepage doesn’t list any hours at all. I visited on a Sunday, when the cemetery gate was open and a fair number of visitors bustled in and out, despite threatening skies and the occasional downpour. You might want to call first.

As you take the Ponchartrain Expressway into New Orleans, Greenwood Cemetery is the first graveyard you see. More than a hundred acres of family tombs and association crypts provide the visitor with a lot of wistful beauty to ponder.

Rhoads Greenwood IMG_2245Sister to the older Cypress Grove Cemetery across the street, Greenwood Cemetery was also founded by the Fireman’s Charitable and Benevolent Association. In the 19th century, firemen in New Orleans were businessmen who volunteered to keep the city safe. The towering Fireman’s Monument greets visitors with a finely carved young man in a sweeping hat, carrying a hose at the ready. The 46-foot-tall Gothic Revival monument was designed by Charles Orleans, while the statue was executed by Alexander Doyle and carved by Carlo Nicoli. Erected in 1887, it honors firemen who died at their posts before the creation of the professional fire department in 1891. Its base bears the names of 23 volunteer fire companies.

The Elks tumulus

The Elks tumulus

Near the Fireman’s Monument stands a manmade hill or tumulus crowned by the bronze figure of an elk. The Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (or BPOE) Lodge 30 provided burial space for members who had nowhere else to go. Inside the mound lie 18 burial vaults. It was erected in 1912.

On the interstate side of the cemetery stands the first Civil War memorial erected in New Orleans. Designed by Achille Perelli, an anonymous seven-foot-tall infantryman stands atop a pedestal above busts of Generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Leonidas Polk, and Albert Sidney Johnson. The monument cost nearly $12,000 in 1874 (still the carpetbag era), which was collected by the Ladies’ Benevolent Association. Its low tumulus is the final resting place of 600 Confederate soldiers.

The first Civil War monument in New Orleans

The first Civil War monument in New Orleans

Cast-iron tomb

Cast-iron tomb

Greenwood Cemetery has several wonderful examples of cast-iron tombs, which I’d never seen anywhere. Some are in rough shape, perhaps from being inundated when the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Miltenberger tomb, with its three-dimensional angel guiding a soul to heaven, is a prime example.

Greenwood is the final home to two Confederate generals – Young Marshall Moody and Thomas Moore Scott – as well as Union general William Plummer Benton. It contains the graves of two New Orleans mayors, Abial Daily Grossman (who led the city during its worst yellow fever epidemics) and John Fitzpatrick (who served during the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow years).

John Kennedy Toole's grave

John Kennedy Toole’s grave

Greenwood’s most famous resident is John Kennedy Toole, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning A Confederacy of Dunces. He is buried in his mother’s tomb on the Latanier path between the Hawthorne and Magnolia Walks. Her tomb is marked Ducoing.  From the Cemeteries streetcar on Canal Street, you enter the cemetery at the caretaker’s building and turn right. The names of the paths are stenciled on the curb. Latanier is almost the final path before you reach the cemetery’s edge.

As always in New Orleans’ cemeteries, be aware. When I visited, there was such a good stream of people in and out that I never felt unsafe.  All the same, be careful how you wander.

Useful links:

Greenwood Cemetery history and homepage

A map of Greenwood, Metairie, and the other local cemeteries

The NOLA Cemeteries entry on Greenwood

GPS information provided by CemeteryRegistry.us

Other New Orleans cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Week #6: St. Louis Cemetery #1

Week #16: Metairie Cemetery

Week #77: Lafayette Cemetery

New Orleans cemetery books reviewed on Cemetery Travel:

New Orleans Cemeteries (Images of America)

New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead

New Orleans Architecture vol. 3: the Cemeteries

A Photographic Tour of New Orleans’ Historic Cemeteries

New Orleans: CemeteriesNew Orleans: Cemeteries by Eric J. Brock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little gem is part of a series which collects historic photographs of Americana. Images of America: New Orleans Cemeteries includes hundreds of black-and-white photographs of more than a dozen New Orleans-area cemeteries, including all three St. Louis graveyards, both Lafayette cemeteries, and the Metairie, Cypress Grove, and Greenwood necropolis. The photos are a nice blend of overviews or landscapes—which give a sense of the larger graveyard—and detail of the reliefs or inscriptions adorning specific tombs.

My favorite section of the book illuminates the Girod Street Cemetery, the original Protestant burial ground, which was laid out in the rural style popular in northern graveyards. Christ Church Episcopal founded Girod Street Cemetery in 1822, but by the 1950s, it had been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that the Church deconsecrated the land and demolished over a thousand tombs. Part of the former cemetery lies under the end zone of the Superdome. Some say this explains why the New Orleans Saints rarely win. The photos of the overgrown graveyard, pre-demolition, are reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Breathtaking!

Another highlight is the chapter on the Jewish Cemeteries, which are seldom featured in other books on New Orleans. Despite the Inquisition’s prohibition against Jewish settlers in Catholic Louisiana, the first synagogue outside the original 13 American colonies was founded in New Orleans, so there is a long history of Jewish burials in the area. Although the monuments span from slate tablets up through modern granite blocks, this book makes clear that Victorian-era artistry was as appreciated in Hebrew Rest as is any other graveyard in town.

The only flaws in this book are minor. There is no list of cemetery names or addresses, not even a contact number for Save Our Cemeteries, the group who’s worked so hard to restore and protect these fragile treasures. That’s the fault of the author. The publisher’s fault lies in the lack of a listing of the other Images of America titles. If I knew how many cemetery books they’d published, I might be writing them a check even now.

You can get your copy from Amazon: New Orleans Cemeteries (Images of America: Louisiana)

This is another review from Morbid Curiosity #7.

To see all my cemetery reviews, click on the Cemetery Book Reviews category in the right column.

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