Tag Archives: private mausoleum

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

Cemetery of the Week #74: Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn’s entry off of Woodward Avenue

Woodlawn Cemetery
19975 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48203
Telephone: (313) 368-0010
Founded: 1895
Size: 140 acres
Number of interments: 71,000
Open: Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sundays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Far from the center of Detroit when it opened at the end of the 19th century, lovely Woodlawn Cemetery is now an oasis not far from the notorious 8 Mile Road, which once served as the boundary between the inner city and the wealthier suburbs.

Woodlawn Cemetery has one of the largest collections of private mausoleums in the country. These run the gamut of architectural styles from classically Grecian to Egyptian Revival to Art Nouveau and styles even more modern. In fact, Woodlawn appears to be a cemetery of tombs more than a cemetery of graves, so its decorations are different than the statuary you find in most graveyards of the Victorian age.

The view across the lake in Woodlawn

In The Last Great Necessity, David Charles Sloane talks about the paradigm shift represented in lawn-park cemeteries like Woodlawn. As Americans retreated from Victorian sentimentality, the appearance of cemeteries changed to “combine the beauty of the lawn with the artistry of the monument.” Cemeteries became “a private, permanent burial place that honored rural values and celebrated lot-holder families [and reflected] the distancing of the living from the dead.” Woodlawn features over 150 private estates.

Now managed by the Midwest Memorial Group, which operates 29 cemeteries in Michigan (13 in the Detroit area alone, including the last Cemetery of the Week, Woodmere), Woodlawn seems in good shape to move into the future. Maintenance crews were busy when I visited in August.

The Dodge mausoleum

Among the permanent residents of Woodlawn are several titans of the auto industry, including the Dodge brothers, John and Horace. In 1901, they opened a machine shop in Detroit that built motors and steering gear for the earliest Ford cars. Eventually they owned 20% of the Ford Company. They used money from their stock sales to finance their own car company. The brothers died within a year of each other and are entombed in an Egyptian Revival mausoleum guarded by sphinxes.

The Ford sarcophagus

Also buried here are Edsel Ford and his wife Eleanor. Edsel, son of Henry Ford, served as president of his father’s company for 24 years. He was also deeply involved with the Detroit Institute of Arts, underwriting the amazing murals painted by Diego Rivera. Edsel Ford’s simple black sarcophagus seems to comment on the more ostentatious monuments of lesser-known men.

Perhaps not well known outside of Michigan, J. L. Hudson opened a men and boys’ clothing store in Detroit in 1881. It expanded into a department store that was the third largest in the nation by 1927. Eventually the flagship store contained 49 acres of floor space, but as the city died around it, it could not hang on. The building was spectacularly demolished in 1998.

Inside the Chapel Mausoleum lies Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks. In December 1955, Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat in the designated “colored” section of a city bus so that a white man could sit down. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, spanning over a year, and resulted in a US Supreme Court case that called segregation on public transit unconstitutional. She died in Detroit in 2005.

A couple of books capture the beauty of Woodlawn in glorious black-and-white photographs:

My review of A. Dale Northrup’s Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery is here.

My review of Richard Bak’s Boneyards: Detroit Underground is here.

Useful links:

Woodlawn Cemetery’s homepage

A tour of Woodlawn

A more thorough exploration of Woodlawn

The Hidden Gems of Detroit video tour of Woodlawn

GPS info, care of CemeteryRegistry.us

Other Detroit Cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #73: Woodmere Cemetery

What graveyards did you visit on vacation this summer?

Win a copy!

Travel took me to Manhattan, Ontario, and Michigan this summer.  I visited the African Burial Ground, a Colonial-era churchyard, my first Canadian cemetery, and a cemetery with one of the largest collections of private mausoleums in the United States, which happens to lie not far from 8 Mile Road in Detroit.

Those that I haven’t written about yet will be the subjects of upcoming Cemeteries of the Week, of course.

So tell me: What cemeteries were you lucky enough to visit this summer?  What was the most beautiful thing you saw?  Would you encourage other travelers to go out of their way?

Leave your response in the comments below before September 1, 2012 — and you could win a copy of the Cemetery Travels Notebook.  Illustrated with photos from this blog to inspire your own cemetery explorations, the perfect-bound notebook has plenty of room for your own notes and ruminations.

You can see a sample of the Cemetery Travels Notebook here.

ETA:  I’ve contacted the winners for this giveaway, but tune in next month for another.  I’m going to want to hear scary (true!) cemetery stories.  In the meantime, you can order a copy of your own here: Cemetery Travels Notebook by Loren Rhoads.


Cemetery of the Week #57: Laurel Hill Cemetery

The Warner Monument

Laurel Hill Cemetery
3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19132
Telephone: 215-228-8200
Founded: 1836
Size: 78 acres
Number of interments: 75,000
Open: Weekdays 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Weekends 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Closed major holidays.
Admission: always free

THIS WEEKEND: Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day focuses on “The Bizarre and Mysterious at Laurel Hill Cemetery” Saturday, April 28, 1 to 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be ordered here. Hurry, as many Obscura Day events have already sold out.

Founded in 1836, Laurel Hill Cemetery is the second oldest garden cemetery in the United States, after Cambridge’s Mount Auburn. Architect John Notman designed Laurel Hill’s maze of roads to wind amidst terraces above the Schuykill River.  His intention was to give the people of Philadelphia a park from which they could ponder their mortality and look forward to the glories of Heaven.

The cemetery’s driving tour explains that “Within a few months of its opening, Laurel Hill Cemetery was Philadelphia’s most popular attraction,” drawing more visitors than Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The cemetery was so popular that in 1860 it received over 140,000 visitors. The cemetery office issued admission tickets to control the flood of visitors.  These days, you can often have the lovely place nearly to yourself, which is a shame.

Permanent residents include Sarah Josepha Hale (whom we have to thank for “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), portrait painter Thomas Sully, and Union General George Gordon Meade (who was victorious at Gettysburg) and four other Major Generals as well as fifteen Brigadier Generals, both Union and Confederate. A signer of the Declaration of Independence is buried here, as well as a sailor who fought in the War of 1812.

Mausoleums overlooking the Schuykill River

The cemetery is a sea of obelisks and grand mausoleums, with its own Angels Row. In fact, Laurel Hill contains more than 33,000 monuments. The most striking monument in the graveyard remembers the William Warner family. Designed by Alexander Milne Calder, the sculpture embodies the Angel of Death as a stern woman whose gown is slipping from her shoulder. She has opened the granite sarcophagus to release the soul trapped inside. A winged face rises from the open tomb in a flame of stone.

Death’s arms were broken off as early as 1977, when a photograph of the Warner monument appeared in Famous and Curious Cemeteries. Hopefully, repairing her is on the schedule.

Unfortunately, the cemetery suffered years of neglect, but a Friends group formed in 1977 and continues to raise money to restore the sculptures. (When I visited in 2002, the cemetery office — housed in Notman’s ornate gate house — was selling a t-shirt that said “R.I.P. Restoration in Progress.”) Laurel Hill became a National Historic Landmark in 1998, one of the few American cemeteries to rate the distinction.

The cemetery continues to welcome guests to Laurel Hill for self-guided walking, driving, or audio tours. You need only stop by the office to pick up a map of the cemetery grounds, a brochure for the audio tour, or to purchase a $5 guide highlighting the graves and histories of some of the best-known residents. They offer a cell phone tour whose only cost is minutes on your cellphone plan. The grounds are also open for jogging, nature walks, dog-walking (on a leash), biking, and picnics.

In addition, the cemetery offers frequent tours. One in May will be led by Russ Dodge, the mastermind behind the venerable Findagrave. Money raised by the tours continues to fund preservation of the cemetery.

Useful links:

The official Laurel Hill Cemetery site

Monthly tours at Laurel Hill

A Laurel Hill love story

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Laurel Hill Cemetery:

The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History

Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries

Victorian Cemetery Art

Other garden cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan

Cemetery of the Week #17: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York

Cemetery of the Week #28: Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #31: Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #42:  Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

Cemetery of the Week #53: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Cemetery of the Week #55: Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, California

Cemetery of the Week #58: Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island

Cemetery of the Week #32: The Mausoleum of Augustus

The Mausoleum of Augustus

The Mausoleum of Augustus
Piazza Augusto Imperatore
Rome, Italy
Founded: 28 BCE
Number of Interments: none any longer
Open: only with a tour group

The Mausoleum of Augustus was built in 28 BCE as the tomb of Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, who took the name Augustus upon his ascension to the throne. His wife Livia, mother of Emperor Tiberius, was buried there, along with Emperor Nerva, who died in 98 CE. Reportedly the ashes of Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius (Livia’s grandson) had also been entombed here. At some point during the mausoleum’s long history, all the ashes vanished.

It’s a struggle to imagine the mausoleum as it had been, faced with marble, surrounded by columns, with a hill on top crowned by a golden 50-foot statue. In two millennia, it had fallen a long way from such grandeur.

Rome Access describes the red brick Mausoleum of Augustus as “drum-shaped.” The cylindrical tomb has a dusty circular path around its base, paced into the moat between its brick walls and the land heaped up around the tomb. The tomb originally stood alone on a field where the Roman Army held war games. The site isn’t far from the river and years of flooding had all but buried it in silt. Lush green grass sprouts from its roof and bright red poppies nod amidst the wildflowers.

Behind a two-story iron gate, inside the sepulcher’s walls and draped in shadows, stood a big rectangular box — a sarcophagus? When I visited, there was no tourist office to answer my questions. Rome Access contradicted Permanent Italians by saying that the building opened for guided tours. Nothing announced when they might be.

The tomb was one of the first in Rome to be colonized by the living. During the Middle Ages, it served as a fortress. Worse, the area worked as a bullring in the 18th century. After that, it performed for a while as a concert hall.

From time to time, history tried to reclaim the mausoleum. Between 1926 and 1930, Mussolini restored the tomb by removing the grass growing over it and the dirt that had swallowed it. He planned to be interred in there with the memory of emperors. Instead, he’s buried with his family in Predappio, apparently not enough of a national treasure to find rest in the Eternal City.

I wonder over the ongoing attempts to find a purpose for the tomb. I haven’t ever lived in a museum; extremely few pre-20th century buildings exist in San Francisco. What it would be like to live in Rome, where the past inhabits large portions of your daily reality? As long as the moderns use something, it survives. Currently, the Mausoleum of Augustus serves no real purpose. It hasn’t been a grave in centuries. It isn’t much of a tourist attraction, since it isn’t open to tour. It is just a big building, sunk into the earth and overgrown with weeds. Do things need to be saved simply because they’re old and historic?

For me, it was enough that flowers grew there and birds sang louder than the traffic on the nearby Via del Corso.  At the Mausoleum of Augustus, I found a moment of peace.

Useful links:

History and dimensions of the Mausoleum of Augustus

Photos of the interior monuments

Aerial view of the tomb and the Tiber

Private tours

Another tour organization

My review of Permanent Italians

Other Roman-era tombs on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #29: the Roman Pantheon

Cemetery of the Week #67: the Catacomb of St. Sebastian