Anne Rice used several of New Orleans cemeteries in her books. This section features just a few.
Visiting New Orleans and seeing the sights has been an easy task since the first half the 19th century when the streetcar made its appearance on the city’s streets. As an integral part of the city’s transportation system, New Orleans’ streetcar lines have a long history with the city. Long enough that one if its lines, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, is known as the oldest, continuously operating railway system in the world.
The year was 1831 when planning for a New Orleans streetcar began. Services for the first line, the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad, were launched in 1835, with passenger and freight cars being run by steam locomotive power. However, the noise and pollution caused by the locomotive became a problem as the area became more urbanized, prompting a change to cars pulled by horses and mules.
As the years went by, different systems were experimented with in order to find the most efficient means of mass transportation. Not until 1893 was the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad electrified and bulk cars introduced several years later in the 1920s.
Today you’ll find three lines exist in New Orleans. There’s the St. Charles Avenue Line, the Riverfront Line and the Canal Street Line. Other lines have come and gone, most replace by bus service. However, preservationists have managed to protect the St. Charles Avenue line from future extinction by having it named as a historic landmark.
When Hurricane Katrina blew into town in August of 2005, all three streetcar lines were knocked out of commission. Many of the streetcars were damaged and had to be repaired before service was restored. In some cases, service did not start back up until two years after the hurricane hit.
The few remaining New Orleans streetcars offer a ride not to be missed. Riding through the streets of the city on a streetcar is the best way to see the city and envision how life, long ago, was lived in the Louisiana city.
The first St Joseph Cemetery began life in 1854 when it was founded by the St Joseph German Orphan Asylum Association as a place to bury German immigrants. Situated right next door to Lafayette Cemetery No. 2, St Joseph Cemetery is said to be in much better shape than its neighbor and is well maintained with some very attractive tombs.
Across the street, St Joseph No. 2 was established in 1873. One of the most impressive features here is the Smith Tomb, a very large tomb which resembles a church with stained glass windows and all!
So St Louis Cemetery became the new cemetery of New Orleans, opening a year after the Great Fire, in 1789. Located on the north side of Basin Street, it’s adjacent to what used to be the Storyville area of the city, but is now the Iberville Housing Project. This, the original St Louis Cemetery, is now known as St Louis No. 1 because another two St Louis Cemeteries have been created since.
The above ground vaults which were constructed to hold the dead in St Louis No. 1 became a characteristic of New Orleans. Some say they were designed this way because of the ground water levels, though others say it was simply because this was how the Spanish (who were ruling the city at this time) buried their dead, so they continued with their own tradition. It’s also been noted that the vaults here in St Louis Cemetery are very similar to those found in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and this could have been the result of the influence of all the French residents in New Orleans.
What is interesting about the burials which occurred here is that people from all walks of life, rich and poor, all cultures and all colors are buried within St Louis No. 1 without segregation. The only form of segregation was by religion because St Louis is a Roman Catholic cemetery and so different parts of the cemetery were designated for religions other than Roman Catholic.
St Louis No. 1 is quite the tourist attraction these days, and a number of companies offer guided tours. Please take serious note – St Louis Cemetery and all of the other cemeteries in New Orleans are prime locations for muggings and even more serious crimes. It is very inadvisable to venture into the cemeteries on your own, especially at night! If you’re with a number of other people in a tour group you should be safe.
St Louis No. 2 (which opened in 1823) is located another 3 blocks back, bordering Claiborne Avenue, whilst St Louis No. 3 (which opened in 1854) is about 2 miles back from the French Quarter on Esplanade Avenue near Bayou St John.
Being such an old city it’s no surprise that there are also a number of old and spooky cemeteries in New Orleans!
The original city cemetery was St Peter Cemetery on St Peter Street which had become full following a high number of deaths from a series of misfortunes which befell the city – a major flood and a serious yellow fever epidemic, followed by the New Orleans Great Fire of 1788; all of which meant the bodies were literally piling up. So when the city was redesigned following the Great Fire, the designs incorporated a new cemetery, one block beyond the French Quarter. This was St Louis Cemetery – the oldest cemetery now in existence in New Orleans.