It was Monday morning and Patricia was off to her conference sessions. I was on my own for the day. You know how much I like cemeteries and the ones in New Orleans are iconic, so I had made reservations, a month earlier, for a morning cemetery tour.
The inventory for beautiful old cemeteries in New Orleans is vast and hard to whittle down. I ended up chosing St. Louis Cemetery #1 because it was within walking distance of the hotel (a block north of the north end of the French Quarter) and is the oldest existing cemetery in New Orleans (opening in 1789).
St. Louis Cemetery #1 (as well as #2 and #3 and many of the other, older cemeteries) is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. Since 2015, tourists have been allowed into St. Louis #1 only with a licensed tour guide registered with the archdiocese. That’s because the vandalism in the cemetery got to be so bad that they needed a way to keep an eye on everyone who entered. Still, people find unauthorized ways to get in and for that, there are security cameras everywhere.
Do you know what this is?
It’s one of the most famous tombs in New Orleans (based on the number of internet articles to be found about it). The writing on the tomb (Omnia Ab Uno) gives a hint. It’s Latin for “Everything from one,” which comes from a film called “National Treasure.” The film starred Nicholas Cage and the tomb belongs to Cage, awaiting his demise. I’ve never seen the film, so I have no idea why the phrase is significant.
Do you see the lipstick marks on Nicholas Cage’s tomb? (1) Gross. But (2) it’s apparently a “thing.” Still (3) it’s against the rules to touch or mark the graves. So (4) to the people who did it: they’ve got you on film.
Cage bumped voodoo queen Marie Laveau from the top spot. That’s her tomb in the photo below (the three-vault structure), to the right of our guide Tony.
Marie Laveau’s tomb was so popular with visitors that tour groups often couldn’t get near it. So enterprising tour guides decided that they would simply gather their group around a likely-looking old, abandoned tomb and claim that it was Laveau’s. Tony called those tombs “Faux Laveaus.”
That’s a Faux Laveau, above. You can tell by the XXXs all over it. Apparently spinning, knocking and drawing three Xs gets Marie to grant a wish. Who knew she was a genie as well as a voodoo priestess. People also steal bricks as souvenirs. It’s that kind of vandalism that caused tightened cemetery security.
People with families buried in the cemetery can get a family pass, and with a Louisiana issued ID, Louisiana residents can get in free on Good Friday, All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
Tourists can just walk up to the cemetery gate, pay $20, and be matched up with a guide. But I made careful study of the tours and chose Save Our Cemeteries, a nonprofit associated with the archdiocese, which works to preserve the cemetery. The tour included a show-and-tell of how SOC was preserving and restoring the graves, which I found very interesting. Marie Laveau’s tomb, formerly marked and vandalized almost to the point of no return, looks as clean and sleek as it does now because Save Our Cemeteries restored it a few years ago. The tomb below is one that they’re currently working on.
No one knows why Cage chose NOLA as his final resting place. He’s a Californian who lives in Las Vegas. But he seems to have an affinity for the Big Easy, having owned (and lost to foreclosure) several NOLA properties, including the infamous LaLaurie Mansion. For those unfamiliar with New Orleans history or American Horror Story’s season 3, Delphine LaLaurie, early 19th century owner of a house at 1140 Royal Street, was a wealthy socialite who had a thing for killing slaves by mutilation and torture. The house she lived and tortured in was burned by an angry mob, so the building Cage owned is a new structure on the same site. It’s still called the LaLaurie Mansion, though.
And Delphine, as it happens, has a name plate at St. Louis 1 (although the church says that she isn’t buried there).