Built in 1823, St. Louis Cemetery #2 was built to extend the overflowing St. Louis Cemetery #1 and push the corpses of Yellow Fever victims further away from the French Quarter. Yellow Fever ravaged the population of New Orleans since the city’s foundation in 1718. After the discovery that it was a mosquito-bred disease in 1905 a vaccine was quickly invented. Before this however people believed that the odors emanating from the corpses of its victims spread it further. Did you know over 41,000 people died in New Orleans due to Yellow Fever between 1817, when records began, and 1905? Mortality rates were high, and the later phases of Yellow Fever induced jaundice, bleeding from the eyes and mouth, and organ failure. A truly terrible demise. St. Louis Cemetery #1 was the first above-ground cemetery in the city to accommodate the death rate and as such planning was poor. This resulted in obtuse alleyways and overcrowded corridors. When design began for the St. Louis #2 a much more organized layout was drawn, with a continuous alleyway running through its center. The St. Louis Number #2 today is one of the most interesting cemeteries in the city.
Inhabitants of The St. Louis Cemetery #2
Originally stretching 4 blocks, from Canal to St. Louis, the Canal block was sold to the city in 1847 as Canal Street was being built. The Catholic Church was afraid of spreading death and pestilence any further. The section closest to Canal later became the first official African American cemetery in the city and some believe that Marie Laveau II resides within its walls, quite literally! You see in New Orleans people are not only buried above ground but in the walls of the cemetery. They became a cheap and efficient way to lay people to rest and are even reused. Sometimes more than ten people can be inside any single “wall vault.”
An example of the wall vaults found in New Orleans
The larger tombs that decorate the cemeteries can hold up to 60-100 people and operate as slow-working furnaces. Due to the Catholic nature of the city, cremations were forbidden. This however was God cremating the bodies and as such was deemed acceptable. The sealed walls of the tomb also helped the spread of Yellow Fever, or at least people at the time believed.
Famous pirates, musicians, chefs, and more reside in their eternal above-ground homes in St. Louis Cemetery #2. Did you know New Orleans is responsible for the modern drum kit? Paul Barbarian was laid to rest here in 1969, after passing during a Mardi Gras parade. His cousin Danny Barker followed him to their family tomb in 1990. Barbarian was a drummer in the early days of jazz music as a member of King Oliver’s band and was an early pioneer of modern drumming. Louis Armstrong was also a member of Oliver’s band and Barbarian later of Armstrong’s. Barker set the standard for banjo playing in New Orleans music, playing both 4-string and 6-string Banjo. Becoming well known for the latter of the two. The number two also holds its fair share of ghost stories. A wayward bride sometimes is picked up by taxi drivers on the corner of Iberville and Claiborne, only to later disappear. To learn more about her and other spirits consider a tour!
Marie Laveau II’s Wall Vault
Many know of the tale of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans who could read minds and grant one’s most sought-after desires. Some believed that she could teleport and was even immortal. What many do not know is that she had a daughter. Her name was also Marie Laveau and she was born Marie Philomene Glapion in 1837. She followed her mother’s path and became the leasing Voodoo Queen of the City after the elder Marie grew old. Many perceived the younger as the elder and confused the two, assuming immortality and otherworldly powers. Both of them lay in the Glapion family tomb in St. Louis #1. However, some state that after the death of the younger in 1897 that her body was moved to St. Louis #2 and that she remains in a wall vault here today. In Section 3, the original African American section, there is a wall vault that many followers will drop coins into. Some even say her spirit hangs maliciously about the cemetery. Her practice of Voodoo led to an ill view of the Laveau and it seems her spirit still remains malicious to this day.
The Ghost Bride of the St. Louis #2
In the 1930s a series of interviews were conducted by the Works Progress Administration in Louisiana. Many of these stories were compelled into a book called Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana. One of them tells the story of a taxi driver, making his nightly rounds when he came across a young woman outside St. Louis Cemetery #2. She was wearing a beautiful white gown and seemed to be in dire need of assistance. An odd place for such a woman to be at this time of night, but the taxi driver turned on his meter and drove her home. Upon reaching the desired destination she asked the driver to go up to the gallery door and ring the bell. An odd request from such a woman, but it was this time of night. “Perhaps she felt unsafe,” he thought. The taxi driver went to the door. A startled man answered the door. When asked for a description of the woman, the taxi driver obliged with an answer. Only to soon find out that the woman had been dead for some years and buried in her wedding dress. Needless to say, taxi drivers don’t pick up from St. Louis Cemetery #2 any longer, especially at such an odd time of night. The cemeteries in New Orleans have intrigued visitors to New Orleans for centuries. Their gray facade, once colored in hues of yellows and pinks, now hold the secrets to a time past. They are cultural phenomena not to be missed in the Crescent City. Take a tour to learn more about them!
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Florence, Robert. New Orleans Cemeteries: Life In The Cities of The Dead. 1st edition. Batture Press 1997
Deder, Peter B. The Cemeteries of New Orleans: A Cultural History. 1st Edition. Louisiana State University Press. 2017
Long, Carolyn Morrow. A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau, 1st edition, University Press of Florida, 2006
Saxon, Lyle et al. Gumbo Ya Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana. 3rd edition. Pelican Publishing Company 1987