Emily and I may occasionally be glib when referring to the “dead people’s stuff” that we like to purchase and collect. But, please know, we are in no way minimizing or ignoring the fact that someone’s loved one has passed. For some, death was a relief; for others, a surprise. Regardless of the manner, we reflect on and have respect for those who came before us.
Without going into too much history, Halloween was previously called All Hallow’s Eve, a reference to All Saint’s Day being Nov 1. Add in the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Nov 2), and there’s essentially a three-day festival remembering the dead (and fearing the zombies).
I was visiting family in New Orleans last weekend, and while the hubbub of the festivities was loud, we kept things quiet and enjoyed a self-guided tour of the Garden District. If you’ve been to NOLA, you know that there are cemeteries scattered about the city, as the dead were often buried just outside their neighborhood (typically in the church yard, though garden cemeteries were common later). Due to the swampy nature of Louisiana – and New Orleans’ proximity to the mighty Mississippi, most cemeteries are filled with mausoleums and raised graves. “”Why above ground?” asked my pre-Katrina Frommer’s guidebook, in typical jaunty New Orleans style. “Well, it rains in New Orleans. A lot. And then it floods. Soon after the city was settled, it became apparent that Uncle Etienne had an unpleasant habit of bobbing back to the surface.”” (source) Despite flooding and destructive hurricanes, the cemeteries have been largely unscathed – aside from the effects of time and tourism.
Our walk took us to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, on Washington Street, between Prytania and Coliseum. (source)
There aren’t adequate words to describe how beautiful and peaceful the grounds were. Most of the tombs I saw were from the early 1800s, though some family vaults had names added as recently as last year. The stones were carefully crafted, the angels serene, the names multinational. The ferns and green growth were gentle reminders of life preceding and proceeding death.
The sweetest, and perhaps saddest, tomb I saw was this one:
“Our little Daisy faded May 30, 1880” Though obviously a short life, it was one filled with love.
These sacred sepulchers are truly beautiful and should be seen. Whether you appreciate graveyards through rubbings, photography, or silent moments, I encourage you to see these histories with your own eyes.