New Orleans is famous for its Cities of the Dead. Because the city is below sea level, one of the difficulties encountered by residents was burying their dead. You can't dig a hole without it filling up with water. So above-ground burials were the only option. Saint Louis Cemetery #2, dedicated in 1823, just a few blocks north of the first Saint Louis Cemetery, once outside of town, is now surrounded by the city. This picture of the wall vaults in the center section shows how close Interstate 10 is to the site.
To the west, you can see that the University of New
Orleans looks down over the tombs. Just off to the left of this is a housing project, a low-income project that usually provides fodder for the warnings from tour guides who say you should not visit the cemeteries alone. However, on the day I visited, there was a neighborhood fair going on in this project, and kids were running everywhere. Should you be careful while touring the cemeteries? Of course, as you would in any big city. I have wandered many of the cemeteries alone and never seen anyone who even looks threatening.
I did stop and talk with a policeman near Saint Louis #1, and his only advice was that you should not wander around the outside of the cemetery walls. Tourists walking around the walls, their cameras and personal awareness focused on the sites, are often inviting targets. Again, this is common sense. As you can see in the shot on the left, many of the older tombs are in poor repair, even unto collapse. Family members have the responsibility of tomb upkeep, unless perpetual care is paid for. But oftentimes, families move away, or die off, and no one is left to patch the cracks and whitewash the stone.
The Caballero crypt is in magnificent shape. Its grand, Gothic design
is evidence of money and a keen desire to make an impression. These chapel designs are reminiscent of what one might see in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Most of the statuary originally placed on the lintel of the tombs are
long gone, broken, fallen, or stolen. However, in the center section, there is a wonderful family crypt with five statues still standing. Some heads and hands have been cut off, but the image, as a whole, has survived. The effect takes your breath away. Along each side of the crypt are long handled torches, with the flames down. Two of the angels are holding the torches upside down as well. This is a symbol that usually denotes the death of a child.
In 1849, the steamboat Louisiana exploded when a boiler over pressured.Within ten minutes, the boat sank in the Mississippi river, just at the foot of Gravier Street. Though no one is positive, estimates are that one hundred and fifty to two hundred people died in the tragedy. One of the Berelli children was on board and lost. This memorial was erected in the child's honor.
Though it has been reported that the pirate Jean Lafitte isburied at Saint Louis #2, this is not correct. Lafitte was buried at sea after dying in battle as he tried to take two Spanish ships. However, Saint Louis #2 does have Lafitte's Lieutenant, Dominique You. You is a Louisiana legend, having fought with Lafitte, distinguished himself in the Battle of New Orleans commanding an artillery company, and later as a city councilman. He was laid to rest in 1830, under these words:
"Intrpide guerrier, sur la terre et sur l'onde,
Il sut, dans cent combats, signaler sa valeur
Et ce nouveau Bayard, sans reproche et sans peur
Aurait pu sans trembler, voir s'crouler le monde."
"Intrepid warrior on land and sea
In a hundred combats showed his valor
This new Bayard without reproach or fear
Could have witnessed the ending of the
World without trembling"