One of the popular things to do in New Orleans is to visit one of the “cities of dead,” aka unique cemeteries. Due to the low sea level and flooding, most graves in the area are above ground in order to prevent people popping up during a good rainstorm. Being a bit of a taphophile myself, I was super excited to check one of these out during our stay in New Orleans. Arguably the most popular cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery #1, is now open to visitation only by tour groups. The reasoning quoted for this is preservation; if they can make a bit of money in the process, well… So unable to find a suitable tour for my needs, I looked for another cemetery instead – and ended up at the beautiful Metairie Cemetery.
As it turns out, Metairie Cemetery offers plenty of educational beauty. If you stop by the funeral home visitor’s center (small front office on the side of the building facing the road), the nice people will loan you a CD and a map for a self-guided audio tour. It’s also a good place to pick up a bit of the history.
Metairie was originally a horse racing track. The story goes that the Metairie Jockey Club refused membership to one Charles T. Howard, a local resident who gained his wealth by starting the first Louisiana State Lottery. After being refused membership, Howard vowed that he would some day buy the track and turn it into a cemetery. True to his
curse promise, that’s precisely what happened. You can even still see the oval layout of the track today.
From what I understand, Metairie has the largest collection of marble tombs and funeral statuary in New Orleans. I was hooked when I read a TripAdvisor review admiring all the angels – and my oh my are there angels! Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to expound upon my actual beliefs, but suffice it to say I do believe in angels and love seeing all the different manifestations. The angels in Metairie are no disappointment! They’re standing guard wherever you look – some with books, some with instruments, some peaceful, some sad…all so very elegant. (smile) I could’ve easily spent most of my day just on these beauties, but my dad had other ideas (and when it’s not your car, you learn to compromise!).
There are many other notable tombs in the cemetery including the monument to the Army of Tennessee, Louisiana Division and the former burial site of Jefferson Davis. Metairie is the final resting place of former governors, gamblers, soldiers, politicians, and movie starts – in short, it has a little
something someone for everyone. It even has it’s own pyramid!
I’ve always known these types of cemeteries existed in Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, but being able to go and see them for myself was probably the highlight of my trip (I know – as my dad told me without the least hesitancy, I’m weird). We went early in the morning and pretty much had the place to ourselves. You can drive around aimlessly, but I recommend checking in with the staff to learn more about the grounds first. I found everyone to be super helpful and very pleasant. Even if you aren’t all that interested in cemeteries themselves, this one – or any of the others in New Orleans – are still worth a visit. These silent “cities” are very much a part of the local culture and, depending on where you go, you may even run into a Voodoo Queen. (*wink*)