If you want to see this article in a video with a lot more visuals click here.
If you want to see what I did while I was in New Orleans click here or to see what to do while you are there click this.
Throughout the city you’ll find distinctive graveyards known as a “City of the Dead,” because the tombs look like buildings and sometimes the cemeteries are organized with streets and street signs.
The tombs were built out of necessity because New Orleans was built on wet, swampy land that is slightly below sea level. This meant when early European settlers put coffins under ground the water level would rise and since the coffins were filled with air, they sometimes were pushed through the earth. To keep the coffins underground, holes were drilled in the lid to let air out, and the coffins were weighted down with rocks and sand.
But this was only partially worked and the bodies did not decompose properly. The only solution was to bury the dead above ground.
The first cemetery in New Orleans designed for above ground burial was the St. Louis #1 cemetery, which opened in 1789.
But, because of the hot, subtropical climate, the tomb effectively becomes an oven, and the high heat causes the body to decompose rapidly in a process that has been compared to a slow cremation. Within about a year, only bones are left.
Just as an oven is used multiple times so are the tombs in the New Orleans cemeteries. The specifics vary depending on the exact design of the tomb, but a typical scenario is that after a year, the bones of the deceased are swept into an opening in the floor of the tomb and is ready for it's next occupant.
It is common to bury all the members of a family—or multiple families—in the same tomb, with names and dates added to a plaque or headstone as necessary. This procedure is not only sanitary and efficient; it also avoids the problem of growing real estate needs as time goes on.
A local ordinance in New Orleans says that as long as a family member in a vault has been dead for two years or more, the remains can be moved to a bag, placed in the side of or at the back of the vault, and the coffin can be destroyed. At that point, another family member can be laid to rest in that vault
You may ask, “What happens if a family member dies before the previously deceased family member’s two year waiting period is over?” To resolve this problem the local cemeteries created temporary holding vaults to inter the body. The remains are later moved to the final resting place after the two years have elapsed.
1. St. Louis #1 is rumored to be where Marie Laveau, the Voodoo queen was laid to rest and currently the actor Nicolas Cage has a tomb there for when he passes.
2. The Archdiocese of New Orleans oversees the cemeteries, but the majority of the tombs are individually owned by families who are responsible for their maintenance and upkeep.
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I'm Jake, a dude interested in personal finance and travel creating the life I choose.
In 5 years I went from living in a basement with Craigslist roommates to paying off 90k of debt, backpacking 3 continents, getting a house for myself and 5 rental units.
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