cities of the dead

November 1, 2016

We had the good fortune to spend this Halloween weekend in New Orleans. I took a bunch of garden photos to share with you later, but since this is Halloween, let’s look at something a little spookier.

We walked through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.


According to, this is the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans.


This is not the oldest cemetery I’ve visited, but might be the most interesting. The city is built on a swamp, so the deceased have to be buried in tombs above ground. The cemeteries are said to resemble villages and are known as “Cities of the Dead.”


From World Monuments Fund, this cemetery was established in 1833. It is “located in New Orleans’ historic Garden District and was among the city’s earliest and most significant above-ground burial sites. It remains in use today. Distinguished by its intersecting avenues designed to accommodate funeral processions, it was the city’s first planned cemetery. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places by virtue of its significant history, location, and architectural importance, it retains its original size and configuration, and contains a variety of tomb types and styles. Following its model, over 30 above-ground cemeteries, traditionally referred to as “Cities of the Dead,” were constructed in New Orleans in the nineteenth century. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused considerable damage to the historic walls and tombs of Lafayette No. 1, which resulted in its placement on the Watch again in 2006.”

We spoke briefly with a woman who was in the process of cleaning one of the monuments. I had so many questions I wanted to ask, but she was hard at work and was kind enough to allow us to take a picture of herself and her worksite.


Many immigrants who died of yellow fever are buried here.

According to Free Tours by Foot, yellow fever took the lives of tens of thousands of New Orleanians before it was discovered that it was spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.  Garden District residents thought they were protecting themselves from the dreaded disease with their gardens and houses spaced far apart, but actually they were creating mosquito breeding sites in their reflecting pools and cisterns.

There are tombs containing family members who died of yellow fever within days of each other.


There are a number of “group” tombs to be found here, including those of the New Orleans Home for Incurables, the Society for the Relief of Destitute Orphan Boys and the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22.

There are approximately 1000 tombs in this cemetery and an estimated 7000 buried here. There are still burials occurring here. We even saw one tomb that is for sale. Any takers?


No Comments

  • Reply tippysmom2 November 1, 2016 at 5:25 am

    I think these cemeteries are very interesting too.

    • Reply thewoodlandgardener November 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      This one we just happened upon while walking through the neighborhood to look at the beautiful old houses. We turned down a tour, led by student volunteers who work for donations, wanting to go at our own pace, but now I kinda wish we’d done the tour.

  • Reply Dennis the Vizsla February 13, 2017 at 3:51 am

    hello woodland gardener its dennis the vizsla dog hay my dada sez he yoozed to luv the old grayvyards bak eest!!! they hav sum old grayvyards heer in kalifornya too but he sez they just dont hav the saym feeling as the wuns bak in the mithikal land of noo york!!! ok bye

    • Reply thewoodlandgardener February 17, 2017 at 4:28 am

      Hi Dennis the Vizsla Dog! I’ve never been to a cemetery in California, but I did visit the Sleepy Hollow one in NY – the best of the best!

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