Tuesday, May 26, 2009

After Friday's graduate hooding ceremony, photos, lunch at Refuel, we then had our appointment for a cemetery tour. This was re-scheduled from a year ago, during our visit for J's undergraduate commencement ceremony when it poured rain all the days. We met our tour guide, a docent from the "Friends of New Orleans Cemeteries" who donate all tour contributions to the restoration and upkeep of the cemetery.
This is the gate where we entered the cemetery.
We learned so much...where to begin?
I found this explanation...
"New Orleans has always respected the dead, but this isn't the reason the tombs of our departed loved ones are interred above ground. Early settlers in the area struggled with different methods to bury the dead. Burial plots are shallow in New Orleans because the water table is high. Dig a few feet down, and the grave becomes soggy, filling with water. The casket will literally float. The early settlers tried by placing stones in and on top of coffins to weigh them down and keep them underground. Unfortunately, after a rainstorm, the rising water table would literally pop the airtight coffins out of the ground. To this day, unpredictable flooding still lifts an occasional coffin out of the ground in those areas generally considered safe from flooding and above the water table. Another method tried was to bore holes in the coffins. This method also proved to be unsuitable. Eventually, New Orleans' graves were kept above ground." (Source:http://www.experienceneworleans.com/deadcity.html)
Some plots are single dwellings; only one person will ever be buried there such as this one. It is closed; sealed. There is not a place to open it and add a new casket. I also believe this is the oldest tomb in this cemetery.
Some families build "multiple burial" tombs. As many holes, spaces, tombs are built in it, that many people can be buried there at one time. Then, "according to a local ordinance, as long as the previously deceased family member has been dead for at least two years, (our tour guide said one year) the remains of that person are moved to a specially made burial bag and put to the side or back of the vault. That coffin is then destroyed and the vault is now ready for the newly deceased family member." (source:http://www.experienceneworleans.com/deadcity.html)
Thus, in this family burial spot, six bodies could be buried, every year; one in each of the six spots. Then, after one year, the bones would be gathered and put in the back of the vault or as our guide explained, some tombs have grates at the bottom and the remains would be dropped to the bottom of the tomb-- to a receiving well. The tomb would then be ready for a new burial.

It was rather shocking at first--certainly different to what we are accustomed; however, I realize they would think the same of our way and really it is opening our minds to understanding our way is not the only way...it is what is best in each environment (heat, humidity, water tables) and space.
Isn't this true too in life? Not only in death? Traditions; the way things are done?

I did question what had happened in times of disease if more members of a family or household died than there was space in the tomb.
She replied that there were mass graves.
Oh, my heart be still.
Those poor mamas and papa's...bless them in the eternities.
This is a tomb being restored.
Most are built with bricks and
then covered with a thin layer of plaster.
The restored tombs in the photos are
replastered making them nice and white
while the unrestored ones are crumbling.
This is the vault in the upper right corner. A casket would be placed in the space by the casket bearers and would stay for one year, be cleaned out, and then be ready for another burial. It rather makes sense; unlimited burial space.
{Frankly, it also helps me realize perhaps this is the reason so many New Orleanians party so much--they have a firm realization that your body is literally gone in one year; even to be replaced. I am so glad I believe in eternal life!}
On the bottom right corner of this tomb are the words"Closed Forever"
Our tour guide explained if family members have had a falling out
then whomever is the deed holder can decide such things;
they may not want their remains/bones to be mixed so they
close the grave.
How sad.
{forever is a long time to be closed}
Then there is the inclusive attitude of the
Barbarin family of the jazz musicians dynasty.
Musicians can be buried, for free, in this tomb.
The first interment was on October 23, 2004.
{Yes, this is an active burial cemetery}
There is also a great deal of
contained in the cemeteries.
This is the tomb of
famous Voudou Queen, Marie Laveau.
I understand people who believe her spirit can help them
so they leave items at her tomb or do a dance;
however, I think it horrible to desecrate it in any way.
{Beware: I promise I will not help you in the after life
if you mark on my grave!}
This is the tomb of Homer Adolph Plessey
{his experience was 59 years before Rosa Parks'}

"By the end of the 19th century all railway cars in the Southern states were segregated. In 1896 Homer Plessey decided to test the constitutionality of what became known as Jim Crow laws. Plessey, who was seventh-eighths white, sat in white only railroad car in Louisiana. When he told the conductor he was an African American, he was asked to move to a black only railroad car. When he refused he was arrested and was later found guilty of breaking Louisiana's segregation laws. Plessey appealed to the the Supreme Court but William Billings Brown was rightly convicted in Louisiana for riding in a white only railway car. In doing so he established the legality of segregation as long as facilities were kept "separate but equal" and helped to sustain Jim Crow laws. Only one of the justices, John Harlan, disagreed with this decision." (source: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAplessey.htm)

I love how you can see three styles of
iron gates around each of these tombs.
They are beautiful!
This is a famous tomb...
due to the statue of the beautiful child?
I honestly do not know.
We were so incredibly hot from the temperature
and the heat reflecting off
the white tombs and stone that
after two hours I do not remember what
explanation our guide gave us.
Perhaps you want to know and will
share your information in a comment?
You will be blessed with knowledge!

I thought this the most beautiful tomb.
Simple, elegant, with an iron gate
and one strand of pearl beads.
As with most cemeteries, originally it was far out of town.
You can clearly see how the city has grown around it.
The tour guide actually took us to her office
so we could see the cemetery from above.
It was a way good afternoon!

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