As of October 2021, only Saint Louis Cemetery No. 3 is opened to the public for access. Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 and No. 2 are currently closed off to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the numerous cases of vandalism that have occurred over the past years.
The move to close the two cemetery was first made in 2015 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans, the owner of the cemetery. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors are able to enter the fabled cemeteries via one of the several licensed tour companies. Since June 2020, all tours have been suspended indefinitely. Now, only families of those interred as well as volunteers are allowed access into the two cemeteries
History of the St Louis Cemetery
Saint Louis Cemetery is a name given collectively to the three Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans, Louisiana. The cemeteries are well known for their French-style “above-ground” burials as it maximized space (allowing multiple burials to be encased in one tomb) and provided protection against the frequent flood that happened in Basin Street.
The oldest of the three, the Saint Louis Cemetery No.1, dates back to 1789 when it replaced the older St. Peter Cemetery to become the default burial ground in the city. Approximately 30 years later, Saint Louis No. 2 was consecrated to accommodate the growing number of burials and mitigate the spread of cholera believed to be caused by “miasmas” emanating from cemeteries. In the 1840s, a massive plot of land was purchased at Esplanade Avenue to make way for a third Saint Louis Cemetery. In 1854, Saint Louis No. 3 opened its doors for burials.
Over the years, many of the orphaned tombs have fallen into a state of disrepair; an estimated 75% of the tombs are abandoned and not regularly maintained. Such issues are exacerbated by persistent acts of vandalisms by members of the public. Many local organization including Save Our Cemeteries and Bayou Preservation have taken on the tasks of restoring and preserving the orphaned tombs at Saint Louis Cemetery
On March 1, 2015, the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans declared St. Louis Cemetery No.1 off-limits to all members of the public except those guided by licensed tour guides and family members of those interred in the cemetery.
Who Is Buried in St Louis Cemetery No.1
With its longstanding history, several notable luminaries have laid rest to the famous cemetery.
One of them is Jean Étienne de Boré, a prominent planter in the 16th century who is known for being the first to produce granulated sugar in Louisiana. His remarkable work created a huge demand for the cultivation and processing of sugar cane. Combined with an ever-increasing demand for sugar worldwide, his innovation made Louisiana a nation-wide success with the huge profits generated. In 1803, de Boré became the first appointed mayor of New Orleans. However, he promptly resigned in under a year, citing personal affairs.
The tomb of Bernard de Marigny can also be found in the cemetery. A French-Creole American nobleman and real estate developer, Marigny is famously known for his swashbuckling adventures and being the founder of the city of Mandeville. In spite of his family’s inheritance and numerous investments across New Orleans, he could not support his lavish lifestyle and gambling addiction. Marginy went on to lose all his fortune and died in 1868 as an impoverished gambler and the last of the great Creoles.
Also buried in St. Louis Cemetery 1 is Paul Charles Morphy, a chess prodigy that was dubbed the greatest chess master of his era. Morph was widely regarded as the “World Champion” in the field of chess and his tactics and principles remain in use till this day. Yet, in spite of his innate talent, Morphy retired from active chess competition at a young age of 22 years old to begin his career in law. On July 10, 1884, Morphy passed away from a stroke; it was believed to be triggered by entering the cold water of a bathtub after long hours in the midday heat.
For many, one cannot say they have visited the St. Louis Cemetery without visiting the crypt of Marie Laveau, one of New Orlean’s most infamous voodoo priestess. A healer, counsellor, and voodoo practitioner, Laveau was highly respected in the community for her supposed powers and concoction of potions and spells. Yet, little was known about her private life. After her death on June 15, 1881, she was said to be interred on plot 347, the Glapion family crypt in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1. The tomb would go on to become the second most visited tomb in the U.S., the first being the tomb of Elvis Presley in Meditation Garden, Graceland. However, rumors soon spread that if they want a wish to be granted by the voodoo priestess, they had to draw an “X” on the tomb, turn around three times, give a knock on the tomb and shout out their wish. This led to rampant vandalism on Laveau’s tomb. Continued efforts to restore the tomb—including one that covered the tomb in pink latex paint which did more damage—proved to be futile as many continued the traditions in spite of warnings by keepers of the cemetery.
In 2010, prominent actor Nicolas Cage purchased a pyramid mausoleum in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 for his own future burial. Located in the middle of the nine-foot tall pyramid is a Latin phrase “omnia ab uno”, which translates to “Everything from One”. While no one was buried in the tomb, its famous owner and unique design have made it a must-visit spot for visitors touring the cemetery. Another notable purchase Cage have made in New Orleans is the LaLaurie House, one of the most haunted houses in New Orleans.
Ghosts in St. Louis Cemetery No.1
Over the years, St. Louis Cemetery has made its name as one of the most haunted location in America. The numerous paranormal sightings is said to be attributed to the frequent grave robbery during the 20th century as well as the countless voodoo rituals and séances performed at the cemeteries during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The most famous spirit reported in the cemetery is undoubtedly the ghost of Marie Laveau. Many claimed to have seen the spirit of a woman in brightly colored ceremonial clothing and a red turban roaming the graves of St. Louis Cemetery. Those who have openely voiced out their skepticism against the powers of Marie Laveau are said to have been scratched or pushed when near the tomb.
Another spirit said to haunt St. Louis Cemetery is Henry Vignes, a sailor who was cheated of his family’s inheritance and his tomb by a boarding house; the owner sold important papers—certificates and title deeds—that Vignes had entrusted him with. Distraught from the loss, Vignes fell terminally ill and was buried at the pauper’s field. Today, visitor of the cemetery have reported encounters with a tall, blue-eyed man in sailors’ clothing and asking directions to the Vignes tomb.
Also roaming the graves of St. Louis Cemetery No.1 is the spirit of Alphonse. Little is known about Alphonse, although many who have encountered his spirits said that he was a kind gentleman. The ghost of Alphonse is known to hold the hands of visitors and ask them to bring him home. Many have also claimed to see his apparition picking up flowers and placing it on his own. Legend says that Alphonse was murdered by the Pinead family as the spirit often appears whenever someone approaches the Pinead’s family tomb.