Lorraine and I spent a day in New Orleans' charming Garden District. Walking these oak-shaded streets and brick-lined sidewalks takes you back in time to the city's antebellum period when wealthy plantation owners built impressive homes surrounded by well manicured lawns and gardens.
As it was told to us, just after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Yankees began migrating south to New Orleans. These "outsiders" were shunned by the local French/Spanish Creole population because they didn't speak the language and weren't Catholic. As such they were not welcomed in the French Quarter. Therefore newcomers established themselves just west of the town center what is now know as the Garden District.
Interesting fact: Nicholas Cage, John Goodman, Archie Manning and Sandra Bullock owned homes in this area!
Nicholas Cage had his house (below) foreclosed on in 2009 by the city in order to pay $151,729 in back taxes. Both this house and one he owned in the French Quarter sold for $4.5 million (approx. two-thirds of their appraised value).
Sandra Bullocks home purchased for approx. $2.25 million:
One of the most interesting attractions we found in the district is the Lafayette Cemetery, the most filmed cemetery in New Orleans!
Since most of N.O. is below sea level, in low lying areas people are buried in above ground tombs or crypts, because the last thing you want to be doing as the flood waters are rising is chasing your floating dead relatives down the street.
Lafayette cemetery spans a city block and was built in 1833. It filled to capacity within decades of its opening long before the surrounding neighborhood reached its greatest affluence. There are about 1,000 tombs and an estimated 7,000 people buried here representing over 26 nationalities. Even today, 185 years later, people are still being interred in family crypts.
This is probably the most photographed tomb in the cemetery. The Karstendiek Family tomb is also known as the “Vampire Lestat Tomb” because of the inspiration famed author Anne Rice drew from the tomb’s unique attributes as she was writing Interview with the Vampire. It is one of only 16 prefabricated cast-iron tombs in the cemetery (although cheaper to construct than brick, the material was deemed too prone to rust and discontinued):
Other interesting tombs:
In 1878, The Sercy family lost three children in two days to yellow fever. Yellow fever took the lives of tens of thousands of New Orleanians before it was discovered that it was spread by mosquitoes. In 1841 alone, 241 victims of yellow fever were buried in this cemetery.
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) provided assistance and a social outlet to its members, who paid dues and upon their deaths were allowed to be interred in the society tomb.
Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 Tomb The largest of three volunteer fire company tombs in the cemetery, it has an impressive carved fire engine on the pediment.
Koenig Tomb: Sadly, its hard to track down accurate information on the most of the people buried here. Most burial records have either been lost or destroyed. Take the Koenig tomb for example. Our tour guide embellished the fact that this grave had been pried open and its occupants stolen by either nineteenth century medical students or for voodoo purposes. An entertaining story, no doubt, but other tour guides said the Koenig family moved away before ever using the tomb. Although less colorful, I find this version far more believable.
Earhart/Ferguson Tomb: This is the final resting place of Judge John Howard Ferguson, of the landmark civil rights case, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
There are some particularly sad tombs as well. The New Orleans Home for Incurables was chartered in 1891 to provide a place of refuge and comfort to people with severe mental or physical deformities or diseases which were considered hopeless and beyond help. Often, these people of all ages, genders, and races were abandoned and forgotten by their families because their conditions caused embarrassment.
The Society for the relief of Destitute Orphan Boys: The society was founded as a refuge for children who lost their parents to yellow fever and other epidemics, or otherwise lacked guardianship.
Here is the "Secret Garden" square. Four close friends who played in the cemetery as youths, wanted to be buried together. They even had formed a secret society called "the Quarto." Sadly, the last surviving member of the quartet burned the minutes and records from their meetings.
Oh, if you've read this far, I'll explain to you the origins of the term "I wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole".
In a family burial chamber, when a family member died, their casket would be placed inside a platform in the crypt. When the next family member would die, the previous casket was removed, the bones were re-interred then, using a long, ten-foot pole, pushed all the way to the back (where they would fall to the bottom) clearing the way for the next occupant! And there you have it!