Tourists No Longer Welcome In One New Orleans Cemetery

“Stay out.” That’s the word from the Archdiocese of New Orleans about St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, a historic Crescent City cemetery that may have begun the New Orleans tradition of above-ground crypts.

The Archdiocese will continue to allow relatives of the dead buried there, along with visiting scholars and registered tour guides to enter the cemetery. However, tourists will no longer be allowed to roam the cemetery and its labyrinth of mausoleums, which has been one of the most frequented New Orleans tourist attractions over the years.

The action was taken, an Archdiocese spokesperson said, to protect the tombs. “We’ve had unlicensed tour guides and others handing out markers and instructions on how to mark up various tombs,” Sarah McDonald said. “And we’ve also have people leaving trash and setting up camp.”

Established in 1789, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest remaining graveyard in New Orleans. The cemetery, which is surrounded by a 6-1/2-foot brick wall, covers an entire city block with a maze of tombs and aisles. The early burials there were below ground or in low tombs, according to the local non-profit group, Save Our Cemeteries, but concrete or marble burial vaults were built atop those early graves to accommodate new burials.

Among the thousands buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and perhaps its most famous “resident,” is the tomb believed to hold the remains of Marie Laveau, a 19th-Century voodoo priestess, whose tomb has been covered from end to end with pink latex paint.

Laveau’s tomb also is covered with X’s, because local legend has it that she will grant a wish for anyone who makes three X’s on the tomb, knocks on the tomb and then shouts a wish.

Several tombs have been broken into and vandalized in the past year, and security cameras have been stolen. “We needed to take some steps to protect both the sacred nature of the cemetery and to preserve the history that is there as well,” said Sherri Peppo, director of the archdiocesan cemeteries office.

There are several other well-known, historic cemeteries in New Orleans—and even a number of cemetery tours—but for now, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is off-limits to all but a select few.