Cities of the Dead

20101010-DSC_0087-2When I say “New Orleans,” you might immediately think about 2005’s Hurricane Katrina which killed over 1,200 people and did more than $100 million in damage.

But on the eve of (just before) October 31st, Halloween (see posts by Jeff, Warren, and me), I want to focus attention on one of New Orleans’ most famous and creepy (causing fear; scary) attractions: its cemeteries (areas where dead people are buried or placed).

When you approach (get near) one of New Orleans’ traditional cemeteries, you’ll immediately see the above-ground tombs (structures where the bodies of the dead are placed) (see photo). Many of these structures are large, elaborate (fancy, with many parts), and old.

What gave rise to (was the reason for) these impressive-looking above-ground tombs?

New Orleans is built partially on a swamp (a low area where water naturally collects). Because of the high water table (the level below the ground where water naturally appears), it has traditionally been necessary to build stone tombs and mausoleums (large buildings where more than one tomb can be placed) above ground. If you tried to bury the dead in the traditional way, you’d find that holes dug in the ground fill with water. When the area floods (is temporarily covered in water), coffins (large boxes in which dead bodies are placed) can actually become unearthed (removed from the surrounding dirt) and float (move to the top of the water) to the surface!

While New Orleans is not the only city in the U.S. with a high water table, it is unique in its number of above-ground tombs, with 90% of the dead placed in these structures in some traditional cemeteries. Over the years (during a period of many years), some of the tombs have become quite elaborate, with sculptures (figures of people, animals, and things made of stone or other hard material) and decorations, making the cemeteries look like small villages (towns). In fact, one nickname for the cemeteries is “Cities of the Dead.”

Unfortunately, some of these tombs and mausoleums have fallen apart from the ravages of (damage caused by) weather and neglect (not being cared for). Some of the structures are very old and family members no longer have or want to spend the money to maintain them. Very little city money is allotted (put aside; budgeted) for cemetery maintenance. Volunteer (not paid) organizations like Save Our Cemeteries are trying to keep the structures from crumbling (falling apart into many pieces).

I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans many years ago, before Hurricane Katrina, and was able to see one of these fascinating cemeteries. I hope that with the help of volunteers, this unique feature of New Orleans can be preserved (kept in good condition) for future generations of residents (people who live there) and visitors. You can see more photos of these cemeteries on the Save Our Cemeteries website, including its blog.

~ Lucy

Photo from Wikipedia

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24 Responses to Cities of the Dead

  1. peter says:

    The location makes a good place for a sick Halloween party.
    Lucy u should have told us about the place months ago so perhaps we could have thrown a one-of-a-kind Halloween party down there.
    From your post, I can tell the place is made for it.
    I m wondering if the locals have ever though of it. You never know ,there might have been a few neat Halloween parties holding in there.
    Who is to say ,there have never been!!
    Well , i must say ,it is not the only cemetery that is built above the ground.
    U can spot some more across the globe.

    Well ,if u ask me ,I like Catacombs better.
    I don’t know if you ever happened to visit catacombs. Well , I did.
    Let me tell you , they give off the creepy vibe u expect to get from a series of winding underground passages crowded by graves. Well , in a sense they are historical as well. And , they convey a sense of after world; Totally original.
    The place must be a major tourist attraction though. I mean there must attract a lot of tourist.
    I ,for one ,got a mind to go visit the place.
    It is ashamed that there has not been any restoration done in the place.
    It sounds and seems like a historical heritage of some sort. And I agree with Lucy on that. The place must be preserved
    It must be looked at as a historic place not just a cemetery.
    Well , in all fairness , restorations cost money. Well , locals should pitch in perhaps.

    There is one question comes to mind though. According to the post, all The cadavers are not technically buried. But , they have all been placed up on the ground or , unless they are being embalming regularly , chances are the decomposing corrode reeking up the place.
    Not being disrespectful or anything but one may wonder as the pictures suggest the place is crumpling down already.

    As far as I know and saw , in Toronto , most cemeteries are situated on the surface streets across the city. They don’t look like cemeteries though. They look more like parks, or gated communities.:)
    I m serious!
    Don’t believe me come up here and see for yourselves

    Dear Lucy
    The post put me totally in Halloween mood.
    I feel my skin I scrawling on my neck as we speak !

    That is the spirit


  2. Dan says:

    Hi Lucy hello everyone.

    While I agree that a cemetery can be beautiful and peaceful, like the small one in my town, I see cemeteries as a huge waste of time, land, and cement.

    One of the best burials I saw once on a documentary is the sky burials practiced in Tibet and other places I guess.
    Basically there was this man chopping our pieces from a body and feeding a bunch of birds. Large birds.
    I would love to be eaten by birds like that.


  3. peter says:

    Hey Dan,
    Municipal Cemeteries are nothing short of a park with grassy areas and even trail for see people jugging and walking in big cemeteries across the city.
    Well ,unlike regular parks, there are no play grounds or small bodies of water in the cemeteries.

    As a matter of fact , one of the most historic and biggest cemetery in Toronto is located close to my place.
    U can google it. It is called Mount pleasant cemetery.
    It is very peaceful place.
    Interestingly enough , Mount pleasent cemetery is frequented more by joggers than the actual cemetery visitors.
    There are paths all around the cemetery so people can jog , walk or sit around on the benches placed all around the cemetery.
    I sometimes,specially in sunny day , go there with a coffee and sit on a bench and wind down. I find it very relaxing.
    Well , it is not all happy ,dappy experience.
    Some of these municipal cemeteries ,specially smaller cemeteries ,are located right where people live.
    Just imagine your house is located right the opposit of a cemetery which means every time u open the out-front door ,the first thing u see is the cemetery right across from you.
    Some times even the cemetery is right next to ur place. Well , it is a bit creepy ,isn’t it?
    Well , needless to say , being close to a cemetery has an adverse affect on the value of the house.
    U know like other things ,it has it’s ups and downs, it’s cons and pros.
    I ,for one , don’t like to live in the proximity of a cemetery. It will work me. It will give me the willies.


  4. Dan says:

    Hi there invisible friends.

    Nice place up there in Toronto.

    In Venice, Italy, where they have a similar situation there is an entire island
    as a cemetery.
    I know, I should be ashamed of myself because never been there personally.
    I was reading about it and they have an American poet buried there called
    Ezra Pound.
    I was reading about this dude and as many so called #poets# he was half nuts.
    I did not know that.
    bye thanks

  5. peter says:

    Hey Dan
    It must be very cool
    An island full of dead people 🙂
    Sounds like a horror movie:)

    Who would though that somewhere in the world there is a privet island for dead people.
    Did they accept visitors ?:)))
    But it is as wiered as it can get.

    Dear Lucy
    You timing couldn’t be perfect
    The best time for talking about an above ground desolated cemetery with crmbling walls and ruins. The cemetery talks coupled with the heavy diwnpourong and gusty wind we got going on here ,in Toronto, all has created an atmosphere conducive to the best Halloween season ever:))

    What we are getting in southern part of Ontario today, all the way through till late evening ,is the remnant of hurricane Patricia that made landfall two days ago and wreak havoc , I m guessing, in the coast of Mexico. Honest , I don’t know it was the gulf coast of Mexico or the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

    Anyway , lucky us ! it tapered off before hitting GPA ( Greater Tornto area)
    Still the wind gusts around 70 kilimoter per hour. Yesterday evening ,The city announced a ” Rainfall Alarm.”
    It is likely that hard rainfall cause flooding in some areas.
    There is a probability that the strong wind knocks over tree -limbs right on the utility lines causing local power-outages.
    Well , torontomians has embraced themselves trying to ride it out.
    I have a wet messy day a head of me as I take the bus and subway to work.
    I m guessing ,I m having an upheaval on my hands down the subway lane. 🙂
    Well , On a more positive note , it all adds up to a prefect Halloween weekend.
    The gusty wind and heavy down-pouring is supposed to let up by Thursday.i cross my fingers as I planned out the whole weekend.

    I better climb out of my bed
    I must leave a bit earlier in the anticipation of any bus or subways delays.
    My boss has a zero tolerant for being tardy .
    “Come hell or high water , you people punch In before 9 Am ” she always say

    I m not joking this is her exact words.

    I better punch out

  6. lili:) says:

    Hello Everyone!

    Thanks Dear Lucy for this Creepy Class.

    It’ll be Halloween this Saturday 31 October 2015. Why don’t I join Lucy and you all cyber writers here to commemorate this once a year event with a post here.

    I actually had no idea about “above-ground tombs” until now, until Lucy told us here.

    Being young at heart, I actually don’t want to spend too much time and energy on thinking about things related to death. But as I once read somewhere, “those who are alive must take care of those who are dead”. So as long as I’m still alive, I have responsibility as an adult to learn these kind of things.

    Anyway, in Chinese Fung Shui, it’s better to bury the dead on high mountains. They said “the higher the place, the better the Fung Shui”.

    So, when my siblings and I had to choose a burial plot for our father, we picked a plot quite high above sea level. It’s a tall order to walk up hundreds of steps to get to his grave, but we said our father would give us strength to walk all the way up there to see him and let him see us.

    People always say Chinese Fung Shui is actually based on scientific factors. Burying on high mountain could avoid “coffins becoming unearthed and float to the surface”. So it’s not superstitious at all.

    Many thanks again Lucy. You won’t eat all the chocolates and sweets in one go after you went trick or treating, will you?

    Happy Halloween on Saturday! 🙂


  7. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Sorry, but I don’t like to talk abou dead people. I like to talk about living people whom you can do something for and you can get something done for you. Let’s laugh for life.

  8. emiliano says:

    Sorry, but my idea about all this we talk above it is like Kansas group said
    in one of theirs best songs……let me put it here…becaus it is my thought.

    “Dust In The Wind”

    I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
    All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity

    Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind

    Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
    All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

    Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind

    Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
    It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy

    Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind (all we are is dust in the wind)
    Dust in the wind (everything is dust in the wind), everything is dust in the wind (the wind)

    I am dust in the wind once the hour comes.


  9. emiliano says:

    Never I have gone to a cementery to see the tomb of a friend or a relative.
    They are inside my heart as long as I live, that is enough.

    I hope just the same from the people who could love me or remember me.

    So please, I would like to be just dust or ashes in the wind, like the song,
    and nothing more.

    Of course I have gave instructions about that.

    By the way Cuca thinks the same like me or even my daughters.


  10. peter says:

    Hey Aecio,
    We have to agree to disagree.
    I think , The piece is beautifully done by Lucy.
    Every language has both melancholy and happy sides to it.
    I ,like you, like happy thoughts and happy talks.
    But ,sometimes I dig up the sad side to learn a thing or two about it.

    To tell u the truth , the post is not necessarily a sad one.
    In fact ,in my book ,the work,the post if you will , has a lot to offer.


  11. Dan says:

    Hi invisible classmates.

    Have you guys noticed that around the world there are cities built in very dangerous places?
    Since I live in Italy first example coming to mind is Naples which is literally
    under and above a vulcan.

    Same goes with New Orleans. When I look at that city and where it is first thought is wt# that’s not a place to build a city on!
    Now that I think about it, I am curious to see the history of that city and why someone decided to build there.
    Of course in the past we did not have the knowledge we have today on hurricanes earthquakes and others natural disasters.

    Maybe part of it is that we humans enjoy challenges. We wanna show that we are capable of anything even building on some other Planet, and I am 100% convinced that we’ll do that.

    We are awesome…sometimes stupid, but great.


  12. lili:) says:

    Hi Emiliano

    Thank you so much for introducing this song “Dust in the wind” to us.

    I didn’t know I listened to this song before, and strangely when I read the lyrics you posted above, I sort of had the music in my mind. When I listened to the song in YouTube, it was the correct song I heard before. But this was the first time I paid attention to the lyrics.

    It’s true that some people in this generation actually don’t want to make a fuss about what to do with their bodies. Perhaps being ‘dust in the wind’ should be the least hassle method of disappearing.

    So far we brothers and sisters will gather together in the Chinese “Ching Ming Festival” to go to our parents grave to clean their tombstones and put some fresh flowers there, etc.

    I guess we can still gather together to remember our parents without the graves, but we are proud of our parents and wanted to bury them in very expensive tombs as a way of recognising their contributions and achievements.

    My father was very open about how he wanted to be buried, and we tried our best to accomplish that. He had been ill for a long time before we said our final goodbye to him, but we all (including my father) were grateful for a chance for his children to take care of him. That’s the beauty of being a family that stick together in good and in bad times.

    I think I don’t mind what happens to my body after death. The hospitals are urging people to donate their parts to help other people to continue to live. But I think I might have gone past my “best before” date already.

    Please take care my friend,


  13. peter says:

    I just get a moment to myself as I m on the bus to work
    So , I figured to put the spare time to the best use. What I did
    I hyperlinked to articles and pictures on the post and look them over.
    I just saw the images of the above-ground cemetery
    Turns out , it is not a crumbling city after all.
    From the looks of it, the whitish structures are all well maintained and restored.

    But they seem too small for a family plot with joint graves

    Judging by the pictures just one cadaver,rather corpse fit in the close quarter.

    So what happens if ,say, a family are in a fetal accident and all die on scene , all at the same time.
    I can’t understand how it works.
    Do They all get stuffed and crammed in one tomb or each get their own teeny weeny place?
    U know , seems like the structures are as long as just a coffin.

    U know , some people are very sensitive about the matter. They want a family plot, tomb if u will.
    If it is the case and each get one , so soon the cemetery runs out of places to put dead people.
    So , the city of dead is as populous as the city of living 🙂
    I bet the rent is astronomically high in the city of dead and each tomb cost you one arm and foot:)
    Well ,now a days even dying cost u a lot of money.
    A business idea
    Some can get a few tombs and leave them then sell them at high market once it is a seller market.

    From a city of living :))

  14. Dan says:


    Found out all the answers to my questions watching a doc. On YTbe.
    New Orleans- The Natural History. Walter Williams.


  15. peter says:

    You know what the problem is ?
    Once a new post is up , I have an ant in my pants , i m so eager , to write a something about the piece right down below , here. So , I just skim through the work and, in doing so ,I miss a lot of details.
    It is a mistake though.
    I need to cool my jet and take time reading the lines of the post.
    But , it has never been the case. Never happened.

    U know, at last , once all the excitement settles , all comments are done ,and I m all talked out on the subject I always get back to the post and read it through. this time word by word letting every single word sink.
    it is only then, that I realize how much I missed on the first round and how much more I could have said about the subject at hand.
    So , I always end up ruing the day :)))that I didn’t read the post properly , the was it is meant to.
    So , beating my self up on the matter , I commit myself to scan the post first and then bother my peers with my jibber jabber.
    Well , needless to say it never happens. The next post is up and I m doing the same stupid thing again. U know , I guess they are right when they say ” You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

    I better punch out

  16. Dan says:

    Hey Thor.

    Same here! You are not the only one experiencing that.
    That happens to me too.
    I am not going to add anything to that since you have expressed my thoughts so well.


  17. peter says:

    :))hey mate
    Y r funny as hell, Dan

    Happy that I m not the only one with ants in my pants.:)))

    I think ,we need to take our times with posts though :))


  18. Dan says:

    Hi Friends made out of fonts on my computer screen.

    Hey Thor what do U mean by “taking out time” decreasing the post number?

    I do not know you Thor, but my intention is to increase my posts. Streaming down posts like the Mississippi river.

    I have got time. My only problem is that with more writing I do not want bother the blog’s moderators. You know, more BS for them to read.

    That’s my only concern.

    Hey, the other day I said that cemeteries are a waste of time, money, land and bla bla bla.
    But after thinking more about it, there is a positive side of cemeteries.
    And that is that thanks to those in the past that used the practice of buried-ism (hahaha) we are now able, studying the skeletons, to understand what was it like in the past.
    Even dead corpses carry a message/information.
    And we, as a researcher and with a detective eye/intuition can understand diseases or diet of people living eons in the past.

    So.. thanks bones of living creature of the past for helping us.

  19. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Yes, Peter, I have to agree with you. Sometimes we have to deal with sadness, although it brings sorrow. Nontheless, let’s live the way it is.

  20. peter says:

    Mates ,
    Around here , people got totally into the spirit of Halloween with their elaborate customes and maskes.
    Some have painted their faces with lines and colours. Some have this ornate pieces of grime on their faces.
    The city looks different on the Halloween weekend. People work hard on their appearances to contribute to the whole happy atmosphere which is very ironic.

    Did u get the irony here ?
    U know ,
    The whole idea of Halloween is a misty frightening horror.However , in actuality Halloween Eve with all its eerie Themes is one of the happiest night of the year.
    If anything ,It is cheerful and spirited.
    There is one pitfall though.

    Halloween is not a statuary holiday.
    You have to work ,but in a way, people bring the spirit to the work.
    On halloween day ,u are allowed to wear customs to work which is fun.
    coworkers give funny feed back in one another Halloween outfit.
    Even on the streets u see people stop and compliment each other on their customs.

    It is not a holiday but , between u and me , nobody takes work seriously today. Even men upstairs get into the whole spirit of Halloween.

    Happy Halloween everyone

  21. peter says:

    Hey Dan,
    I mean, I think , we shouldn’t rush it. We would be better off spending more time reading the posts through. There is plenty of time to wrote about it.
    take your time reading the posts slowly and thoroughly.

    I mean
    You and me both should Take our time with the posts.
    I mean, I don’t need to write sth about it right after they popes up on blog but I do it anyway.


  22. peter says:

    Yoh know, Dan
    In all honesty
    I don’t know which one is correct :
    Take our times reading them
    Take our time reading them


  23. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Halloween is all in your head. Unfortunately, I have to say that. But if you like it, go ahead.

  24. emiliano says:

    Dear Tania, I am very sorry listening to the news about what have happended in Bucarest where so many young people
    have lost their life in that horrible disc. burning.
    Have all my condeleces for you and your people, it is very sorry that these kind of events happens when the young
    go to have a good time celebrating some feast as Hallowen.

    Again, very sorry Tania, here it has happened just the same from time to time, and poor families and friends to lost
    their dear sons, daughters and friends that way.


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