Pandemic Part 3 of 4

Our blog series continues with Pandemic part 3 of 4. Lafayette Cemetery was once part of the Livaudis Plantation. Burials started in the cemetery as early as 1824. Lafayette Cemetery #1 is the first and oldest municipal cemetery in New Orleans. It held burials of people regardless of race or religion. Unlike the other segregated catholic cemeteries in the city, Lafayette Cemetery welcomed all.  The city purchased the land for the cemetery in 1832. They began using it in 1833 due to thousands of deaths from cholera. Lafayette Cemetery, often referred to as the city burial grounds, could barely hold all the bodies. Thousands perished from cholera. Also yellow fever reached epidemic proportions in New Orleans nearly every summer until 1905.

Pandemic Part 3 of 4
Pandemic Part 3 of 4 – Lafayette Cemetery

Down Among The Dead

The Lafayette City Council declared the cemetery full in 1847. A reporter for the Daily Crescent in an article titled “Down Among The Dead” verified the horrible reports. He said that every street that lead to the cities of the dead were long processions of death carriages. At the gates the winds carried the rank smells from rotting corpses. Inside they were piled by fifties, the bodies stacked in pyramids. Bodies exposed to the heat of the sun burst their coffin lids. In 1853 there was a shortage of grave diggers. Even at five dollars an hour ($150.00 today) they couldn’t hire enough of them.  

Pandemic Part 3 of 4
Pandemic Part 3 of 4 – Ferguson Family Tomb: Henry Ferguson on a visit to New Orleans died of fever 9/14/1837 at the age of 22. The front of this tomb also mentions three of his family members, Sercy – 1 day old, Mary Love – not quite 2 years, and Edwin – 4 years old;  who all died of yellow fever within 2 days of each other in 1878.

Then in 1857 the city erected stuccoed brick walls in the cemetery. They built vaults into the walls called “fours” by the creoles, French for ovens. These provided additional burial space. In 1873 the cemetery caretaker said the yard had been buried some ten times over. Also, that the bodies filled the whole cemetery to the avenues. There are over 1100 family tombs in Lafayette Cemetery, besides 500 wall vaults, and a dozen society tombs. This is a semi-active cemetery. Burials still take place but only in existing tombs. Therefore, no new tombs are built. Lafayette Cemetery is a key component of some of our most popular walking tours.

Stay tuned for part 4 of our pandemic series coming soon! Stay safe!

The Savvy Native is a group of experienced local tour guides who were either born in New Orleans or wish they had been.

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