You might be visited by some wandering spirits during your tour.

By Valerie Fraser Luesse
October 09, 2020
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Credit: Jerry Cooke/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/

Established in 1789, this is the oldest grave site in New Orleans and remains an active one. The cemetery attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually, though vandalism has necessitated a guided-tours-only system. (According to frenchquarter.com, you can arrange a tour for $20 at Basin St. Station, the city's welcome center.)

One of the most striking features of the "city of the dead" is that all the graves are above ground. Given New Orleans' high water table, underground burials aren't possible. You'll also see some "oven vaults" or "bank vaults," with multiple grave sites stacked on top of each other.

A popular stop in the cemetery is the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Visitors who seek her favor sometimes mark her vault with triple X’s (they aren't supposed to, but some of them do). You might think of Laveau as a scary figure in New Orleans history, but in fact she was known for her kindness and care for others, especially during yellow fever outbreaks. At one time, she was a skilled hairdresser to wealthy New Orleanians (which is why some of her devotees leave three bobby pins at her grave). Locals came to her for personal counsel or to ask her to use her spiritual powers to intervene in their lives. She also presided over major voodoo rites in New Orleans, according to britannica.com

Among the wandering spirits here is Henry Vignes, a long-ago sailor whose family tomb is said to have been swindled away from him. Now poor Henry roams about looking for a place where he can take his eternal rest.

On the opposite end of the specter spectrum is actor Nicholas Cage. Though still very much with us, he has prepared in advance with the purchase of a plot in the fabled cemetery. It is marked with a white pyramid bearing the Latin inscription "Omnia Ab Uno" (All From One).

Planning to visit? The experts say dress for extreme heat most months out of the year because there's no shade here and no river breeze. Wear light clothing, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and a hat or umbrella to shield you from the sun. Don't forget the bottled water either. And check for COVID-19 restrictions/closures before you plan your trip.