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Basin Street at St. Louis
Click on lion above for St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 photo album
Established in 1789, St. Louis No. 1 is the oldest extant cemetery in New Orleans. It is located on Basin street one block from the border of the French Quarter. It was built when New Orleans was under Spanish control, so the wall vault system that was popular in Spain at that time was used. This method was also practical since New Orleans is under sea level and below ground burials caused caskets to float. The city was in serious need of burial space because of the fire in 1788 that destroyed more than 80% of the city in one night. There was also a flood as well as the infamous yellow fever epedimic that crowded the city's first cemetery on St. Peter street. The rise of dead bodies was so high that the cemetery workers were constantly intoxicated with liquor to tolerate the stench of the deceased.
There are many notable figures buried here. Homer Plessy a Creole man who boarded a white only railroad car in 1892 in violation of Louisiana state law at that time. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Plessy vs Ferguson case that institutionalized segregation in the south for the next 60+ years. He was buried in 1925. We also have Bernard de Marigny buried in 1871 who was a controversial business tycoon who has a street named after him. There is also the famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau who died in 1881. When visiting this tomb it is common practice to leave offerings and mark the gris gris XXX's on the tomb. Buried next to her is New Orleans' first black mayor, Ernest "Dutch" Morial who died in 1989. The Morial name is well known family in the city.
The cemetery has people from all walks of life buried here from rich to poor, black, french, spanish...all mixed in with one another. However the only division between burial areas is by religion. Colonial Louisiana was Roman catholic by law and so is St. Louis cemetery. It is still owned by the New Orleans Archdiocese. After the Louisiana purchase thousands of protestants arrived to New ORleans, so a protestant section was created in the rear left corner of the cemetery. However, many remains may have been lost when the Protestant graves were moved to First Protestant Cemetery on Girod street in 1822.
This cemetery is a tourist hot spot. There are daily historical and ghost tours that go through the winding labywrinth of a cemetery. It has inspired many Anne Rice stories and was also featured in the Jack Nicholson movie, Easy Rider.