Of all Mid-City's charms, one of the most fascinating is the number of above-ground cemeteries. These "cities of the dead" hold the final resting places of famous local musicians, Storyville madams, voodoo practitioners, politicians, and pirates. Most vaults or plots are infused with funerary symbolism, too: An anchor stands for hope; a broken column represents a life cut short; a broken flower symbolizes a life terminated; sculpted ivy suggests enduring friendship; and clasped hands stand for unity and love, even after death. These four neighborhood cemeteries are wonderfully vivid places to discover.
Cypress Grove Cemetery
This expansive and still-used cemetery was originally founded by the Fireman's Charitable and Benevolent Association in 1840. Over time, as the cemetery expanded, other societies and individuals joined the volunteer firemen in building impressive monuments. Leading architects and craftsmen were called upon to design and build tombs commemorating the lives of many of New Orleans's most prominent citizens. Crafted in marble, granite, and cast iron, tombs at Cypress Grove are among the nation's leading examples of memorial architecture. Of note is the Chinese Soon On Tong Association's tomb that holds a grate in front so that visitors can burn prayers in it.
Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery
The largest cemetery in the metropolitan area, known to locals simply as Metairie Cemetery, is the final resting place of nine Louisiana governors, seven New Orleans mayors, three Confederate generals, and musician Louis Prima. Many of New Orleans's noted families are also interred here in elaborate monuments ranging from Gothic crypts to Romanesque mausoleums to Egyptian pyramids. The arrangement of tombs reflects the cemetery's former life as a horse-racing track, with the tombs arranged around the perimeter and interior.
Odd Fellows Rest
The secretive Independent Order of Odd Fellows association founded this cemetery in 1849. Built to house the remains of those pushed to the fringes of 1800s New Orleans society—often African-Americans, immigrants, and victims of yellow fever plagues—the cemetery is famous for its "verbally expressive" tributes. Poetic passages in numerous languages grace the graves and monuments. "In the midst of life, we are in death," one tomb declares. While the 1849 dedication ceremony was lavish—a splendid ceremony and a grand procession parade led by two circus bandwagons, one pulled by 16 horses—the local chapter of the Order of Odd Fellows has long since disappeared, and the cemetery shows signs of neglect and vandalism.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 3
One block from the entrance to City Park, at the end of Esplanade Avenue, this cemetery, established in 1854, was built on an old leper colony. Governor Galvez exiled the lepers to this area of high ground along Bayou St. John, but during the yellow fever outbreak of 1853 they were removed yet again to make room for the dead. Storyville photographer E. J. Bellocq lies here, and the cemetery is notable now for its neat rows of elaborate aboveground crypts, mausoleums, and carved stone angels soaring overhead.