Visiting an ancient New Orleans Cemetery – Lafayette No. 1

Tombs stand in New Orleans cemetery, Lafayette No. 1
Step through time in the passageways of New Orleans cemetery, Lafayette No. 1

Step through time along the passageways of New Orleans cemetery, Lafayette No. 1

***UPDATE: Please see the note at the end of the post.

On a natural ridge extending upriver from French Quarter is the oldest New Orleans cemetery, Lafayette No. 1. Covering a small city block, it’s a family graveyard in a residential neighborhood, the beautiful Garden District.

Ferns sprout from walls on the oldest tombs in the cemetery, New Orleans..

Ferns sprout from walls on the oldest tombs in the cemetery.

It’s almost directly across the street from the famous, Commanders Palace, touted as the best haute Creole cuisine restaurant in the city . One block from the St. Charles streetcar line, it’s easy to reach. Anyone is welcome to enter and tour groups wend their way through also. Visitors are cautioned to hire guides who are certified and contribute to the cemetery’s upkeep.

Gravestones are embellished through the ages, New Orleans cemetery.

Gravestones are embellished through the ages.

Many are drawn to the New Orleans cemetery after reading Anne Rice novels with scenes set there or seeing the movie, Interview with a Vampire.

Embellished tomb NOLA cemetery.

Some tombs remain grand reflections of wealthy families.

I found myself walking through on a stormy afternoon. The peals of thunder and distant lightning were a perfect backdrop to the ancient tombs. Was I frightened? Not really, but grateful to glimpse this part of New Orleans history. I do however prefer the company of the living and was happy that a few other tourists were milling about.

 

Orphan boys tomb in New Orleans cemetery.

Some tombs are touching memorials to the least fortunate.

 

A few tombs memorialize heroes and workers from New Orleans past.

A few tombs memorialize heroes from New Orleans past.

Most of the tombs shared a mottled patina gathered from ages standing in the elements. Ferns sprouted from walls, gravestones listed and several were wide open, their gaping shelves empty.

Cemetery angels watch over Lafayette No. 1

Just one of the cemetery angels – at least the visible ones.

A little history:

Once the land was part of a plantation owned by the Livaudais family, of French heritage. In 1832, Madame Livaudais decided to sell her land and eventually the subdivision was incorporated into the City. With an influx of immigrants from Germany and Italy then others from English, Scottish, Dutch and Scandinavian descent, the city was very diverse and so are its cemeteries. Members from both sides of the Civil War and several African families also are interred in Lafayette No. 1.

New Orleans cemetary, the Lafayette No. 1, is the oldest in the city.

Whatever draws you there, Lafayette No.1, the oldest New Orleans cemetery, is worth exploring. It’s a glimpse into a past that lives on, chiseled lovingly into shadowy stone.

***UPDATE: I make every effort to present accurate information in my blog posts but have been informed that the Lafayette No. 1 is not the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. It is however “… the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans,” according to the Save Our Cemeteries website. The St. Louis No.1 is the oldest, that is owned and maintained by the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Everything else in the post has been reported as experienced.

If you go:

  • Check that the cemetery is open when you want to visit. The New Orleans Online site has times and location information.
  • Be careful and don’t let children run free.
  • Be respectful. Don’t remove anything from the grave sites.
  • Enter on your own or with tour guides who are certified.

Find out more at the historical site Lafayette Cemetery:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse past the gate at Lafayette No. 1. Here’s a pin to share:

visiting an ancient graveyard in New Orleans

weekend wanderlust, trip wellness

Travel Notes & Beyond

47 comments

  • I also was never one to visit cemeteries, but with age (and with friends dying prematurely), I’ve thought about what tangible records people leave for their friends and families all around the world. Thanks for highlighting this historical part of New Orleans!

    • Thank you, Henry for the thoughtful comment. This graveyard is only one of many in New Orleans that are worth visiting. I think part of the charm is being reminded so viscerally of our mortality and of the past.

  • Visiting cemeteries isn’t really my thing, but when there’s so much history I make an exception. This cemetery reminds me of the cemetery in Recoleta, Buenos Aires. I visited that cemetery on a cloudy day as well, which added to the mystery of it all.

  • Elaine, thank you for sharing your experience of Lafayette Cemetery – it looks like a great option to really get a feel for the history of the area. As a Anne Rice fan I would definitely love to visit one day!

  • I’ve been wanting to visit this cemetery since high school. I couldn’t convince my parents that it’d be a good place to visit (they’re very superstitious Chinese), and subsequent business trips here didn’t leave me with enough time. I’ve been hoping to visit New Orleans soon, so perhaps this will be the time. Your photos are wonderful and have me dreaming of going there myself.

  • We just visited a cemetery in Savannah, GA, today and this looks like a similar spot! The history is so interesting in these old cemeteries–I would love to check out Lafayette Cemetery and New Orleans as a whole. Looks like a great stop!!

  • Cemeteries do make for interesting, yet often overlooked places to visit. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of them here. The photos are beautiful. Walking through them on a stormy afternoon must have added a lot to the experience!

  • How perfect to be there during a storm. Cemeteries are fascinating. I visited the Modernist cemetery in Lloret de Mar during TBEX and it was an amazing artistic experience.

  • I always seem to end up at cemeteries. They are interesting. The way people commemorate the dead, and, of course, the cursory glimpse into the lives of people long gone.

  • I’ve always found visiting cemeteries a bit strange, although there are quite a few that I would like to see for myself. There’s one in my hometown where all the great poets and actors are buried and their tombstones are true works of art, but I never had the chance to go see them.

  • A beautiful cemetery – if I’ll ever go to New Orleans I’ll definitely visit it.
    Today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day which in Poland is a pretty solemn holiday I had a look at different cemeteries I visited during my travels – so many fascinating stories behind the photos.

  • I love visiting cemeteries and i loved reading the history of lafayette 1 here. Eerie, peaceful, haunting and beautiful at the same time. When in new orleans, will be sure to stop here 🙂

  • Old cemeteries are so interesting! I can’t help but wonder about the history of such a place and the people who now rest there. While in the Caribbean, I saw some old cemeteries that allowed a kind of window into the culture and history of the island.

  • New Orleans is among our Happy Places in this world, and Lafayette #1 is an interesting part of it. We visited first without a guide, wandering over from the Garden District Book Shop across the street, but later with a guide who definitely enriched the experience with tales of local lore and history. Not sure how much of it was true – we’ve heard more than one city take claim for the term “dead ringer” – but it certainly was entertaining! #WeekendWanderlust #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • I’ve never properly visited a cemetery while traveling but I got glimpses of the many cemeteries in Edinburgh since I love those Celtic crosses! My hometown Athens (Greece) has a cemetery which has some beautiful family graves from prominent Athenian families and also beautiful sculptures.

    • I’m tickled to hear about the Athenian cemetery, Anna, and hope to see it one day. The Celtic crosses would be wonderful to see and photograph. Thanks for inspiring me to visit those two places.

  • I’d love to make it over to New Orleans one day! I have never been! This was a very interesting read! 🙂 TheWeeklyPostcard

  • You are absolutely right that New Orleans cemeteries are worth visiting. I stopped there as part of a bus tour and even though I did manage to take a few photos, I wish I had more time to wander around and look at the tombstones a bit more.

  • Love this. I visited Lafayette No.1 Cemetery in New Orleans a few years ago on a tour with a nonprofit group. I always like visiting cemeteries when I travel (which sounds a bit odd I supposed), but New Orleans cemeteries have so much history and interesting information they’re well worth checking out.

  • Great post topic so close to Halloween:) I have sadly not been to New Orleans but this sounds like a good place to visit. We were just exploring a cemetery in Rome the other day full of English poets gravesites (Keats, Byron) – unexpected place to learn quite a bit of history!

  • We enjoy seeing old cemeteries, the first one was in Recoleta in Argentina. When we get down to New Orleans we will put this on the list of things to see and do.

  • This is actually quite beautiful and I never really saw myself as the type to travel to see cemeteries.I did visit a pet cemetery once in Ireland though, which was quite interesting.

  • I love cemeteries around the world. They are so interesting and often so very different from one another. In my younger days I had visions of creating a cemetery coffee table book :). This is a really cool one

  • We visited and took a tour of the cemeteries years ago. We really need to get back down to New Orleans.

  • A perfect place to visit on Halloween! What a rich history and fascinating “architecture.” New Orleans definitely has a personality all its own.

  • How cool! I like cemeteries for their artistic merits. This one with its above ground graves are different from anything I’ve seen. I love the tribute to the destitute – even in death they are reminded of they are beneficiaries of charity.

  • Thanks for sharing! I love reading about the not-so-touristy locations travelers go. I didn’t know there was a connection to Interview with A Vampire – though it has been years since I’ve watched the film.

  • I wandered through the the Lafayette Cemetery on a trip to New Orleans, too. There is something about it that is more eerie than most cemeteries – Maybe it is because everything is above ground and the headstones and statues all loom above you. Perfect topic for the week before Halloween!

  • This is very interesting! Great cemetery sculptures! # weekend wanderlust

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  • I sometimes describe our travel niche as focusing on churches, battlegrounds, and cemeteries. We need to return to New Orleans!

  • We seem to have the same taste in traveling, Elaine. I love visiting old cemeteries too. In fact, I am sort of attracted to them in a very strange way. It’s not that I enjoy being among “dead people.” It’s rather the fact that cemeteries give you glimpse into times gone by, forcing you to acknowledge that your existence is ephemeral. They are a great place for meditation.

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