Saturday, June 16, 2007

After Dark: St. Louis Cemetery #1

St. Louis Cemetery #1
New Orleans, La.
10 p.m.,
June 6, 2007

Family and Friends—

The wall was only seven feet high, and I wasn’t going sacrifice-hunting before sunset. The night was just beginning for the New Orleans Police Department, whose lights flashed on the upriver side of the St. Louis #1 cemetery wall.

Fables and news reports say drunken French Quarter tourists have been sacrificed in St. Louis #1 by Voodoo Priests or Priestesses. But, I couldn’t help humming “Thriller” to calm my heart rate. And then I smiled. Wait, I thought, is “Thriller” disrespectful to Voodoo?

I had come in peace to St. Louis cemetery #1, respectful and with no desire to be sacrificed.

People tell me that the easiest way to describe Voodoo is like a drink. Splash some pagan and splash some Catholicism and you’ve got Voodoo. Of course, to those inside the religion, the nuances are what make it special.

After I realized I may have upset someone much more than me, I made the sign of the cross. New Orleans is decidedly Catholic. I know no Voodoo symbolism.

St. Louis #1’s walls block the dead from the street. Only the most extravagant tombs can be seen from street level. Most tombs look like mini-houses, but the ones visible from North Rampart St. are more like mini-palaces.

The dead rest above ground in New Orleans. They’d float away in traditional underground sites.

The cockroaches have colonized on the wall of one mini-palace. They were nowhere else in this massive place. “Had a Voodoo priest cursed this family?” I wondered. I didn’t care to find out.

So I walked down the rows, more cautiously when I turned corners, knowing it doesn’t take an Olympian to hop the wall. I didn’t see anyone. I was alone with thousands of dead New Orleanians--old New Orleanians. The ones with , African, Caribbean, French and Spanish and Native American blood. A French Quarter transplant from Michigan will never be buried in any of the St. Louis cemeteries.

Angels and crosses were the norm. Many tombs are extravagant, a reverence to those who lay inside. And some are rather humble, with fireplace brick chipping in the corners. I climbed on top of one of these and looked at the New Orleans approaching midnight sky. The big house Canal St. hotels look out on the French Quarter and St. Louis #1, which is about one block to lakeside (north) of the Quarter’s boundary.

The sharp white marble tomb next to me read:

Armand le Merciep du Quesnay

Kingston, Jamaique 22 Juin, 1815-Nlle Orleans 13 Oct 1892.

The silence was peaceful.

I think they like it here. I hopped over the wall. A guy gave me a funny look. No sacrifices, tonight.



PS: I will never ever go to a cemetery alone after dark again for those who have already or who were planning on scolding me. Sorry.

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