Lafayette Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. If you are a movie buff, parts may seem familiar to you, as this is a popular setting for many movies made here in New Orleans. The cemetery is bounded by Washington Avenue, Prytania Street, Sixth Street and Coliseum Street. The history of the cemetery goes back to the beginning of the 19th century before it was part of New Orleans.
History and the Yellow Fever
Built in what was once the City of Lafayette, the cemetery was officially established in 1833.
The area was formerly part of the Livaudais Plantation, and the square had been used for burials since 1824. The cemetery was laid out by Benjamin Buisson and consisted of two intersecting roads that divide the property into four quadrants. In 1852, New Orleans annexed the City of Lafayette, and the graveyard became the city cemetery, the first planned cemetery in New Orleans.
The first available burial records are dated from August 3, 1843, although the cemetery had been in use prior to that date. In 1841, there were 241 burials in Lafayette of victims of yellow fever. In 1847, approximately 3000 people died of yellow fever, and Lafayette holds about 613 of those. By 1853, the worst outbreak ever caused more than 8000 deaths, and bodies were often left at the gates of Lafayette. Many of these victims were immigrants and flatboat men who worked in the area on the Mississippi.
The cemetery fell on hard times, and many of the tombs were vandalized or fell into ruin.
Thanks to the hard work of the organization "Save Our Cemeteries," there have been extensive restoration and preservation efforts, and Lafayette is open for tours.
Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery
Wall vaults, or "ovens," line the perimeter of the cemetery here, as in St. Roch and the St. Louis properties.
Notable tombs here are the Smith & Dumestre family tomb, in Section 2, with 37 names carved on it with dates ranging from 1861 to 1997. Many tombs list such causes of death such as yellow fever, apoplexy, and being struck by lightning. Also buried here are veterans of various wars, including the Civil War and a member of the French Foreign Legion. Eight tombs describe ladies as "consorts."
Several distinctive monuments are for the deceased of "Woodman of the World," an insurance company still in existence which offered a "monument benefit." Brigadier General Harry T. Hays of the Confederate Army is buried here, in an area featuring a broken column. The Brunies family, of jazz fame, has a tomb here. The Lafayette Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1, the Chalmette Fire Co. No. 32, and the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22, all have group tombs here. The "Secret Garden" is a square of four tombs built by friends, "the Quarto," who wished to be buried together. According to Save Our Cemeteries, the Quarto held secret meetings, but the last member destroyed their book of notes. The only evidence of their existence are two keys from their minutes, which have been made into brooches and belong to their descendants.
Tours of Lafayette Cemetery
Many companies and individual give tours here, as the location is safe and accessible. Contact Save Our Cemeteries for more information on their tour. Meanwhile, take a photo tour.