Planning a visit to New Orleans? Then don't miss your chance to visit Lafayette Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. This above-ground burial site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, contains approximately 1,100 family tombs and more than 10,000 people. The cemetery, located in the heart of the historic Garden District, is bounded by Washington Avenue, Prytania Street, Sixth Street, and Coliseum Street.
If you are a movie buff, parts of the cemetery may seem familiar because this is a popular setting for movies filmed in New Orleans. Films made here include "Double Jeopardy" and "Dracula 2000." Author Anne Rice's Mayfair witches and the vampire Lestat have fictional tombs here.
Lafayette Cemetery History
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 first available burial records are dated from August 3, 1843, although the cemetery had been in use prior to that date.
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.
Through the years, the cemetery fell on hard times, and many tombs were vandalized or fell into ruin. Thanks to the organization Save Our Cemeteries, there have been extensive restoration and preservation efforts, and Lafayette Cemetery is now open for tours.
In 1841, there were 241 burials in Lafayette Cemetery of victims of yellow fever. In 1847, approximately 3,000 people died of yellow fever, of which 613 or so are buried in Lafayette. By 1853, the worst outbreak ever caused more than 8,000 deaths, and bodies were often left at the cemetery gates. Many victims were immigrants and flatboat men who worked on the Mississippi River.
Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery
Like the St. Roch and St. Louis cemetery properties, also owned by the city, wall vaults, or "ovens," line the perimeter of Lafayette. Notable tombs here include the Smith and Dumestre family tomb, in Section 2, with 37 names carved on it with dates ranging from 1861 to 1997. Also buried here are veterans of various wars, including Civil War veterans and a member of the French Foreign Legion. Brigadier General Harry T. Hays of the Confederate Army is buried here, in an area featuring a broken column.
Eight tombs describe ladies as "consorts." Many tombs list causes of death such as yellow fever, apoplexy, and being struck by lightning.
Several distinctive monuments are for the deceased of "Woodmen of the World," an insurance company still in existence that offered a "monument benefit." The Brunies family, of jazz fame, has a tomb here. The Lafayette Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1, Chalmette Fire Co. No. 32, and 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 its book of notes.
The only evidence of its existence are two keys from their minutes, which have been made into brooches and belong to their descendants.
Lafayette Cemetery Hours and Tours
The cemetery is open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. except on major holidays. Tours are available twice daily at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. They leave from the gate at the 1400 block of Washington Avenue and last 90 minutes. Tours with fewer than three advance reservations will be canceled two hours before the tour time and refunds will be issued.